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Sunday Favorites: General Jesup's Diary


Engraving depicting the Battle of Palaklaklaha during the Second Seminole War circa 1842.

Photo: Florida Memory Project



Diaries can be a strange and fascinating thing.

They represent the inner monologue of a person, a way to capture on paper their deepest feelings. They can be silly, like that of a high school girl writing about their social life and sometimes they can deeply emotional, like that of Anne Frank, who unknowingly chronicled the final days of her life.

Often they are used historical documents, charting the course of history as it's literally being written. Some of the great American leaders kept diaries, from George Washington, to Abraham Lincoln, to General George S. Patton.

Florida, like the rest of the nation, had its fair share of leaders who helped to shape the future of the Sunshine State, and Brigadier General Thomas Sydney Jesup’s diary reads like a blow by blow account of the early stages of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842).

Jesup (1788-1860) was a heavy hitter for the Federal Government in the early to mid-1800's. He began his military career in 1808 as a second lieutenant in the 7th Infantry. 

Throughout his career, he was dispatched by presidents to deal with the ongoing "problem" the fledgling United States was facing with insurgent native tribes.


Brigadier General Thomas Sydney Jesup (1788-1860) 

Photo: Florida Memory Project

In the War of 1812, he was taken prisoner at the surrender of Detroit, but was exchanged shortly after and served as a major in the battles of Chippewa, Niagara, and Lundy's Lane, where he was wounded. In 1818, President Monroe appointed Jesup quartermaster general with the rank of brigadier general, a position he held for 42 years. 

Jesup fought back the Creek Tribe in Georgia and Alabama in 1836, according to documents, a victory that would lead him to his greatest challenge: taming the Seminoles after being awarded command of all US troops in Florida.

After gaining rank, Jesup's diary entries read like a man who knew he was destined to lead; there are no grand statements, no excited language. Instead, he goes about the business of setting up his command, of making sure that all the needs of his troops are met as they continue their war on the seminoles.

"Arrived at Apalachicola," he wrote on Nov 27, 1836, after traveling from Mt. Vernon. "Directed Major Clark at New Orleans to forward to Tampa Bay ten thousand bushels of corn and to employ and send to the same place, a master carpenter, and five or six good carpenters. Directed Major Crowe, a master at Palatka, to procure two hundred cords of wood for Steam Boats. Required a large supply of ordnance stores."

The Second Seminole War raged for nearly a decade, a period also known as the "Seven Year War,” was the most lengthy war waged on American soil, surpassing the Civil War, which lasted for just over four years. However, it was only one of three conflicts with the Seminole people, a span which began in 1814 and the third lasting until 1858.

With Jesup at the helm, the US Troops waged a successful campaign against the Seminoles, securing their first minor victory on Dec. 3, just days after he took command. Forty-one black Seminoles were captured near the Ocklawaha River, in North Central Florida. While minor, the victory signified Jesup's arrival as the new commander, and his troops continued to push south, records show.

Success was so immediate for Jesup, that on Christmas Eve, 1836, he reached out to a one time foe, Creek leader Echo Harjo, whom he had defeated on several fronts less than a year prior, and asked Harjo for 100 of his best men to help push back the insurgent Seminole threat.

The arrival of Harjo's men, coupled with the steady efforts of his own troops, recorded several victories for the US in the early days of 1837; diary entries show that several prominent Seminole leaders, including black Seminole John Ceasar, were killed during skirmishes, and dozens of Seminoles were captured. In their wake, the Seminoles surrendered cattle, slaves and personal property as a result.


Engraving depicting the Battle of Palaklaklaha during the Second Seminole War circa 1842.

Photo: Florida Memory Project

Diary entries from early March show that Jesup was trying to come to terms with recent victories; not on a persona level, but instead from the standpoint of trying to understand his opposition.

Of the recent surrender of the Seminoles, Jesup wrote, "(Do they not) understand that emigration is an indispensable condition of peace?"

Jesup pushed into south Florida as 1837 unfolded, claiming victories along the way, fortifying his position as a successful and forward thinking military leader.

As victories piled up, so, did his discontent that the Seminole Nation would not "emigrate", and he would be forced to use the most brutal of force - a genocidal approach.

Diary entries from May showed Jesup's disillusionment that emigration was becoming "hopeless" and his orders that all crops and villages for those who would not assimilate be destroyed.

"The Seminoles will not come in without the application of force, and it is now too late in the season to operate in this country," he wrote.

The Seminole War continued for another five years, but Jesup's remaining diary entries, at least those that have been preserved through the years, run until May 28.

They show Micanopy, a Seminole leader, had been replaced in an effort to fortify their troops. On May 28 Jesup wrote, "the Indians had resolved not to emigrate, and would fight if the attempt was made to force them off."

While Jesup's continued involvement in the war is unclear based on his diary entries, historical documents reveal that he resigned his position and was replaced by Colonel Zachary Taylor after becoming frustrated with the response of the Seminole people.

Jesup returned to Washington, where he resumed his duties as quartermaster. 

Not only does the diary cover the development of forts and military outposts during the war, the condition of troops and the difficulties of maneuvering through the Florida wilderness, but it also chronicles the internal battles Jesup was fighting. He not only suffered from complications of an old wound inflicted during the War of 1812, but tried desperately to understand the mindset of the Native Nation to no avail.

Jesup also misinterpreted the Indian hierarchy as he believed Black Seminoles living among them were considered “property” like they were in white settlements. A Florida Memory Project blog states, “while some Africans were held in bondage by Seminole masters, some attained important positions within the tribe, such as Abraham, the advisor and interpreter for Micanopy.”

Regardless, Jesup’s Diary, like many others throughout history, serves as an important source for understanding the difficulties faced by the United States military as it attempted to implement Indian Removal in Florida.


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