Origins of the South Atlantic Coastal Peoples – Chicora, Viking ports and Guale
When the first Italian, Spanish, French and English explorers made contact with the indigenous peoples of the South Atlantic Coast, the region was densely populated from the mouth of the Santee River in South Carolina to Amelia Island on the northeastern tip of Florida. South of Amelia Island, the coast line, which lacked barrier islands, was sparsely inhabited by less sophisticated fishermen-hunter-gatherer tribes. By far, the densest population was at the mouth of the Altamaha River in Georgia, whose soil chemistry allowed the large scale cultivation of American corn.
In the early 20th century, Smithsonian ethnologist John Swanton accumulated numerous eye-witness accounts from the 16th century about the South Atlantic Coast, for which researchers will always be grateful. However, he also made numerous poorly-researched speculations, which contemporary historians and anthropologists have unfortunately accepted as facts.
Chicora ( Chicola, Parasicora, Palachicora, Palachicola)
In 1521, slave traders, Francisco Gordillo and Pedro de Quejo from Santo Domingo, made an illegal raid on the South Atlantic Coast. One suspects that they were not the first and probably not the last. Later, they gave sworn depositions of their eyewitness accounts, which were published by Peter Martyr d’Anghiera in 1530. The book about the first contacts by the Spanish with indigenous Americans was called De Orbe Novo (On the New World).
Most of Gorgillo’s and de Quejo’s descriptions were disregarded by scholars for 500 years as being fantasies . . . except the mention of a powerful province they called Chicora. Nineteenth century South Carolina scholars jumped on this and placed the province north of Charleston in the vicinity of Georgetown, SC and the mouth of the Santee River. We will talk about the Duhare People, who made cheese from deer milk in the next article.
Today there is a legion of street names, shopping center names, business names, school names . . . a state recognized Indian tribe . . . in the vicinity of Georgetown named Chicora. There is even a Chicora Foundation in Columbia, SC that promotes archaeological studies. Generations of anthropology and history graduate students have written theses and dissertations premised on Chicora being “somewhere” near Georgetown, SC. However, 345 years of searching by South Carolinians has never found proof of a Native town or province named Chicora in their state. There is a reason.
Chicora is Spanish slang for Parachicora and its capital was where Savannah, GA sits today. The captain of Fort Caroline, René de Laudonnière sent a barque to the capital town of Chicola in 1565. He said it was eight lieus anciens (about 16 miles) inland on the Savannah River. He also specifically stated that Chicola was the same town that the Spanish called Chicora. The Paracusa-te (High King) of Parachicora had once dominated the region from Charleston Bay south to the Altamaha River, but by 1565 his territory only ran from the Edisto River in South Carolina, southward to the Ogeechee River in Georgia.
In the Migration Legend documents found in early 2015, Parachicora is described as “the oldest town of the Creek Confederacy.” High King, Chikoli, told Georgia colonial leaders, “Our first emperor is buried in a tomb near your town of Savannah.” Thus, Creek leaders were saying that the hybridization of Muskogean, Mesoamerican, Peruvian and Amazonian peoples that would become known as “the Creek Indians” began on the South Atlantic Coast in the vicinity of the Savannah, GA and Beaufort County, SC.
Giovanni de Verrazzano and the Viking ports
In 1523, the King of France sponsored Verrazzano to explore and map the Atlantic Coast of North America, “from Florida to Newfoundland.” Until the late 1600s, “Florida” meant all of the Southeastern United States. There are several interpretations of where his expedition went. The version in Wikipedia is written by someone who believes that most of the voyage was spent along the shores of New England and the Mid-Atlantic States. It also states that the map is inaccurate, because it shows islands that are not on the coast of New England and the Mid-Atlantic States. That person has never studied a map of the South Atlantic Coast.
In 1527, Visconte Maggiolo, Verrazzano’s navigator and cartographer published a map of the voyage. Close examination of this map reveals that Verrazzano did not turn around at the northern end of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, but continued southward to the northern coast of Florida, as he was hired to do. The islands that supposedly don’t exist are actually the Outer Banks and the barrier islands of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
On the southern fourth of the map, one can see several geographical place names that would appear again in the maps based on the explorations of the Jean Ribault and René de Laudonnière in the 1560s, such as Cape Française, Isla St. Pierre (Pedro) and Cape San Joani (San Juan ~ St. John.)
There are two other intriguing place names, Normanvilla (Norse Village) and Longvilla (Long Village) on the southern end of the map. They appear to be in Georgia’s Golden Isles or the northeastern tip of Florida. These words have either been dismissed by conservative historians as fantasies or equated to sites in New England by those who believe the town of Norvegia on this map refers to a Scandinavian colony in Rhode Island.
When I saw Normanvilla, I also thought that it might be a fantasy, but when I realized that a settlement named Longvilla was nearby, it took on the realm of possibility. There is no way that Maggiolo would have been knowledgeable of Viking Era history. Långby (Long Village) was Viking Era Scandinavian word that was used to describe a specific type of port in a foreign land. Both the Vikingar from the Norse countries and the Rusingar from Sweden and Skåne established trading colonies along rivers, sufficiently inland to avoid storms. The settlements in these river ports developed linearly along the rivers, hence the name, Long Town.
This still might seem like fantasy, except that a Scandinavian presence in the South Atlantic Coast is described in several Early Medieval monastery journals along with the establishment of an Irish colony on the South Atlantic Coast. This evidence for Gaelic colonists on the South Atlantic Coast will be discussed in the next article of this series.
The box of Colonial Spanish archives sent to me by the American Museum of Natural history in 2007 opened up a new world for me. During the previous 10 years, I had primarily worked on downtown revitalization projects in Smyrna, GA, Adairsville, GA and Rome, GA – plus research projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation. Thus, I entered into this new world with virtually no prejudices or preconceptions. However, I did know Latin, Spanish, French and Scandinavian well enough to read the languages . . . and I knew how to use a Creek dictionary. Those skills put me way ahead of most academicians writing about the South Atlantic Coastal Peoples.
I immediately noticed a major discrepancy between what the Spanish archives said and what contemporary anthropology, archaeology and history books were saying about the Native peoples of the Georgia and Florida Coasts. All the academicians presented the Guale, Mocama and Timucua as distinct Native American tribes. They were no such thing. There was no mention of these words by either French or Spanish authors in the 1560s when both nations were trying to establish colonies in the region.
All three words were contrived by the Spanish right at the end of the 1500s to label administrative districts in which a carrot and stick strategy, utilizing Roman Catholic missionaries and brutal military actions, would emasculate the Native peoples into docile serfs. By that time, the powerful Native peoples that had surrounded Fort Caroline and the original St. Augustine had disappeared.
Guale was the Hispanicization of a village named Wahale that had moved from near Midway, GA (25 miles south of Savannah) in the 1570s to the southern end of St. Catherines Island after the original inhabitants of the Altamaha River Delta had been massacred by the Spanish. Roman Catholic converts in Tacatacura had moved from near Midway, GA southward to Cumberland Island at the same time, yet academicians were calling them “Florida Mocama.”
The latitude and physical description of the first St. Augustine could be no other place than St. Andrews Bay, just south of Brunswick, GA. Nearby were the Georgia Native American towns of Seloy and Satipo. The powerful Sati-le and Alecmani Peoples, who lived in that area, had liked the French Protestants at Fort Caroline, but quickly rebelled against Spanish arrogance. St. Augustine was moved southward to its present location in March 1566 and then the Spanish almost exterminated the original peoples of that region. The survivors moved inland.
John Worth’s publications on the “Guale Indians” were based on Spanish colonial archives and thus were accurate for the 17th century period when the Spanish exterminated the Guale through their mission system. However, his descriptions had very little relevance to the peoples encountered by Gordillo, De Quejo, Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón René de Laudonnière and Pedro Menendez in the 1500s.
Georgia and South Carolina academicians were calling the people from Port Royal Sound down to the Altamaha River, “Creek Indians,” yet I could find only a couple of Creek village names, notably Wahale, which means “Southerners.” The rest of the village names didn’t look like any Southeastern indigenous language I had ever seen. In fact, they looked South American . . . but that would be impossible.
Florida academicians used a location for Fort Caroline at Jacksonville, Florida as a benchmark for defining all Native American history. Twentieth century maps produced by these academicians placed Georgia Native Americans in Florida, because they were mentioned by the colonists at Fort Caroline as their neighbors. However, 16th century Spanish and French maps placed these Native American towns in Georgia, where they were actually located. At the time, I had no clue that the Fort Caroline that we see today was a 1/12th scale fake built in 1962.
I called up my contact at the American Museum of Natural History. I told him that the contemporary books and professional papers by academicians didn’t jive with the 16th century European archives that they had sent me. Everything was all screwed up in contemporary accounts of the Indians on the South Atlantic Coast. These professors had no clue what languages the Indians were speaking. How could they contrive a history when they didn’t even know what ethnic groups were involved?
The anthropologists’ peer review system had created a mythology because they took the opinions of academic authority figures as facts rather than considering historic maps, eyewitness accounts and linguistics. “You know Jim, if you have a room full of ignoramuses, you get ignorance as the primary output.”
He laughed, and told me to go by the documents that the musuem had sent me, rather than the opinions of Southeastern academicians, if there was a conflict. First priority, however, would be describing the buildings excavated by the AMNH archaeologists, exactly as they found them – not what some other archaeologist or historian “thought” they should look like.
I walked away from the confusing experience, thinking that I would never be concerned about the Native Americans on the South Atlantic Coast again. The contradictions that Southeastern academicians had created really was of no concern to me. What did it matter to a historic preservation architect?
Life has a way of playing jokes on folks, who are just beginning to take baby steps into a new world.
Subsequent parts in this series that will address Irish refugees and the last wave of South Americans.
The following two tabs change content below.
Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history.Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.
Latest posts by Richard Thornton (see all)
- Southeastern Stone Structure Survey is still continuing - July 24, 2017
- Kansas Indians on the Coosa River of Alabama and Georgia - July 23, 2017
- We Danced to Dedicate our Lives to Creator and Our People - July 21, 2017
- Video: Ice Age forest found under the waters off the Alabama coast - July 20, 2017
- The “America Unearthed” garden . . . five years later - July 19, 2017