- Access Genealogy - http://www.accessgenealogy.com -
Native American History of Wakulla County, Florida
Posted By Dennis Partridge On In Florida,Native American | No Comments
Wakulla County is located in northwestern Florida. It was named after the Creek-Seminole pronunciation of a Native American word, Guacara, The county seat and largest city in the county is Crawfordville. Its northern boundary is Leon County, FL. Its northern boundary is Leon County, FL. To the east is Jefferson County, FL; to the west is Liberty County, FL and the southwest, is Franklin County, FL. The Ochlockonee River forms much of the western boundary of the county.
The meaning of Guacara is unknown. Most texts suggest that it is an Arawak word, but this seems unlikely since the region was solidly Muskogean. Another explanation is that it is a Tamaule word. Tamaule was originally spoken in the coastal plain of Tamaulipas State. When the region was invaded around 1250 AD by Chichimec barbarians, many of the inhabitants apparently fled to the Gulf Coast and southern Georgia. Their language became one of the dialects of Itsate (Hitchiti-Creek.) If that is the case, the original word in Tamauli was Wakale, which means Waka People. The Spanish almost always changed a Muskogean “e” to a Castilian “a.” A similar name was used for a hybrid people living in southern Florida, near Lake Okeechobee.
The terrain of Wakulla County is characterized by spines of the Red Hills Country reaching southward from southwest Georgia, flat, acidic, sandy soil near numerous stream channels, riverine seasonal wetlands, sinkholes, large springs, freshwater lakes and freshwater swamps. . The flow of water, both above ground and underground is generally in a north to south direction.
There are numerous creeks and small rivers in Wakulla County. These include the Ochlockonee, River, the Sopchoppy River, Wakulla River, St. Marks River and Lost Creek. Lost Creek begins in the northwestern corner of the county then flows southeastward into the central portion of the county, before entering the ground. Prior to acquisition of the region by the United States, the St. Marks River was known as the Apalachee or Ogetagana River.
The Gulf Coastal Plain stretching from Mobile, AL to Cedar Key, FL was known as Am-Ixchel by Native Americans, when first explored by the Spaniards in the 1500s. The word was written as Amichel in Castilian and means “Place of the Moon Goddess” in Chontal Maya. This evidence along with many surviving Itza and Chontal Maya place names in Georgia and the Southern Highlands, suggests that the sea-going Chontal Maya merchants were familiar with present day northwestern Florida.
The Wakulla area was intensely inhabited by Native Americans because of the abundance of food resources. Many ethnic groups probably lived in Florida’s Gulf Coast Plain from time to time. The primary inhabitants of present day Wakulla County, when the Spanish explored the region in the 1600 were the Florida Apalachee. Apalachee is derived from the Itsate-Creek word for torch or lamp, apala. The word can be translated as either “torch bearer” or “those who bring light.”
There was another province called Apalachee in the Georgia Mountains. Both spoke a dialect of the Itsate (Hitchiti) language that is of the Muskogean Language family. Itsate is similar to the Alabama language, but contains many Totonac and Itza Maya loan words from Mexico. Some Apalachees still live in Louisiana, but knowledge of the language’s full vocabulary and grammar have been lost.
There are many Indian mounds and shell middens in Wakulla County. Middens are piles of detritus that have accumulated due to long term human occupation. The mounds and middens today consist of sandy rises in the flat terrain of the bottomlands or low piles of eroded sea shells. Erosion and acidic water have tended to flatten them from their original form. The middens often contain broken pottery.
Geologists believe that Florida was once part of Africa. However, the ancient rocks that the Florida Panhandle shares with the northwest coast of Africa are buried over 10,000 feet beneath the surface. Above them are bands of sedimentary rocks created by the accumulation of sea life, sand and soils washed down from the Southern Highlands. No dinosaur fossils have been found in Florida because the region was under water until about 45 million years ago.
During the Pleistocene Epoch or Ice Age, the coast of the Florida Panhandle was as much as 100 miles south of its present location. Botanical evidence suggests that the climate was much more isothermal than today (less differences between seasons.)
The Holocene Epoch began around 10,000 years ago, as the glaciers in northern North America started to retreat. Around 8,000 years, ago the Gulf of Mexico began rising. By around 1,500 BC the shoreline was only about five feet lower in elevation than today. However, even at a five feet difference, the Florida Panhandle extended about 20 miles farther south than today. By that time, however, most of northwest Florida’s rivers and springs had formed in similar conditions to today. The shoreline stabilized around 1000 AD, but in recent decades the level of the Gulf of Mexico has begun to rise again.
Archaeologists believe that humans have lived in Wakulla County for at least 13,000 years, perhaps much longer. During the coldest periods of the Ice Age, the Gulf Coast region would have been one of the few areas of North America that could be comfortably inhabited by homo sapiens. Evidence of the earliest humans may be buried of accumulated soils or under the sea bed as much as 100 miles out from today’s shoreline. Nevertheless, the oldest known human remains found in the Southeast (roughly 10,000 years old) were discovered in the sediment under a cenote (sink hole) in Sarasota County, FL. They included a skull still containing brain matter.
Clovis and Folsom points, associated with Late Ice age big game hunters have been found in Wakulla County.. During the Ice Age, herds of giant mammals roamed the river bottom lands. The mastodons, saber tooth tigers, giant sloths and other massive mammals died out about 8,000 years ago. The ethnic identity of the Clovis Culture hunters is not known. They were long presumed to be American Indians from Siberia, but recent research by anthropologists has revealed many similarities with the big game hunters of Western Europe. An ice cap on the North Atlantic Ocean may have permitted early humans to move back and forth between continents by paddling, while gaining sustenance from hunting sea mammals and fishing. The big game hunters of both continents may have been a hybrid people with mixed Mongoloid-European physiologies.
After the climate warmed, animals and plants typical of today soon predominated in this region. Humans adapted to the changes and gradually became more sophisticated. They adopted seasonal migratory patterns that maximized access to food resources. The coastal areas were probably avoided during hurricane season. Archaic hunters probably moved to locations along the Gulf Coast and rivers during the winter, where they could eat fish and shellfish, if game was not plentiful.
The earliest known pottery in the Western Hemisphere was discovered on Stallings Island in the Savannah River near Augusta, GA. The earliest examples have been radiocarbon dated to about 2,500 BC. It was rather crude, being unrefined clay tempered with Spanish Moss. By about 2000 BC or earlier, pottery making had spread to the Lower Chattahoochee-Apalachicola and St. Marks River Basins. The fabrication of pottery and soapstone bowls was not practical until Native Americans began occupying permanent villages where they could be stored.
Northwestern Florida was a location of some of the earliest permanent villages in North America. A sedentary lifestyle was made possible by abundant natural food sources such as large game, fish, freshwater mussels and the cultivation of gardens. Archaeologists have labeled the Early Woodland peoples of Northwest Florida as the Deptford Culture. The Deptford Culture extended over much of northern Florida, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.
Deptford Culture villages were relatively small and dispersed. Some were permanent bases while others were seasonal hunting, fishing or gathering camps. There was probably much socialization among these villages because of the need to find spouses that were not closely related. Houses were round and built out of saplings, river cane and thatch.
The Early Woodland Period peoples of the region built numerous mounds, although few are visible today because the sandy soil of the Gulf Coastal Plain erodes quickly. Apparently, most of these mounds were primarily for burials, but may have also supported simple structures that were used for rituals or meetings. They were constructed accretionally. This means that the mounds grew in size over the generations by piling sand, soil and detritus from the village over recent burials.
Deptford Culture style pottery and artifacts were made in some parts of the Lower Southeast as late as 600 AD. This suggests to anthropologists that they were made by an aboriginal ethnic group that was gradually marginalized as Muskogean communities expanded in number and territory.
Archaeological evidence in the Chattahoochee River Valley suggests that the first Muskogean farmers entered northwestern Florida and western Georgia around 500 BC, after originally migrating from west-central Mexico via the Lower Mississippi. However, northwest Florida was probably already occupied by people related to the Ciboney of Cuba. Anthropologists currently believe that the Ciboney settled Cuba from Florida
It is quite likely that in 500 BC northwestern Florida contained people related to the Yuchi and Southern Siouans such as the Biloxi. There may have been other ethnic groups whose identities have been concealed by time. Agricultural technology, cultural traditions and DNA probably blended between these peoples. Modern “Creek” Indians may represent a genetic mix of several indigenous ethnic groups.
Around 500 BC, the Santa Rosa Culture began evolving in the Florida Panhandle. It is named after Santa Rosa Island in Santa Rosa County, FL. Early Santa Rosa Culture villages are characterized by permanent architecture, community spaces and evidence of trade contacts with other parts of eastern North America. In particular, archaeologists have discovered trade items associated with the Midwest, as Santa Rosa villages grew in size and sophistication.
Around 100 BC, the inhabitants of present day Wakulla County began showing increasing cultural influence from the Swift Creek Culture, which originated in Georgia. Wakulla County was particularly affected by this influence because it was just across the Chattahoochee River from the emerging Kolomoki ceremonial town site. The Santa Rosa-Swift Creek Culture people built permanent towns with horseshoe shaped plazas for playing ball games, near the Chattahoochee River.
Anthropologists outside the Southeast often link the Swift Creek Culture with the Hopewell Culture because of the similarity in chronology. However, the Hopewell Culture in Ohio was clearly obsessed with death and contained very few, if any, permanent villages. The architecture of the two cultural zones was very different. Santa Rosa-Swift Creek earthworks were often earthen pyramids oriented to the solar azimuth. The Santa Rosa-Swift Creek peoples became increasingly dependent on agriculture and therefore generally located their villages and towns in fertile river bottomlands.
Swift Creek Style pottery is considered some of the most beautiful ever made in North America. The Swift Creek People were also known for their finely crafted copper tools, weapons and ornaments. They built both ellipsoid shaped accretional mounds and some large pyramidal mounds for temples. The pyramidal mounds differed little in shape and function from what was being built in Mexico at the time.
Around 250 AD, the Santa Rosa-Swift Creek Culture villages in Wakulla County began evolving into the Weeden Island Culture. Weeden Island villages and ceremonial towns continued many Swift Creek traditions, but there were distinct changes in the pottery that seem to reflect Caribbean influences. Weeden Island sculptures created hollow human figures, while this was rarely, if ever, done by Swift Creek ceramicists.
The Swift Creek Culture collapsed in Georgia’s Coastal Plain around 600 AD. Virtually, all villages below the Fall Line suddenly disappeared, but some Swift Creek villages in the mountains continued to be occupied to as late as 1000 AD. The sudden depopulation near navigable waters suggests attacks by sea craft from the Atlantic Ocean, but to date, no evidence of specific foreign invaders have been discovered by archaeologists.
The Northwest Florida Weeden Island Culture villages declined in population after 600 AD, started declining around 750 AD, but were not completely abandoned to until around 900 AD. Significant declines in population seem to have coincided with the rise of a very advanced culture near Lake Okeechobee, Florida.
The period when Weeden Island Culture disappeared and the Lake Okeechobee Culture (Belle Glade III) rose, is now known to have been a time of drought in Yucatan. Most of the large Maya cities were abandoned by this time. The Long Calendar dates were no longer inscribed on stelae. This drought may have caused Maya commoners to flee northward into the Southeastern United States, where conditions were less hostile.
By 700 AD, the many permanent towns around Lake Okeechobee in southern Florida practiced all of the cultural traits, except large scale cultivation of corn that 350 years later were to appear at Cahokia, IL. The Native peoples of the Lake Okeechobee region even built large mounds and ceremonial pools in the shape of ceremonial scepters that were later used by the elite at such famous town sites as Cahokia, Moundville, AL, Ocmulgee Mounds, GA and Etowah Mounds, GA. It is quite likely that traders or raiders from Lake Okeechobee reached northwest Florida at the same time that the Weeden Island Culture was expiring. There may be a connection.
Coinciding with the disappearance of Swift Creek villages is the wide spread use of the bow and arrow. In the St Marks and Wakulla River Basins, this next cultural phase is known as the Wakulla Culture. Pottery styles other than Wakulla gradually petered off, to the point at the end of the Late Woodland Period (1000 AD,) only Wakulla Style pottery has been indentified by archaeologists. Arrow points are easily distinguishable from atlatl (javelin) and spear points by their smaller size. It is not clear if the scarcity of Late Woodland settlement equates to a drop in total population. The efficiency of hunting with a bow may have made dispersed hamlets more desirable than concentrated villages.
All of the cultural traits, including large scale cultivation of corn, beans and squash that were associated with the “Mississippian Culture,” appeared on the Lower Chattahoochee River and at the Ocmulgee site at Macon, GA around 900 AD. “Mississippian” style houses and mounds were not constructed at Cahokia until around 1050 AD. Therefore, the generic term “hierarchal” is a more accurate description of the cultural changes that appeared in northwest Florida around 900 AD. They obviously were introduced by peoples from the south, not the Mississippi River Basin.
The town and village sites, founded around 900 AD, in or near present day Wakulla County, initially had very similar pottery and architecture to that of Ocmulgee. They probably were founded by the same ethnic group. The pottery was similar to the Plain Style Redware produced by Maya commoners that is endemic around the edges of Maya cities. The architecture was almost identical to that built by the illiterate Chontal Maya along the coast of Tabasco State in Mexico. The Chontal Maya only built earthen mounds and were illiterate during the Classic Maya Period that ended around 900 AD.
Florida archaeologists generically label all of the hierarchal towns in northwestern Florida as the Fort Walton Culture, after a mound at Fort Walton Beach, FL. Their labeling of this culture is primarily based on pottery, since most Muskogean provinces in the Southeast cultivated corns, bean and squash on a large scale, built mounds and evidenced hierarchal societies.
Architectural historians, however, have identified four distinct cultural zones where there were extensive contrasts in architecture and town planning. These were the Pensacola-Perdido Wakulla Area, the Choctawhatchee River Basin, the Chattahoochee-Apalachicola River Basin and the Red Clay Hills-Fort Walton Region. These four zones, interestingly enough, correspond to four separate ethnic groups who were present when the Spanish first explored the region.
At the same time that Arawak village sites first appeared in northeastern Florida, Ocmulgee and many Muskogean mound sites in northeastern Florida were abandoned. By 1200 AD several town sites on the lower Chattahoochee River were temporarily abandoned, while others began evolving cultural traits more like those of northwestern Alabama, or even later proto-Creek towns. In the mid-1700s there were still some Arawak towns in central Alabama. In 1901, a Taino (Puerto Rican Arawak) stella was found near Atlanta, GA at a hilltop shrine overlooking the Chattahoochee River, Obviously, the Arawaks initially penetrated deep into traditional Muskogean territory, and probably caused the collapse of some provinces.
There was another wave of burned temples and/or town abandonments in the Chattahoochee Basin in the period between 1250 AD and 1300s AD. These seem linked to a war between indigenous Muskogeans and those migrating eastward from the Mississippi Basin. Much of the central Mississippi Basin was abandoned during this era. After 1300 AD, few, if any, pentagonal mounds were initiated. Mounds built thereafter tended to be rounded on the edges to the point that many had oval footprints.
The architectural evidence suggests that during the Late Hierarchal Period ethnic groups were located in the same regions, when encountered by Spanish explorers in the 16th century. These were the Pensacola around Pensacola and Perdido Bays; the Chatot, along the Choctawhatchee River to the Chipola River; the Apalachicola along the Lower Chattahoochee and Apalachicola and Flint Rivers; and the Apalachee in the Red Clay Hills region southward to Fort Walton Beach.
The Kingdom of Spain claimed all of the Chattahoochee River Basins and Florida Gulf Coast, including Wakulla County, from 1513 until 1745. This claim was based on Narvaez Expedition (1538,) the Hernando de Soto Expedition (1539,), the Tristan de Luna Expedition, the Juan Pardo Expedition (1567,) and a surveying expedition authorized by Governor Don Benito Ruiz de Salazar Vallecilla of the Province of La Florida around 1647.
In 1645 Governor Don Benito Ruiz de Salazar Vallecilla led an army of Spanish soldiers up the Chattahoochee Valley, which burned most Apalachicola and Muskogee towns because they refused to allow Roman Catholic missionaries in their provinces. The Apalachicola refugees fled to northwestern Georgia along the Etowah and Oothlooga Rivers. This act of terrorism set the stage for what would become the complete destruction of the Spanish mission system in La Florida.
In 1680 the Spanish constructed a timber palisade and earthen fort on San Marcos Bay. This was viewed as a defense against French and English pirates and a place of refuge for travelers in the Apalachee Mission system.
In 1702, Don Francisco Romo de Uriza led an army of approximately 800 Spanish and Apalachee soldiers northward to burn Creek towns that had traded with the English and then attack Charleston from the rear. A combined army from a Apalachicola town and a Chickasaw town lured the Spanish into a trap along the Flint River, just above its confluence with the Chattahoochee. Approximately, ¾ of the Spanish army was annihilated.
In 1704, armies of Creeks along with some Carolina militiamen invaded western Florida. All Apalachee villages that put up resistance were sacked and most of their surviving populations enslaved. Almost all adult male Apalachee combatants were either killed in battle or tortured to death afterward. Over 3,000 Apalachee youth and women were marched in chains to Charleston, where they were auctioned off to planters or slave ship owners. The majority were shipped to British colonies in the Caribbean, where they endured short, brutal lives working in the sugar plantations. Few lived past two years of slavery.
The Creek-British Army attacked Fuerza San Marcos and destroyed. It is believed that most, or all, of its garrison were killed. Certainly, any Apalachee soldiers did not survive the battle. As intimated earlier, the massacres of the Apalachee mission villages were directly due to the brutality of the Spanish and their Apalachee mercenaries when they invaded the Apalachicola and Muskogee provinces in 1645.
After word spread about the devastation of the missions, the horrific fate of captives, and the inability of the Spanish army to stop the invaders, many Apalachee changed sides and accompanied the joint British-Creek army back to the Savannah River. Those British-allied Apalachees continued to live along the Upper Savannah River until after the American Revolution, when they migrated westward and became members of the Creek Confederacy.
After 1705, the emerging Muskogee Confederacy increasingly controlled the hinterlands of the Florida Panhandle to the point that the Spanish garrison was isolated in Pensacola. Creek bands hunted and settled there. At the close of the Yamasee War in 1717, many Muskogean towns in eastern Georgia relocated to the Lower Chattahoochee River or what is now southwestern Alabama. By necessity, the isolated Spanish community and their new Muskogean neighbors developed better relations. The Spanish no longer tried to forcibly convert the Muskogeans to Catholicism.
In 1759, during the French and Indian War, a masonry fortress was begun roughly at the same site as the 16th century timber palisade. Construction was abandoned at the close of the war in 1763, when Great Britain gained control of Florida. The location was then turned over to Native Americans, probably Apalachicola-Creeks. It became a trading post and a fishing village.
In late 1783, the Florida Panhandle reverted to Spanish ownership in the treaty ending the American Revolution. Spain had been an ally of United States. Strangely, France got almost nothing but the “last laugh” for its enormous contribution to the American Patriot’s victory. The masonry fortress at San Marcos was finished at reoccupied in 1784.
By this time, northwestern Florida was solidly under the occupation of the now-powerful Creek Confederacy. During the late 1700s, the Creeks even built a navy to patrol the coast of the Florida Panhandle. It was based in Creek towns along the Lower Chattahoochee-Apalachicola River.
As the Creek Confederacy lost more and more land in Georgia, many Creek towns moved down into Florida. They were predominantly Itsati-speaking towns, not Muskogees. The Creek Confederacy towns that had entered earlier in the 1700s also were predominantly Itsati or Yuchi speakers. This linguistic difference set the stage for the schism that created separate Muskogee-Creek and Seminole tribes.
The majority of people in the Florida today, who call themselves Muskogee-Creeks, can be descended from numerous North American tribes. These include Eastern Creeks who spoke Itsate; Lower Creeks who originally spoke Apalachicola; or Yuchi, who spoke an entirely different language. Also, in the late 1700s and early 1800s hundreds of Carolina Native Americans relocated to northwestern Florida. Some were Muskogeans, while others were Siouan or Algonquin. These immigrants often had assimilated European culture and had some European heritage. They married other races and became associated with those races; joined the Creek Confederacy; or else became labeled as Seminoles, even though they may not have had Muskogean ancestry.
Spain ruled West Florida (which included Alabama below the 31st Parallel) until 1821. Several Creek towns and many mixed blood Creek families moved in this virtually uninhabited region after 1793, when the Creek Confederacy ceded all of its lands in eastern Georgia. Northwestern Florida was soon viewed as traditional Creek territory by white Americans, even though their presence was relative recent.
During the second Spanish colonial period, it was quite common for the Creeks, Carolina Indians, Europeans and Africans to be neighbors. There was much intermarriage between ethnic groups. Most of the Natives did not have direct political ties with the Creek Confederacy, but also did not practice semi-traditional lifestyles like the Seminoles. However, they were often labeled Seminoles.
When the War of 1812 broke out, British agents working out of the Spanish town of Pensacola tried to persuade the Native Peoples of Florida and southern Alabama to become allies of Great Britain against the United States. The Native peoples of present day Wakulla County had no incentive to become belligerents. Their lifestyles differed little from those of white settlers, and most were part European anyway.
Eventually, the combination of British offers for support, along with the persuasive speeches of the Shawnee leader, Tecumseh, influenced a minority of Creek towns to rebel against the national government of the Creek Confederacy. Most of the insurgents were Upper Creeks from the hill country of northern Alabama. Initial battles were between these so-called Red Sticks and the pro-American majority of the Creek Confederacy. However, after the killing of virtually all the white and Indian inhabitants of Fort Mims, Alabama, the war spread to become one between the Red Sticks and the United States. The last phase of this bloody war occurred in the Choctawhatchee Basin.
After the catastrophic defeat of the Red Sticks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, surviving insurgents fled southward. Intermittent raids by paramilitary units among Creeks, Seminoles and whites continued along the Florida, Georgia-Alabama War after the official end of the Red Stick War in 1814. Like most Itsati (Hitchiti-Creeks) towns, the Miccosukee did not consider themselves to be Muskogee-Creeks.
Itsati towns continued to occupy some areas of southwest Georgia. In 1816 fighting broke out between the Miccosukee’s of southwest Georgia and American troops. The cause of this war was the Treaty of Indian Springs in 1825. Without authority of the Creek National Council, a small group of minor Muskogee in Georgia gave away virtually all of Creek sovereign lands in Georgia, including the sacred site of Ocmulgee Old Fields. Most Itsati towns had been consistent American allies. This further strengthened their position of not being bound by treaties with the Creek Confederacy.
Fort Scott was established on the Lower Chattahoochee River to guard the border with Florida. When Americans started farming Miccosukee lands east of the Flint River, their leaders ordered them to leave. A Miccosukee town was located 15 miles east of the fort. The refusal of the garrison’s commander to comply resulted in escalating guerilla warfare. The U.S. Army sent 250 men to attack Fowltown, the Miccosukee village. They were beaten off the first day, but succeeded in burning the settlement on the second day. The next week, the Itsati attacked a riverboat bringing supplies to Fort Scott, killing most of the crew and passengers.
An army under Andrew Jackson invaded Florida in 1818 and attacked Native American and African settle across the northern tier of the Spanish territory. Some of the fighting was in Wakulla County. Peaceful farmsteads of Creeks, Itsati, and Yuchi families were attacked by paramilitary bands from Georgia. This provoked them to join the hostile Itsati and Creek towns. Much of the fighting in what was to become Wakulla County was conducted by small bands in skirmishes.
This first Muskogean-American war is called the First Seminole War. However, the majority of Native American belligerents did not consider themselves “Creeks” or Seminoles. The large American army quickly crushed Native resistance. Survivors fled southward. They became allied with Muskogean towns that had been living in Florida for many decades. At the same time, the United States government labeled all Muskogeans in Florida as being “Seminoles” regardless if they were Muskogees or Itsati’s.
There were two more Creek Wars and two more Seminole Wars. The Creek wars were relatively short events and of limited geographical scale. The later Seminole Wars involved fighting over much of the Florida Peninsula, but very little combat took place in Wakulla County.
The ultimate result of the six Muskogean wars in Florida was that many peaceful Native Americans were forced out of the Florida Panhandle. While there was originally much tolerance and intermarriage between the races within Florida, the bad feelings of these wars caused the new white majority to abuse and disfranchise Native Americans and Free Blacks. Some descendents of Wakulla County’s early 19th century Native American settlers remain in the region.
Article printed from Access Genealogy: http://www.accessgenealogy.com
URL to article: http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/native-american-history-of-wakulla-county-florida.htm
Copyright © 2013 Access Genealogy (http://www.accessgenealogy.com/). All rights reserved.