1492-1562 - Early Spanish and French Explorers

1492 - Native Population

   In 1492 AD, it is estimated that there were about 100,000 - 350,000 Native Americans living in the area now known as Florida.
   Accepting the conservative estimate of 100,000, the distribution was thought as this:
      Timucuans in the northeast, 40,000;
      Apalachee and Pensacola in the northwest, 25,000;
      Tocobaga in the west-central, 8,000;
      Calusa in the southwest, 20,000;
      Tequesta in the southeast, 5,000;
      Jeaga, Jobe and Ais (pronounced 'ice') in the east-central, 2,000.
   There were others, as well as sub-groups, i.e., Saturiwa, Santaluces, Boca Ratones, Tocobaga, etc.
   By the late 1700s, it is thought that all of these indigenous Indians were gone.
   The Seminole tribe was not included in the list above, since they did not exist as a unique tribe until the early 1700s.

   “They be all naked and of goodly stature, mighty, faire and as well shapen… as any people in all the worlde, very gentill, curtious and of good nature… the men be of tawny color, hawke nosed and of a pleasant countenance… the women be well favored and modest…” — Jean Ribault, French Explorer (1560s)

1500s - Early European Explorers

   It is believed, by some, that the Spanish slavers were the first Europeans to arrive in the area of Florida.
   Evidence from maps show that, maybe as early as 1502, the Spanish slave traders in Cuba already knew of the existence of the land of Florida and likely sailed there in order to capture and enslave the native tribes and take them back to Cuba.
   The Spanish sent several exploration expeditions through the Central Florida area during the first half of the 1500s. Their purpose was primarily to look for gold and other exploitable natural resources. Most of their impact fell on the Timucua.

   Spanish explorers were shocked at the height of the Timucua, being well built and standing four to six inches or more above them. Perhaps adding to their perceived height was the practice of Timucuan men of wearing their hair in a bun on top of their heads.
   The Timucua were dark-skinned with black hair. All were heavily tattooed, which were gained by deeds, usually in hunting or war. The elaborate tattoos were created by poking holes in the skin then rubbing ash into the holes.
   They wore minimal clothing that was woven from moss or crafted from various animal skins.

   Many of the European explorers, that landed on the Florida coasts in the 1500s, fought and killed the native inhabitants. The Spanish, French and English often fought and killed each other when not fighting the local tribes. The Natives began to expect this from the Europeans. This made it very difficult and dangerous for innocent shipwreck victims and missionaries to survive at the hands of the wary Indians.

1513s - Ponce De Leon Claims La Florida for Spain

   In 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon landed near what would become St. Augustine He claimed Eastern North America for the Spanish crown and gave it the name La Florida, because it was the season of Pascua Florida ("Flowery Easter") and because much of the native vegetation was in bloom.

   Ponce de Leon was treated better by the Florida Natives on his first trip in 1513 than he was on his second voyage in 1521. It was reported that the Native Americans screamed Spanish words at Ponce de Leon on his second trip. This leads to claims that they had previous encounters with the Spanish slavers who were visiting the Americas as early as 1502. It is generally assumed that Spanish slave ships had also visited the Florida coast in between De Leon's voyages and had caused tension between the groups.

   In 1528, the Panfilo de Narvaez expedition landed at Tampa Bay and explored the western portion of the Timucua territory.

   In 1539, Hernando de Soto led more than 500 men in a devastating entrada through central and north Florida. His army seized food, took women for consorts, and forced men to serve as guides and bearers. De Soto's army fought two battles with the Timucua, killing hundreds. They also introduced hogs into the forests in order to breed a food supply for later expeditions. Like De Soto and his explorers, these invasive hogs preyed on traditional Timucuan food sources and, in turn, were hunted by them. Thus causing even further changes to their lifestyle.

   There are many mixed stories about the relations between the Indians and the Spanish, which went from bad to worse as time passed.
   In 1539, Hernando de Soto found Juan Ortiz near Tampa. Ortiz had been allowed to live by the intercession of Tocobagan Chief Ucita's daughter and had even been traded among tribes. This was 68 years before the John Smith-Pocahontas event at Jamestown. It is believed that this intercession by a chief's daughter may have been a common practice among the Natives as a way of sparing the life of an outsider.
   In 1565, Pedro Menendez, on his first voyage, rescued Spanish survivors who had lived with the Calusa tribe for 20 years (1545-1565). They had survived the supposedly one-a-year sacrifices to the gods.

   One documented account of the interactions between Native tribes and Europeans is found in the memoirs of Hernando d'Escalante Fontaneda. He was shipwrecked around 1549 when he was only 13 years old. He was taken captive by the Florida Nativess and lived with them for 17 years, before he was released and returned to Spain. Seven years later, Fontaneda wrote his memoirs of his experience.

1562 - Jean Ribault Claims Florida for France

   In 1562, Jean Ribault, a French Huguenot, arrived at the land of Florida with 150 French colonists. He landed near the mouth of the St. Johns River, at what is now Jacksonville. Since they landed in the month of May, Rebault named it the "Rivière de Mai" [River of May] and erected a stone column claiming the territory for France.
   In 1564, French Huguenots, that were seeking refuge from religious persecution in France, founded Fort Caroline along the St. Johns River, in present-day Jacksonville. The French settlers of Fort Caroline were in close contact with them. After the initial conflict, the Huguenots were able to establish friendly relations with the local Timicua in the area.
   The Huguenots were seeking to escape a war between the Catholics and the Protestants in France. A French Huguenot colony was established at the present site of the city of Astor along the St. Johns River.
   Much of what we know about early Timucuan culture comes not from the Spanish but from the French colony at Fort Caroline. The sketches and notes made by Jaques le Moyne, one of the French settlers, are one of the few primary resources about the Timicua.

[Contributors: Jason Brown]

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