A New World: The Peoples of La Florida

The Guales in Particular


In his major study of the Georgia coastal region, Lewis Larson has identified three regions in which the Guale Indians lived: coastal, delta and the pine barrens.


He subdivides the coastal sector into what he calls strand, lagoon and marsh. Larson concludes that most villages in the coastal sector were in the marsh and lagoon areas. He bases his argument on the more abundant food-resources to be found there. The strand, or beach, region was less attractive as a living area because of its exposure to the sea, extremely hot summer weather and cold winter. It had the further drawback of the absence of fresh water. On the other hand, settlements located away from the beach had trees to offer shade, a somewhat better soil for producing food, and also some protection from the winds; there, too, fresh water was more readily available.5 Away from the coast, the Guales were able to engage in agriculture. The Indians of the interior went to the beach areas in search of turtles and fish on a seasonal schedule.

Larson concludes that the lagoon and marsh sectors of Georgia "had the greatest physiographic variation and contained the largest number of plant and animal species used by the aboriginal populations of the coastal plain during this time."6 Animal life, terrestrial as well as aquatic, abounded in the lagoon and marsh areas. The Guales were able to consume porpoises, clams, crabs, shrimp, crawfish, oysters, mussels, whelks, sharks, conches, catfish, sturgeon, bream, sheephead, mullet, turtles, alligators, ducks and egrets, besides deer, turkey, cormorants, rabbits and other wild animals. It was a readily abundant supply of food, providing for reasonably stable groups ofpopulation.7

In the fall of the year the Guales gathered several varieties of acorns as well as hickory nuts. This also was the time for the grapes and persimmons to ripen. Fruits such as blackberries and blueberries were collected during the spring.8

The Indians grew maize, beans, squash and other plants, but a sufficient crop of maize was not grown for the entire year. Acorns and hickory nuts, collected in the fall of the year, contributed significantly to the diet. Such domesticated and wild plants probably produced the bulk of subsistence needs.9

Farming techniques quickly exhausted the soil, especially along the coast; this necessitated the relocation of fields, allowing those already used to lie fallow. For this reason, the Guale were a mobile people. Shortages of horticultural produce, and local variations in the availability of resources required a high mobility, scattered settlements and year-round exploitive units.10 Because of the problems resulting from food-shortages in Guale, the chiefs were often the collectors and distributors of at least the horticultural products. 11

Lewis H, Larson, Aboriginal Subsistence Technology of the Southeastern Coastal Plains during the Late Prehistoric Period (Gainesville, FL: University Presses of Florida, 1980), 6-20.

Ibid., 13-14.

Ibid., 17-20.

Ibid., 222-23.

Ibid., 188.

Ibid.

Ibid., 196.

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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