Published on December 3, 2012 by Amy
The Apalachee are considered by some to have been the most advanced indigenous nation in Florida, with a relatively dense population and a complex, highly stratified society and regional chiefdom. They were part of the Mississippian culture and an expansive regional trade network reaching to the Great Lakes. Their reputation was such that when tribes in southern Florida first encountered the Pánfilo de Narváez expedition, they said the riches which the Spanish sought could be found in Apalachee country.
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The “Appalachian” place-name is derived from the Narvaez Expedition’s naming a village Apalachen (near present-day Tallahassee, Florida.) The Spanish further adapted the Native American name as Apalachee and applied it to the region, as well as to the tribe which lived inland to the north. De Narváez’s expedition first entered Apalachee territory on June 15, 1528. “Appalachian” is the fourth-oldest surviving European place-name in the U.S.
Two Spanish expeditions encountered the Apalachee in the first half of the 16th century. The expedition of Pánfilo de Narváez entered the Apalachee domain in 1528. Spanish attempts to overpower the Apalachee was met with resistance. The Narváez expedition turned to the coast on Apalachee Bay, where it built five boats and attempted to sail to Mexico. Only five men survived their ordeal.
In 1539, Hernando de Sotò landed on the west coast of the peninsula of Florida with a large contingent of men and horses, to search for gold. The natives told him that gold could be found in Apalachee. Historians have not determined if the natives meant the mountains of northern Georgia, an actual source of gold, or to valuable copper artifacts which the Apalachee were known to have acquired through trade. In any case, de Sotò and his men went north to Apalachee territory in pursuit of the precious metal.
Because of their prior experience with the Narváez expedition and reports of fighting between the de Sotò expedition and tribes along the way, the Apalachee feared and hated the Spanish. When the de Sotò expedition entered the Apalachee domain, the Spanish soldiers were described as “lancing every Indian encountered on both sides of the road.” De Sotò and his men seized the Apalachee town of Anhaica, where they spent the winter of 1539-1540.
Apalachee fought back with quick raiding parties and ambushes. Their arrows could penetrate two layers of chain mail. They quickly learned to target the Spaniards’ horses, which otherwise gave the Spanish an advantage against the unmounted Apalachee. The Apalachee were described as “being more pleased in killing one of these animals than they were in killing four Christians.” In the spring of 1540, de Sotò and his men left the Apalachee domain and headed north into what is now the state of Georgia.
About 1600, the Spanish Franciscan priests founded a successful mission among the Apalachee, adding several settlements over the next century. Apalachee acceptance of the priests may have related to social stresses, as they had lost population to infectious diseases brought unwittingly by the Europeans, to which they had no natural immunity. Many Apalachee converted to Catholicism, in the process creating a syncretic fashioning of their traditions and Christianity.
San Luís de Talimali, the western capital of Spanish Florida from 1656 to 1704, is a National Historic Landmark in Tallahassee, Florida. The historic site is being operated as a living history museum by the Florida Department of Archeology. Including an indigenous council house, it re-creates one of the Spanish missions and Apalachee culture, showing the closely related lives of Apalachee and Spanish in these settlements. The historic site received the “Preserve America” Presidential Award in 2006.
Starting in the 1670s, tribes to the north and west of Apalachee (including Chiscas, Apalachicolas, Yamasees and other groups that became known as Creeks) began raiding the Apalachee missions, taking captives that could be traded as slaves to the English in the Province of Carolina. Seeing that the Spanish could not fully protect them, some Apalachees joined their enemies. Apalachee reprisal raids, made in part to try to capture Carolinian traders, pushed the base camps of the raiders eastward, from which they continued to raid Apalachee missions as well as missions in Timucua Province. Efforts were also made to establish missions along the Apalachicola River to create a buffer zone. In particular, several missions were established among the Chatot tribe. In 1702, a few Spanish soldiers and nearly 800 Apalachee, Chatot and Timucuan warriors, on a reprisal raid after several Apalachee and Timucuan missions had been raided, were ambushed by Apalachicolas. Only 300 warriors escaped the ambush.
When Queen Anne’s War (the North American part of the War of Spanish Succession) started in 1702, England and Spain were officially at war, and attacks by the English and their Indian allies against the Spanish and the Mission Indians in Florida and southeastern Georgia accelerated. In early 1704 Colonel James Moore of Carolina led 50 Englishmen and 1,000 Apalachicolas and other Creeks in an attack on the Apalachee missions. Some villages surrendered without a fight, while others were destroyed. Moore returned to Carolina with 1,300 Apalachees who had surrendered and another 1,000 taken as slaves. In mid-1704 another large Creek raid captured more missions and large numbers of Apalachees. In both raids missionaries and Christian Indians were tortured and murdered, sometimes by skinning them alive. These raids became known as the Apalachee Massacre. When rumors of a third raid reached the Spanish in San Luis de Talimali, they decided to abandon the province. About 600 Apalachee survivors of Moore’s raids were settled near New Windsor, South Carolina. Following the Yamasee War the New Windsor band joined the Lower Creek, and many returned to Florida.
When the Spanish abandoned Apalachee province in 1704, some 800 surviving Indians, including Apalachees, Chatots and Yemasee, fled westward to Pensacola, along with many of the Spanish in the province. Unhappy with conditions in Pensacola, most of the Apalachees moved further west to French-controlled Mobile. They encountered a yellow-fever epidemic in the town and lost more people. Later, some Apalachees moved on to the Red River in present-day Louisiana, while others returned to the Pensacola area, to a village called Nuestra Señora de la Soledad y San Luís. A few Apalachees from the Pensacola area returned to Apalachee province around 1718, settling near a fort that the Spanish had just built at St. Marks, Florida. Many Apalachees from the village of Ivitachuco moved to a site called Abosaya near a fortified Spanish ranch in Alachua County, Florida. In late 1705 the remaining missions and ranches in the area were attacked, and Abosaya was under siege for 20 days. The Apalachees of Abosaya moved to a new location south of St. Augustine, but within a year most of them had been killed in raids. The Red River band integrated with other Indian groups, and many eventually went west with the Creeks, though others remained, and their descendants still live in Rapides Parish, Louisiana. When Florida was transferred to Britain in 1764, 40 Apalachee families living near Pensacola were moved to Veracruz, Mexico. Eighty-seven Indians living near St. Augustine, some of whom may have been descended from Apalachees, were taken to Guanabacoa, Cuba.