See how Florida’s first Native American settlers lived, experience Jacksonville from the Timucua to the 1960s, and discover how modern-day events have shaped our community in this immersive exhibit. Visitors can walk through 12,000 years of Northeast Florida history, all in one setting.
"They be all naked and of goodly stature, mighty, faire and as well shapen…as any people in all the worlde, very gentill, curtious and of good nature… the men be of tawny color, hawke nosed and of a pleasant countenance…the women be well favored and modest…”
French explorer Jean Ribault was impressed by the first native peoples he encountered in Florida. The Timucuans under Chief Saturiwa, who met the French at the mouth of the River of May in 1562, were one of a number of Timucua-speaking tribes who inhabited central and north Florida and southeastern Georgia. They were the final stage of a culture whose way of life had remained essentially unchanged for more than 1,000 years.
The Saturiwa, a Timucua speaking tribe who lived in the Mocama Province, were allied with the French of Fort Caroline, and were thus initially hostile to the Spanish – who ousted the French colonists from the Florida coast in 1565. Huguenot leader René Goulaine de Laudonnière records that their chief, who was known as Saturiwa, had sovereignty over thirty villages and their chiefs, ten of whom were his "brothers". These villages were located around the mouth of the St. Johns River and nearby inland waterways.
Related villages formed a loose political confederation under a head chief. In this caste society commoners paid deference to a hereditary elite, at the pinnacle of which sat the chief. Wealth and title were inherited within clans through the mother’s brother.
Their territory stretched from the Altamaha River and Cumberland Island in present-day Georgia, as far south as Lake George in central Florida, and from the Atlantic Ocean west to the Aucilla River in the Florida panhandle, though it reached the Gulf of Mexico at no more than a couple of points.
The Timucua looked to the water for sustenance, settling along rivers or near the coast. (Their prehistoric ancestors are called “People of the Shell Mounds.”) Besides collecting shellfish and fishing, they hunted and gathered in the forests and swamps and planted maize, squash, and beans.
In villages, there were usually two kinds of houses. One type of home, referred to as a long house, was built using poles for the frame, bark for the walls, and branches from palmetto palm trees for the roof. In their often palisaded villages, they lived in circular dwellings with conical palm-thatched roofs and walls of woven vines caulked with clay.
They were known to have more permanent villages than the other tribes. Each family had their own home but the cooking took place in the village and meals were held daily in a central location. They wore clothing made from deerskin and woven cloth. The men wore their hair long with a topknot.
Timucua liked to hold ceremonies for planting, harvesting, and honoring leaders who died. A shaman, the religious leader of the tribe, conducted the religious and community ceremonies in squares in the larger villages.
⊕ An archaeological dig in St. Augustine in 2006 revealed a Timucuan site dating back to between 1100 and 1300 AD, predating the European founding of the city by more than two centuries.Included in the discovery were pottery, with pieces from the Macon, Georgia, area, indicating an expansive trade network; and two human skeletons. It is the oldest archaeological site in the city.
⊕ Timucua history changed after the Spanish established St. Augustine in 1565 as the 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 what is now southern Georgia, for the Utinahica. By 1595, the Timucuan population had shrunk by 75%, primarily from epidemics of new infectious diseases introduced by contact with Europeans, and war.
⊕ While working at Mission of San Juan del Puerto on what is today's Fort George Island, Father Francisco Pareja prepared a Timucuan dictionary, grammar and several religious books in that language for use by the Indians. In 1612, he printed a catechism in Spanish and Timucua, the first book printed in an indigenous language of the Americas. By 1627, he had published eight other works in Spanish and Timucua, for the use of his teaching brothers; six works survive. He found that the Timucuans had a knack for languages and could be taught to read and write within six months. Since the twentieth century, his work has also been studied for insights into the ethnography of the indigenous people.
⊕ In 1763, when Spain ceded Florida to Great Britain, the Spanish took the less than 100 Timucua and other natives to Cuba. Research is underway in Cuba to discover if any Timucua descendants exist there. Some historians believe a small group of Timucua may have stayed behind in Florida or Georgia and possibly assimilated into other groups such as the Seminoles. Many Timucua artifacts are stored at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida and other museums.
The Museum of Science & History (MOSH) in Jacksonville, connects visitors to the heritage of Northeast Florida through the award-winning regional history exhibit, "Currents of Time", spanning 12,000 years and providing both a sense of place and a sense of communal unity.
The core exhibit begins with “Ancient Ways” presenting information about the Mocama-speaking Timucua, a now extinct Native American culture, which thrived in the coastal region up to 12,000 years ago until Europeans made contact in the 1500s. It is fitting that the journey through the city and region’s history, from past to present day, starts with these indigenous peoples in "Currents of Time".
PLAN YOUR VISIT
1025 Museum Circle
Jacksonville, Florida 32207
PHONE: (904) 396-6674
Monday through Thursday
10 a.m. — 5 p.m.
Friday 10 a.m. — 8 p.m.
Saturday 10 a.m. — 6 p.m.
Sunday 12 p.m. — 5 p.m.
page information credit: MOSH Jacksonville, University of Florida Press, Wikipedia, Florida Memory Project, National Park Service
photos from the sources listed above, as well as publicly posted online sites with thanks to the contributors