This Day in History: August 4 1842 The Armed Occupation Act

1842 – The Armed Occupation Act was passed by Congress on this date. Each settler who would settle and cultivate five acres or more of land in eastern and southern Florida for a period of five years would receive 160 acres of land and one year’s rations from the Federal government. Settlers were expected also to provide militia service, if needed, to control the activities of the warring Seminole Indians. This was the prelude to the official declaration of the end of the Second Seminole War on August 14, 1842.

My Florida History

This was an important date for two figures in Sarasota history. Read on…

Holata Micco, known as Billy Bowlegs, (c. 1810 – 1864) was an important leader of the Seminoles in Florida during the Second Seminole War and was the remaining Seminole’s most prominent chief during the Third Seminole War, when he led the Seminoles’ last major resistance against the United States government.
William Whitaker, (1821–1888) established the first permanent settlement in what is now Sarasota. His family cemetery is next to the HSoSC campus in Pioneer Park on 12th Street just east of Tamiami Trail.

U.S. gives free Florida land to settlers willing to fight Seminoles

In the 1840s, the federal government was giving away acreage to people willing to battle heat, mosquitos and disease to settle undeveloped areas south of Gainesville.

Well, there were a couple catches that limited the number of settlers who took advantage of the offer.

Number one: Indians. Although the federal government had officially taken East and West Florida from Spain less than two decades before, hundreds of Seminole Indians remained who had fled to the peninsula to resist Andrew Jackson’s efforts to cleanse them from the Eastern United States, and many were hostile to settlement of whites. 

Passed by Congress in 1842, the “Armed Occupation Act” authorized 160 acres to any adult male head of family who could prove that they had cultivated at least five acres and lived “in a house fit for habitation for 5 consecutive years.”

And claimants must “bear arms” and be willing to join militias to fight Seminoles if necessary.

And one other thing. For protection, most settlers would want to live as close as possible to U.S. Army forts. But the act’s goal was to spread out the settlers as much as possible, so it prohibited settlements within two miles of forts. 

Settlers had just nine months after the act was enacted to take advantage of this amazing deal.  Nearly 1,200 homesteaders, representing 6,000 new residents, claimed 200,000 acres in formerly remote regions such as Indian River on the Atlantic Coast and Hillsborough County in Southwest Florida.

Many settlers were not as equipped to fight Indians as the government had envisioned.  And many settlers fled at the first rumor of Indian invasion, even though most Indians, with the end of the Second Seminole War in 1842, steered clear of white settlements.

Florida History Network

William Whitaker chose a bayside location he called Yellow Bluffs for his land. It’s just bayward of the Historical Society’s campus in Pioneer Park, and the Sarasota Bay Club stands now on that area.

Actually, the history of land ownership in this part of Florida is fascinating, and a huge backdrop, even motivating factor, for all our local history. Want to learn more? The Florida Bar’s Journal has some interesting articles. Travel through several countries’ legal systems and how they shaped our state. Here, and here, and here.

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