Hillsborough County

This area was once rich in aboriginal Floridian sites along the bays, rivers, and marshes. Further inland were hunting camps. With so many natural food sources, this area could support year-round camps.

The Tocobaga Indians lived around the Tampa Bay area. They are believed to have been the same as the Timuquan. In 1763 when the English gained control of Florida, the Tocobagans left with the Spanish and went to Cuba. The Calusa did the same. Thus ended a people that had left remains in the area since 9,000 B.C.

Cockroach Key consists of two shell mounds that were inhabited from 700-1500 A.D. (Not open to the public.) One of these huge mounds had a large number of burials, half of them children. Further examination shows that many of them died of an epidemic. What is also interesting is that this was before European contact.


One of the most important military forts during the Seminole wars was Fort Brooke, established in the 1824. It later became the city of Tampa.

In January 1824 Colonels James Gadsden and George Brooke arrived at Tampa Bay to establish a major military outpost close to the Indian reservation. Brooke chose a site on Hillsborough Bay at the mouth and east side of the Hillsborough River. The establishment of the fort showed that the government didn't have any problem taking land for its own purposes, even when already occupied. A local settler named Robert Hackley had already homesteaded the land that Brooke picked for the fort. One reason why Brooke declared this land a military reservation was that it was already cleared by Hackley with some nice citrus trees. Brooke didn't even have a problem with making Hackley's home a temporary officers' quarters. Adding to this insult, all of Hackley's property was seized for government use, including the livestock. Years later Hackley's heirs took the government to court, but never got anything.

By 1830 the military reservation around Fort Brooke was 18 square miles. Many settlers moved into the area, and the size of the fort became one of the largest military outposts in the nation by 1838. The fort was designated as the main departure point to remove the Seminole from Florida.


Foke-Luste-Hadjo (Black Dirt); McKenney-Hall portrait.

Seminole leader who accepted removal. At the beginning of the war, not all Seminoles were against removal. A large number were in favor of emigrations and saw it as the only way to survive. In November 1835, a few weeks before the war started, this chief fled with 500 other Seminoles to Tampa Bay for protection by the Army and to accept removal.

Even before the Second Seminole War started in 1835, trouble was brewing around Fort Brooke. In August 1835, the mail carrier going to Fort King was killed a few miles north of the post, believed to be in retaliation to the incident at Hickory Sink in Alachua County two months before. With news that the Seminoles were getting hostile in Florida, the settlers moved to the area around Fort Brooke for protection. When Osceola killed Seminole Chief Charlie Emathla in November, several hundred Indians from Emathla's town and clan came to the fort for protection. The Indians camped on the opposite side of the Hillsborough River. The fort was safe from attacks most of the war, but there was a siege by the Seminoles early on, and no traffic was allowed to travel to Fort King 100 miles away. Even during the war, the fort was still a frontier outpost, and could not survive without supplies from up north, and the settlers were in constant fear of attack.


Fort Brooke from a 1902 postcard.
From State of Florida Archives

Despite Osceola's warnings against troops travelling on the military road, Major Francis L. Dade took 108 men to reinforce the garrison at Fort King in December 1835. Dade ignored the warnings of the Seminoles camped opposite the fort. As he was leaving, the Seminoles remarked that they would not see him again. We are all familiar with Dade's death as the worst ever defeat of American forces by Seminoles on December 28, 1835. (See Sumter County) Many of the soldiers were stationed at Fort Brooke, and there was much grieving by their families when news of the defeat reached them. It was eight weeks until reinforcements arrived to march the military road and bury Dade's command.

In 1837 General Thomas S. Jesup commanded the forces in Florida from Fort Brooke. Jesup negotiated a treaty with the Seminoles, but was disenchanted when Sam Jones and Osceola forced several hundred Seminoles camped around the fort to flee in the night. Jesup asked to resign his post in Florida after losing hundreds of Seminole prisoners, but was refused by the War Department. After that, Jesup would capture the Indians by treachery instead of negotiation.

After the end of the Second Seminole War, the size of the military reservation around the fort was reduced. The Seminoles left in Florida still came to trade with the whites, and even developed friendly relations with the Soldiers. War with Mexico in the 1840's made the fort an important post for American troops heading to Mexico.

After the War with Mexico ended, the military reservation was abandoned and the city of Tampa established around the area. A hurricane in 1848 destroyed many of the buildings of the old fort. During the panic in 1849 when there was fear of another war with the Seminoles, the fort was reactivated for a short time. The post was also reactivated during the Third Seminole War in the 1850's and the American Civil War, but in both conflicts it was a minor post.

The post ceased being used after the 1870's, but its history did not end there. In 1980 the City of Tampa was building a parking garage on the site of the old fort. (Today named the Fort Brooke Parking Garage.) Bones from the cemetery were discovered during the construction. The remains were turned over to the Seminole Tribe, who reburied them on new reservation land on the east side of town. (Bobby Henry's Seminole Village.) Remains of the soldiers were also found, which again shows that not all of the soldiers' remains were moved to St. Augustine in 1842. The Fort Brooke site and later the parking garage were found to have been built on top of an ancient temple mound dating back 10,000 years.

There are plans to develop a park on part of the former site of Fort Brooke.  They will have to remove the pavement on top of it first.  No news on when this park will open to the public.


Old Government Springs near Fort Brooke was used during the Second Seminole War as a recreation spot by some famous army generals. The Timuquan Indians were also known to have lived in the area. You probably won't be able to find it today because it is buried under downtown Tampa.

Fort Sullivan was established in 1839 not far from Fort Foster. Another fort was established as a recreation spot for the soldiers on Lake Thonotosassa, which was also the site of a former Seminole village.

Northeast of Tampa, Fort Alafia was built during the panic of 1849.


PLACES TO VISIT:

Hillsborough River State Park and Fort Foster:

There are many limestone outcroppings on the scenic Hillsborough River. For a long time Native Floridians came here because it was a source for flint. The flint would be made into spear points and arrowheads, tools, and even traded to other places far away.

Also at this park is Fort Foster, the best example of a reconstructed Second Seminole War fort anywhere. (One of two reconstructed Seminole War forts in Florida. The Other one is Fort Christmas museum in Orange County.)


Fort Foster

Fort Foster was originally built on the Fort King road to protect the river crossing at the Hillsborough River. It was first built by the Alabama militia in March 1836 and named Fort Alabama, commanded by Colonel William Lindsay. After building the post, the command left a small garrison there, and went north to the Cove of the Withlacoochee, where they were badly thrashed by the Seminoles.

When the command passed by the fort again returning to Fort Brooke, they surprised a large group of Seminoles watching and constantly harassed the soldiers at the fort. There are even stories of the Seminoles climbing up the tall pine trees and firing into the fort.

Fort Alabama was ordered to be closed after the failed campaign in the Cove of the Withlacoochee. (See Citrus County.) Colonel Chisolm and Lt. Colonel William Foster were put in charge of a detachment of regular Army and Alabama militia for removing stores and supplies from the fort. As they approached the fort, Seminoles attacked them at Thlonotosassa Creek. The Seminoles were driven off after a bayonet charge, and the soldiers had five dead and 24 wounded.

When the soldiers abandoned the fort, they left the powder magazine booby-trapped. A rifle was placed muzzle-down in a powder keg, with a string attached from the trigger to the door handle. When the command left the fort and was about a mile away, they heard an explosion. It is said that several Seminoles were killed in the explosion.

The next season in the war, Lt. Col. William Foster returned and rebuilt the fort. His soldiers named the new post in his honor. This fort was to last much longer than the previous post. The Seminoles still harassed the fort, and there is even one time when they surrounded and besieged it for three weeks.

An interesting part of the history of Fort Foster at this time was that Navy sailors garrisoned it. Commodore Dallas made an agreement with General Jesup to garrison several forts with Navy personnel. This freed up the Army troops in Florida so they could have more personnel searching and fighting Seminoles.

After the war ended it is said that the logs from the fort remained for several years. Although gone today, there are a few timbers from the bridge on display at the fort tour office.

The fort today is well worth the visit. One thing that all the reenactors like to see is when the fort is lit up at night during the annual garrison encampment. There are period furnishings in the fort, and the beds in the blockhouse are made of rope stretched over a wood frame, with mattresses stuffed with pine straw. And they are actually quite comfortable.

Tours of Fort Foster leave from Hillsborough River State Park on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and also on holidays. (Closed Christmas and New Year's.) There is a small admission charge for the tours. The fort is closed in summer, which is also known as "the sickly season."


Egmont Key State Park:

This island served as a military base from 1840 to 1945. Few people realize that it was a prison camp to hold Seminoles during the Third Seminole War. Indian prisoners of war were moved from Fort Myers to this Island at the opening of Tampa Bay. The Army figured that they had tried hard enough to get them that they didn't want to leave any chance of them running off. The Indians were left free to roam about, but no boats were allowed on the Island. The prisoners were described as always peaceful and usually quiet, but when their relatives or others of their people were brought to the island, much crying and wailing occurred.

During the Third Seminole War one of the officers in charge of the Seminole prisoners was Henry Wirz. During the Civil War he was the Confederate officer in charge of the infamous Andersonville Prison in Georgia, and in 1865 he was the only southern officer executed for war crimes.

Today this island is a wildlife refuge with a manned lighthouse. This was a large military reservation 100 years ago, and some of the concrete batteries and building foundations can be seen around the island. The only way to get here is by private boat.


Bobby Henry's Seminole Indian Village:

This museum and village are now closed to make way for the hotel expansion.  The exhibits have been moved to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum on Big Cypress.

In 1980, construction in downtown Tampa uncovered the Fort Brooke cemetery. The remains of 42 Seminoles were found, and the city gave the Seminoles land on the outskirts of town to use as a burial ground and for tribal land. This was the beginning of Bobby Henry's village.

Bobby Henry, Seminole Medicine Maker, gave the remains of his former tribesmen a proper burial, and built a museum and cultural center at the same location.

After the cultural center was started, an indoor flea market, tax-free cigarette store, and bingo hall were added. Later a large Hotel was built, starting what would later become the Seminole Tribe's purchase of the Hard Rock Cafe' Resorts and Casinos around the world.


Upper Tampa Bay Park Archaeological District, Tampa:

I haven't been to this one yet, so if anyone has a report, please let me know.
The park has nature trails, exhibits, and an interpretive center.


Tampa Bay History Center, Tampa:

I haven't been to this one yet, so if anyone has a report, please let me know.
Exhibits include information about the Seminoles, Fort Brooke, and Seminole burials at Fort Brooke.


Read an eyewitness account of the Seminoles at Fort Brooke in 1846.


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(c) 1998, 2002, 2003, 2007 Chris Kimball
Note: None of this material can be reproduced without written permission from the author.