Native Floridians through European Eyes

The State Library and Archives of Florida provides access to a multitude of published and unpublished resources for the study of Native American history and culture. In recognition of Native American Heritage Month, this series highlights materials in the collection that speak to the past and ongoing influence of Native peoples in Florida history.

It should be no surprise that some of the earliest images of Native peoples in what is now the United States originated in Florida. The first recorded European expedition to North America, under the command of Juan Ponce de León, landed somewhere along the east coast of Florida in 1513. Several conquistadors followed over the ensuing half century and left a trail of bloodshed across the peninsula.

"Floridae Americae Provinciae Recens & Exactissima," attributed to Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues (1591)

“Floridae Americae Provinciae Recens & Exactissima,” attributed to Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues and published by Theodor de Bry (1591)

In 1564, the second of two French expeditions landed in northeast Florida near the St. Johns River. They established a short-lived settlement, dubbed Fort Caroline, which survived until it was destroyed by the Spanish in 1565.

Plate I: The Promontory of Florida, at Which the French Touched; Named by Them the French Promontory, by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1591)

Plate I: The Promontory of Florida, at Which the French Touched; Named by Them the French Promontory, by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1591)

One of the members of the ill-fated French settlement, cartographer and artist Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, is credited with creating the earliest known images of Native Floridians during his brief stay. Le Moyne survived the Spanish attack and sought refuge in England upon his return to Europe.

It is unknown whether Le Moyne’s sketches made in Florida survived the journey across the Atlantic, or if he later reproduced drawings from memory. Regardless, by 1591, engraver Theodor de Bry had acquired sketches and an account from Le Moyne’s widow and published them, along with other scenes of the Americas, in a series known as Grand Voyages.

Plate VIII: The Natives of Florida Worship the Column Erected by the Commander on his First Voyage, by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1591)

Plate VIII: The Natives of Florida Worship the Column Erected by the Commander on his First Voyage, by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1591)

De Bry’s renditions of Le Moyne’s images are some of the most significant and controversial artifacts that document European activities in 16th century America. Scholars have long pointed out the inaccuracies present in many of the de Bry engravings. Despite the problematic nature of the engravings as a whole, they do provide small glimpses into Native American culture in 16th century Florida.

The images below are among those in the de Bry series that provide hints into the life and customs of Native Floridians. The indigenous people depicted in the images were known as the Timucua, and they inhabited northeast and north-central Florida at the time of first contact with Europeans and Africans in the early 16th century.

The Timucua were divided into several small chiefdoms and subsisted on farming, hunting, and harvesting marine resources. Ethnographic evidence from the 17th century, in the form of documents created by Spanish priests, lend additional credibility to some of the elements portrayed by de Bry in his 1591 publication.

Plate XVIII: The Chief Applied to by Women Whose Husbands Have Died in the War or by Disease, by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1591)

Plate XVIII: The Chief Applied to by Women Whose Husbands Have Died in the War or by Disease, by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1591)

The motivations of the artist are quite apparent in the above image. The European soldiers in the background stand armed with superior technology–guns–while the Native warriors carry only bow and arrows. The intended message was that Europeans need not worry about the military prowess of the Indians, because the Europeans enjoyed far greater firepower.

The portrayal of women kneeling before the chief is more complex. The chief is adorned with elaborate tattoos, a detail unlikely fabricated by de Bry. Later evidence gathered by European observers confirms that Native American men and women tattooed their bodies with a variety of symbols.

The caption that accompanied this image explains that, as part of his chiefly duties, the chief had the power to compel warriors to attack rival tribes and take captives. The captives would then become part of the capturing tribe through ritual adoption.

This image alone might convey to European males the notion that women were subordinate to the chief, and men in general, in their society. However, as elsewhere in the Native southeast, the chief in this case is obligated to the women to launch a military campaign to replace loved ones lost to war or disease.

Plate XXXVI: The Youth at Their Exercises, by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1591)

Plate XXXVI: The Youth at Their Exercises, by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1591)

The image above portrays the various types of athletic activity engaged in by Timucuan youth. The pole at the center represents a local version of a game found throughout eastern North America. Sometimes called the ball game, or stickball, tribes from New England to Florida to the Mississippi Valley played versions of this game, and their descendents still do today.

One of the best accounts of the game was collected in 1676 by Juan de Paiva among the Apalachee, western neighbors to the Timucua.

Plate XXII: Industry of the Floridians in Depositing Their Crops in the Public Granary, by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1591)

Plate XXII: Industry of the Floridians in Depositing Their Crops in the Public Granary, by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1591)

There are two aspects of the above image worth noting. First, the portrayal of the dugout canoe corresponds to the findings of archeologists throughout the state of Florida. Canoes found in Florida, constructed in the manner depicted here, date from 5,000 years ago to the early 20th century, the most recent versions built by Seminole and Miccosukee Indians.

The second important aspect of this image is the reference to the public granary in the accompanying caption. Evidence from throughout the southeast indicates that certain tribes used public granaries to store and dispense commonly harvested agricultural goods.

In the largest chiefdoms, the chief alone distributed the contents of the granary to his people. Well into the historic period, leaders in the Muskogee world, including the Creeks and Seminoles, maintained public granaries and other methods of communal distribution.

Plate XXIIII: Mode of Drying Fish, Wild Animals, and other Provisions, by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1591)

Plate XXIIII: Mode of Drying Fish, Wild Animals, and other Provisions, by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1591)

This final image depicts Timucuan methods of cooking meat in the fashion known today as barbecue. The modern English language term barbecue likely derives from baribicu, meaning “scared fire” in Timucuan and related languages spoken by Native inhabitants of the Greater Antilles.

Although we certainly learn more about the ideology and intentions of the European creators of these images than we do about the Native people they portray, the  significance of the de Bry engravings cannot be discounted in the history of Native American-European encounters. These images certainly influenced many who saw them and have figured prominently in the European imagination of Native Americans from the time of their creation to the present.

Visit the de Bry engravings collection page on Florida Memory to learn more about the significance and controversy surrounding these remarkable images.

Jean Ribault Explores the St. Johns River (April 30, 1562)

On April 30, 1562, French explorer Jean Ribault led an expedition ashore near the mouth of the St. Johns River. They continued north to what is now South Carolina before returning to Europe. Ribault returned to the Americas in 1564 and was among those killed during the Spanish – French struggle for control over La Florida.

"The French Sail to the River of May," from an engraving by Theodor de Bry

“The French Sail to the River of May,” from an engraving by Theodor de Bry

Between the time he returned to Europe and before the second French expedition sailed in 1564, Ribault published an account of his journey titled The Whole & True Discouerye of Terra Florida. His brief account provides insight into his perception of the land and people he encountered. The below spellings retain those that appear in an early English-language printing of Ribault’s account.
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Theodor de Bry’s 16th Century Engravings of Florida

The State Library and Archives is pleased to present Theodor de Bry’s 16th century engravings in conjunction with the Florida Department of State’s Viva Florida 500 commemoration. Digital copies of the de Bry engravings are made possible by a donation from the Michael W. and Dr. Linda Fisher Collection.

Plate XXII: Industry of the Floridians in Depositing Their Crops in the Public Granary

Plate XXII: Industry of the Floridians in Depositing Their Crops in the Public Granary

De Bry’s engravings, first published in Grand Voyages (1591), contain the earliest known European images of Native Americans in what is now Florida. For his engravings, de Bry relied on the first-hand account of Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, a member of the short-lived French colony at Fort Caroline. De Bry based his engravings on sketches made by Le Moyne of his experiences in Florida. Since Le Moyne’s original work has been lost, de Bry’s engravings are the only remaining visual history of the French expeditions to Florida in 1562 and 1564.

De Bry’s renditions of Le Moyne’s sketches are both historically significant and highly controversial. Scholars point out that certain aspects of the engravings do not match later depictions of the Timucua Indians encountered by the French in northeastern Florida, and also contend that de Bry certainly altered the images prior to publication. Artistic license is evident in several of the images included here. For example, in the scene depicting Timucua warfare against the Potanou [Plate XIII], mountains are visible in what is supposed to be northeastern Florida. Other images also contain items not found in Florida, such as the Pacific nautilus rather than the Florida whelk shell as a Timucuan ceremonial object [Plates XIX and XL].

Plate XVIII: The Chief Applied to by Women Whose Husbands Have Died in the War or by Disease

Plate XVIII: The Chief Applied to by Women Whose Husbands Have Died in the War or by Disease

In other instances, more reliable clues about Timucuan culture emerge. For example, in Plate XVIII, “The Chief Applied to by Women Whose Husbands Have Died in the War or by Disease,” the Timucua chief is adorned with numerous tattoos. Because Europeans were largely unfamiliar with tattooing for decorative purposes, it is unlikely that either Le Moyne or de Bry fabricated Timucuan body art. Later ethnographic information confirms that tattooing was common among the southeastern Indians.

The original 42 plates that make up de Bry’s series on Florida can be viewed on the Florida Memory website. The images are accompanied by English translations of the first German-language edition of Grand Voyages.

Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues and Theodor de Bry’s Images of Florida Indians

Artist and cartographer Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues (1533-1588) accompanied René de Laudonnière (ca. 1529-1574) to Florida in 1564. Laudonnière hoped to established a French settlement in the vicinity of the River May (St. Johns River), first explored by Jean Ribault (1520-1565) in April 1562. By June of 1564, the French had constructed Fort Caroline near the mouth of the St. Johns River.

Lithograph of the Timucua greeting the French, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

Lithograph of the Timucua greeting the French, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

In September 1565, Spanish soldiers led by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés (1519-1574) attacked the French. Le Moyne, charged with illustrating French progress, lost most of his work during the siege.

Engraving of the massacre at Fort Caroline, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

Engraving of the massacre at Fort Caroline, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

Following the rout of the French by the Spaniards, Le Moyne returned to Europe where he reproduced sketches of Florida from memory. In 1591, the Flemish engraver Theodor de Bry (1528-1598) published 42 engravings based on Le Moyne’s work.

Grieving widows approach the Chief, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

Grieving widows approach the Chief, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

De Bry’s renditions of Le Moyne’s sketches are both historically significant and highly controversial. Scholars contend that Le Moyne included features that do not match later depictions of the local Timucua Indians, and also that de Bry may have altered many of the images prior to publication. Artistic license is evident in several of the images included here. For example, in the above scene depicting the Timucua greeting the French, mountains are visible in what is supposed to be northeastern Florida.

Other elements provide clues into Timucuan culture. The Chief in the image above (“Grieving widows approach the Chief” ) is adorned with numerous tattoos. Because Europeans were largely unfamiliar with tattooing for decorative purposes, it appears unlikely that either Le Moyne or de Bry fabricated Timucuan body art. Later ethnographic information gathered by Europeans supports the notion that tattooing was quite common among the southeastern Indians.

Detail of the Chief, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

Detail of the Chief, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

Regardless of their authenticity, the images created by Le Moyne and published by de Bry constitute the earliest known visual representations of Florida and its indigenous people. Although the illustrations provide only a small window into the lives of the Timucua, they reveal a wealth of information about the goals and aspirations of the French and their efforts to promote the colonization of Florida.

Chief Saturiba goes to war, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

Chief Saturiba goes to war, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

Images such as “Chief Saturiba goes to war,” above, were meant to promote French colonization. This particular image conveyed the notion that the Timucua obeyed authority, were organized and fit for war, and could perhaps aid the French against their Spanish foes. The images depicted the Timucua as less sophisticated than Europeans, both in terms of dress and weaponry, and therefore they were potential candidates for accepting French religion and civilization.

Jean Ribault Explores the St. Johns River

The French arrive in Florida, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

The French arrive in Florida, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

On April 30, 1562, an expedition under the command of French explorer Jean Ribault (1520-1565) arrived at the mouth of the St. Johns River north of present-day Jacksonville. Ribault and his Huguenot (Protestant Calvinists) companions hoped to find religious freedom and to start a prosperous colony in the Americas.

Timucua Indians worshipping at the stone pillar erected by Jean Ribault, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

Timucua Indians worshipping at the stone pillar erected by Jean Ribault, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

After briefly exploring the St. Johns, which Ribault dubbed the River May, and erecting a stone pillar to mark their arrival, the French contingent continued northward along the Atlantic coast. They eventually landed near Royal Sound in what is now South Carolina and constructed a fortification named Charlesfort, in honor of the French monarch King Charles IX.

Drawing of Jean Ribault and his troops

Drawing of Jean Ribault and his troops

Ribault returned to Europe from Charlesfort, trying to garner support for further Protestant colonization in La Florida. He hoped to gain the patronage of Queen Elizabeth I of England, but was confined to the Tower of London under suspicion of espionage instead.

The French abandoned Charlesfort about one year after its founding, but returned to La Florida two years later in 1564 and established the short-lived settlement of Fort Caroline. An attack on Fort Caroline by the Spanish in September 1565 ended France’s efforts to colonize Florida.