I am posting my talk from a recent program I gave at the Marco Island Historical Society. Several people who could not attend wanted to hear it, so I am posting the entire talk here.
When the 2nd Seminole War started in December 1835, it took several months to see any effect down in southwest Florida. The first indication of the war was in April 1836 when Col. Persifor Smith of the Louisiana Volunteers went on an expedition up the Caloosahatchee and Myakka Rivers. He hired a local guide from the local fishing ranchos, but the guide proved to be unreliable and useless once they had penetrated into the interior past the coastline.
[Below: Col Persifor Smith]
One of the prominent figures in the story of the Spanish fishing ranchos was William Bunce. Bunce had a checkered past but with many Florida political connections. From Key West, he moved up to the Manatee River and became friends with Hillsborough County Judge Augustus Steele. Bunce was appointed Justice of the Peace by Governor Duval in 1834.
Bunce operated a fishing rancho from Manatee, and employed ten Spaniards and twenty Indians of Seminole descent. The Spaniards were married to Seminole wives. The Indians considered themselves Spanish, were baptized in Cuba and spoke Spanish. They did not consider themselves part of the Seminole Tribe in Florida.
In April 1836, the 2nd Seminole War reached Charlotte Harbor as the rancho inhabitants fled with word that Seminoles were coming to burn their settlement and kill any of the inhabitants who refused to side with them. The US customs agent (the tax collector mentioned previously) was killed along with an Indian guide and Spaniard while out hunting. Probably about the same time, one of the ranchos on Pine Island at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee was burned by the Seminoles. There is some speculation if the Seminoles were trying to pressure the Spanish Indians to join in the fight against the United States, but that would not come for another three years.
The inhabitants from the ranchos around Charlotte Harbor fled to Bunce’s rancho on Mullet Key at Tampa Bay. Both Governor Call and General Jesup mistrusted Bunce, and suspected that he was aiding the enemy by providing Spanish arms and ammunition to the Seminoles. (Yet a previous governor had appointed Bunce Justice of the Peace.) A captured Indian told of suspected arms dealings, and that was all Jesup needed to shut down Bunce’s operation. The Spanish Indians were rounded up for deportation in 1837 and shipped out to New Orleans in 1838, under protest of the local people who had hired workers from the ranchos. But Jesup supposedly had proof that they were aiding the Seminoles, and Micanopy and other Seminoles said that they refused to remove unless the Spanish Indians were shipped out as well.
150 Spanish Indians were removed to be sent to Oklahoma. When in New Orleans, seven protested that they were Spanish and would go no further, and were allowed to remain in the city and told to wait to return to Florida after the war had ended. The Oklahoma Seminoles do claim some Spanish ancestry today, but we don't know what happened to the ones who stayed in New Orleans.
[Below: "Sorrow of the Seminoles" as they are removed from their homeland in Florida. (More of a romantic image, because dugout canoes the Seminoles had probably didn't look that grand.)]