Native Americans

Europeans first meet the inhabitants of the new world.

The Abduction of Pocahontas
Johann Theodor de Bry, 1619

"Los Indios"

When Christopher Columbus arrived in the "New World," he believed he had reached the islands of Asia, and he called the inhabitants he met los indios, or "Indians." This has become the collective name for all native peoples of North and South America, despite their diverse and unique cultures. The original Americans had no collective identity and merely called themselves by their cultural, tribal, or individual names. There were multiple cultures existing in the Florida peninsula at the time of European contact, among them the Calusa, Tequesta, Apalachee, Aix, and Timucua.


First Peoples (The Earliest Americans - read more here)

Though the Pre-Columbian population of Florida is hard to estimate, the various native peoples may have numbered as many as 3 million. These were generally formed into local chiefdoms. Alliances and confederacies arose between the chiefdoms from time to time, but they were seldom organized into a single political unit. These various groups are typically identified by language group, though they practiced several different cultural traditions. These indigenous peoples were a semi-nomadic, semi-agricultural, neolithic society. Tools and cultural artifacts were almost exclusively of organic materials such as stone, wood, bone and clay. Some small ornamental pieces of copper and gold have been found, but there is no evidence of metalworking of any significance, and these may have been acquired through trade and salvage of European shipwrecks.

Contact with European peoples began some time around 1502, as there exists a Portuguese map of the coast of Florida dating from this time. Initial contacts would have been violent and tragic. The Portuguese were looking for slaves to work in the sugar plantations of the Caribbean and Brazil and were ranging in areas of the New World not yet under Spanish control. Besides enslavement, the Europeans added a new terror: disease. Native Americans at this time had no known communicable diseases beyond the common cold. Their immune systems would not have developed as had the Europeans', leaving them open to massive pandemics. Old World microbes effectively depopulated huge areas of the New World. Measles, mumps, smallpox, typhoid, typhus, diphtheria, and a host of other organisms carried off millions of lives. This would have begun in Florida with these first contacts.

Within a few decades of European settlement in Florida, as much as 80% of Florida’s indigenous population was gone. Most of what we know about them is from the few notes and drawings the early explorers made and from the archeological evidence left behind.


Florida's Native Populations

Several different and widely varying Indian cultures have left their mark on Florida history, some indigenous, some displaced, and some forcibly moved to the area. Each has a unique and fascinating story to tell.


Last updated: April 2, 2018

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