History of the Tekesta

Part 6. Late Contact Period (1565 to the Present)

The best known settlement in Florida, St. Augustine, was established in 1565 further up the coast by Admiral Pedro Menendez de Avilles. From this point, the impact of the European intruders upon the Americans of the southeast Florida coast itensified. Florida offered relatively little for the Spanish compared to the riches of the Caribbean, and so in around 1567 the Admiral decided to expand his power south and eventually to Cuba

As he marched south he encounted the Ais people (Jece), whose capitol by the same name lay on the Indian River on Florida's east coast, near Vero Beach. The Ais spoke the same language as the Tekesta and Calusa, and seems to have done their best to resist Spanish encroachment. There was war between the Spanish garrison of 200 and the Ais until peace was concluded in 1570 (Stanton). The Spanish found a warmer reception among the Guacata on Lake Okeechobee, perhaps because of a traditional tension between the Guacata and Ais.

The Spanish Admiral next arrived in El Portal. Here he negotiated with the Tekesta so that three of their captains would accompany him to Cuba, presumably because the Tekesta would be able to speak the Arawak language of the Americans there. Apparently the Tekesta were less hostile to the Spanish, but that may have been because at the time the Ais were hegemonic on the southeast coast and were therefore compelled to confront the Spanish challenge.

Behind in el Poral the Admiral left some Jesuits to minister to the Tekesta, Brother Francisco de Villareal (also spelled Vallareal) and Padre Rogel. Because a year of effort failed overcome the Tekesta indifference to the European religious ideology, Brother Villareal returned to St. Augustine. Consequently, the Admiral, now Governor of Cuba, sent more Jesuits to El Portal to carry on the missionary work, but they had no better luck and soon also left. The Ais were equally impervious to the ideological attack by Spanish missionaries. Admiral Menendez claimed for some reason in 1573 that the Tekesta had become Christian, but that was untrue.

The people of Florida were soon enough to confront more than just missionaries, however. In 1597, Governor Mendez de Canco decided to travel up the east coast from the Keys to Saint Augustine, and it is he that asserts that the Ais were the dominant force on the east coast. This implies that the Tekesta were in political decline at the time. The Governor's march north led to a renewal of conflicts with the Ais. One thing that irked the Spanish was that the Ais took into their community run away African slaves. This was the begining of a long tradition among not just the Indians of Florida, but elsewhere as well, such as the Pequot.

However, relations between the Spanish and the Americans settled down in the course of the 17th century, although one assumes European diseases were taking their toll. This calm was due in part to the relative indifference of the Spanish for a land lacking in gold and opportunities for profit, and their fort and settlement at El Portal in the Tekesta territory were abandoned for two decades. But the European intrusion had fundamentally altered circumstances in Florida, and the reduced contact did not by any means return things to as they had been before. Besides the toll taken by disease and war, one must suspect that the Indian sociopolitical structures had entered into decline as well.

We know little of the demise of the peoples of South Florida. That the overwhelming majority of the New World population in a few decades after contact died from disease, butchery, and exploitation is instructive. Indeed, in South Florida in the long run there was rapid demographic collapse, and towns and permanent settlements disappear as the basis of social organization.

It is hard to ascertain the specifics of what had happened. European initial presence coincided with the apogee of Calusa hegemony in the 16th century and the rise of the Ais at the end of the century, but it is not clear what effect this had on the Tekesta, whose moment in the sun had occurred long before. Elsewhere in the New World, we see a link between European economic interests and Native American politics (such as the expansion of Pequot power to control inland sources of the beaver they traded with the Dutch), but given Florida's lack of resources of interest to the Spanish, there may not have been a similar linkage there.

However, it seems that the Calusa had reoriented their trade toward Havana to obtain European goods, and it is possible this had significant social consequences, not only for their own internal structure, but also for those people of Florida whose manner of life was integrated with the old exchange network. The purpose of these exchanges was not profit, but social and political order, and with a reorientation of trade, that order may have suffered.

While the particular mechanism of American social collapse in Florida is unknown, the consequences are not in doubt. There was a collapse of political order and a decline of permanent settlement. This affected the Tekesta from the end of the 16th century, and they turned to a more mobile pattern of life, never too difficult for hunter-gatherers in any case, and apparently there was also an increase in inter-tribal conflict and hostage-taking, including the capture of Spanish, either to be political tokens or traded off.

While estimates of Native American populations are always far too small, just for much the same reason the US census always underestimates the size of the African-American voting population, one assessment (Mooney, 1928) puts the entire southeast coast population in 1650 at about 1000 people. If we were to guess that the capitol of each of just the three coastal states originally held 1000 each, it suggests that the Indian population of the area of the Tekesta was then 5 to 10% of its original size.

Admiral Menendez de Avilles had concentrated his energies on Cuba and had left the Spanish military presence in South Florida to decay, and so the Britich decide to take advantage of the vacuum and penetrate south into Florida. From the end of the 17th century the British are our main source of information.

For example, in 1699 the Quaker Dickinson was shipwrecked on the coast (Jobe territory?). On his march north to Saint Augustine, he kept an account (1803) of his experiences. In fact, he provides valuable details on the life of the Ais. Information concerning them disappears after 1704 and they may have be part of the Calusa sent to Cuba in 1763 (Romans, 1775). In fact, the period after 1704 is marked by British penetration and the sharp decline of Florida'a population.

In 1704, the British, allied with Creek Indians, raided Florida settlements from the North. In South Florida, where the Spanish lacked garrisons, the effect of this raid on society and its health was enormous, not only on the Timucua, but on the entire Floridian population. The raid resulted in the flight of Apalachee Spanish Mission Indians, and these refugees poured into the South. This is the likely reason for ceramics from the northwest of Florida appearing in South Florida at the time.

Among the victims of the war were Tekesta coontie farmers on the banks of the tea-colored Manatee-infested New River in Fort Lauderdale. The Americans in this settlement were killed by a surprise attack, and Major Lauderdale then built a fort near the site of the massacre. The fort, named after him, long ago disappeared.

By the Treaty of Paris in 1763, Spain finally ceded Florida to Great Britain. The Calusa were exiled to the Florida Keys, and then their 80 surviving families were shipped off to Havana. How many others, such as Ais, Jobe, and Tekesta were included within the category of "Calusa" is unknown. The demographic collapse created a vacuum that was soon filed by seasonal fishermen from Cuba and by Apalachee-speaking groups from the North, who occupied the southwest coast. The question arises, were the Calusa typical of all peoples in South Florida, or, as is more likely, were they singled out for extermination political reasons. This seems to be the case, for a certain percentage of Tekesta survived and continue to live in the Miami area today.

The limited sources for the Tekesta suggests that by 1775 they had been decimated by murder, enslavement, and diseases for which they had no natural immunity. However, the report of the genocide of native peoples exagerates, just as it did for the Taino and other peoples. Besides those who may have accompanied the Calusa to Cuba via the Keys, some remained to mingled with the newcomers to Florida, the Miccosoukee, Creek, and run-away African slaves. According to John R. Swanton, The Indian Tribes of North America, in 1726, 88 so-called "Costa" Indians were reported in a northern mission that may have come from the southeast coast, and two years later, 52 of these "Costa" were reported.

In fact, there is a suspicion that the exiles to the Keys and eventually Havana were not Calusa at all, and the term "Calusa" had become a generic term for all Arawak speakers of Florida. At the time of the removal the Calusa themselves were called the Muspa because their capitol was no longer Calos, but a town by that name. It can only be speculated that the removal involved primarily the Ais, but whether Jobe or Tekesta were involved can't even be guessed.

In the 19th century, during the Seminole War, as the Seminoles retreated from the U.S. forces, they moved south into the Everglade region and came into contact there with the remnants of the Calusa (Swanton). It is possible they encountered Tekesta remanants as well, although the Seminoles apparently felt it too dangerous to approach the coast where most Tekesta and other coastal peoples would have lived.

The arrival of the Seminole into South Florida unfortunately brought with it the hostility of U.S. troops, and we hear of a band of Muspa/Calusa attacking the camp of Colonel Harney in 1839. Having lost two thirds of his soldiers, Harney later that year fell upon the "Spanish Indians", killed their chief and hung six of them. The same band of later killed a botanist named Perrine living on Indian Key. The Calusa may also have been represented by the "Choctaw band" of Indians, which appears among the Seminole shortly after this time, but we hear no more of the "Calusa." thereafter. Cleary there had by this time been so much intermixing of peoples and their political collapse that it was no longer possible to separate Indians from the North, such as the Seminole, from the southern Arawak-speakers, nor the Calusa from the Tekesta.