Hunter gathers arrived in Florida close to 12,000 years ago when the Florida land mass was much larger and drier. Mega fauna and mammoths were hunted in great herds and grains, nuts, and berries were gathered during seasonal roving. Spears were used to hunt and leather bags were used to cook what was captured, along with hot stones. You may know these early tribes as the Paleo-Indians.
Brief History of the Native Peoples of Florida
Hunter gathers arrived in Florida close to 12,000 years ago when the Florida land mass was much larger and drier. Mega fauna and mammoths were hunted in great herds and grains, nuts, and berries were gathered during seasonal roving. Spears were used to hunt and leather bags were used to cook what was captured, using hot stones. You may know these early tribes as the Paleo-Indians.
Close to 8000 years later, the ice caps started to melt and Florida became what it is today. The Native Peoples started to develop new technology, like the atlatl, a stick fitted into the shaft of a spear. Interestingly, a graduate student in one of my courses is writing his dissertation on the Mayan atlatl. The same technology. This tells us a lot about the advanced technology of the early Indians.
With the assistance of the atlatl, Indians were now able to throw the spear much further, explaining the decline of large prey. They turned their attentions on the water, catching fish, turtles, and even alligators.
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Their mode of transportation was hollowed out logs used as canoes, enabling them to travel the river. When they weren’t hunting they were creating pottery. The pottery was a soft porous material and colored orange, hence the name “Orange Period”.
About 1500 years later, several archaic groups developed distinguishable social patterns and cultures. They did, however, share several common customs including the Black Drink ceremony. Artworks were produced in numbers including animal masks, designs on shells, and copper plates for jewelry.
As technology advanced traps, bows, and arrows were used to hunt. Agriculture flourished as small eared corn was grown in large amounts, a mainstay at the time. Tools such as the drill, needles, and knives were fashioned out of bone and shell.
The orientation of pottery changed as well. The pots were made with sand as a temper and coils to smooth out the surface, making the shape. The outside were intricately decorated with each village’s motif.
During the 16th century, the Europeans had already developed and differentiated their cultures. At the same time a tribe called the Caloosa was living along the southern coast of Tampa, Florida and the Caloosahatchie River. Hence the name”Caloosa”.
The Caloosa had a well-established religious system along with a fascinating info structure. The archaeological site on Marco Island shows a village connected by canals and raised shell islands. Their sacred temples were built upon the mounds and human sacrifices took place within. In looking at the religious tribes or so called “savages”, as the Europeans plainly labeled them, they believed that people had three souls. These three souls were found in the eye, one’s shadow, and the reflection of the water. Is it possible the saying “Beauty is in the eye of beholder came from the Caloosa? Probably not, however the image of beauty in one’s eye, one’s shadow, and in a reflection certainly paves the way for this notion.
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The Apalachee migrated to the panhandle of Florida where the soil was fertile. There they developed agriculture and extensive trade routes. Their territory was so vast at one time; the Appalachian Mountains were named after them.
The National Park Service described a game the Apalachee played consisting of 50 men. The game was rough, like rugby or football, and was known as “the Little Brother of War”. The game was played to prepare men for battle and ease tensions in the village. Of course, the young men were able to showcase their abilities to the ladies.
The Apalachee were missionized by the Spanish, one such site existing in Tallahassee called the San Luis Mission.
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Not far from where I recently lived in Florida, the Timucuans set up their village along the St. Johns River. If you don’t know already, the St. John’s River is notorious for alligators, so many in fact, people never go near the water.
The Timucuans were tall and slender in build and were sublimely tattooed. There’s not much evidence of their culture, however drawings by artist Jacques LeMoyne, a member of the Fort Caroline colony, did manage to sneak drawings of everyday Timucuan life back to France.
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The Seminoles are probably the most well-known of the natives in Florida, however they are the newcomers, so to speak, who came from Georgia during the beginning of the 18th century. Andrew Jackson led the US Army against the Indians during the conflicts over farmland in Alabama and Georgia. The Seminoles were then pushed into Spanish Florida, where they lived along the river. Their habitat gained them the name “Creeks”, which the Spanish called Cimarones, or “wild ones”. The name was later changed to Seminoles.
When Florida became a US territory in 1821, the Seminoles knew they may be compromised. Around 1830, the Indian Removal Act was passed, forcing hundreds of Seminoles to surrender. They were later sent to Oklahoma. There were, however, Seminoles that stayed to fight.The Seminole Wars continued until 1858, and within that time, sugar plantations were completely destroyed, including several I’ve visited.
Crueger and Depeyster Sugar Mill,
In 1835, the Seminole Indians raided the Cruger and Depeyster Sugar Mill, running off the overseer in the process. They burned the entire complex and destroyed other plantations throughout the region with the assistance of the the sugar mill slaves themselves.
In 1836, during the second Indian war the moskito roarers, a company of Florida militia led by Major Benjamin Putnam, engaged a large tribe of Seminoles pillaging Dunlawton Plantation on the Halifax River. Heavy fighting ensued, but the militias were unable to disperse the Indians. Dunlawton Plantation was burned to the ground leaving only the ruins of the sugar mill and the heavy sugar cane machinery. The Sugar Plantations on the east coast of Florida were eventually destroyed by Seminole raids. The sugar industry never recovered after the war.
Several hundred Seminoles found refuge in the Florida forests. Their decedents still live in the Everglades and around them, and we can’t forget, they never signed a treaty with the men that forced them from their land. They did, however, set up several casinos in Florida, making up for their losses I suppose, as the casinos get larger and richer every day.
Today, the Indian culture and influence can be seen all over Florida. There are several non-profit organizations established to promote Indian Heritage and the preservation of their historical sites.
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