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A Guide to the Joseph Van Swearingen Papers

Finding aid created by Jim Cusick

Digitization funded with the generous support of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

University of Florida Smathers Libraries - Special and Area Studies Collections
January 2013

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Swearingen, Joseph Van, 1799-1837
Title: Joseph Van Swearingen Papers
Dates: 1834-1847
Abstract: Personal correspondence of Joseph Van Swearingen, who saw service in Florida during the Second Seminole War and died at the Battle of Okeechobee.
Extent: 0.5 Linear feet. 1 Box.
Identification: MS 120
Language(s): English
Online ContentItems from this collection have been digitized and are available online in the UF Digital Collections. For more information please see the note below.

Biographical/Historical Note

Joseph Van Swearingen, born in May 1799, was a native of Frederick, Maryland. His father, Joseph Swearingen, served with distinction during the American Revolution and used his credentials to shepherd his son into West Point. Swearingen graduated from the military academy on July 1, 1824, age twenty five, with the rank of second lieutenant, U.S. Sixth Infantry. A cameo portrait, made around that time, shows him as a pink-cheeked young man, solemn but with an air of good humor, and of a slight build, though fellow officers described him as an avid sportsman, "excelling in all that was manly," with a passion for hunting. Throughout his military career he would have three constant companions - his manservant, Dennis, a slave, who had grown up with Swearingen from youth; his horse, Gus; and his deer hunting rifle.

Swearingen's initial years after West Point were marked by frequent changes of location. He was posted to Fort Atkinson, Iowa, until 1827, then to Jefferson Barracks, near St. Louis. In 1829 he was on the Santa Fe Trail, fighting against the Comanche and Kiowa, and in 1832, at the Battle of Bad Axe during the Black Hawk War. In 1836 he accompanied the Sixth Infantry to Fort Jesup on the Texas-Louisiana border, patrolling that area in the turbulent days following the Battle of the Alamo (6 March 1836). From Texas, his next tour of duty would be Florida.

Scope and Content

Swearingen's letters from Florida cover the crucial year of 1837 in the Second Seminole War. This was the second full year of a conflict that would ultimately go on for seven years. It was marked by several key events: General Thomas S. Jesup's failed attempt to persuade the Seminole chiefs to give up and emigrate; the capture of Osceola and other important leaders; and the Battle of Okeechobee, fought on Christmas Day, 1837, a battle that claimed Swearingen's life. His letters are an historically important commentary on his growing frustration with the war effort, a frustration apparently shared by his fellow officers in the Sixth Infantry Regiment.


All letters and documents are arranged in accordance with dates, which appear at the head of the communication.

Access or Use Restrictions


The collection is open for research.

Administrative Information

Alternate Form of Material

Items in this collection have been digitized and are available via the University of Florida Digital Collections (UFDC) as part of the Pioneer Days in Florida project, which is generously supported by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). Please read the Permissions for Use statement for information on copyright, fair use, and use of UFDC digital objects.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Joseph Van Swearingen Papers, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.

Acquisition Information

Donated to the University of Florida by Anne Umphrey, great-grandniece of Joseph Van Swearingen.

Contents List

1 Letters. 1834-1837

Selected Subjects and Access Terms

Florida -- History -- 1821-1865
Indians of North America -- Wars -- 1815-1875
Seminole War, 2nd, 1835-1842

For further information, please contact: Special Collections Access Services.

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