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Understanding the past on the South Atlantic Coast

Confirming the locations of Fort Caroline and Fort San Mateo is just one piece in a jigsaw puzzle. Relevant to histories of South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee

One of my most favorite drawings of all time appeared several years ago in newspapers around the nation and continued to be seen on websites sponsored by the Franciscans and the Archdiocese of Atlanta. The drawing originated at the Brunswick Times newspaper on the Georgia coast in an article about efforts to have five murdered 16th century Franciscan friars declared saints.

Satouriwa by Teodor De Bry

A Native king shows Captain René de Laudonnière the stone column planted by Jean Ribault in 1562. The Native peoples on the South Atlantic Coast stood as much as a foot taller than the French colonists.

The caption of the drawing described an almost buck naked “pagan Georgia Indian chief” kneeling in supplication before a Franciscan friar. The Spaniard was over a foot taller than the savage. The scene supposedly took place at the Mission del Talaxe . . . at virtually the same location as where a French artist portrayed the first meeting of the Fort Caroline colonists with the locals . . . the mouth of the Altamaha River. Talaxe is the Spanish way of writing Talassee. This “heathen chief” was related to today’s Creek and Seminole Indians.

I sent a polite letter to the Archdiocese about this drawing and accompanied it with the painting above. They were quite surprised that the savages in Georgia were much taller than Europeans. They were equally surprised that the ancestors of the Creeks were monotheistic and did not worship idols. This is specifically stated in the De Soto Chronicles. The drawing eventually disappeared from official web sites.

The altered history, almost total ignorance of indigenous languages, the mis-perceptions and the history for a political agenda, are just some of the obstacles we are facing in putting together a comprehensive Native American history of the South Atlantic Coast. This situation is worsened by the mass genocide that took place. A hundred years after the founding of Mission Santa Catalina de Guale on St. Catherines Island, GA, the indigenous population from Savannah down to Miami was essentially extinct. The only peoples, whose DNA survived, fled inland and joined the emerging Yamasee, Creek or Seminole alliances.

The ethnological characteristics of the South Atlantic Coast were extremely complex. They get more complex by the day. Just yesterday I realized that the root words of all Cherokee village names, ending with “koa, coa or qua” can be found on the South Atlantic Coast. Some also carry that “koa” suffix, but most have Muskogean locative suffixes. The Satilla River in Southeast Georgia has the same etymology as the village of Citigo (Satikoa) in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. That does not mean that the village was originally “Cherokee,” but that some coastal peoples also had colonies in the mountains. These villages were absorbed into the Cherokee Alliance.

If you to learn more about the issues facing this research project, go to:

Have a great week!

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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.

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