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Florida Timucua Are No More

Margaret is the chairperson of her DAR American Indian Committee, lives in Florida, and enjoys local history.

A portrait of a Timucua Indian

A portrait of a Timucua Indian

The Earliest Presence of the Timucua Dates Around 3000 B.C.

Before European colonization in the New World began, indigenous people, we call Indians, had their own sophisticated culture. The Timucua people lived in the Northeast and North Central portions of what is now Florida. The Timucua, organized in chiefdoms, spoke a common language, traded among themselves, planted maize, beans, squash, and melons, cultivated tobacco, and used a communal storage system. The earliest evidence of their presence dates from around 3000 B.C.

How the Timucua Lived

The Timucua hunted with bows and arrows and with spears that had ends made of stone called chert. Hunters often dressed as the animal they were hunting and used every part of that animal, including deer, alligator, and bear. During the hot season, they migrated to the cooler seashore, where they collected oysters and shellfish.

The families lived in groups called clans near the water. Their houses were circular one-room homes made of tree trunk frames covered by dried palm fonds. Both men and women decorated their skins with tattoos and paint and their long hair with feathers, sticks, bones, leaves, and raccoon tails. Warriors wore shell jewelry to create additional noise as they approached their enemies.

The Timucua people sometimes grew their fingernails long and sharpened them to a point. The women debugged Spanish moss and made skirts. They were not the giants of folklore but stood 6 feet tall, larger than the Spanish. The Timucua were a matrilineal society that traced their descent through the mother. It was not unusual for a woman to become chief of the clan.

Because of Florida's hot climate, the Timucua men dressed only in deerskin breechcloths, their long black hair was tied in topknots, and their faces and bodies were decorated in brightly colored markings. Some of these tattoos were permanent while others could be washed away. Women wore skirts of Spanish Moss; their long hair hung loose down their backs. Some women also had tattoos.

Both men and women wore bracelets and necklaces of animal bone teeth and shells. Colored bird feathers were placed in their hair during special occasions. Animal fur capes or robes provided warmth in the winter.

Hernando de Soto and the Timucua

In 1539, Hernando de Soto led an army of 500 men through the territory of the Timucua people. His army seized food, forced women into concubinage, and made men and boys serve as guides. De Soto's battles with the Timucua resulted in heavy Indian loss. De Soto, interested in gold, left the territory quickly.

Saturiwa, a Timucua chief (or "cacique")

Saturiwa, a Timucua chief (or "cacique")

The French Huguenots Established Friendly Relations

In 1564 the French Huguenots led by Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere founded Fort Caroline in present-day Jacksonville, Florida. They established friendly relations with the local natives, particularly those under the cacique Saturiwa. The next year, however, the Spanish under Pedro Menendez de Aviles ransacked the fort killing everyone but 50 women and children and 20 escapees. This brought French settlement in Florida to an end.

Timucua meet Menendez in 1565

Timucua meet Menendez in 1565

The Timucua Welcomed the Spanish

When Pedro Menendez arrived in 1565 and founded St. Augustine, The Timucua greeted him and his estimated 800 travelers. The chief gave his village and his own house to the Spanish. The Spanish and Timucua lived alongside each other for months. The population merged, but after six months, hostilities grew between the two groups.

When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, the Timucua numbered between 100,000 to 200,000 in the Southeastern U.S. area. By 1595, contact with Europeans and the diseases they brought with them decimated the Timucua. Spanish colonization relied on intermarriage, creating the mestizo or mixed-blood colonial culture.

The Last Known Timucua Died in Cuba

In 1600 only 13,000 Timucua remained in Florida. By 1700 due to disease and war, only a few hundred lived. British incursions during the 18th century reduced the Timucua. English allied tribes, the Creek, Catawba, and Yuchi, killed and enslaved the Timucua. Fewer than one hundred and twenty-five remained by the end of the French and Indian War in 1763. The last remnants either migrated with the Spanish colonists to Cuba or were absorbed into the Seminole population. The last known full-blooded Timucua, Juan Alonso Cavale, died in 1767. The Timucua is now an extinct tribe.

An "anoti," or large Timucuan family house

An "anoti," or large Timucuan family house

St. Augustine Florida Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth Archeological Park

When visiting Florida, don't miss the site of the oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin in the United States and the home of the Timucua Nation. The Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth Archeological Park in St. Augustine features exhibits of the Timucua Tribe, including a historically correct anoti, a large Timucan family house, and a nihi paha, a special meeting house, completed in 2013. Artifacts discovered during ongoing archaeological digs include bones of both European and Timucua Natives, spearheads, arrowheads, tools, and pottery are displayed in the museum. Peacocks roam the park, and tourists drink from the well thought to be the Fountain of Youth.

Resources Used

  1. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Timucua". Encyclopedia Britannica, 27 Apr. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Timucua. Accessed 7 August 2021
  2. Goforth, Clair. The Timucua Indians. April 5, 2017, 30 LEGENDS of Northeast Florida - Folio Weekly
  3. Milanich, Jerald T. (2004) "Timucua." In R. D. Fogelson (Ed.), Handbook of North American Indians: Southeast. (Vol. 17) (pp. 219–228) (W. C. Sturtevant, Gen. Ed.). Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 0-16-072300-0
  4. Whalen, David. “Thoughts on Timucua Indians of Volusia, Their Timucua language, and what became of them” February 1, 2014




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