Apopka

This series looks at the etymology of Florida place names derived from the Muskogee and Hitchiti languages.

Many Florida place names owe their origins to Muskogee and Hitchiti, two of the languages spoken by members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. The persistence of Muskogee and Hitchiti words as modern Florida place names reflects the prominent role played by Native Americans in the region’s history.

Today’s term is Apopka, meaning “potato eating.” According to scholars of Muskogee linguistics, the word is sometimes translated as “potato eating place.” Another possible meaning is “trout eating place,” which is the generally accepted translation of Tsala Apopka as in Lake Tsala Apopka in Citrus County, Florida.

Excerpt from “Map of the Seat of War in Florida,” (1839)

Excerpt from “Map of the Seat of War in Florida,” (1839)

Shown as “Ahapopka” on the map excerpt above, the term is spelled Apopka today and refers to both a city and a lake in modern-day Orange and Seminole counties in Central Florida.

Little is known about Seminole settlements near Lake Apopka, other than that the area apparently yielded wild tubers from the rich soil surrounding the lake, or, in reference to the possible alternate translation, furnished copious trout from the lake itself.

In an 1822 letter to Kentucky congressman Thomas Metcalfe, John Bell, “Acting Agent for the Indians in Florida,” included A-ha-pop-ka on his list of 35 “Indian Settlements in Florida.” Bell placed A-ha-pop-ka “back of the Musquito,” meaning the Mosquito Lagoon/Halifax River/Indian River area near modern-day Titusville on the east coast.

Another list, made two years after Bell’s, noted the settlement of Ahapapka at the head of the Ocklawaha River and listed Ocheesetustanuka as the chief. According to J.T. Sprague, Apopka was the birthplace and home at the beginning of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842) of Coacoochee (Wildcat), one of the best known Seminole leaders of his time.

During the U.S. Army campaign against the Seminoles in early 1837, General Thomas Sidney Jesup described “a large Indian force” under the command of Osuchee (also known as Cooper) “on the borders of Ahpopka lake.” On January 23, Jesup ordered his troops to attack the settlement, which resulted in three Seminoles killed and 17 captured, including 8 Black Seminoles. The area near Apopka remained the scene of occasional fighting in the Second Seminole War as late as 1842. Jesup reported large herds of cattle near Apopka and south towards the high sand hills known as Thlanhatkee. These sand hills are traversed today by drivers traveling between Okahumpka and Ocoee on the Florida Turnpike.

To learn more, see Bertha E. Bloodworth and Alton C. Morris, Places in the Sun: The History and Romance of Florida Place Names (University Presses of Florida, 1978); John K. Mahon, History of the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842 (University of Florida Press, 1991 [1967]); Jack B. Martin and Margaret McKane Mauldin, A Dictionary of Creek/Muskogee, with Notes on the Florida and Oklahoma Seminole Dialects of Creek (University of Nebraska Press, 2004); John T. Sprague, The Origins, Progress, and Conclusion of the Florida War (University of Tampa Press, 2000 [1848]); John R. Swanton, Early History of the Creek Indians and Their Neighbors (University of Florida Press, 1998 [1922]).

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