Published on October 24, 2012 by Amy
Tocobaga (also Tocopaca) was the name of a chiefdom, its chief and its principal town during the 16th century in the area of Tampa Bay. The people of Tocobaga were in the Safety Harbor culture area. The town was at the northern end of what is now called Old Tampa Bay, an arm of Tampa Bay that extends northward between the present-day city of Tampa and Pinellas County. The town is believed to have been at the Safety Harbor Site. The name Tocobaga is also often applied to all of the people who lived around Tampa Bay during the first Spanish colonial period (1513-1763), but Spanish accounts name other chiefdoms around Tampa Bay.
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The Tampa Bay area was visited by Spanish explorers during the Spanish Florida period in Florida. In 1528, Pánfilo de Narváez likely landed in Tampa Bay, and may have passed through the territory of the Tocobaga chiefdom on his journey north. The Hernando de Soto Expedition likely landed on the south side of Tampa Bay in 1539, and passed through the eastern part of Safety Harbor territory after occupying the village of Uzita. Garcilaso de la Vega (known as el Inca), in his history of de Soto’s expedition, relates that Narváez had ordered that the nose of the chief of Uzita be cut off, indicating that the two explorers had passed through the same area. Another town near Uzita encountered by de Soto was Mocoso, but evidence suggests that, while Mocoso was in the Safety Harbor culture area together with Uzita and Tocobaga, the Mocoso people spoke a different language, possibly Timucua.
The expedition of Father Luis de Cancer visited Tampa Bay natives in 1549 in an attempt to convert the locals peacefully and repair the damage done by previous explorers. Despite being cautioned to avoid the dangerous Gulf Coast, the expedition landed south of the Tampa Bay in May 1549. There the expedition encountered apparently peaceful and receptive Indians who told them of the many populous villages around Tampa Bay, and de Cancer decided to go north. Upon reaching the Bay area, members of the expedition were killed or captured, and de Cancer was clubbed to death soon after reaching shore. Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda, a shipwreck survivor who lived with the Indians of southern Florida from 1549–1566 and was rescued from the Calusa by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, described Tocobaga, Abalachi (Apalachee) and Mogoso (Mocoço) as “separate kingdoms” from the Calusa. Ucita and Mocoço at the time of de Soto’s visit were subject to a chief named Paracoxi (also given as Urribarracuxi). De Soto marched to the town of Paracoxi, which appears to have been inland from Tampa Bay, where he found maize in cultivation (the Safety Harbor people made little or no use of maize).
The name “Tocobaga” first appears in Spanish documents in 1567, when Pedro Menéndez de Avilés visited what was almost certainly the Safety Harbor site. Menéndez had contacted the Calusa and reached an accommodation with Carlos, the Calusa ‘king’, including a ‘marriage’ with Carlos’ sister. As Carlos was anxious to gain an advantage over his enemy Tocobaga, Menéndez took Carlos and 20 of his warriors to Tocobaga by ship. Menéndez persuaded Tocobaga and Carlos to make peace. He recovered several Europeans and a dozen Calusa being held as slaves by Tocobaga. Menéndez left a garrison of 30 men at Tocobaga to encourage the people of the town to convert to Christianity; he returned Carlos and the other Calusa to their town. In January 1568 boats taking supplies to the garrison at Tocobaga found the town deserted, and all of the Spanish soldiers dead.
In 1608, an alliance of Pohoy and Tocobago may have threatened Potanos who had been converted to Christianity. In 1611 a raiding party from the two chiefdoms killed several Christianized Indians carrying supplies to the Spanish mission (Cofa) at the mouth of the Suwannee River. In 1612, the Spanish launched a punitive expedition down the Suwannee River and along the Gulf coast, attacking Tocobago and Pohoy, killing many of their people, including both chiefs. The Tocobago were weakened by the Spanish attack, and the Pohoy became the dominant power in Tampa Bay for a while.
In 1677 a Spanish official inspecting the missions in Apalachee Province visited a village of Tocobaga people living on the Wacissa River one league from the mission of San Lorenzo de Ivitachuco. There is no record of when the Tocobago settled on the Wacissa River, but they appear to have been there for a while. When the Spanish official criticized the Tocobago for having lived in a Christian province “for many years” without having converted, they replied that no one had come to teach them about Christianity, but that some twenty of their people had converted on their death beds and been buried at the mission in Ivitachuco. The Tocobago were engaged in transporting produce from Apalachee Province to St. Augustine, carrying it in canoes along the coast and up the Suwannee River and, probably, the Santa Fe River, where other people carried it overland the rest of the way to St. Augustine. The village was listed again in 1683, but it is not clear what happened when Apalachee Province was overrun by the English and their Indian allies in 1704. When the Spanish returned to San Marcos de Apalachee in 1718 they found a few Tocobagas living along the Wacissa River. The Spanish commander persuaded the Tocobagas to move to the mouth of the St. Marks River under the protection of a battery. In August that year 25 to 30 Pohoys attacked the Tocobaga settlement, killing eight and taking three others away with them. A small number of Tocobagas continued to life in the vicinity of San Marcos through the 1720s and 1730s.
The population of the Tocobaga declined severely in the 17th century, due mostly to the spread of infectious diseases brought by the Europeans, to which they had little resistance. In addition, all of the Florida tribes lost population due to the raids by the Creek and Yamasee around the end of the 17th century. Remnants of the Calusa, to the south of the Tocobaga, were forced into extreme southern Florida. When Florida came under British rule in 1763 following its defeat of France in the Seven Years War, the Calusa emigrated with Spanish refugees and resettled with them in Cuba. In any case, the Tocobaga disappeared from historical records in the 18th century.