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Pre-contact distribution of Timucua

The Timucua were an American Indian people who lived in Northeast and North Central Florida and southeast Georgia. The various groups of Timucua spoke dialects of the Timucua language. At the time of European first contact, the territory occupied by speakers of Timucuan dialects stretched from the Altamaha River and Cumberland Island in present-day Georgia as far south as Orlando in the interior of Florida, and from the Atlantic coast to the Aucilla River, yet it reached the Gulf of Mexico at no more than a couple of points.

"Timucua" (from Thimogna) was originally the exonym used by the Saturiwa (of the area near present-day Jacksonville) to refer to the related people living north of the Santa Fe River between the St. Johns River and the Suwannee River. The Timucua Province of the Spanish mission system originally was this area.[1] This was also the area of the "Timucua proper" dialect of the Timucuan language.[2] During the 17th century, the Spanish mission Province of Timucua was extended to include the area between the Suwannee River and the Aucilla River.[3]

The population of the Timucuan people at the time of European contact was around 50,000 people by one estimate, around 200,000 by another.[4] The Timucua were organized into at least 35 chiefdoms at the time. While alliances and confederacies arose between the chiefdoms from time to time, the Timucua were never organized into a single political unit.[5] The various groups of Timucua speakers practiced several different cultural traditions.[6]



One of the engravings based on Jacques le Moyne's drawings, depicting Athore, son of the Timucuan chief Saturiwa, showing René Laudonnière a monument placed by Jean Ribault

The pre-Columbian era was marked by regular, routine, and probably small tribal wars with neighbors. The Timucua may have been the first American Indians to see the landing of Juan Ponce de León near St. Augustine in 1513. Later, in 1528, Pánfilo de Narváez's expedition passed along the western fringes of the Timucua territory.[7]

A proposed route for the first leg of the de Soto Expedition, based on Charles M. Hudson map of 1997

In 1539, Hernando de Soto led an army of more than 500 men through the western parts of Timucua territory, stopping in a series of villages of the Ocale, Potano, Northern Utino, Uzachile and Yustaga branches of the Timucua on his way to the Apalachee domain (see list of sites and peoples visited by the Hernando de Soto Expedition for other sites visited by de Soto). His army seized the food stored in the villages, took women for consorts, and forced men and boys to serve as guides and bearers. The army fought two battles with Timucua groups, resulting in heavy Timucua casualties. De Soto was in a hurry to reach the Apalachee domain, where he expected to find gold and sufficient food to support his army through the winter, and did not linger in Timucua territory.[8][9]

In 1564, French Huguenots led by René Goulaine de Laudonnière founded Fort Caroline in present-day Jacksonville and attempted to establish further settlements along the St. John's River. After initial conflict, the Huguenots established friendly relations with the local natives in the area, primarily the Timucuans under the cacique Saturiwa. Sketches of the Timucua drawn by Jacques le Moyne de Morgues, one of the French settlers, have proven valuable resources for modern ethnographers in understanding these people. The next year the Spanish under Pedro Menéndez de Avilés surprised the Huguenots and ransacked Fort Caroline, killing everyone but 50 women and children and 26 escapees. The rest of the French had been shipwrecked off the coast and picked up by the Spanish, who executed all but 20 of them; this brought French settlement in Florida nearly to an end. These events caused a rift between the natives and Spanish, though Spanish missionaries were soon out in force.

The Timucua history changed after the establishment of St. Augustine in 1565 as the Spanish capital of their province of Florida. From here, Spanish missionaries established missions in each main town of the Timucuan chiefdoms, including the Santa Isabel de Utinahica mission in southern Georgia, for the Utinahica. By 1595, the Timucuan population had shrunk by 75%, primarily from disease and war.

By 1700, the Timucuan population had been reduced to just 1000. In 1703 the British with the Creek, Catawba, and Yuchi began killing and enslaving hundreds of the Timucua. Seventeen years later their number had dropped to just 250. In 1726 there were 176, and by 1752 only 26 remained. By the time the United States acquired Florida in 1821, there were only five or fewer Timucua remaining. They became extinct as a tribe.


The Timucuan-speaking people have been divided into a dozen tribes (which were not always political entities) speaking seven dialects. Almost nothing is known of the speakers of two other dialects, Oconi and Tucururu. The tribes can be placed into eastern and western groups. The Eastern Timucua were located along the Atlantic coast of northern Florida and on Cumberland Island in Georgia; along the St. Johns River and its tributaries; and among the rivers, swamps and associated inland forests in southeastern Georgia, possibly including the Okefenokee Swamp. They usually lived in villages close to waterways, participated in the St. Johns culture or in unnamed cultures related to the Wilmington-Savannah culture, and were more focused on exploiting the resources of marine and wetland environments. The Western Timucua lived in the interior of the upper Florida peninsula, extending to the Aucilla River on the west and into Georgia to the north. They usually lived in villages in forests, participated in the Alachua, Suwannee Valley or other unknown cultures and were more oriented to exploiting the resources of those forests.[10]

Aside from a possible transitory contact with Timucua when Juan Ponce de León landed on the northern Atlantic coast of Florida in 1513, the first Timucua tribes encountered by the Spanish, in the first half of the 16th century, were in the western group. The Ocale, in what is now Marion County, and the Potano, in what is now Alachua County, and possibly extending west to Cofa at the mouth of the Suwannee River, participated in the Alachua culture.

Little else is known of the Ocale. The Potano spoke the Potano dialect of the Timucuan language. The Utino or Northern Utino tribe was located north of the Santa Fe River and east of the Suwannee River, participated in the Suwannee Valley culture, and spoke the Utina or "Timucua proper" dialect of the Timucuan language. The Yustaga were located between the Suwannee River and the Aucilla River, participated in an unknown culture, and may have spoken the Potano dialect. De Soto encountered a tribe called Uzachile between the Suwannee River and the Yustaga, but they are not otherwise known. The Potano, Northern Utina and Yustaga were eventually incorporated into the Spanish mission system that stretched across northern Florida during the 17th century.[11]

European contact with the Eastern Timucua began in 1564 when the French established Fort Caroline near the mouth of the St. Johns River. The French were soon displaced by the Spanish, who maintained close contact with the Timucua until they died out in the 18th century. The Acuera tribe occupied the watershed of the Oklawaha River, participated in the St. Johns culture, and spoke the Acuera dialect of Timucua. The Aqua Dulce (Freshwater) tribe occupied the St. Johns River from present-day Palatka to Lake Harney, and the Atlantic coast south of St. Augustine to Cape Canaveral. The tribe participated in the St. Johns culture and spoke the Agua Dulce (Freshwater) dialect. North of the Agua Dulce along the St. Johns River to its mouth and on the adjacent coast was the Saturiwa tribe, which also participated in the St. Johns culture, but spoke the Mocama dialect.[12]

The Tacatacuru tribe lived on Cumberland Island, participated in a unnamed culture derived from the Wilmington-Savannah culture, and spoke the Mocama dialect of Timucua. The Cascange and Icafui tribes occupied the Georgia mainland north of the Saltilla River, adjacent to the Guale. They participated in a culture that was intermediate between the St. Johns and Wilmington-Savannah cultures, and spoke the Icafui dialect of Timucua. The Yufera tribe lived on the coast opposite to Cumberland Island, participated in the same intermediate culure as the Cascange and Icafui, and spoke the Yufera dialect. The Yui tribe occupied an area inland from the Yufera, participated in the same intermediate culure as the Cascange, Icafui and Yufera, and spoke the Icafui dialect. All of the known Eastern Timucua tribes were incorporated into the Spanish mission system.[13]

Hann has argued that the chiefdom of Mocoso, located near the mouth of the Alafia River on the eastern shore of Tampa Bay in the 16th century, was Timucuan. He thought that the people of that chiefdom may have relocated to the village of Mocoso in Acuera province in the 17th century.[14]



Organization and classes

The Timucua were not a unified political unit. Rather, they were made up of at least 35 chiefdoms, each consisting of about two to ten villages, with one being primary.[15] In 1601 the Spanish noted more than 50 caciques (chiefs) subject to the head caciques of Santa Elena (Yustaga), San Pedro (Tacatacuru, on Cumberland Island), Timucua (Northern Utina) and Potano. The Tacatacuru, Saturiwa and Cascange were subject to San Pedro, while the Yufera and Yui, neighbors of the Tacatacuru and Cascange, were independent.[16]

Villages were divided into family clans, usually bearing animal names. Children were always in their mother's clan.


The Timucua played a version of the game called chunkey. In this game a concave-shaped disc was rolled while a spear was thrown at it. The point was to throw the spear to the point where the disc would stop.

The chief had a council that met every morning, when they would discuss the problems of the chiefdom and smoke. To initiate the meeting, the White Drink ceremony would be carried out (see "Diet" below). The council members were among the more highly respected members of the tribe.


One of the sketches by Jacques le Moyne showing a Timucua village

The Timucua of northeast Florida (the Saturiwa and Agua Dulce tribes) at the time of first contact with Europeans lived in villages that typically contained about 30 houses, and 200 to 300 people. The houses were small, made of upright poles and circular in shape. Palm leaf thatching covered the pole frame, with a hole at the top for ventilation and smoke escape. The houses were 15 to 20 feet (4.5 to 6 m) across and were used primarily for sleeping. A village would also have a council house which would usually hold all of the villagers. Europeans described some council houses as being large enough to hold 3,000 people. If a village grew too large, some of the families would start a new village nearby, so that clusters of related villages formed. Each village or small cluster of related villages had its own chief. Temporary alliances between villages for warfare were also formed. Ceremonial mounds might be in or associated with a village, but the mounds belonged to clans rather than villages.[17]


The Timucua were a semi-agricultural people and ate many foods native to North Central Florida. They planted corn, beans, squash and various vegetables as part of their diet. Archaeologists' findings suggest that they may have employed crop rotation. In order to plant, they used fire to clear the fields of weeds and brush. They prepared the soil with various tools, such as the hoe. Later the women would plant the seeds using two sticks known as coa. They also cultivated tobacco. Their crops were stored in granaries to protect them from the insects and weather. Corn was ground into flour and used to make corn fritters.

In addition to agriculture, the Timucua men would hunt game (including alligators, manatees, and maybe even whales); fish in the many streams and lakes in the area; and collect freshwater and marine shellfish. The women gathered wild fruits, palm berries, acorns, and nuts; and baked bread made from the root koonti. Meat was cooked by boiling or over an open fire known as the barbacoa, the origin of the word "barbecue". Fish were filleted and dried or boiled. Broths were made from meat and nuts.

After the establishment of many Spanish mission between 1595-1620, the Timuca were introduced to foods from European culture, including barley, cabbage, chickens, cucumbers, figs, garbanzo beans, garlic, European grapes, European greens, hazelnuts, various herbs, lettuce, melons, oranges, peas, peaches, pigs, pomegranates, sugar cane, sweet potatoes, watermelons, and wheat. Corn became a traded item and was exported to other Spanish colonies.

A black tea (called "White Drink") served a ceremonial purpose, and was a highly caffinated Cassina tea, brewed from the leaves of the Yaupon Holly tree. The tea was only consumed by males in good status with the tribe. The drink was posited to have an effect of purification, and those who consumed it often vomited immediately. This drink was integral to most Timucua rituals and hunts.[18]

Physical appearance

Spanish explorers were shocked at the size of the Timucua, who could stand four inches or more above them. Perhaps adding to their perceived height was the fact that Timucuan men would wear their hair in a bun on top of their heads. Measurement of skeletons exhumed from beneath the floor of a presumed Northern Utina mission church (tentatively identified as San Martín de Timucua) at the Fig Springs mission site yielded a mean height of 64 inches (163 cm) for nine adult males and 62 inches (158 cm) for five adult women. The conditions of the bones and teeth indicated that the population of the mission had been chronically stressed.[19] Everyone was heavily tattooed, and such tattoos were gained by deeds. Children would begin to get their tattoos when assuming responsibility. The people of higher social class had more elaborate decorations, which were made by poking holes in the skin and rubbing ashes into the holes. The Timucua had dark skin, usually brown, and black hair. They wore clothes made from moss and cloth created from various animal skins.

2006 discovery

An archaeological dig in St. Augustine in 2006 yielded a Timucan site dating back to between 1100 and 1300 CE, predating Pedro Menéndez. Included in the discovery were pottery and two human skeletons.[20]


  1. ^ 16th Century Settlements - Timucuan - Accessed February 11, 2008
  2. ^ Milanich. 1978. 62.
  3. ^ Weisman. 170.
  4. ^ Milanich 2000
  5. ^ Milanich 2000
  6. ^ Milanich 1998a
  7. ^ Milanich 1998a
  8. ^ Milanich 1998a
  9. ^ Hudson 1997
  10. ^ Milanich 1978. 59, 62.
    Deagan. 92.
    Hann 1996. 14-5.
    Milanich. 1998b. 56.
  11. ^ Hann 1996. 9.
    Milanich 1978. 62.
    Milanich 1998b. 56.
  12. ^ Deagan. 95, 104, 108-9, 111.
  13. ^ Deagan. 95, 97-101
  14. ^ Hann 2003. 6, 21, 24, 34-5, 105, 114, 117-8, 135
  15. ^ Milanich 2000
  16. ^ Deagan. 91.
  17. ^ Milanich 1998b. 44, 46-9.
  18. ^ Hudson 1976
  19. ^ Hoshower and Milanich. 217, 222, 234-5.
  20. ^ Clark, Jessica (June 2, 2006). "Dig Proves Historically Significant", First Coast News.


  • Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve
  • Deagan, Kathleen A. (1978) "Cultures in Transition: Fusion and Assimilation among the Eastern Timucua." In Milanich and Procter.
  • Hann, John H. (1996) A History of the Timucua Indians and Missions. University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1424-7
  • Hann, John H. (2003) Indians of Central and South Florida: 1513-1763. University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-2645-8
  • Hoshower, Lisa M. and Jerald T. Milanich. (1993) "Excavations in the Fig Springs Mission Burial Area." In McEwan 1993.
  • Hudson, Charles M. (1976) The Southeastern Indians. University of Tennessee Press. ISBN 0-87049-248-9.
  • Hudson, Charles M. (1997) Knights of Spain, Warriors of the Sun. University of Georgia Press.
  • McEwan, Bonnie G. ed. (1993) The Spanish Missions of La Florida. University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1232-5
  • McEwan, Bonnie G. ed. (2000) Indians of the Greater Southeast: Historical Archaeology and Ethnohistory. University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1778-5.
  • Milanich, Jerald T. (1978) "The Western Timucua: Patterns of Acculturation and Change." In Milanich and Procter.
  • Milanich, Jerald T. (1996) The Timucua. Blackwell Publications, Oxford, UK.
  • Milanich, Jerald T. (1998a) Florida Indians and the Invasion from Europe. The University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1636-3.
  • Milanich, Jerald T. (1998b) Florida Indians from Ancient Times to the Present. The University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1599-5.
  • Milanich, Jerald T. (2000) "The Timucua Indians of Northern Florida and Southern Georgia". in McEwan 2000.
  • Milanich, Jerald T. (2004) "Timucua." In R. D. Fogelson (Ed.), Handbook of North American Indians: Southeast. (Vol. 17) (Pp. 219-228) (W. C. Sturtevant, Gen. Ed.). Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 0-16-072300-0.
  • Milanich, Jerald T. and Samuel Procter, Eds. (1978) Tacachale: Essays on the Indians of Florida and Southeastern Georgia during the Historic Period. The University Presses of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-0535-3
  • Mooney, James. (1910) Timucua. Bureau of American Ethnology, bulletin (No. 30.2, p. 752).
  • Swanton, John R. (1946) The Indians of the southeastern United States. Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology bulletin (No. 137). Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.
  • Worth, John. (1998) The Timucuan Chiefdoms of Spanish Florida: Volume I: Assimilation, Volume II: Resistance and Destruction. University of Florida Press.
  • Weisman, Brent R. (1993) "Archaeology of Fig Springs Mission, Ichetucknee Springs State Park", in McEwan 1993.
  • Wikisource-logo.svg "Timucua Indians". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.  

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

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Proper noun


  1. An extinct language isolate formerly spoken in Florida.

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