Pensacola Indians

5550 Views

The Pensacola Indians were a Native American people who lived in the western part of what is now the Florida Panhandle and eastern Alabama for centuries before first contact with Europeans until early in the 18th century. They spoke a Muskogean language. They are the source of the name of Pensacola Bay and the city of Pensacola. They lived in the area until the mid-18th century, but were thereafter assimilated into other groups.

 

Both the Pensacola culture and the nearby Fort Walton culture were a mixture of the Late Woodland period Weeden Island culture that preceded them in the area and an influx of Mississippian culture peoples from further north. Originally Pensacola and Fort Walton had been classified together under the Pensacola name by archaeologists, named for a group of sites located around Pensacola Bay and Choctawhatchee Bay, the approximate geographic center of their combined areas.

However further study of their differing ceramic technologies over the years has led archaeologists to reclassify them as two separate cultures. Further archaeological research has also determined that the Bottle Creek site (the largest Pensacola culture site, which is located north of Mobile Bay) was the actual center for the culture and that there are more Pensacola sites in that area and around Perdido Bay than in the Pensacola area.

The peoples of the Early Pensacola culture were closely tied to the people of the Moundville polity located upstream from them and were possibly the result of colonization from the Moundville area. They used the more typical Mississippian culture shell tempering for their pottery. Whereas the Fort Walton peoples, whose largest site was Lake Jackson Mounds in Tallahassee, were more closely tied to and influenced by the Etowah polity of northern Georgia and like them used mostly sand, grit, grog, or combinations of these materials as tempering agents in their pottery.

The early ceramics of Pensacola culture also show that they had significant contact with Plaquemine Mississippian culture peoples from the Lower Mississippi Valley. Archaeological research at the Bottle Creek site has shown that the people of the Pensacola culture may have moved into this geographical area from the north and west, but by the fourteenth century they had developed their own distinctive ceramics style and their own unique settlement pattern. Unlike their Fort Walton neighbors to the east, Pensacola peoples relied more on the use of coastal resources than on maize agriculture.

The settlement pattern of the Pensacola culture area suggests that the area was a series of minor chiefdoms with their own local centers such as Fort Walton Mound with one large paramount chiefdom located at the Bottle Creek site. The site is the largest on the Gulf Coast and with 18 mounds is comparable in scale to Moundville and the Plaquemine Mississippian Holly Bluff Site in western Mississippi. By 1250 CE Pensacola peoples had begun trading with people in southeastern Louisiana. Their style of pottery was found to be influential on peoples in this area, with many examples as well as local derivatives found at the Sims Site in Saint Charles Parish, Louisiana

The first record of the name “Pensacola” was as Panzacola (or Pansacola) in 1657 as the name of a village associated with the mission of San Juan De Aspalaga in the Apalachee Province (Pansacola was a common surname among the Apalachee).

In 1685 the Spanish became concerned over reports that the French were trying to establish a colony on coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Over the next few years the Spanish searched for the rumored French colony, and for a good site for a Spanish colony to protect their interests in the area. The name Panzacola first was recorded in association with Pensacola Bay when Juan Jordan de Reina entered the bay in 1686; he found local Indians who called themselves and the bay Panzacola.

That same year a letter reported that Panzacola could be reached by canoe by travelling west from San Marcos de Apalachee, placing it twelve leagues from the “Indians of Mobile”.Panzacola meant “long-haired people” or “hair people” in the Pensacola language, which was closely related to the Choctaw language.

Another expedition in 1688 found large, prosperous villages of “gentle and docile” Indians. In 1693 two expeditions, one from Vera Cruz in New Spain and another from Apalachee, found the area around Pensacola Bay nearly deserted, supposedly due to the Pensacola being wiped out in a war with the Mobile. The Spanish did find two small bands of Chacato (who were closely related to the Pensacola) in the area of Pensacola Bay that year. Swanton states that the Pensacola had not been killed, but had moved inland and to the west.

Historical Pensacola peoples

The historical Pensacola people lived in part of a region once occupied by a group that archaeologists call the Pensacola culture, a regional variation of the Mississippian culture that lasted from 1100 to 1700 CE.

The archaeological culture covers an area stretching from a transitional Pensacola/Fort Walton culture zone at Choctawhatchee Bay in Florida to the eastern side of the Mississippi River Delta near Biloxi, Mississippi, with the majority of its sites located along Mobile Bay in the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta. Sites for the culture stretched inland, north into the southern Tombigee and Alabama River valleys, as far as the vicinity of Selma, Alabama. (The Fort Walton culture continued to exist in the Florida Panhandle to the east of the Pensacola area into the period of European colonization.)

Perhaps the best known Pensacola culture site is the Bottle Creek Indian Mounds site, a large site located on a low swampy island north of Mobile, Alabama. This site has at least eighteen platform mounds; five of which are arranged around a central plaza. Its main occupation was from 1250 to 1550.

It was a ceremonial center for the Pensacola culture peoples, and a gateway to their society. This site seems like an unlikely place to find a ceremonial center due to the fact that it is surrounded by swamps and is difficult to reach on foot. However, it would have been easy access by a dugout canoe, the main mode of transportation available to the people who built the Bottle Creek site.

First contact with the Pensacola Indians

The Pensacola’s first contact with Europeans may have been with the Narváez expedition in 1528.

Cabeza de Vaca reported that the Indians they encountered in the vicinity of what is now Pensacola Bay were of “large stature and well formed,” and lived in permanent houses. The cacique wore a robe of what de Vaca called “civet-marten”, “the best [skins], I think, that can be found.” After initially appearing to be friendly, the Indians attacked the Spaniards without warning during the night.

In 1539 Diego Maldonado, exploring the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico under orders from Hernando de Soto, found Pensacola Bay (which the Spanish called the Bay of Achuse, Achusi, Ochuse or Ochus). Maldonado found a village on the bay, where he seized one or two of the inhabitants, along with a “good blanket of sables.” De Soto ordered Maldonado to meet him at the Bay of Achuse the next summer with supplies for his expedition. Maldonado returned three years in succession, but de Soto never appeared.

In 1559 Tristán de Luna y Arellano led an expedition to establish the Spanish colony of Ochuse on Pensacola Bay, then known as the Bay of Ichuse (also spelled Ychuse).

The Spanish had planned to rely on the Indians for food supplies, but found the area almost deserted, with only a few Indians in fishing camps around the bay. The colony lost hundreds of people through storms and disease. Some tried to settle on an island off lower Georgia, but were damaged by storms there, too. Survivors moved on to Cuba and Mexico City.

The first record of the name “Pensacola”

The first record of the name “Pensacola” was as Panzacola (or Pansacola) in 1657 as the name of a village associated with the mission of San Juan De Aspalaga in the Apalachee Province (Pansacola was a common surname among the Apalachee).

In 1685 the Spanish became concerned over reports that the French were trying to establish a colony on coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Over the next few years the Spanish searched for the rumored French colony, and for a good site for a Spanish colony to protect their interests in the area. The name Panzacola first was recorded in association with Pensacola Bay when Juan Jordan de Reina entered the bay in 1686; he found local Indians who called themselves and the bay Panzacola.

That same year a letter reported that Panzacola could be reached by canoe by travelling west from San Marcos de Apalachee, placing it twelve leagues from the “Indians of Mobile.”

Panzacola meant “long-haired people” or “hair people” in the Pensacola language, which was closely related to the Choctaw language.

Another expedition in 1688 found large, prosperous villages of “gentle and docile” Indians.

In 1693 two expeditions, one from Vera Cruz in New Spain and another from Apalachee, found the area around Pensacola Bay nearly deserted, supposedly due to the Pensacola being wiped out in a war with the Mobile. The Spanish did find two small bands of Chacato (who were closely related to the Pensacola) in the area of Pensacola Bay that year.

Swanton states that the Pensacola had not been killed, but had moved inland and to the west.

A Spanish colony was established at Pensacola Bay in 1698, given the name Pensacola. The governor of Pensacola, anxious to have Indians living in the area to help provision and defend the new colony, met with a few Pensacolas and Chacatos, and urged them to move their villages closer to Pensacola. However, by 1707 the only Indians living near the Spanish fort were called Ocatazes by the Spanish.

In 1725 or 1726 a village of Pensacolas and Biloxis on the Pearl River was reported to have no more than 40 men. In 1764 a village of Pensacola, Biloxi, Chacato, Capinan, Washa, Cawasha, and Pascagoula had 261 men. After 1764 most of the Pensacola are believed to have been assimilated into the Choctaw, but some may have gone to Louisiana with the Biloxi and merged into the Tunica-Biloxi, or been assimilated by Creek bands that moved into the area.

The  Apalachee were sometimes mistaken for Pensacola

Various groups of Indians moved to the vicinity of the Spanish fort at Pensacola and were sometimes recorded as Pensacola Indians. In 1704, 800 refugees from the Apalachee massacre reached Pensacola. The governor of Pensacola tried to persuade them to stay there, but most moved on to French Mobile.

Some Apalachee moved back to Pensacola, and then onward to near San Marcos de Apalachee. By 1763 there were about 40 families of Apalachee living at Pensacola. In that year, at the end of the Seven Years’ War and Britain’s defeat of France, the Spanish evacuated more than 200 Yemassee and Apalachee to Vera Cruz in Mexico before they turned Florida over to the British.

Archaeological excavations at the Bottle Creek site have shown that it had continued to be inhabited during the time of European contact from the sixteenth to the early eighteenth century, although it is still uncertain which historic groups these people may be.

The Pensacola culture peoples first contact with Europeans may have been with the Narváez expedition in 1528. Cabeza de Vaca reported that the Native Americans they encountered in the vicinity of what is now Pensacola Bay were of “large stature and well formed,” and lived in permanent houses. The chief wore a robe of what de Vaca called “civet-marten”, “the best [skins], I think, that can be found.” After initially appearing to be friendly, they attacked the Spaniards without warning during the night.

In 1539 Diego Maldonado, exploring the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico under orders from Hernando de Soto, found Pensacola Bay (which the Spanish called the Bay of Achuse, Achusi, Ochuse or Ochus). Maldonado found a village on the bay, where he seized one or two of the inhabitants, along with a “good blanket of sables.”

De Soto ordered Maldonado to meet him at the Bay of Achuse the next summer with supplies for his expedition. Maldonado returned three years in succession, but de Soto never appeared. It is possible that the Pensacola culture peoples were connected to or were the central Alabama Mabilians disastrously encountered by de Soto in 1540.

The next mention of the Mabilians is in 1674 by Bishop Gabriel Diaz Vara Calderon, who places them on an island in west Florida, possibly the swampy high ground of Mound Island where the Bottle Creek site is located or Dauphin Island. Later historic Mabilian villages are closer geographically to Bottle Creek and the nearby city of Mobile, Alabama was named for them.

In 1559 Tristán de Luna y Arellano led a Spanish expedition to establish the colony of Ochuse on Pensacola Bay, then known as the Bay of Ichuse (also spelled Ychuse), but the endeavor ended up being short-lived.

The Spanish had planned to rely on the local peoples for food supplies, but they found the area almost deserted and only a few people living in fishing camps around the bay.

By the early eighteenth century the Pensacola people, a Muskogean speaking group associated with the Fort Walton culture Apalachee Province, were living in the western part of what is now the Florida Panhandle and are the source of the name for Pensacola Bay, the city of Pensacola and later the Pensacola culture. They inhabited the area until the mid-eighteenth century, but by 1764 they had been assimilated into various Choctaw or Creek bands that had moved into the area or westward with the Biloxi to merge with the Tunica as part of the Tunica-Biloxi.