The history of the Seminole begins with the first people of Florida, their ancestors, who came to the region more than 14,000 years ago. The earliest known sites are located in the Florida Panhandle, but the ancestors continued to move into Florida, primarily along the coastlines and waterways and eventually occupying diverse regions throughout the peninsula. When the ice age came to an end, the gradually rising waters forced the Florida communities further inland, flooding the older sites. During this time (Around 8,000 years ago) the Florida people transitioned from nomadic lifestyles to more permanent settlements that relied on fishing, hunting, and gardens for food. These settlements thrived within Florida, allowing for advancements in craft and trade that paved the way for the larger towns to come.
With increasing populations, the Native people of Florida also began to modify the land to suit their needs. Earthwork mounds were formed at community sites, providing elevated locations above the waterline to build structures for living, cooking, and crafting. The coastal mounds were often formed from a layer of oyster shell harvested from local beds, with sand and earth layered above them. These mounds made possible the development of larger permanent communities such as Tocobaga and Calusa. Interior mounds within the wetlands served a similar roll while also providing needed hubs for travel and trade.
With the rise of permanent communities, the cultural landscape of Florida began to take on a stable shape. Trade routes, travel, migration, and conflict continued; but by the end of the 15th century there were distinct cultural regions that were able to be documented. Our primary knowledge of this time comes from oral histories of the Seminole Tribe, Spanish and other European written documents, and the archaeological record. These show a clear picture of a Florida that was interconnected both within the peninsula and to the larger geographic region. Copper from the Great Lakes Region would be fashioned into intricate breastplates buried with leaders of the Tallahassee, cities around Tampa Bay were part of a broader Mississippian culture centered in Cahokia, and shark’s teeth and shell from the Caribbean would be traded as far as Minnesota.
The Seminole Ancestors who lived in Florida and made contact with the early Spanish colonizers, while interconnected, had multiple languages, outlooks, and cultures. The Spanish recorded names for these people without fully understanding this. Their initial biases led to a great deal of misinformation about the Florida Ancestors that has been passed on. Spanish records can only be properly contextualized by the oral histories of the Seminole. By uniting Indigenous resources with historical and archaeological methods we get a clearer picture of the Ancestors.
The period of time in which the Seminole Ancestors first came to the Florida Peninsula, flourished, and built cultures and societies, covers the vast majority of the history of the Seminole People. The people of the time did not call themselves Seminole. That word would be placed on their descendants by outsiders and only came to be adopted later due to the threat of the common foe that united the Florida people.
Historians have placed many titles on this period of time: Pre-Columbian, Pre-Colonial, Prehistoric Florida, and others. These titles place the emphasis not on the people of Florida, but on the colonizers who invaded the peninsula after AD 1492. This view does not accurately reflect how the Seminole People, or other Native groups, view their history. The term used to cover this time here is The Ancestral Period.