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Native American's Near St. Augustine

Archaeological surveys at Fort Matanzas have shown that the area had been used by Native Americans for several thousand years before the Spanish arrived as evidenced by pieces of Orange Period pottery made c2000-500 years BC. Occupation was most likely seasonal hunting camps rather than permanent villages.

The Indians in north Florida were called Timucua by the French and Spanish. It is not known what they called themselves. Although they shared a common language, their cultures varied widely depending on where they lived and the resources available. For example, the Timucua who lived inland depended much more on agriculture, and those along the coast on hunting and fishing.

Politically, the Timucua were never united. Alliances rose and fell among the various villages. At the time of European contact in north Florida, Saturiwa was a powerful chief among the coastal Timucua, east and north of the St. Johns River.

A village might have had 50 to 300 individuals living in circular palm-thatched huts. Each village also had a large circular council house big enough to seat the entire village. It was here that meetings and ceremonies were held. Timucua society was divided into several clans traced matrilineally through the mother's side of the family.

Timucua Indians

As a people, Timucuans tended to be tall and well-built. Men wore their long hair tied in topknots. Women wore their hair long down their backs. Members of both sexes wore necklaces, bracelets, anklets, and earrings of shells and beads. Those of higher rank were often tattooed.

One of the ceremonies that was practiced by several Indian groups throughout Florida, was the Black Drink Ceremony. A highly caffinated tea was made from the roasted leaves of the yaupon holly (ilex vomitoria). This tea was drunk to produce sweating and vomiting for purification before going out on an important hunt or into battle.

Historical Indian Circle

The Black Drink Ceremony
(From a drawing by the French artist Jacque LeMoyne)

The Timucua chief (or cacique), Seloy, offered Pedro Menendez the use of his tribe's council house until the Spanish could get their own houses built. There is good evidence that Seloy's village was near the present-day Fountain of Youth Park. Menendez later fortified the council house by building a stockade fence and moat around it.

Through the years, Spanish priests built missions and spread the word of Christianity to the Timucua and to the Apalachee Indians to the west. These mission villages also provided much needed food (corn) for the people of St. Augustine and labor for the building of the Castillo de San Marcos.

In 1600 there were at least 13,000 Timucua in Florida. By 1700, due to disease and war, there were only a few hundred left. In 1763, when the Spanish gave up Florida to the British, only a handful of Timucua remained, and they all moved to Cuba with the rest of the Spanish population.

A good place to learn about Timucuan and Apalachee life, as well as about Spanish missions, is at San Luis Mission State Historical Site which is under the administration of the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee, Florida. Archaeological research has helped reconstruct the Chief's House, the Council House, and the Mission Church.

Nature at Fort Matanzas National Monument

Although originally created to preserve the historic Spanish fort, in recent years, Fort Matanzas National Monument has become important in preserving the natural coastal habitat as well. Today the 300 acres of the national monument provide a haven for plants and animals and offer visitors opportunities for viewing a variety of wildlife.

Three species of sea turtles nest on the ocean beach each summer. The most common is the loggerhead, a threatened species. The endangered green and leatherback turtles also occasionally nest on the park's beach. Mating takes place in the ocean, and the adult female will then crawl onto the beach to lay 60-140 eggs. Nesting takes place from May through August, and incubation is approximately 60 days. The female is easily disturbed and may abandon its nesting when lights or other activities occur too close.

Loggerhead Turtle

Fort Matanzas National Monument protects one of the three known populations of the endangered Anastasia Island beach mouse. This tiny buff or tan-colored mammal lives in the dry dunes among sea oats and other grasses which provide its diet of seeds.

Floridian Beach Mouse

More than 125 species of birds can be seen at different times throughout the year at the park. Among these is the endangered least tern, which can be seen diving head first into the water to catch fish. These small shore birds are white with gray wings and have a black cap and band across the eyes. This bird prefers to nest on open, shelly or course sand directly on the ground where the speckled eggs and chicks blend in perfectly.

Bird - Tern

Also found are several species of egrets and herons, pelicans, ospreys, bald eagles, and the wood stork. This large white bird with black wing tips and a dark bald head is North America's only member of the stork family and is federally listed as endangered.

Eastern Indigo Snake

The eastern indigo snake is one of many snakes and lizards found at Fort Matanzas National Monument. Reaching over 6' (190 cm), this smooth, shiny blue-black snake is the largest non-poisonous snake in North America and is also on the endangered list.

The gopher tortoise, a medium-sized land turtle with a broad head and short tail, is listed as a species of special concern in Florida, and as more of its scrub habitat is destroyed, it may soon be listed as threatened. This tortoise uses its large claws to burrow into a sandy bank. The burrows can be as long as 30 feet (9.3 meters) and provide shelter for several other animals including the eastern indigo snake. They forage in the dunes and lightly wooded areas of the park for grasses, succulents, and fruiting plants.

Gopher Tortoise

The more densely wooded areas and salt marshes of the park provide shelter for opossum, raccoon, several species of owls, and perhaps even foxes and bobcat. Whitetail deer are occasionally seen from the fort.

White Tail Deer

The Matanzas River is home to Atlantic bottlenose dolphin which are frequently seen from the visitor center dock. Endangered West Indian manatees are also occasional visitors to the waterway.

Fort Matanzas National Monument is a diverse habitat. Come and enjoy the natural beauty of the area while learning about the early European history of Florida.

Remember that everything in the park is protected. Do not remove plants, animals, coquina, or other items from the park.

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