A New World: The Peoples of La Florida

Indigenous Groups


The native population of La Florida at the time which interests our Cause was composed of various tribes. Some groups have been generally identified and recognized as major units.


Though various lists are current, as a working division the following classification is proposed.

01 – The CUSABOS

A group inhabiting the area north and northeast of the Savannah River, mostly in present-day coastal South Carolina. Reaching into the present state of Georgia, that area was known in a general way to the Spaniards as Orista or Escamaco. The Cusabo people were closely associated with the Guales, and spoke a language basically the same as the Gualean. Commonly the Spaniards referred to the Cusabo people and to their territory by the term "Orista."

02 – The GUALES

The group which occupied the coastal area of present-day Georgia, including the adjacent islands of Ossabaw, St. Catherines and Sapelo. Their traditional boundaries on the coast were from St. Catherines to St. Andrews Sound. The Altamaha River flowed through the heart of their territory; one of its sources is the Oconee, which rises in the back-country, the fertile area then known as La Tama. The language spoken by the natives of Guale was a dialect of Muskhogean. The territory which the Spaniards called Guale was by the natives called Ibaha.

03 – The TIMUCUAS

The largest group of indigenous people in La Florida at the time of the Contact with the Spaniards and in subsequent decades. Neighbors to the south of the Guales, their territory began roughly at Cumberland Island and extended into modern-day Florida, reaching approximately the site of San Agustin. The territory was divided into four distinct districts: Nombre de Dios, which was the seat of their government; San Pedro, which reached up and into modern-day Georgia; Rio Dulce; and San Sebastian. These Timucuan tribes lived mostly on the coast, expanding inland some forty leagues. Relatively more advanced than their neighbors, they yet lacked a spirit of unity among themselves, and frequently the several subgroups warred one against the other.

04 – The TEQUESTAS

A tribe which had some relationship with the Calusas, their neighbors to the west. Their language bore a resemblance to that of the Calusas, and they had the same warlike spirit and the tendencies notable in that people. Their territory was centered around modern-day Miami, in the area roughly beginning south of Palm Beach and extending to the tip of the peninsula.

05 – The AIS

A tribe whose traditional territory was on the east coast of the peninsula, from Cape Canaveral south. They spoke a language similar to that of the Calusa tribe, to which they probably were related. Noted for their warlike spirit, they were commonly regarded as being the most savage of all the Indians in La Florida.

06 – The CALUSAS

Concentrated on the southwestern region of the Florida peninsula, from Tampa Bay to the Keys, the Calusas were notorious for their warlike spirit, which frequently put them in conflict with their neighbors or among themselves. Ruled by a powerful chief with absolute authority, they had no greatly developed agricultural system, depending for their nutrition mostly on the products of the sea.

07 – The APALACHEES

The tribe occupying the far-western section of Florida, roughly from the area of present-day Tallahassee to the coastal city of Pensacola. In the era which interests our study, as also today, their territory was considered the most favored area of La Florida for the pursuit of agriculture. The tribe was viewed as the most advanced and the best-organized of all the distinct groups of La Florida. They were, however, extremely warlike and prone to violence.

Of these seven indigenous groups, those pertinent to our study are the Guales, the Timucuas and the Cusabos (these last embracing the two sub-divisions known as the Oristas and the Escamacos). It is difficult to establish exact boundaries for these southeastern peoples, but considerable archaeological, anthropological and ethno-historical studies have given a relatively clear idea as to the general parameters of mobility.

The Guale Indians lived on the coast of present-day Georgia and on the offshore islands. Gualean settlements at the time which particularly interests us were found primarily along the banks of the freshwater rivers, sometimes along the tidal water-line, and near the banks of the tidal creeks and rivers that formed the islands near the river delta areas and separated the offshore barrier islands from the mainland.

The Timucuas occupied most of the northern third of peninsular Florida, extending into southeastern Georgia approximately to the area of Brunswick.

The Cusabos, according to Grant Jones, had their primary Orista settlement on Beaufort River, north of Parris Island near Coosaw River. The principal Orista settlements remained in this general area for some time, although by the late seventeenth century the principal town appears to have been moved to Edosto Island. The most important Escamaco village, Jones places on the small island at the point where Whale Creek joins Broas River.2

2Grant D. Jones, 'The Ethnohistory of the Guale Coast through 1684," in The Anthropology of St. Catherines Island: Natural and Cultural History, Part I, Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, Vol. 55, Part II (1978), p. 203.

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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