The Timucua and the Apalachee
People of Southeastern
People of Southwestern
Ponce de León in Florida
Narváez in Florida
Cabeza de Vaca
The Travels of De Soto
De Luna's Attempt to
The French in Florida
Founding of St. Augustine
The French Are Defeated
Menéndez Rules La Florida
Early Days in St. Augustine
Settlements and Missions
Spain Loses Its Hold on Florida
People have lived in Florida for a long time. The earliest
human artifacts that archaeologists have found in Florida
date from almost 10,000 years ago. Early native Floridians
were nomads. They drifted throughout the region, moving with
the seasons and following their food supplies. Using weapons
made of stones, bones, and ivory, they hunted the giant mastodons
and mammoths as well as smaller animals.
In time, Native Americans learned to grow
their own food. They began to build permanent homes and villages
near rivers, lakes, or along the sea. They established a system
of trade and religious and political centers.
When European explorers first came
to Florida in the 1500s, Native Americans had developed a
way of life that was suited to their environment. Abundant
resources combined with a mild climate made it possible for
the people to live off the land.
Back to Top
Timucua and the Apalachee
The Timucua (tim•uh•KOO•uh)
and the Apalachee (a•puh•LAT•chee) were both
farming peoples who settled in villages. These peoples farmed
the rich lands of North Florida, growing corn, beans, pumpkins,
and vegetables. The farmers first cleared the land by burning
the brush. They used hoes to prepare the soil. They used pointed
wooden tools, called dibble sticks, to make a hole in the ground.
Then they planted the seeds in the hole. The Timucua and the
Apalachee were also skilled hunters. They used clubs, spears,
and bows and arrows to kill their game. They used pine wood
for their slim, fast canoes.
The Apalachee built mounds and used them as religious and political
centers. The mounds at Lake Jackson Archaeological Site near
Tallahassee were built by ancestors of the Apalachee.
The Timucua lived in large circular houses with palm-thatched
roofs. Frequently, they built a wall of tall wooden poles around
their villages for protection against attack.
Like most Native Americans, the Timucua had no written language.
A Spanish priest, Francisco Pareja (pah•RAY•uh),
traveled to the Timucuan villages in the 1590s. Father Pareja
wrote down the language as it sounded to him. His work provides
one of the first records of the language of a people in North
French explorer Jean Ribault (ZHOHN •ree•BOH) who
encountered Timucua people in the 1560s described them as “gentle,
curious, and of a good nature.”
Back to Top
of Southeastern Florida
The Ais, Jeagas, and Tequesta were among the Native American
peoples who lived along Florida’s Atlantic coast. The
Ais lived near the Indian and St. Lucie Rivers. They fished
in the rivers and in the Atlantic Ocean. These Native Americans
were the first to clash with Juan Ponce de León’s
soldiers during his first expedition to Florida.
The Jeagas (YAY•gah) inhabited present-day Palm Beach
County. Jonathan Dickson, who survived a shipwreck on the coast
near Jeaga land in 1698, described them as “fierce and
bloody.” The Jeagas depended on the sea for food.
The Tequesta (teh•KES•ta)
lived in southern Florida from Pompano Beach to the Florida
Keys. Their main village was located near the mouth of the Miami
River where it flows into Biscayne Bay. They did not grow crops,
but they did gather berries, palm nuts, and other wild fruits.
They also hunted and fished in the rivers and ocean.
of Southwestern Florida
The Calusa inhabited the area from Tampa
Bay south to Cape Sable and east to Lake Okeechobee. They were
the largest and most powerful Native American group in southern
The Calusa built many mounds in the
Charlotte Harbor area. Parts of Calusa mounds remain on many
shores across their former range, including at Marco, Punta
Rassa, and Sanibel. Over many years, the Calusa built an artificial
island, now called Mound Key, near modern-day Fort Myers Beach.
Like the Tequesta, the Calusa did not grow crops. They fished,
hunted, and gathered plants, fruits, and nuts.
lived in small villages in the Tampa Bay area. They fished,
hunted, and gathered wild plants and nuts. Many other Native
American groups lived in the Tampa Bay area.
Back to Top
The first Europeans to explore and
settle what is today the United States were Spanish explorers.
In 1513, Juan Ponce de León sailed with three ships from
Puerto Rico to investigate rumors of a land to the north. He
landed near present-day Melbourne on the peninsula’s east
coast. Ponce de León found a land full of blooming wildflowers
and fragrant plants. He named the land, which he thought was
a large island, “La Florida” since it was Easter.
This religious holiday is known as Pascua Florida or
“Flowery Easter” in Spain.
León in Florida
After clashing with Timucua and Ais,
Ponce de León sailed south to the Keys discovering the
Gulf Stream. Rounding the tip of Florida, he landed in the Charlotte
Harbor area on the Gulf coast. After a brief battle with the
Calusa, Ponce de León returned to Puerto Rico.
King Ferdinand of Spain was very pleased
with Ponce de León's adventures. The king appointed Ponce de
León as the governor of Florida and asked him to set up a colony
In 1521, Ponce de León returned to Florida with 200 settlers. He hoped to establish a settlement near the area where he had clashed with the Calusa. Again his soldiers were attacked by the Calusa. Many Spaniards were killed, and Ponce de León was seriously injured by an arrow. He died a few days later in Havana, Cuba.
Back to Top
Spain spent many years trying to conquer
and settle the region. The lands that the Spaniards called La
Florida stretched north from the Florida peninsula to Canada
and west to Mexico, then called the Viceroyalty of New Spain.
In 1528, Pánfilo de Narváez (PAHN•fee•loh
day nar•VAH•ays) tried to plant a colony on the
Florida peninsula. Landing in the Tampa Bay area with about
400 soldiers and settlers, Narváez ordered his ships
to meet him farther north along the coast. He then marched inland
with 300 soldiers and 40 horses. Suddenly, the Apalachee attacked
The Spanish soldiers tried to fight
off the attacks. Running out of food and unable to find his
ships, Narváez realized that their only chance at survival
was to try to reach Mexico by sailing across the Gulf of Mexico.
The Spanish killed their own horses and used the hides to build
boats. They used their shirts and trousers to build sails. Their
escape plan might have worked if Mexico had been as close as
Sailing from near present-day St. Marks, the Spaniards began
their voyage. Not long afterwards, all but two boats sank at
sea with their crews, including Narváez. Eventually, the two
remaining boats wrecked off the coast of Texas at Galveston
Island. The Spaniards were enslaved by Native Americans and
began to die one by one, until there were just four.
Eight difficult years later, these four survivors made it on
foot to Mexico. One of the survivors, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de
Vaca (AHLovahr NOOonyays cahoBAYosah day VAHocah), wrote a book
describing his amazing adventures in Florida and Texas. The
book, called La Relación, published in 1542, became a best seller.
Cabeza de Vaca wrote that his reputation as a medicine man able
to cure the sick helped him survive:
"The cure was by making the sign of the cross.… [We prayed
that] God in His mercy made well those we were trying to cure.
Afterwards, they treated us well and gave us food, hides, and
Another survivor was the enslaved African Estevanico. Later,
he helped lead expeditions into the American Southwest. He was
captured and killed in a Zuni village in New Mexico.
Back to Top
Many expeditions followed. The men who
led these expeditions were called conquistadors, or conquerors.
They came to the Americas
"to serve God and his Majesty, to give light to those men
who were in darkness and to grow rich as all men desire to do."
Hérnan Cortés was a conquistador who invaded and conquered the
Aztec Empire in Mexico. Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro defeated
the Inca Empire and claimed most of South America for Spain.
of De Soto
The governor of Cuba, Hernando de Soto,
wished to match the feats of Pizarro and Cortés. He received
the king's permission to explore and settle Florida. After leaving
the leadership of Cuba's government in the hands of his wife,
de Soto began his travels. De Soto and his group of 600 soldiers
and 12 priests landed in Tampa Bay in May 1539. Like Narváez,
he marched north.
De Soto set up a winter camp in present-day
Tallahassee. For the next four years, de Soto's soldiers traveled
4,000 miles exploring parts of 10 present-day states. De Soto
died from a fever along the banks of the Mississippi River in
1542. Eventually, his soldiers sailed down the Mississippi River
and the Gulf of Mexico until they reached a Spanish settlement
in Mexico. Only 311 had survived. Although de Soto's mission
was regarded as a failure, the expedition brought back valuable
information about the waterways and landscape of the region.
Luna's Attempt to Settle Florida
Years passed before the next Spanish
effort to settle Florida. Spain planned to establish a colony
on the Gulf coast. Then, the expedition would establish an overland
route to the Atlantic. The expedition's leader was Tristán de
Luna y Arellano. Unlike previous expeditions that had sailed
from the Caribbean islands, de Luna sailed from Veracruz, Mexico.
He landed in Pensacola Bay in the summer of 1559. Almost immediately,
a devastating hurricane struck the area, killing many and destroying
much of de Luna's fleet and the expedition's supplies. After
many hardships, de Luna returned to Mexico.
French in Florida
France had also noticed Florida's strategic
location. Spanish treasure ships, loaded with silver from Central
America, sailed the Gulf Stream along Florida's Atlantic coast
on their way to Spain. If the French could settle Florida, they
could capture the rich cargo of the Spanish ships. In 1562,
Jean Ribault sailed to the St. Johns River near present-day
Jacksonville. He claimed Florida for France and built a stone
monument as proof of the French claim to the land. René de Laudonniere
(lohodonoyair) led a second expedition into the area in 1564.
They wanted to establish a colony for Huguenots, or French Protestants.
Because of persecution under Catholic King Henry II, many Huguenots
were fleeing from France. They wanted to build a colony where
they could worship freely.
With the help of Timucuans, the French built a triangle-shaped
garrison, or military fort, along the St. Johns River. The colonists
named the outpost Fort Caroline. Almost immediately, the colonists
faced problems. There was not enough food and many did not like
their leader. Some colonists stole boats and set sail in hopes
of seizing Spanish treasure ships. The growing threat from the
French spurred the Spanish to take action.
Back to Top
of St. Augustine
The king of Spain, Felipe II, believed
that the French were trespassing on Spanish land. The idea that
Protestants had built a colony in Florida angered him. The king
decided to put an end to the French colony.
The king ordered his finest admiral, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés
(muhoNENodez dayoah veeoLES), to drive out the French. He appointed
Menéndez governor of Florida and told him to set up a permanent
settlement there. Menéndez sailed with 500 soldiers, 200 sailors,
and 100 settlers and landed in the Timucuan village of Seloy.
On September 8, 1565, Menéndez founded the settlement of San
Agustín (Saint Augustine). Menéndez celebrated a mass giving
thanks to God for a safe journey and invited the Timucua to
share the food of the colonists. This feast of Thanksgiving
was celebrated 56 years before the Pilgrims' Thanksgiving. St.
Augustine became the oldest permanent European settlement in
the United States.
French Are Defeated
Meanwhile, Ribault had sailed south
to attack St. Augustine, but a sudden storm pushed the French
ships past St. Augustine's harbor. Many of the ships crashed
south of the harbor on the Atlantic coast.
Realizing that the French had left Fort Caroline unprotected.
Menéndez seized the opportunity to attack. Menéndez captured
the fort and ordered all French to be put "to the knife" except
for women, children, and Roman Catholics. Menéndez renamed the
fort San Mateo, which is now Jacksonville.
Menéndez then searched for the shipwrecked survivors. He found
them 15 miles to the south of St. Augustine. Menéndez put the
prisoners to death, again sparing only the women, children,
and Catholics. From that time, this site location was known
as Matanzas, the Spanish word for "slaughter."
Back to TopMenéndez
Rules La Florida
Over the next decade, Menéndez ruled
the eastern part of the United States as governor of La Florida.
In addition to St. Augustine, Menéndez founded another settlement,
Santa Elena, at present-day Parris Island, South Carolina, and
named it the capital of La Florida.
Menéndez also began to set up Catholic missions. The first,
Nombre de Dios (Name of God) was located a few miles north of
St. Augustine. Other missions and forts soon followed. These
included San Mateo (modern-day Jacksonville), Tequesta (present-day
Miami), Santa Lucía (St. Lucie County), San Antón (Mount Key
near Ft. Myers Beach), and Tocobaga (Tampa). Menéndez also founded
missions in Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia. Shortly before
his death in 1574, Menéndez wrote a letter from Spain to his
nephew stating that
"After the salvation of my soul, there is nothing in this
world I want more than to be in Florida, to end my days saving
Days in St. Augustine
As the northernmost garrison of Spain's
empire in the Americas, St. Augustine was very important to
the Spanish treasure fleets. The garrison provided protection
and the "last stop" for the ships that sailed from the Americas
to Spain. Colonization in Florida grew very slowly, however.
Through most of the first Spanish period (1565-1763), Florida
had to depend on financial help sent from the government in
Colonization was also slowed by the English. English pirates
seized the Spanish treasure ships and staged attacks on St.
Augustine. In 1586, Sir Francis Drake looted and burned St.
Augustine to the ground. In 1668, the English pirate Robert
Searles plundered the settlement. Protection was needed and
Queen Mariana of Spain approved construction of an enormous
stone fort. Completed in 1695, the new fort was named Castillo
de San Marcos. When British forces attacked St. Augustine in
1702 and 1740, the town's residents took refuge inside the walls
of the Castillo.
Back to TopSettlements
In 1698, Spanish colonists established
a settlement in Pensacola. Like St. Augustine, Pensacola was
also the target of raid and attacks, by French forces as well
Two miles north of St. Augustine, the Spanish built a fort and
settlement in 1738 for runaway slaves from the British colonies.
They were freed and given self-rule. The small village was called
Ft. Mosé, and it became the first free African settlement in
By the mid-1600s, the Franciscan missionaries had established
31 missions in present-day Florida and five along Georgia's
coastal islands. Approximately 26,000 Christian Native Americans
lived either in or nearby these missions. In each mission, a
handful of priests taught religion, arts and crafts, farming,
cattle raising, and reading and writing to Timucuans and Apalachees.
Its Hold on Florida
These successful missions would have a tragic end. Between 1702 and 1704, the English governor of South Carolina, James Moore, sent forces to attack and burn the missions. Thousands of Apalachees and Timucuans were captured and sold as slaves. A few escaped and others moved to St. Augustine.
Spain entered the Seven Years' War (in North America it was called the French and Indian War) on the side of France. In 1762, the British captured the city of Havana in Cuba. When the peace treaty was signed, Spain was forced to give up Florida to the British in exchange for Havana.
Back to Top