Excavation Seeks Clues About Seminole Culture
remnants of an Indian village destroyed by war almost two
centuries ago reveal the Seminoles were actually blending
into the American melting pot before they were driven to the
swamps of South Florida, say University of Florida researchers.
Anne Blakney-Bailey, a University of Florida anthropology
graduate student, brushes dirt off a piece of charred
wood at Paynes Town, the last North Florida town occupied
by the Seminole Indians.
In a search for clues to what life was like for the Seminoles
in the last North Florida town they occupied, UF archaeologists
are finding diverse cultures and ways of life and are investigating
the possibility of a surprising blend of European and American
Indian architecture, said Jane Anne Blakney-Bailey, a UF graduate
student who is conducting the research for her doctoral dissertation.
“The Seminoles are an excellent study of what happens
when multiple cultures collide and how it affects the traditions
of all societies involved,” she said. “This has
a lot of relevance today because cultures are constantly forced
to interact with one another, sometimes peacefully and sometimes
“Very few Seminole towns have ever been excavated in
Florida,” said Jerald Milanich, an archaeologist at
UF’s Florida Museum of Natural History who is supervising
Blakney-Bailey’s research. “We’re interested
in what the archaeology can tell us, because we’ve had
to rely on historical documents to tell us about the Seminoles
and their relations with the Anglos at that time.”
The excavations are taking place a few miles south of Gainesville
within Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. There, a team is
unearthing Paynes Town, which was occupied from the 1790s
until 1812, when U.S. soldiers killed
80-year-old “King” Payne, the village’s
dynamic Seminole chief, in a devastating attack documented
historically in a colonel’s diary.
So far, researchers have unearthed a wide variety of artifacts
from the site that may help explain the merging of different
cultural influences, Blakney-Bailey said. Different parts
of ceramic vessels, dozens of multicolored glass beads, glass
bottle fragments, lead musket shot, a belt buckle and pieces
of silver jewelry are a few examples of the materials found
that likely were obtained from Anglo traders, she said. More
traditional materials turned up, including animal bones, seeds,
Seminole pottery and stone tools.
Although many aspects of the traditional Creek culture remained
intact, Seminole life was influenced by several different
cultures, Blakney-Bailey said. The Seminoles exchanged ideas
and materials with other Indian tribes and escaped black slaves,
as well as with Spanish, English and American settlers, all
of whom changed Seminole culture in both subtle and dramatic
ways, she said.
One part of daily life the archaeologists are examining at
Paynes Town is the cultural change in the food patterns —
what food the Seminoles preferred, how they acquired those
preferences, their cooking and preparation techniques and
the social rituals they developed around eating, Blakney-Bailey
The UF team also hopes to get a better idea of what the town
looked like, which also may show a blend of different ways
of life, Blakney-Bailey said.
“Historical documents describe Chief Payne as being
a wealthy man, owning more than a thousand head of cattle
and living in an Anglo-style log cabin,” she said. “We’re
searching for clues to corroborate these descriptions and
want to learn how the rest of the town lived.”
The UF team has found traces of a burnt layer across a large
area of the site four inches to a foot below the surface and
are trying to determine if it represents the town’s
burning, Blakney-Bailey said. The find makes a compelling
case because the layer is present immediately on top of Seminole
artifacts, indicating the burning event occurred extremely
close to Seminole occupation of the town, she said.
The Paynes Town Seminoles and American soldiers fought in
several military conflicts, and in the winter of 1812 the
Americans set out to destroy the town, Blakney-Bailey said.
Warned of the approaching danger by a black ally of the Seminoles,
the Indian residents fled, and the soldiers stole food and
livestock, burning the empty town as they left, she said.
Jane Anne Blakney-Bailey, email@example.com
by Cathy Keen