Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Problem with Generic Terms

While reading about the several massacres reported in the King Stockton biography may be alarming to those of us previously unaware of that northern Florida territorial history, there is one problem with the recounting of that history: the usage of the general term, "Indians."

Reading through the various histories of pre-territorial Florida, there are mentions of several different indigenous people groups. Sometimes, their fortunes seemed to rise and fall with the ebb and flow of the various European powers claiming dominance in the area. At the time of the earliest European settlement in what was later to become northern Florida and southeastern Georgia, the predominant native population was known as the Timucua. Organized into clusters of villages, these people spoke a dialect unlike any other in the southeast region.

As had happened to native populations throughout the eastern seaboard of North America, introduction of diseases from European settlers rapidly decreased the Timucuan population. During the time of Spanish colonization of the area, their population shriveled to only about one thousand members of this people group. The Spanish sought to replenish local populations in the area by introducing other tribes, such as the Yamasee, into the areas vacated by the dwindling population of the Timucua.

When Spanish rule of Florida was transferred to the British, the last of those remaining Timucua moved with the Spanish to Cuba—or perhaps joined themselves to other Native tribes.

Of course, this recounting of the history of Native populations before the 1800s is simplified. Strife between different tribes, between specific tribes against settlers—whether Spanish or English—or strife incited by one European colonizer against a rival European government through bargains with various Native groups, peppered the history with ever-shifting alliances, thus influencing the decreasing numbers of Native populations by the 1800s.

With the incidents recounted in the King Stockton story, however, we talk about the Seminole wars. Not Timucuan, not Yamasee—who were these people?

A history of the area posted on the Suwannee County website posits:
Creek Indians moving from Alabama in the late 1700s as white settlers forced them off their ancestral property intermarried with runaway slaves and the few Timucua Indians that may have remained. Their descendants became the Seminole people.

Another theory was that the defeated Yamasee eventually joined with the Seminole—as possibly other tribes from more northern origins did, too. Whatever their true origin, the Seminole were fingered as the enemy for three separate sets of battles against settlers in what was to become Florida, ranging from 1816 until 1858. These Seminole were likely the perpetrators of the massacre accounts preserved in the King Stockton biography.

Of course, each side has its own viewpoint and explanation for the struggles that ensued with the arrival of European settlers. The lost lives mentioned in the Stockton accounts were indeed tragic losses as fallout from that clash of cultures. While ours may not be the history of one of those people groups, they, too, suffered losses. Those other losses, though not our story to pass down to our descendants, comprise the story that might be shared by survivors from the other side of the struggle. And at this removed point in history, there may be some of us whose heritage grants us stories from both sides of those same struggles.


  1. Replies
    1. Stories like these make me realize how very, very different people were back then than they are now. I am stymied to understand the psyche of people--choosing to move into the middle of this--for whom such upheaval was just a part of their lives.

  2. They are still called Indians up here. They were warish peoples, unhappy with the whites, here in Minnesota there ware many massacres:(


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