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Unlocking What Happened to the Original Floridians

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I just finished reading this book, “Biocultural Histories in La Florida, A Bioarchaeological Perspective,” by Christopher M. Stojanowski.

biocultural histories - Copy

It is highly technical & anthropological. But what I like, is to find something that challenges our beliefs about history, and goes into the archaeological evidence to prove it.

This book looks at the effects of the Spanish missions on the indigenous communities in Florida during the 16th and 17th century. Human remains that were excavated from sites in Florida examine the bone structure that tells us the healthiness and diet of the people, and the genetic variability. What was the population’s response to the Spanish contact, and what eventually happened to them?

The book says, “Results suggest considerable difference in diachronic response to the mission environment for each cultural province [in Spanish Florida.]”

“Apalachee demonstrate a marked increase in variability while the Guale demonstrate a decline in variability. Demographic models of population collapse are therefore inconsistent with predicted changes based on population genetics, and the determinants of population structure seem largely local in nature. This book highlights the specificity with which indigenous communities responded to European contact and the resulting transformations in their social worlds.”

The common held theory is that the Apalachee were destroyed by disease and plagues. After examining anthropological evidence, it paints a different picture.

The Spanish did not find gold or mineral riches in La Florida. But the riches were the people, the human resources. The labor of the natives was used to build St. Augustine, and sent elsewhere in the Spanish realm in the western hemisphere as workers and labors after other indigenous populations had disappeared.

Each of the tribes in Florida had a different response to Spanish contact, and not all the same fate. The Timucuan and Guale were the first to encounter the Spanish, and they suffered immediately from sickness and plague. The Apalachee were not settled with missions until decades later. By that time, they had built up a resistance to some of the plagues, and it did not have as big an effect upon them.

So the Timucuan and Guale, were wiped out within 100 years of settling St. Augustine. The Apalachee survived. The population was spread out by the Spanish as they needed the workers elsewhere to replace the local indigenous populations that died out and disappeared. Or the Apalachee were filled with refugee remnants of other tribes who joined them as those other tribes were wiped out by slavery or disease. Later, several native uprisings by the Apalachee towards the demanding Spanish would force the populations to scatter elsewhere.

Finally the English Carolina colony under Governor Moore came down and wiped out the Spanish mission chain in north Florida, either enslaving, killing, or driving off the people. Many of the Apalachee went west to Pensacola and then Mobile. No doubt many of them were eventually assimilated into what became the Creeks. Today there is a small remnant of Apalachee descendants in Louisiana, and they are Catholic.

So the bottom line is that different tribes were impacted differently by the European colonization. Not all suffered the same fate. And it would seem to indicate that more Calusa survived than what has been previously thought, but that has been an ongoing study by Dr. John Worth.

This enslavement of indigenous tribes continued for centuries later, as told by Siggy Second-Jumper in his book, “Second-Jumper: Searching for His Bloodline.” I did a book review of his book here, a couple years ago. His Apache great-grandparents were secretly taken from St. Augustine in 1886 and forced to work in slavery on plantations in Cuba. What they found there, was remnants of other native tribes, forced to live together. A mix of different people and cultures. This was slavery almost a century after it had been outlawed, but still following the model of what happened to the indigenous tribes in Florida 200-300 years earlier. In this case, though, his family made it back to Florida in the 1950s; and incredibly, traced down their Apache cousins out west. I apparently loaned out my copy of the book, because I can’t find it in my library!
Current Location:
The Kimball Library of Seminole War History
Current Mood:
accomplished accomplished
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