A New World: The Peoples of La Florida

Cultural Features


The language spoken by the Guales was Muskogean,23 which was also the language of the Creeks. The Creeks and the Guales reflected some similar cultural practices, for commerce between the two groups undoubtedly promoted cultural diffusion.24 The Guales were but one of the non-Creek Indian groups to speak a dialect of the Muskogean tongue.


It is to be regretted that little knowledge has survived which might reveal specific elements of Guale culture. Contemporary letters and reports from the missionaries describing their work with the natives are scarce. Information about the Guales and their culture is mostly submerged in a more general context which often subordinates them to their neighbors, the Timucuans to the South, or the Lower Creeks, their neighbors to the West, or even the Yamasees, who lived in the area to the North. In reality, the culture of the Guales blended with and overlapped that of these three neighboring tribes.

The Guales were a relatively small nation, and their less-than-spectacular civilization has not attracted the in-depth research and study which other larger tribes have received. Swanson estimated that, at their peak, the Guales might have numbered 4,000. That estimate would not contradict, but on the contrary would reinforce Matter's estimate, cited earlier, to the effect that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries "probably only 30,000 Indians occupied all of Spanish Florida."25

The Southern Indians in general – including in a particular way those of La Florida – were notoriously averse to political and social impositions. Political subordination was not part of their heritage, as witness the surprising number of minor and independent groups which inhabited the territory. They were far removed – in spirit no less than geographically – from the placid and submissive, almost fatalistic, attitude which made possible the easy conquest of Mexico and Peru.

In the case of the Florida Indian the Spanish invaders early perceived the wisdom of winning them through the mission system. It is significant that Pedro Menendez de Aviles, the founder of the Spanish dominion in the Southeast of the Continent, was an ardent promoter of the mission system. Even before the arrival of the Jesuits, the first missionaries in La Florida, he had deputed some of his soldiers to undertake the indoctrination of the natives. He actively sought and generously promoted the coming to the New World, first of the Jesuits, and later, when the Jesuits had withdrawn, of the Franciscans. In 1566 he had requested eleven Franciscans, and early in the following decade the King gave orders that a group of twelve friars should go to the struggling foundation in La Florida.26

John R. Swanton, Early History of the Creek Indians and Their Neighbors, Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 73 (Washington, D.C., 1922), 14-25; Jones, 186-87.

Jones, 166-87; Larson, Aboriginal Subsistence, 228-29.

See above, 7; below, 48.

Jose Maria Pou y Marti, "Estado de la Orden Franciscan y de sus Misiones en America y Extrema Oriente en el ano de 1655," Archivo Ibero Americana [AJA] 28 (1927): 46.

CREDIT: REPORTATIO SUPER MARTYRIO SERVORUM DEi PETRI DE CORPA ET SOCIORUM EJUS ANNO DOMINI 1597 IN FLORIDA OCCISORUM (Editio Tertia "Positionis", 7 Maii 2002)
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REPORTATIO SUPER MARTYRIO SERVORUM DEi PETRI DE CORPA ET SOCIORUM EJUS ANNO DOMINI 1597 IN FLORIDA OCCISORUM (Editio Tertia "Positionis", 7 Maii 2002)
The First Georgia Missions: Our Southern Catholic Heritage, Dr. Paul Thigpen and Katherine Ragan. Illustrations by Pamela Gardner, based on the retablo by Dan Nichols. This retablo is part of the parish patrimony of Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church in Jasper, Georgia

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