History of Jacksonville, Florida and Vicinity, 1513 to 1924 – T. Frederick Davis
Two times there was a wholesale destruction of Jacksonville’s official records – in the War Between the States and by the fire of May 3, 1901. The author’s effort in this work was to collect all of the available authentic matter for permanent preservation in book form. The record closes as of December 31, 1924. The record is derived from many sources – long forgotten books and pamphlets; old letters and diaries that have been stored away as family memorials of the past; newspapers beginning with the St. Augustine Herald in 1822 (on file at the Congressional Library at Washington) fragmentary for the early years, but extremely valuable for historical research; almost a complete file of local newspapers from 1875 to date; from the unpublished statements of old residents of conditions and outstanding events within the period of their clear recollection; and from a multitude of other sources of reliability. The search through the highways and the byways for local history was in the spare moments of the author stretching over a period of a score of years, a pastime “hobby” with no idea of making money out of it. No attempt has been made to discuss the merits of any incident, but only to present the facts, just as they were and just as they are, from the records and sources indicated.
History of Jacksonville, Florida and Vicinity, 1513 to 1924
Excerpt from the text:
March 27, 1513, was Easter Sunday, Pascua Florida in the language of the Spaniard. Along the stretch that we now call the Florida east coast north of Canaveral the weather was stormy and the sea was running high. Off shore three caravels lingered with sails reefed down, for land had been sighted that day and the adventurers aboard, wishing to investigate, hove to for the weather to calm. They loitered northerly along the coast a week; then they headed in, and in the night, April 2, came to anchor near the beach.
Here the commander with his principal officers formally landed, probably at sunrise of April 3rd. Throwing the royal banner of Spain to the breeze they declared allegiance to the crown and proclaimed possession of the country, which they supposed was an island, in the name of Ferdinand, their king. Following the custom of that day to commemorate important events with the names of feast days or patron Saints, in this case, because the discovery was made on Easter Sun.. day, they named the new land Florida.
This scene on the beach was the landing of Juan Ponce de Leon and the opening of the positive history of the white man in North America. Fortunately, Ponce de Leon recorded the location of his landing and as it is the only record the observation 30 degrees and 8 minutes latitude must forever designate the locality where he first landed on the soil of Florida. Laid down on the map today, the location is about 11 miles south of the pier at Pablo Beach and within 25 miles of Jacksonville straight away.
It would appear that the existence of flowers here had nothing to do with naming the country. The native flora of the coastal beach section is there today, and one would wonder what Ponce de Leon, coming from verdant Porto Rico, could have seen to cause the enthusiasm attributed to him by history writers. The embellishment of the record to the effect that “the land was fresh in the bloom of Spring and the fields were covered with flowers” is pretty and pleasing, but it does not conform to the circumstances as we know them now in the early part of April even in the mildest season.
There is no record that Ponce de Leon explored the country away from the coast. He found nothing here to lead him to suspect the existence of gold and precious metals in the country; and incidentally, no spring the waters of which possessed the qualities of restoring health and vigor, that tradition said existed somewhere in this part of the world. He did not tarry long. Boarding his vessels on the 8th of April, he soon turned back, struggling against the currents of the gulf stream in his progress southward.
From the top of the sand dunes in that locality the eye rests upon what appear to be refreshing woodlands. They are the oases hiding from view that stretch of marsh behind the dunes known as “The Guana,” beginning seven miles below Pablo Beach and extending south toward the mouth of the North River at St. Augustine. Those who have been in ”The Guana” duck hunting and waded the mud flats and network of marsh creeks there know from experience why Ponce de Leon remained on the beach near his vessels and did not attempt to penetrate the interior at this point.
Indians of That Day
The natives of the Florida peninsula in Columbian times comprised a number of tribes, each governed by a different chief. They did not live in constant peace and harmony with one another and sometimes were engaged in bitter tribal wars. This part of Florida was occupied by the Timuqua or Timucua tribe, whose domain reached from the St. Marys River to the headwaters of the St. Johns, but principally along the lower St. Johns.
The costumes of the Timuquas were scanty, being scarcely more than a loin-cloth of buckskin for the men and for the women a fringe of Spanish moss tied around the waist. Both men and women painted their bodies in fantastic fashion; both wore heavy stone ornaments suspended from the lobes of their ears which they pierced for the purpose. The men wore their hair drawn to a peak at the top of their heads and tied like a topknot. The women wore no head decoration and left their hair flowing, except in cases of the death of a relative or friend they “bobbed” their hair as a token of distress. A chief or headman decorated himself with the tail of a raccoon or a fox drooping from the peak at the top of his head; deer-hoof rattles dangled from his loin-cloth, while suspended from his neck on a buckskin string a large shell disc six inches or more in diameter was sometimes worn.
These Indians were tall of stature, muscular and very strong. They were an agricultural people, raising crops of maize and vegetables and tilling their fields with implements of wood and shell. Tobacco was known to them and they used it as an emetic in cases of sickness. Among their ceremonials was the “Busk Ceremony,” sometimes referred to as the “Green Corn Dance,” which lasted several days with a distinct ritual for each day. It was a harvest festival and celebration, but included ceremonials of penitence for crime within the tribe, as well as supplication for protection against injury from without. Their war ceremonies and celebrations of victory were on the order of those of the early Creek Indians and doubtless originated in a common source.
These were the people in possession of this part of Florida when Ponce de Leon arrived. They were not the Seminoles of a later day.
It may safely be assumed that the visit of Ponce de Leon left a lasting impression on the minds of the natives and that long afterward when they were in sight of the ocean they would look out to sea for the strange objects that brought the pale-face to their shore. A generation was born, grew up, and passed into middle age, yet these had not returned. Reports had now and then sifted through from the lower coasts that the white man had been down there, or from the direction of the setting sun that he had passed that way; they had heard of pale-faced people held captive by neighboring tribes, and had knowledge of one even among themselves several days’ journey away; but it was not until the approach of the 50th annual harvest after Ponce de Leon’s time that runners announced the return of the white man’s vessels to this coast of Florida.
The French Arrive
Gaspard de Coligny, Admiral of France and champion of the cause of the Huguenots, visualized the new land across the sea as a place where his unhappy countrymen might live according to their own ideals and at the same time build up a new dominion by colonization, thereby extending the possessions of France. It was a dream of colonization upon the republican principle of freedom of thought; but in it also was another idea – that of conquest. Coligny had already attempted to plant such a colony in South America, in the harbor of Rio Janeiro, but it had perished. However, he did not despair, and early in 1562 he dispatched another expedition of two vessels from Havre de Grace to seek a place of settlement for the colony that was to follow. The command of these vessels was given to Jean Ribault, a native of Dieppe and a Huguenot.
Ribault’s name was spelled in different ways by the historians of the 16th and 17th centuries. French – Ribauldus (rare), Ribauld, Ribault, Ribaut. Spanish – Ribao. English – Ribault.
Second in command of this expedition was Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere, likewise a Huguenot. Ribault steered a new course across the Atlantic north of the West Indies and came in sight of the Florida coast near the present site of St. Augustine on the last day of April. The weather being favorable he sailed northward and just before sunset came to the mouth of a large river (the St. Johns), but did not enter it. He anchored outside the bar.
At dawn the next day, which was May 1, 1562, Ribault and several officers and soldiers crossed the bar in their shallops (large rowboats with a number of oarsmen) for the purpose of exploring the river. They soon saw natives coming down to the bank of the river in a friendly manner, even pointing out to them the best place to land. Ribault and his party went ashore. An Indian approached and Ribault gave him a looking-glass. He ran with it to his chief, who took off his girdle and sent it to Ribault as a token of friendship. The two parties now approached each other. The natives greeted the white men with dignity and without indication of fear. After the greeting, the Frenchmen retired a short distance, prostrated themselves, and gave thanks to God for their safe arrival.
This was the first Protestant prayer said within the limits of the United States; it cannot be positively stated that it was the first in North America, since there might have been Protestants with Roberval in Canada twenty years before. It was certainly not the first in the new world, for Coligny planted a Huguenot colony in the harbor of Rio de Janeiro in 1555, seven years before, and in 1557 sent out 4 Protestant ministers to preach there. The South American colony existed until 1560. The natives watched the ceremony of the Frenchmen in perfect silence. When it was over, Ribault pointed his finger upward to indicate to them that the white man worshipped a Supreme Being. The chief, supposing that he meant the sun, pointed two fingers upward signifying worship of both sun and moon by them.
Captain Ribault was much pleased with the manners and appearance of these natives. He says of them, “They be of goodly stature, mighty, fair, and as well shapen and proportioned of body as any people in the world; very gentle, courteous, and of good nature. The forepart of their body be painted with pretty devised works, of azure, red, and black, so well and so properly as the best painter of Europe could not amend it. The women have their bodies painted, too, and wear a certain herb like unto moss, whereof the cedar and all other trees be almost covered. The men for pleasure do trim themselves therewith, after sundry fashions.”
It has been said that the Spanish or gray moss is not native here, but the foregoing description is strong evidence that it is.
These ceremonies took place on the north side of the river, where Ribault spent the forenoon. Distributing presents among the natives and receiving in exchange fresh fish, which the Indians skillfully caught in reed nets, the Frenchmen crossed over to the south side. The natives of the south side met Ribault in a friendly manner and offered fruit; but they seemed more suspicious than those of the north side, as they did not bring their women with them and had with them their bows and arrows. A few presents satisfied them, however, and the Frenchmen were allowed to go about unmolested.
Ribault was greatly impressed with the natural growth on this side of the river. Trees, shrubs, plants and vines all excited his interest and wonder. His relation mentions grapes “of surpassing goodness” and vines that grew to the top of the tallest oaks; palms, cedar, cypress and bay trees.
The Frenchmen spent the afternoon wandering over the high land near the mouth of the river. Toward sundown they again entered their shallops and returned to the ships outside the bar.