Timucuan Chiefdoms of Spanish Florida.
On 14 November 1767 Juan Alonso Cavale, the last known Timucuan Indian to have Florida-born Timucuan parents, died in Guanabacoa, Cuba. In 1763 Cavale and eighty-eight native Florida Indians entered voluntary exile in Cuba, retreating there with the former Spanish residents when the Florida colony was turned over to the British crown. With Cavale's death the saga of the Spanish experiment with the Timucua missions of Florida came to a dose, its failures spelling the demise of the once-thriving aboriginal chiefdoms that were living in the forested uplands and river valleys of north Florida when the Spanish and French first arrived in the mid-sixteenth century.
Dispatching the French while simultaneously establishing the colonial capital of St. Augustine in 1565, the Spaniards eventually were to turn their attentions to Florida's most obvious resource: the uncounted pool of native peoples distributed in small chiefdoms across the vast upper interior of the peninsula. Although sharing similarities in language and culture, the numerous chiefdoms throughout this region acquired a semblance of political unity only through Spanish administrative efforts, and the province of Timucua was to become the linchpin of the Spanish colonial effort in Florida. A risky strategy as it turned out, no different than any enterprise dependent on the coercive control of human labor. But so intertwined did the fate of the Spaniards and Timucuans become that with the ultimate collapse of the colony the assimilated Timucuan chiefdoms ceased to exist.
When Spain came back to rule Florida in 1784, the cultural landscape of the colony had been completely transformed. The old mission fields had been resettled by immigrants from the floodplains of Georgia and Alabama (groups known generically to history as the Seminoles), while deeper in the peninsula refugee bands that had existed beyond the Spanish pale plied the remote swamps and inaccessible coastal islands.
In a masterful two-volume study using previously untapped archival sources John Worth details the process of assimilation which brought the Timucuan chiefdoms within the Spanish colonial enterprise (vol.1), the resistance to the expedient but errant changes in labor policies that provoked rebellion, and the sweeping new measures of control implemented by the shrewdly manipulative Spanish governor in response (vol.2). In direct, engaging prose Worth addresses the origins of the mission system in the Timucua province, describing in great detail the early Franciscan activity, the structure of the Spanish colonial administration, and the tensions between its independent components--the Franciscan order, the military, and the Republic of Indians. Worth makes clear early on what is well known about Spanish Florida. The colony was economically tenuous from its founding, poorly supported by the crown's coffer (the annual royal subsidy known as the situado), handicapped by a location in a region without abundant extractable natural wealth, and barely able to feed itself given naturally low levels of agricultural productivity in the sandy soils of the Florida coast.
As the Spaniards came to realize, their survival depended on harnessing native labor, ultimately to form a human food chain extending from St. Augustine west to the important province of Apalachee located beyond Timucua across the Aucilla River in the throat of Florida's panhandle. In Apalachee fertile clay soils and bottomland silts supported healthy yields of corn. Even better, the aboriginal chiefdoms in Apalachee already had perfected a tributary system in which corn harvests moved from the hinter-lands into central storage.
But how to transport Apalachee's distant breadbasket to needy St. Augustine? And so the central role of Timucua emerged. Timucua men were needed for their backs and Timucua villages were needed as way stations or rest stops along the Camino Real connecting St. Augustine and Apalachee. Like those in Apalachee, chiefdoms in Timucua were based on tributary labor. Control of this tributary labor in the form of burden bearers and required repartimiento labor in the fields around St. Augustine essentially transformed the Timucua chiefs into vassals of the Spanish crown and led to a relatively stable but dependent relationship between the colonial government and the Republic of Indians.
Amid increasing demands on the repartimiento system brought on by incessant depopulation of the mission villages and an immediately perceived threat of Indian enslavement by the undiplomatic new governor, Diego de Rebolledo, the Timucua province erupted in rebellion during the spring and summer of 1656, led by a small band of rebel chiefs. Panicked by the impending threat of a British attack and constrained by the need for Indians both as militia and field laborers, the blundering Rebolledo ordered the Timucuan chiefs themselves to the fields of St. Augustine and further directed them to carry their own provisions upon their backs. This directive, issued as a formal order, was a serious breach in the accepted protocol and prompted a counter order by Lucas Menendez, principal cacique of Timucua, calling for the immediate murder of all Spanish soldiers stationed in the province. Here Worth contributes significant new scholarship, literally providing blow-by-blow details of the seven Indian-directed murders that occurred at the ignition of the rebellion and Rebolledo's retaliatory strike against the rebels in September which resulted in the garroting of six rebel leaders (Lucas Menendez among them) and the execution of the actual murderers.
Of even greater impact on the total assimilation of Timucua, Rebolledo implemented a directed resettlement plan in which all Timucuan villages were regrouped into a linear chain of small towns along the Camino Real, locations that made regular Spanish patrol and access more feasible. However it was this string of missions that fell easy prey to British-backed slave raids by Yamassee and Apalachicola Indians between 1685 and 1706, ultimately resulting in the flight of refugee mission Timucua to the protection of St. Augustine. It was here, in the newly formed mission town of Santa Fe/San Francisco, that Juan Alonso Cavale, the last of the Florida Timucuas, was born soon after 1706.
Although broadly anthropological in perspective, Worth writes like a historian and works hard to present a full cast of characters, complete with motivations, nuances, and desires. Rarely does historical detail impair the narrative flow, however, and the use of appendices for the presentation of supporting primary material is a thoughtful addition. Of particular interest to historians and archaeologists will be appendix A in volume 2 in which Worth attempts to correlate known archaeological sites or geographical locations in the Timucua area with the locations of documented missions, using the most current archaeological and historical information.
There has been a burst of scholarship in Timucua studies in recent years (the reader might compare Worth's work with Hann's 1996 A History of the Timucua Indians and Missions, for one) but Worth's volumes rank among the most readable and compelling. His study is distinguished by the degree to which he uses excerpts from primary sources to build the narrative momentum and his excellent working knowledge of the archaeological record. Particularly for the reader with some knowledge of the Florida landscape, Worth's words will bring this complex era of colonial interaction between Spaniard and Indian back to life as the author carefully situates the actions and events in their geographic setting. Anthropologists and archaeologists will also gain new perspectives on the processes of cultural transformation affecting aboriginal societies as they become part of the Spanish colonial empire. John Worth's efforts in The Timucuan Chiefdoms of Spanish Florida deserve the widest audience and establish a new benchmark for future research.
Brent R. Weisman, University of South Florida
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|Author:||Weisman, Brent R.|
|Publication:||The American Indian Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1999|
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