It is common knowledge among the Clemson faithful that the Fort Hill Plantation that Thomas Green Clemson bequeathed to the State of South Carolina upon his death in 1888 for the establishment of what eventually became the Clemson University, was originally owned by one of South Carolina’s most influential antebellum politicians, John Caldwell Calhoun. Thomas Clemson joined the Calhoun clan by marriage in 1838, when he married John C. Calhoun’s daughter Anna Calhoun. Clemson eventually gained title to Fort Hill via his wife’s inheritance of her father’s property in 1872, which then passed to him upon her death in 1875. This lengthy line of inheritance ultimately made his 1888 gift to SC possible and cemented his legacy regarding education in the state with the official founding of the Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina in 1889.
So what does this well-trodden family and institutional history have to do with this week’s impending gridiron war with the Florida State Seminoles?
Between 1800 and 1840, most Native American tribes in the U.S. South succumbed to the pressure of white encroachment onto their lands, accomplished through myriad schemes of economic and political manipulation. And when all else failed, conflict typically accomplished these same ends. Indian wars had played a crucial role in shaping the development of colonial America, and that violent trend continued into the early years of the United States, from the two Cherokee Wars (1758-1761 & 1776-1777 in the Appalachians) and Pontiac’s Rebellion (1763 in the Ohio River Valley) during the Revolutionary Era to Tecumseh’s Rebellion (1811-1813 also in the Ohio River Valley) and the Red Stick War (1813-1814 in Georgia and Alabama). This incessant violence, along with the negative long-term effects of European diseases on Indian populations, combined to increasingly limit Native Americans’ ability to resist white expansion in the antebellum era (1820-1860). The Indian Removal Act of 1830 formalized and intensified a process already well underway, in which native peoples forcibly ceded their lands to individual states and/or the U.S. government in exchange for lands west of the Mississippi in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). The infamous “Trail of Tears” (1838-1839) in which the U.S. army directed the forced march of Cherokee holdouts from the Cherokee Nation to Indian Territory was the most dismal and conspicuous culmination of attempts by Southeastern Indians to peacefully resist removal to the west.
Only the Seminoles of the sparsely settled state of Florida violently resisted removal after 1830. Indeed, violence colored nearly every aspect of Seminole relations with the fledgling United States. In the wake of the U.S. “War of 1812” with Great Britain, U.S. forces under General Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson invaded Spanish Florida, to the outrage of both the British and Spanish Empire. Spain, however, proved unable to resist this invasion, and ceded Florida to the United States in the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819.
None other than John Caldwell Calhoun, then-U.S. Secretary of War, clamored for Congress to officially censure Jackson’s aggression in Florida, but despite this Calhoun presided over the acquisition of many lands from many different Native tribes during his time in office (1817-1825). Included in these was the acquisition of Seminole lands in North Florida via the Treaty of Moultrie Creek (1823), by which the Seminoles ceded their claims to North Florida in return for lands in central Florida that would be reserved to them. Attempts to oust the Seminoles from the Florida peninsula altogether persisted, however, as did conflict between resistant Seminole warriors and the growing number of white settlers pouring into the territory. By 1828 Southern Congressman were vociferously advocating for the removal of all southeastern tribes to the west, and they found a vigorous supporter in newly elected President Andrew Jackson, who signed off on the Indian Removal Act of 1830 to advance the cause. The on-going tensions in Florida would make it a focal point in the application of this act in the decade to come. John C. Calhoun, as Jackson’s Vice-President, would again figure prominently in these events, though he and Jackson would continue to be at odds in their political ideals and personal affairs, eventually forcing Calhoun’s resignation.
Osceola, one of the leaders of Seminole resistance to removal, was a Red Stick Indian who had survived General Andrew Jackson’s assault on hostile Creeks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814, as well as the subsequent invasion of Florida for which Calhoun had sought to publicly reprimand Jackson. Violence again ensued, resulting in the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), in which the U.S. government, still under the heavy-handed direction of President Andrew Jackson, succeeded in forcing as many as 3,000 Seminoles to remove west.
John C. Calhoun, after resigning from his position as Vice President, was elected Senator from South Carolina, and generally aligned himself with the sectional interests of his native South, including especially the expansion of its slave economy, which meant the continued removal of Native American peoples occupying potentially valuable land in the region. The Florida Seminoles were prominent among them, due not only to the potential profits to be gained from acquiring their lands in Florida, but also because fugitive slaves from Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama had been seeking refuge and finding safe harbor among the Seminoles for decades.
Though the political rivalry between Calhoun and Jackson continued unabated, Calhoun became the most vocal and conspicuous symbol of southern sectionalism during the antebellum era. This sectionalism would eventually put the American Union asunder in the Civil War (1861-1865), the aftermath of which would create the economic disparities that would prompt an aging Thomas Green Clemson to advocate for improved agricultural education and eventually to gift the Calhoun plantation at Fort Hill to South Carolina, laying the foundations of Clemson University.
But before that came to fruition, a small number of Seminoles would remain in Florida, and amid the sectional crisis over slavery in the 1850s, a third conflict between these remaining Seminoles and the U.S. Army eventually erupted into the Third Seminole War (1855-1858). Like its predecessors, this war also failed to achieve the complete removal of the Seminole tribe, who remain to this day part of a tiny remnant of the once sizable Indian population east of the Mississippi River.
The Florida State University Seminoles reference this long legacy of resistance to removal, with sanction from the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The Second Seminole War figures prominently in their institutional symbolism, especially their mascot Chief Osceola (and his horse Renegade). On the gridiron, the ‘Noles have proven just as difficult for Clemson to oust from the top of the ACC standings since 1992 as their historical namesakes proved to be for the U.S. government in the nineteenth century. Florida State holds a commanding 20-9-0 lead in the all-time series with Clemson that dates to the first meeting in 1970, with the bulk of Clemson victories coming in Death Valley, where FSU’s margin slims to 8-6-0, many of them coming since 2003 when Clemson has forged a slight 7-6 advantage, the home teams prevailing in all but two of those battles (Clemson won 27-20 in Tallahassee in 2006, FSU won 51-14 at Clemson in 2013). Clemson has won just three times in Tallahassee all-time (15-12 in 1976; 34-23 in 1989; 27-20 in 2006).
The three previous “Seminole Wars” for Clemson have more-or-less embodied the phrase “winning the battle but not the war,” as the Tigers have prevailed in the head-to-head matchup but failed to parlay those victories into greater conference and national championship glories. Perhaps this week’s expedition to Tallahassee will produce a fourth and decisive “Seminole War” in which our Tigers not only “Take Tallahassee,” push the Seminoles further south in the ACC standings, and relegate them to the margins of the national consciousness, but remove them altogether from the ranks of the elite.
P.S. On a personal note, one final reason for optimism heading into this fourth Seminole War for the Tigers is also the reason this post is two days late: the arrival of my son (our first child), James Hill “Odin” Welborn IV, on Wednesday, October 26, 2016. The fourth of his line is decked out in style for his first Tiger football victory!
SOURCES & FURTHER READING
William S. Belko, America’s Hundred Years’ War: U.S. Expansion to the Gulf Coast & the Fate of the Seminole, 1763-1858, (University of Florida Press, 2015)
David S. Heidler & Jeanne T. Heidler, Old Hickory’s War: Andrew Jackson & the Quest for Empire, (LSU Press, 2003)
Ernest M. Lander Jr., The Calhoun Family & Thomas Green Clemson: Decline of a Southern Patriarchy, (University of South Carolina Press, 1983)
James E. Lewis Jr., The American Union & the Problem of Neighborhood: The United States & the Collapse of the Spanish Empire, 1783-1829, (UNC Press, 1998)
John K. Mahon, History of the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842, (University Press of Florida, 1991)
Susan A. Miller, Coacoochee’s Bones: A Seminole Saga, (University Press of Kansas, 2003)
John Missall & Mary Lou Missall, The Seminole Wars: America’s Longest Indian Conflict, (University Press of Florida, 2004)
Jerome V. Reel, The High Seminary, Volume I: A History of the Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina, 1889-1964, (Clemson University Digital Press, 2011)
Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson & His Indian Wars, (Penguin Books, 2002)
Debroah A. Rosen, Border Law: The First Seminole War & American Nationhood, (Harvard University Press, 2015)
Daniel Scallet, “’This Inglorious War:’ The Second Seminole War, the Ad Hoc Origins of American Imperialism, & the Silence of Slavery,” (Phd diss., Washington University in St. Louis, 2011)
Samuel J. Watson, Peacekeepers and Conquerors: The Army Officer Corps on the American Frontier, 1821-1846, (University Press of Kansas, 2013)