A New World: The Peoples of La Florida

Early European Impressions


From among the few surviving sources which relate to the earliest years of the contact of Europeans with the original inhabitants of La Florida, two are particularly interesting and revealing as to the culture of the Indians.


Padre Antonio Sedeño

One is the testimony of Padre Antonio Sedeño, S.J., a member of the short-lived Jesuit mission in Spain's colony. He came to the New World in 1568, in the company of the Adelantado Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, going immediately to the territory of the Guales. Two years later, he began an apostolate in the territory of Orista.

Father Sedeño had great admiration for the natives with whom he was dealing. In a few passages of a report, he describes the natives, telling us that they were light-skinned, though darkened by the sun and the cold. He describes their clothing, the children and the adults using animal-skins in the cold seasons.

Being warlike, the natives are expert in the use of bows and arrows; they are not slow in defending their perceived rights and their few possessions. Withal, they are not excessively prone to wage war, as sometimes they are reputed to be. Sharp of intellect, they are capable of learning almost anything.Padre Antonio Sedeño

The Jesuit comments on the natives' religion, pointing out that they have no other god except the evil one, whom they recognize as the source of all misfortunes and suffering. They believe he appears to them and speaks to them. Out of a mixture of fear and devotion, they dress themselves according to the way they claim to see him, the evil one. A special sign of devotion is to paint themselves entirely in black or some vibrant color, with the horns of animals on their head, and a tail reaching from the waist to the feet. 3

Fray Alonso de Escobedo

Another early witness to the way of life of the natives of Florida was the Franciscan, Fray Alonso de Escobedo. Author of a heroic poem, Escobedo is known to have been in La Florida in 1587; how long he remained in the colony is questionable, but it is probable that his stay was quite short, perhaps no more than three years at the utmost. There are indications that he spent much of that time in traveling to various parts of La Florida.

In his epic poem Escobedo includes some impressions, perhaps personally acquired, or perhaps gained from conversation with those who had witnessed the interesting facts he recounts. Such are his references to Guale, which he may or may not have seen personally. The Guales, he says, are held to be the bravest in all Florida.4

See Michael Kenny, The Romance of the Floridas (New York: Bruce, 1934) 224

Fray Alonso Gregorio de Escobedo, La Florida, Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid, MS 187, fol. 351 v, For various partial printed editions of this work, see below, 86-87.

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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