Timucua

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TIMUCUA

TIMUCUA. In the sixteenth century, prior to contact with the Spanish, around 200,000 Timucuans lived in what is today northern Florida and southern Georgia. Approximately thirty-five distinct chiefdoms divided the area politically. Their language, Timucua, is so strikingly different from other southeastern languages that some linguists have argued that the Timucuans may have originated in Central or South America, but archaeological evidence, some of it 5,000 years old, seems to undermine these claims.

Each of the chiefdoms consisted of two to ten villages, with lesser villages and leaders paying tribute to higher-status chiefs. Both men and women served as chiefs. Before contact with the Spanish, Timucuans lived in close proximity to wetlands, and supported themselves by hunting, fishing, and gathering. Because of their rapid demise after contact with the Spanish, little is known about Timucuan culture and lifeways. Archaeologists in recent decades have begun to fill in sorely needed details about diet, burial practices, and political structures.

Contact with the Spanish brought sweeping changes to Timucua country as each of the thirty-five chiefdoms received its own Franciscan mission between 1595 and 1630. The presence of Spanish missions brought about more than just religious change; the once locally oriented Timucuans were drawn into the broader struggle for empire on a global scale. In the missions, Timucuans built churches, forts, and barracks for the Spanish; they also raised pigs and sheep and grew corn. Indians grew the food and provided the labor that allowed the Spanish to dominate the Southeast throughout the seventeenth century. At the same time, disease imported from Europe wreaked havoc on Timucuan peoples. Epidemics caused severe depopulation: by the 1650s, only around 2,000 Timucuans remained.

Although their population declined drastically, mission life provided some measure of stability for Timucuans. This stability was short-lived, however. The founding of English colonies at Jamestown (1607) and Charles Town (1670) renewed conflict between Spain and Britain, and Carolina slavers and allied Native groups continually raided the Spanish missions for captives. When Spain evacuated Florida following the Seven Years' War, all of the remaining Timucuans were taken to Cuba. The last full-blooded Timucuan died in Cuba in 1767.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Milanich, Jerald T. The Timucua. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1996.

———. Laboring in the Fields of the Lord: Spanish Missions and Southeastern Indians. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999.

———. "The Timucua Indians of Northern Florida and Southern Georgia." In Indians of the Greater Southeast: Historical Archaeology and Ethnohistory. Edited by Bonnie G. McEwan. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000.

Worth, John. The Timucuan Chiefdoms of Spanish Florida. 2 vols. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998.

Matthew HoltJennings

See alsoTribes: Southeastern .