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Timucuan Family, Timucuan People, Timucuan Nation. A group of cognate tribes formerly occupying the greater part of North Florida, extending along the east coast from about lat. 28°, below Cape Canaveral, to above the mouth of St John river, and along the west coast probably from Tampa bay northward to about Ocilla river, where they met the Apalachee, of Muskhogean stock. The Hitchiti and Yamasee, also Muskhogean, appear to have occupied their north frontier nearly on the present state boundary but the Timucua held both banks of St Marys river and Cumberland island south of lat. 28° the west coast was held by the Calusa, and the east coast by the Ais and Tequesta, rude and fierce tribes, of whose language nothing is known, but who seem to have had no relation with the Timucuan tribes. The family designation is derived from the name of one of the principal tribes, the Timucua, Timagoa, Tornoco, or Atimuca, whose territory was about St Augustine and on middle St John river. The name may possibly signify ‘lord’ or ‘ruler.’ Other principal tribes were Saturiba on the lower St John; Yustaga, or Hostaqua, about the upper Suwannee; Potano, west of St John river, between the heads of the Withlacoochee and Suwannee; Tocobaga, between Withlacoochee river and Tampa bay; Mayaca, on the north east coast; Marracou, 40 leagues from the mouth of St John river. Several other tribes can not be so definitely located, and all identification is rendered difficult owing to the confusion existing in the minds of the first explorers between chief names, tribe or village names, and titles. The statement, often repeated, that the chief had the same name as his “province” or tribe was due to misunderstanding.
In person the Timucuan people are described as tall and well made. They went almost entirely naked except for the breechcloth, but covered their bodies with an elaborate tattooing. They were agricultural, though apparently not to the same extent as the Muskhogean tribes, depending more on game, fish, oysters, wild fruits, and bread from the nourishing coonti root. Their larger towns were compactly built and stockaded, their houses being circular structures of poles thatched with palmetto leaves, with a large “townhouse” for tribal gatherings in the center of the public square. From misunderstanding of the description, Brinton and others following him have incorrectly described this townhouse as a communal dwelling. Society was based on the clan system, and Pareja (1612) gives an interesting account of the intricate system of kinship relations. The clans were grouped into phratries, usually bearing animal names, and certain chiefships or functions seem to have been hereditary in certain clans. In his time the system was retained even by the mission converts. In military organization and authority of the chiefs they seem to have surpassed the more northern tribes. Scalping and mutilation of the dead were universally practiced, and human sacrifice was a regular part of their religious ritual, the victims, as among the Natchez, being sometimes infants belonging to the tribe. There is evidence also of occasional cannibalism. The narrative and descriptive illustrations of Le Moyne, the French Huguenot (1564), shed much light on the home life, war customs, and ceremonies, while from Pareja’s confessional a good idea of their beliefs and religious practices is gained. All the dialects of the family seem to have been so closely related as to be mutually intelligible. Pareja names 7, viz: Freshwater District (probably on the interior lakes) , Itafi, Mocama (a coast dialect), Potano, Santa Lucia de Acuera (s. from C. Canaveral) Timacua, and Tucurnru (on the Atlantic coast). Besides these there were probably others in the interior and on the west coast. The language was vocalic and musical, with a very complex grammar.
The history of the Timucuan tribes begins with the landing of Ponce de Leon near the site of the present St Augustine in 1513. In 1528 Narvaez led his small army from Tampa bay northward to explore the country of the Apalachee and beyond. In 1539 De Soto went over nearly the same route, his historians mentioning some 20 tribal or local names within the region, including Yustaga and Potano. In 1562-64 the French Huguenots under Ribault and Laudonnière attempted settlements at the mouth of St John river, explored the middle course of the stream and the adjacent interior, and became acquainted with the tribes of Saturiba (Satouiroua) and Timucua (Thimagoa), as well as with the Potano (Potanou) and Yustaga (Hostaqua) already visited by De Soto. In 1565 the Spaniards under Menendez destroyed the French posts, killing all their defenders; they then founded St Augustine and began the permanent colonization of the country. Within a few years garrisons were established and missions founded, first under the Jesuits and later under the Francis-cans. (See San Juan, San Mateo, San Pedro.) The principal center of mission enterprise was in the neighborhood of St Augustine among the Timucua proper. The most noted of these missionaries was Father Francisco Pareja, who arrived in 1594 and after 16 years of successful work retired to the City of Mexico, where he wrote a Timucua grammar, dictionary, and several devotional works, from which, and from the French narrative, is derived practically all that we know of the language, customs, beliefs, and organization of the Timucuan tribes. Pareja died in 1628. In spite of one or two revolts by which several missionaries lost their lives, the Timucuan tribes in general, particularly along the E. coast, accepted Christianity and civilization and became the allies of the Spaniards. In 1699 the Quaker Dickenson visited several of their mission settlements and noted the great contrast between the Christian Indians and the savage tribes of the southern peninsula among whom he had been a captive. A few years later, about 1703, began the series of invasions by the English of Carolina and their savage Indian allies, Creek, Catawba, and Yuchi, by which the missions were destroyed, hundreds of their people killed, and hundreds, possibly thousands, of others, men, women, and children, carried off into slavery, while the remnant took refuge close under the walls of St Augustine. The prosperous Apalachee, missions shared the same fate. With the decline of the Spanish power and the incessant inroads of the Creeks and Seminole, the native Indians rapidly dwindled until on the transfer of the territory to the United States in 1821 only a handful remained, and these apparently belonging mostly to the uncivilized tribes of the southern end. It is possible that the remnant of the mission tribes had been later shipped to Cuba by the Spaniards, as had been the case with the Calusa in 1763.
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