Chapter 1: Everybody's Magic Kingdom
The story I was told, the story all Florida schoolchildren were once told, was that Juan Ponce de León came to Florida to find the Fountain of Youth. Maybe Spain was full of geriatric conquistadores, looking for a place to unfreeze their old bones and heat up their blood once more. This made sense to us. Florida was full of old people wearing shorts in fierce gum-ball colors, old people on golf carts, old people with burnt sienna tans and parasoled cocktails and fifty-dollar manicures, all trying to feel less old. It was as if Florida were some kind of American reward: Live most of your life in a place where you have to work in the cold, walk on ice, and shovel snow, then go south, go where you can play like a child in the sun.
Nobody now buys the miraculous waters idea. Juan Ponce's obsessively detailed royal charter, his asiento, enumerates gold, territory, gems, souls to be converted to the True Faith, but nothing about rejuvenation. In 1511 Pietro Martire d'Anghiera, aka Peter Martyr, an Italian priest at the court of the king of Aragon, drew a ghostly map of a place called la Isla de Beimeni Parte. It lies due north of Cuba, but all the map shows is a fractured, partial coastline, shores trailing off into nothingness, a phantasmagorical land. There was some rumor about Bimini and eternal youth, maybe brought back from one of Columbus's voyages. This fountain business didn't get attached to Juan Ponce until a hundred years after his voyage to Florida, when historian Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas picked up a line about a fountain the Indians said transformed geezers into lusty adolescents. The Bimini that's in the Bahamas, that tiny comma of land, gamely tries to wrap itself in the story. Denizens of Bimini will show you a well that's supposed to be Juan Ponce's fountain. They'll show you some ruins of Atlantis too.
In Florida fiction thrives like kudzu. We own the Fountain of Youth. We've got three or four Fountains of Youth. One burbles up in St. Augustine just north of the shrine of Our Lady of La Leche. Last time I was there it cost five bucks to get in. The water is covered by a hut with murals depicting Juan Ponce as a white-haired Don Quixote. It tastes of sulfur and smells like a basketful of rotten Easter eggs. Around the spring lie the graves of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Timucuas, many of whom died from the smallpox and measles given them by the good Christians come to save them.
There's a Fountain of Youth in Volusia County, too, not far from the Daytona International Speedway. When John James Audubon visited in 1831, the place was called Spring Garden. Then it became Garden Springs. In the 1880s, the residents took a shot at calling it "DeSota," but the post office informed them Florida already had one of those. So they decided to capitalize on the water pushing up out of the Eocene limestone and went for DeLeon Springs. Ponce de León, a tiny hamlet that happens to have a spring (in common with 319 other places in Florida), pulled the same move. The place is two hundred miles west of the Atlantic, but why ruin a good founding myth with geographical and historical facts? Maybe Juan Ponce got farther into Florida than he's given credit for. Maybe Jesus visited England, just like the monks at Glastonbury (and William Blake) said; maybe aliens visited New Mexico, just like The X-Files said. Any explorer worth a damn, from Odysseus onward, heads west.
West is the direction of magic, toward the sunset, beyond the Pillars of Hercules, beyond the edge of the world. Out there you could find the Hesperides, Atlantis, Avalon. You could spread your faith, your language, your DNA, your animals, your laws, your viruses to new worlds -- or worlds new to you. Out there you could find silks, jewels, tobacco, sugar, cotton, spices, space. You could build an empire.
The Spanish always get the credit for being the first Europeans to see Florida. They may not have been. The Welsh tell how Madog, a twelfth-century prince, sailed around the Keys up into the Gulf of Mexico. One of my great-uncles said the first Robertses and Tuckers met a blue-eyed, red-haired Welsh-speaking Indian.
Or there were the Vikings, who may have got blown off course for Vinland and ended up camping on Amelia Island. St. Brendan set off in an oak boat sometime in the sixth century, heading southwest from Ireland. In the Western Sea, the saint and his fourteen companions saw a tall crystal column rising out of the sky, skirted the island where Judas, reprieved from damnation on Sundays, took the form of a man-shaped cloud, and came upon a warm land with waters so clear you could see the skeletons of ancient beasts far down on a white bed, just like the mastodon at the bottom of Wakulla Springs, in Wakulla County, Florida.
Maybe it was Wakulla Springs. Brendan could have wandered into the Gulf and got entangled in the lattice of rivers and creeks until one dead-ended in a round pool of boiling cold water, iridescent blues, greens, and violets, deep as hell and beautiful as paradise, silvery bones resting on far-down sand.
Or maybe Juan Ponce de León was the first Christian to look into the depths and declare it a miracle. Old guidebooks thought so; my great-uncle Malcolm thought so. Wakulla's waters, 400,000 gallons a minute, sharp as a winter midnight, push up from a great reservoir of accumulated rain below the clay, down in the limestone chambers that emerged when Florida rose from the sea for the last time ten million years ago. Wakulla is very deep, no one knows how deep, the visible end of a whole underworld of rivers and caves, the subterranean mansions of the earth. No one has ever found the source. You take it on faith, this wonder of the swamp.
The story always starts this way: A man, a European man, sails away from civilization and bumps into land not marked on his mappa mundi. He calls it empty, even if it isn't. He records some marvels, takes some treasures. He plants a flag and a cross. The New World is discovered.
The New World is also named, as if God had just finished making it. The Genoese navigator the Castilians called Cristóbal Colón played Adam: He describes an island its own people call Guanahani, but he declares it will now be San Salvador. The next one becomes Isla Santa Maria de Concepción, then Isabella and Fernandina after his employers, and Isla Juana after their daughter, the deranged princess called "la loca" (though not to her face) who would spend a lot of her life locked up in a tower. Every place the Spanish ships make landfall, they unfurl a banner with the red lions of León and yellow castles of Castile. They proclaim the place now a possession of los Reyes Católicos. They move on to the next milagro.
For Americans, Columbus's voyage is evidence of Divine Providence. The king and queen of Spain are sitting around one day and this guy comes in with a Big Idea about a round earth and sailing west to find the East. The queen sells some of her diamonds to buy him ships. He "discovers" America, getting the ball rolling on creating the greatest country the world has ever known. And that's enough history for us.
In 1492 the Christian rulers of northern Spain finally conquered Granada, the last caliphate, ending 750 years of Moorish rule on the Iberian peninsula. Muslims and Jews were expelled or forcibly converted. This was Christ's country now. If the converts didn't seem sufficiently enthusiastic in their Catholicism, Tomás de Torquemada, the queen's confessor, would introduce them to the Inquisition. Isabella and Ferdinand meant to scour Spain clean of any un-Christian taint, even if they drew blood doing it. They occupied the Alhambra, hanging images of martyrs on Boabdil's delicately carved walls. The patron saint of Spain, the apostle whose bones the pilgrims traveled to Compostela to supplicate, was transformed into Santiago Matamoros, St. James killer of Moors, even though St. James probably never even met a Moor, much less violated the dictates of his Lord and offed one.
Columbus's voyage was an extension of the Reconquista, energized by a sort of Catholic Spanish Manifest Destiny. The farthest reaches of the globe would be embraced and purified by the envoys of Isabella and Ferdinand, vice-regents of Christ. And if there was profit to be made in the process, all the better to finance a state of perpetual crusade, dedicated to retaking the biggest prize of all, the Holy Land. The road to Jerusalem ran through Cuba, Puerto Rico, Florida. Marking these maravillosa islands for Spain, three thousand miles away, chopping down mangroves and palms to make crosses that Isabella and Ferdinand would never see, hammering them into alien sand -- this would gain the favor of God. Columbus called it "la gran vitoria," the great victory.
The Spanish could hardly have imagined they'd spend all that time and energy in the Reconquista, kicking the Jews and the heretics and the Muslims out of Spain, only to have, four hundred years later, the Jews and the heretics (by now called Protestants) and even some of the Muslims buying time-shares and condos and three-bedroom ranch houses in their old colony of Florida.
The worldwide Reconquista became a career for noblemen who found the pious court of los Reyes Católicos (after there were no more Moors to kill) stifling. In 1513 Juan Ponce de León went looking for the legendary Isla de Beimeni Parte. He came from an aristocratic family in Valladolid, and ever since seeing the warm wonders of the Caribbean with Columbus in 1493, he preferred New Spain to Old Spain. He had plenty of money and plenty of time; he'd been governor of the colony of Puerto Rico, one of the oldest in the "New World," but lost his job to Columbus's son Diego in a political power struggle. Ponce de León was only thirty-nine years old and ready for a few more adventures, a few more amazing sights, before he retired to the starched lace and autos-da-fé of Castile.
Juan Ponce got his asiento, the royal charter spelling out the goals of the Bimini mission: land and gold. Miracles were extra. He got two caravels (light, fast ships) and a bergantina. He got Antón de Alaminos, the best pilot in the Caribbean. He assembled a band of adventurers, a New World Argo, with young hidalgos bored with a Moor-free Spain, some Taíno-speaking native guides from Puerto Rico, two African freemen -- Juan Gárrido and Juan González Ponce de León -- even two women, Juana Jiménez and Beatriz Jiménez.
Four weeks out of Añasco Bay, on April 2, 1513, Juan Ponce sighted a strand long and smooth as a court lady's neck. Bush-headed palms and tall grasses with leaves sharp enough to cut skin met the sand, and everywhere there were flowers -- sun-colored lantana and wild allamanda, milkwort and spiderwort and pink purslane, columbine and cattail, Tread Softly and Venus' looking-glass, sumac and sea daisy -- such flowers it seemed a sign from God, a memorial of the Resurrection. Juan Ponce came upon this place in Easter season, after all. His three ships celebrated the holy day at sea, the calls of Allelujah! Christ is risen! singing out over the waves and mixing with the cries of the gulls.
Juan Ponce's Argo made landfall not far from Cape Canaveral, dropping anchor between what's now Launch Pad A and Launch Pad B at the Apollo/Saturn V Center. He rowed ashore to take possession of the new land, surely taking some men-at-arms with him, Toledo blades at the ready, maybe one of the Taínos, too, and his namesake Juan González Ponce de León. Beatriz and Juana probably waited in the boat. Still, it was a multicultural posse wading through the jade shallows of the Atlantic, a preview of the Florida to come. Instead of declaring it Bimini, Juan Ponce named it after Pascua Florida, the Easter Feast of Flowers, and claimed it for Fernando II and Jesus. The travelers stood on the sand for a while, looked at the lantana and wild allamanda, milkwort and spiderwort and pink purslane, columbine and cattail, Tread Softly and Venus' looking-glass, sumac and sea daisy. No monsters, no treasure, no golden fleece, just a beach. Juan Ponce's Argonauts went back to their ships.
They sailed farther down a curve of sand past what would become, in four hundred years, the Philippe Starck hotels and Armani boutiques, the condo gulches and Mercedes showrooms of Bal Harbor and South Beach and Key Biscayne. They were beset by uncooperative Tequesta warriors, who, perhaps having met Spanish slave expeditions before, were in no mood to share. Juan Ponce headed south and west, following a chain of elongated little islands, cayos. He named them Los Martires because, he said, they "seemed like men suffering." He couldn't know that, 490 years later, those cayos, especially the one at the end, would be full of men partying.
Juan Ponce had gone back to Spain in 1514, intending to return soon to the western seas: The king had named him governor of the island of Florida and the still-elusive Bimini. But his wife had died and his daughters were too young to be left alone with the duenna. He didn't get back to Florida until early 1521. Now his mission was to colonize the place, not just look at it.
He assembled an expedition that was more ark than Argo, with two hundred men and women, horses and cattle, pigs and mules, bags of seed, orange and olive saplings. They sailed from Puerto Rico on February 26. They landed, well, somewhere, most likely near the mouth of the Caloosahatchee. The soil looked promising and there was fresh water. On the minus side, the place was inhabited by Calusas -- their name means "fierce people." Maybe the adelantado of Bimini and Florida, agent of Holy Roman Emperor Carlos V, wasn't about to let a bunch of moss-wearing heathens push him around. Maybe he went back to show the Calusas that his god was tougher than theirs. Or maybe Juan Ponce's ark didn't stop there at all but sailed up to Tampa Bay or Waccasassa Bay or Suwannee Sound or Ochlockonee Bay. Maybe they found themselves marveling at the green-roofed Wakulla River, until the Apalachees materialized out of the cypresses like ghosts.
Whichever tribe it was and wherever they were, the Spanish were perpetually harassed. The seedlings withered, the crops died. Some of the colonists died, too. Juan Ponce was wounded in the thigh. The Spanish decided it wasn't worth it. So they upped anchor and headed south, leaving their wooden crosses, which soon rotted, their unsown fields, and their cattle. Juan Ponce's wound became infected. He died in Cuba in July 1521, lost in fevered dreams of fabulous islands just beyond the horizon, the Fata Morgana Bimini just beyond the reach of his ship.
rThe truth is Juan Ponce had found Bimini. Florida is Bimini, the magical western island with the incomplete outline, as much as anywhere can be. In their New World, the Spanish expected treasure and wonder in equal measures. They saw manatees and called them mermaids. Columbus said that people from a certain part of Cuba were born with tails. They imagined they were in the fabulous Indies, where anything was possible, where fish would sing and water would make you young, the same way later Floridians imagined they had come to a land where the laws of gravity (thanks to plastic surgeons) and the laws of astronomy and the rule of the seasons were suspended, and there could be flowers in January.
Liberty County, west of Wakulla in the Panhandle, is the original Garden of Eden. It is supposedly the only place in the world where the Torreya taxifolia, the gopherwood tree, grows. Noah's ark was made of gopherwood; gopherwood grew in Eden. Ergo, according to E. E. Callaway, a contrary old cuss, a white NAACP lawyer who ran as a Republican for governor of Florida in 1936 when Republicans were rarer than talking serpents, Florida owns paradise.
"The Bible tells us that 'a river went out of Eden to water the Garden and became four heads,'" said Old Man Callaway. "Well, the Apalachicola is the only four-head river system in the world. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' map shows you that. God created the Adamic man one mile east of Bristol. Then he created the Garden of Eden just north of town."
Old Man Callaway is dead now. But many in the Full Bible, Free Will, and Pentecostal towns from the Georgia line to the Gulf still believe.
The Revolutionary was the first of us, my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. In 1799 he crossed the St. Marys River, passing from the relative order of Georgia into the protean country to the south, where borders were drawn and discarded almost weekly; where in the streets of San Agustín you could hear English, Creole, Gaelic, Greek, Spanish, French, Italian, Hitchiti, Temne, Malinke; where there is a creek named for a massacre, an island named for the Resurrection, and a great river named for St. John, the voice crying in the wilderness.
Never mind that the protean country was, at least officially, Spanish, and the Revolutionary was French -- and First Consul Bonaparte sat in the Elysée Palace lusting openly after Spain, not to mention Russia, Austria, Italy, and England. Never mind that he had fought with the American insurgents, who, having won their thirteen colonies, started eyeing a fourteenth, down there in Spanish territory. Never mind that he said he was a democrat, a freedom fighter, yet owned African slaves. The Revolutionary was protean himself.
The king of Spain was giving away land in East Florida: a hundred acres to each head of a household, plus fifty acres for each dependent and slave. The Revolutionary claimed a wife, five children, and eleven slaves. On November 6, 1800, he registered with the governor in San Agustín, declaring himself a labrador, a farmer, a native of La Provincia de Perche en Francia. He swore allegiance to the Bourbon Carlos IV. The governor's lieutenant signed his name with a crisscrossing flourish, fancy as lacing on a court dress. The Revolutionary signed his name in plain letters, easily legible two hundred years on: Francois Brouard.
Francois Brouard was born somewhere in the Perche region of Normandy in 1755. He washed up in Charleston in time to join the polyglot cavalry under Casimir Pulaski, the Polish count who got tired of fighting the Russians at home and so came to America to fight the British.
Being French, Francois Brouard probably needed no encouragement to go after the ancient enemy on new soil. The family story is that he soldiered in the siege of Charleston in 1779 and made a dashing raid through British lines in Savannah to bring quinine to Count Pulaski's malaria-ridden troops. He got promoted to captain. Maybe he cherished elevated ideas about reason, equality, and liberty; maybe he admired his fellow Norman the Marquis de la Fayette; maybe he had read Rousseau. Or maybe he just saw an opportunity to transform himself from farm boy to landed gentleman. Charleston was full of French made good. You could build a fine house on one of the fine squares and own a country plantation fat with rice, cotton, and indigo. You could be like Thomas Jefferson or Richard Henry Lee, at once a seigneur and a revolté, especially in the South. And still farther south, in the endlessly mutable realm of Florida, you might turn into, what -- a prince? an emperor?
Francois Brouard became the fountainhead of a family now so absorbed into the groundwater of Florida that they barely notice their names on the maps and the buildings anymore, Big Daddy of ten generations' worth of plantation owners, poor white trash, governors, lawyers, loggers, doyennes of the Daughters of the Confederacy, soldiers who fought everybody from the Seminoles to the Viet Cong, engineers who drained the marshes and built the roads that let the rest of the world into Florida, and politicians -- lots of politicians. His Roberts and Tucker descendants call him Francis Broward, forgetting (or preferring not to admit) that the first of our ancestors to become a Floridian was also a Frenchman. And likely a Roman Catholic -- at least he claimed to be a Catholic when he moved to Catholic Spanish Florida. Nobody minded about him being a slaveholder.
He parked wagons, family, slaves, and mules in an enchanted forest just north of a river that would later be named for him. Some of his land was high, raisin-colored alluvial soil; some of his land was drowned; some was a cocktail of water, earth, and grass. John Bartram, botanist to His Majesty (that would be King George III), traveled to the St. Johns country in 1765 and saw what became the Broward fiefdom. Bartram tells of "monstrous grape vines," Magnolia grandiflora seventy feet high, oak trees six feet across. He came upon a "hammock of oak and hickory and a fine spring of clean water almost big enough to turn a mill." Bartram thought Florida would be a grand place to grow rhubarb, lychees, pistachios, and opium poppies. He also thought that the Floridian air acted as an aphrodisiac, noting solemnly that Spanish women had more babies in Florida than back in Spain, "where they are generally accounted but indifferent breeders."
John Bartram could have worked for the Duval County chamber of commerce. He swears he only saw two snakes on his whole journey and insists that Florida has fewer insects than anywhere else in America -- Florida, with the mosquitoes big as tire irons. Bartram was either myopic or a liar. Florida's best boosters have often been both.
The Spanish land grant records list the Revolutionary as "Breard," "Breward," "Broward," and sometimes even "Brevard" -- which is another old Florida family entirely. Francois Brouard, the rebel, the immigrant, the Frenchman, began to disappear into Francis Broward the landowner, the paterfamilias, the American gentleman. He was a small-time farmer when he married Rebecca Sarah Bell, a girl from a good Scots family in Carolina, in 1784. He risked his life to detach America from its colonial master but decided to leave it for a land ruled by another colonial power, swapping one king for another. Florida had been Loyalist in the War of Independence; in 1783 Britain traded it back to Spain in exchange for the Bahamas. But then Francois Brouard had noticed that countries had a way of changing hands. A clever fellow could turn that to his advantage.
Sarah and Francois had at least five children, probably more, but only four made it out of the fatal fevers of childhood: Charles, Sarah Elizabeth, John, and Francis. Future generations of Browards would remember that they were the progeny of a revolutionary and stick their children with revolutionary handles: George Washington Broward, Montcalm Broward (after the French general who died defending Quebec against the British in 1759), Pulaski Broward, Osceola Broward, and two Napoleon Bonaparte Browards (one of whom had a sister called Josephine). But Sarah and Francois chose names for their own offspring that sounded as if they could have come over on the Arbella, instead of a rackety old ship from Brest, solid British names that would also survive in the family for two centuries, reflecting Sarah's heritage more than François's. If John was ever Jean or Francis Francois, there's no evidence of it. In Spanish Florida, the Brouards began to shed their Frenchness like an old skin.
It's hard to tell if Francois shed his Catholicism, too. In San AgustÍn, there were still missions with Franciscan friars in brown habits, and the mass was sung every day in a long coquina church with a New World baroque facade. Outside the city, though, in the new settlements, Protestants were becoming the majority. The Brouard lands lay in Nassau, a region in the top right-hand corner of Florida named by the British for the ancestral palatinate of the anti-Papist William III.
It may be that Sarah, very likely a Presbyterian, converted him, or Francois wasn't Catholic, after all. There's some evidence that he may have been a Huguenot, a passenger on a boatload of 371 French Calvinists that docked in Charleston Harbor in 1764. He would have been nine years old. Many of his kin prefer that story because it better conforms to what Americans think their country is about: flight from persecution. Or he might have shifted his affiliation to suit his setting -- Catholic, Protestant, whatever worked. This we know for sure: His eldest son, Charles, my great-great-great-great-grandfather, became a Methodist minister. And many of his descendants turned foot-washing Baptist in the swamp.
Maybe Francois Brouard was prescient in moving to Florida, figuring that the Americans eventually would conquer or finagle Florida away from the exhausted Spanish. Everybody, from Juan Ponce de León to John Bartram, gushed over Florida's trees and Florida's sunsets and Florida's seafood and Florida's flowers, but, landed with the place again, the Spanish felt they'd got shafted. For three hundred hard, bleeding, expensive years, they never got much of a return on their Florida investment. Still, they hung on to the peninsula despite there being no gold, no emeralds, none of the profitable commodities that made Peru and Mexico worth the trouble of killing all those people. The gaudy maps they passed around at the Spanish court -- vast waters with pictures of sea serpents smiling ominously in the waves, weird configurations of terra incognita promising cities strewn with gems, countries populated by Amazons or anthropophagi or talking animals -- translated into nothing more than pretty beaches and bad-tempered inhabitants with very sharp arrows.
Florida was nothing but trouble: pirates, plagues, the heat, the storms, the French, the English, the Indians, and eventually Andrew Jackson. In 1586 Francis Drake raided San Agustín, the chief Spanish city, mostly for fun and profit but also to impress upon Philip II that Elizabeth I would not tolerate any trespassing on her Atlantic ambitions. There were border skirmishes. On the logic of old maps with the land labeled "Florida" extending as far as Texas, the Spanish fought French encroachment from the west. Some of these same old maps showed "Florida" reaching up into Virginia, so the Spanish argued that the Carolinas, at least, were theirs. The British took a dim view. They had a proprietary grant down to the twenty-ninth parallel, below where Daytona Beach is now.
In 1794 a bunch of Georgia farmers, hopped up and giddy over the executions of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (death to all tyrants!), decided to invade East Florida and declare it an independent republic. They burned the fortification of San Nicolás, singing "La Marseillaise" and proclaiming that they were, in fact, French forces come to overthrow the Spanish monarchy. It took several months for the adelantado's soldiers to drive the Cracker sansculottes back across the St. Marys.
The Spanish, threatened in Europe by real Frenchmen, their forces stretched too thin from Santa Fe to the Strait of Magellan, looked almost ready to give up. Maybe François Brouard, in addition to becoming rich and important, looked forward to outlasting them. It would leave him, the underground Frenchman, in possession of lands that had once been French, lands where much French blood had been shed.
In the spring of 1562, Jean Ribaut and a handful of would-be settlers camped by a wide river that flowed north like the Nile. Ribaut named it after the month of May and claimed this land for Catherine de Médicis, queen regent of France. The French wanted to make clear to the Spanish that they did not acknowledge that the papal donations gave Spain exclusive rights over North America. And Queen Catherine wanted somewhere to ship her troublemaking Protestants. Ribaut's band did all right for a bit. The Timucuas and the Mocamas were bemused but not hostile, even bringing grapes and maize to these overdressed, underprepared people who went around proclaiming the territory from the Atlantic to the great swamp to the Gulf and beyond to be la Nouvelle France.
Meanwhile, the Spanish got wind that not only had Frenchmen beat them to planting a colony in a corner of Nueva Hispania, the colony was full of followers of the excommunicate Luther, polluting the virgin land with outlaw doctrines. The governor of Cuba sent a ship to investigate. But by the time they got to the Riviere de Mai (the San Juan to the Spanish and the St. Johns to the rest of us), all they found was one Guillaume Rouffi. He'd been left by his turn-tail colleagues, a French consul among the Timucuas, who fed him and took care of him like a pet chicken. Havana reported back to Madrid that the French colony had failed.
Busy with spying on the French queen and trying to destabilize the English queen, the Spanish still didn't get around to establishing their own colony, and the French tried again. In 1564 René de Laudonnière brought an even bigger consignment of Protestants to Florida: nobles, peasants, men, women, children. They might have been anathema to Catholic Spain but they weren't wildly popular in Catholic France, either. They built a fort inside the mouth of the north-flowing river, a stylized triangle of a stockade that looked like a giant arrowhead. They named it Fort Caroline.
In a few months food ran short. There were mutinies and rebellions. Some of the colonists stole boats and took to Caribbean pirating. At least there was money in that. Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, named by Philip II governor of Florida -- even though the Spanish had no actual settlements in Florida -- attacked Fort Caroline and killed pretty much everyone. Menéndez sanctified himself before battle by celebrating the feast day of St. Augustine of Hippo, on August 28, 1565. Then he named the patch of Florida he stood on for the saint, the church father who prayed, "O Lord, give me chastity and self-control -- but not yet!"
When Ribaut returned with reinforcements, they killed him, too. Anyone who didn't die in battle was hanged. Menéndez stuck signs over their heads: "I do this, not as to Frenchmen, but as to Heretics." He renamed the arrowhead-shaped fort San Mateo, after the author of the first Gospel, and called the inlet nearby Matanzas, "slaughter."
It was a holy killing, you understand. They were infidels. Menéndez considered himself a righteous man. He planned to found a school in Havana where the Jesuits could educate the children of the native people. He wanted to plant missions in the land of the Guales from St. Augustine up the Georgia coast. The Guales, whose territory he occupied, called him "Mico Santamaría," Mary's high chief.
Mary or no Mary, on Good Friday 1568, the French came looking for revenge. Dominique de Gourges, an angry French aristocrat (a Catholic, even), sailed into the mouth of the St. Johns. He burned San Mateo and hanged anybody he could find. Above the gallows he placed his own sign: "Not as to Spaniards, but as to Traitors, Robbers and Murderers." Honor satisfied, de Gourges thanked God, resupplied his ships, and headed back to Dieppe. France declared victory and never fooled with East Florida again.
There's an engraving from 1591 of this monument the French erected near the mouth of the St. Johns. It's so stylish -- anyone could build a fort, but the French defied the might of England and Spain with a marble column carved with the crown of the Capets and the lilies of St. Louis. In the engraving, it's draped with flower garlands. Baskets of fruit and corn are sat around its base. A dozen long-haired, bare-breasted Timucuas in moss skirts kneel before the column, their hands uplifted. The explorer René de Laudonnière looks on, impassive (and probably very hot) in his beard, padded doublet, and lace collar.
Next to Laudonnière stands the Timucua chief. He's naked except for a breechcloth and necklaces of shells. Two panther tails are worked into his headdress. He's tall, six inches taller than Laudonnière, and muscled like a statue of Hercules. One hand rests lightly on Laudonnière's shoulder. The other gestures toward the column, the symbol of French civilization in savage lands, the marker of French possession. The nails on the chief's hand are long and filed to sharp points like arrowheads.
Lost in the Swamp
I don't know what Jane Broward looked like. If she'd stayed in East Florida, on the Broward domains, in what passed for civilization, maybe there would be a portrait or something. But Francois Brouard's grandchild, my great-great-great-grandmother, would be carried off to the west, to the wild places.
Jane Broward was the eldest surviving daughter of Francois Brouard's eldest surviving son Charles. She was born on the Broward plantation in 1814, the year the British burned Washington, the year the emperor Napoléon was exiled to a small island off the coast of Italy. Florida still belonged to Spain.
Francois Brouard's properties occupied what had once been Saturiwa lands, then the mission lands of Santa Maria and Santa Catalina de Guale. His sons soon expanded the family holdings. The Browards didn't own as much as Moses Levy, who bought the title to an old royal land grant of sixty thousand acres, or Zephaniah Kingsley, who lived with his Senegalese wife, a freed slave named Anna Madgigaine Jai, in a great house on Fort George Island. The Browards weren't as aristocratic as the Spanish families who went back 250 years in Florida, then another 250 years in León or Aragon. Still, Charles Broward had three hundred acres and planted Sea Island cotton; his brother John got a grant of sixteen thousand acres from José Coppinger, the last Spanish governor, and ran a sawmill on Broward River. They were rich enough. Jane Broward was a catch.
In 1824, when Jane was ten, her uncle John married Margaret Tucker, whose people planted at Black Hammock near the mouth of the Nassau River. Margaret's father, Andrew Tucker, had got his royal dispensation of land in 1804, but in 1812, when some American farmers, bored ex-soldiers and assorted no 'counts decided to "liberate" the land south of the St. Marys, the Tuckers went the other direction, back to a farm they owned in Camden County, Georgia.
Maybe the Tuckers thought Spanish land-grant plantation holders would get short shrift from these "patriots." Their flag showed a lunging infantryman, bayonet at the ready, and declared, "Salus Populi Lex Suprema," Safety of the People the Supreme Law. Which people remained unclear. Or, perhaps demonstrating the political agility the Tuckers would display throughout the twentieth century, they just didn't want to be around when the shooting started. In any case, when President James Madison refused to recognize the revolt, the Tuckers came back to Florida. They settled back in Black Hammock as if nothing had happened.
Margaret Tucker had a little brother named Rufus, nine years younger than she. He had been born in Georgia during the territorial spat but grew up at Black Hammock. There must have been a lot of visiting between the Tucker and Broward households; they were kin now. Margaret Tucker Broward probably thought it would be a fine thing if her brother and her brother-in-law's girl got engaged. So tidy, keeping the family properties together. No doubt she gave things a shove. There would have been river picnics and suppers organized by the Big House ladies in the region. There would have been fancy balls sometimes in San Agustín, which had become, now that Florida was American, St. Augustine. The Browards might travel to the old Spanish city maybe twice a year for business and elevated entertainment. Great-Aunt Vivienne always said that Rufus and Jane danced a quadrille there in 1833, at a winter ball given by one of the old Castilian families, friends of her grandfather from the days of the adelantados. Jane wore a hyacinth blue satin dress with a white camellia in her hair. Great-Aunt Vivienne got that from her cousin Miss Hortense Broward. She was sure it was a quadrille.
No matter what dance or what dress or where it was, in January 1834 Rufus Tucker and Jane Broward got married. Jane's father, the Reverend Charles Broward, didn't perform the ceremony; one of her Eubanks uncles on her mother's side, a justice of the peace, pronounced them man and wife. We don't know why Jane's Methodist minister father didn't preside over his daughter's wedding. Maybe he didn't like Rufus. Maybe he didn't like the Tuckers, who might have developed a reputation, even by 1834. Maybe it was that Rufus had a notion to take Jane off to West Florida, a hundred miles away.
Rufus wasn't heir to the Black Hammock plantation, but with his father's and wife's family's help, he could have acquired land in Nassau or Duval or started a livery stable in the thriving new town of Jacksonville. Jane could have stayed near home. But Rufus was tired of home, tired of how cultivated everything and everyone was getting, tired, too, of hearing what a big deal the Browards were, hearing how Jane's cousin was going to Harvard and Jane's uncles were friends with Governor DuVal and Jane's father had met the Marquis de la Fayette. He figured he'd go to a part of Florida that was as yet unclaimed (and with good reason, said the horrified Browards), south of the capital.
A well-connected young couple like Rufus and Jane could have become part of the Beautiful People of the Red Hills -- the Red Hills was what they called the plantation country to the north, east, and west of Tallahassee. The governor would have received them at Mount Aventine, the plantation he'd named for one of the seven hills of Rome. Rufus could have gone into politics or speculated in the Whig versus Democrat banking wars. Jane could have been on calling terms with the likes of Ellen White of Casa Bianca Plantation, a famous belle who inspired Edward Bulwer-Lytton to write poetry for her and who was nicknamed "Florida," as if she were the territorial mascot. Rufus and Jane could have spent a lot of time dancing quadrilles with Virginia Randolphs and Carolina Bradfords. Jane would need a lot more satin dresses.
Rufus, though, wanted to make his way in the empty lands, figuring to log and fish and farm in the river country instead of clearing hundreds of acres for cotton in the uplands, where he'd be expected to live like a planter, like his daddy, wearing a tie every day. So in 1835 Jane and Rufus packed up the wedding presents -- a few pieces of silver, an old French soup tureen, a slave named Sarey -- and followed the Spanish camino real to Tallahassee. They got to the foot of the rise on which the capitol stood and turned toward the sea.
The capitol hill isn't a hill, exactly, but the Cody Scarp, a high, long ridge, curving east to the Withlacoochee River and west to the Chipola. It's an ancient shoreline. A million years ago the waters of the Gulf of Mexico slapped at its roots. The Cody Scarp is also a dividing line. To the north the soil is the color of carnelians. Live oaks like it, roses like it, and magnolias. More important, cotton likes it, and tobacco. To the south the soil is sandy, gray, and thin -- when it's dry -- and full of broken shells from Pleistocene times. Turkey oaks like it, tupelos like it, and pines. To the north lay the clean fields and great houses with their poetical names; to the south it often seemed that the land was trying to return to the sea.
Jane Broward must have wondered what she was doing, stirring her coffee with a silver spoon at the bottom of America. Her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren wondered, too, and took themselves off to the seminary in Tallahassee, battlefields in Virginia, poinciana-lined streets in Miami, law school in Gainesville. Then they'd come back to the swamp, compelled, exasperated. Their country was half water, half land, with green-black sloughs, acres of thick chartreuse grasses that would merge with the Gulf if there was a big storm, pines thin as pencils growing out of saw palmettos, brown water rivers that curled like cast-aside ribbons. There were forests where cypress, hawthorn, and sweetgum grew so thick you could only see blue shards of sky. Sometimes the ground would just open up and your house or your barn would disappear down a sinkhole.
In the mid-1830s, when Jane and Rufus set up housekeeping in a dogtrot cabin the color of the earth it sat on, most of the places didn't yet have white-people names. The British and a few of the French had been through here but didn't stay. William Bartram, son of the royal botanist, visited swamp country in 1765 with his father and met the Seminoles. They called him "Puc Puggy" -- flower gatherer. The Spanish spent mosquito-bitten years there, looking for elusive riches, trying to convert the Apalachees, dying in great numbers, killing in even greater numbers. For them the place was haunted.
Panfílo de Narváez, a red-haired, one-eyed, mean son of Spain, famous for ordering the slaughter of 2,500 native people in Cuba, got the license to run Florida after Juan Ponce de León succumbed to that Calusa arrow. He brought the usual church decrees, diseases, and swords, along with settlers, slaves, and wannabe conquistadors. He also brought with him a literarily inclined Andalucian, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. The "cow head" part of Álvar Núñez's name comes from an ancestor who, in 1212, saved Christian soldiers from the Moors by showing the way through a mountain pass using a bovine skull pointed in the right direction. "Cabeza de Vaca" is a title of honor.
Cabeza de Vaca called his Florida best seller Naufragios, or "Shipwrecks." This is all part of the myth: the tempest that blows you to a strange land which might be blessed or bad, home to a beautiful princess or a witch who turns men into pigs. Florida has a wealth of shipwreck stories. In 1696 a clutch of Quakers got caught in an August storm on their way from Jamaica and crashed somewhere near Jupiter. Their sheep and pigs swam ashore and escaped. The Quakers swam ashore, too, but the Indians waiting there took almost everything they had, including their clothes. There they were, naked as Adam and Eve after the Fall. They covered their shame with pages torn out of their Bibles. (Bibles were large in those days.)
Jonathan Dickinson, who wrote his own best seller about the ordeal, said that only "Protecting Providence" saved them from the "cruel devouring Jaws of the inhuman Cannibals of Florida." There is a little state park dedicated to Dickinson and the other Quakers, off Highway 1 not far from Hobe Sound.
In April 1528 Narváez landed in Tampa Bay. When the Spaniards waded ashore, somewhere near Abercrombie Park in St. Petersburg, the Tocobagas were waiting. They had already decided they didn't want to cut sugar cane for His Catholic Majesty, so they applied a little preemptive misinformation. The Tocobaga cacique assured Narváez that Florida's good stuff -- the gold, the emeralds -- were way up in the chiefdom of the Apalachees. Narváez, greedy, bought the story. This could be the new Peru. He could be richer than the king. He sent four ships, the ones with the women and the food and the fresh water, north to rendezvous with him at a bay the Tocobagas assured him would be so full of fish he could practically walk on the surface. Then he took off for the Apalachee capital of Aute with three hundred men, forty horses, and Cabeza de Vaca, who was taking notes.
The interior was alien, but Cabeza de Vaca calls it "wonderful to look upon" with trees of "liquid amber," trees taller than any they'd seen, but "riven from top to bottom by bolts of lightning which fell in that country of frequent storms." Cabeza de Vaca writes admiringly of Indians, assuring his readers that most of them will take to Christianity eventually. Maybe not the ones he met in North Florida, though. A decidedly un-Christian Apalachee shot a Spaniard's horse full of arrows. Armor wasn't a lot of use, since these arrows had such force they could pierce a pine. They shot a young gentleman named Avanellada clean through his neck. The Apalachees were scarily superhuman, six or eight inches taller than the Spaniards. They wore almost nothing, even on cold nights.
Narváez was looking for a river emptying out into a bay, as advertised by the Tocobagas and described in earlier expeditions. It may have been the St. Marks, it may have been the Ochlockonee. Narváez decided he would name the river after Mary Magdalen, the fallen woman redeemed by Jesus. She had red hair, too. Only the Magdalen's river was nowhere to be found. Narváez and his men got lost in boggy-bottomed, thick-canopied woods where the sun barely penetrated. Finally they tripped into a bay the color of the beads the Moors used to ward off the evil eye. The ships weren't there. Rations were almost gone. The Spaniards decided they would die if they didn't try to sail to Mexico, where there were palaces and cathedrals and apothecaries and food, plenty of food, and los Indios were servants.
Florida made Narváez sick. Florida made all of them sick. Cabeza de Vaca was forced to take notes on bits of bark. The Apalachees were still shooting at them from the forests at the edge of the beach. Every three days they killed a horse and ate it. They named the bay Bahía de Caballos to mark it in their misery. Or maybe to honor the horses.
None of them knew how to make a boat. But they tried. The ones who weren't half dead of dysentery managed to build rafts with young trees caulked with palmetto fiber and lashed together with ropes plaited from the dead horses' manes. They used what was left of their cambric shirts for sails. Narváez, in a fit of temper and despair, drank sea water. He turned delirious, but in one moment of lucidity he told them, according to Cabeza de Vaca, "Each man should do what he thought best to save his own life. That's what I shall do."
Narváez died. Most of them died. Cabeza de Vaca says of the 600 who set sail from Spain, 140 died of disease and hunger. Almost 200 were killed by the Apalachees. Of the ones who left on rafts from Bahía de Caballos, fifteen lived for a while, shipwrecked somewhere between Tate's Hell and Texas, gradually shedding the shards of their armor and their European clothes, starving, thirsty. Cabeza de Vaca hints that when one died, the rest ate him.
Finally there were only four: two hidalgos, one African servant named Estévan, and Cabeza de Vaca, now taking notes in his head. They survived by sometimes trading with the natives or more often being their slaves. After a few years they began to be taken for shamans. They began to wear necklaces of shells. They learned some of the language of the people. When they finally got to Mexico City in 1536, eight years after sailing from Havana, Cabeza de Vaca said that he could barely wear clothes again. He preferred to sleep on the bare floor. He had become a real American.
Jane Broward would have known the history of the Spanish in Florida. She had lived on old mission lands among the ruins of Franciscan chapels; she had met descendants of the settlers Governor Menéndez had brought to populate his city of San Agustín, high-toned Castilians with gold crosses and long memories; she knew that her family's land came from a Spanish king. She heard the stories about the Spanish in her own neck of the swamp, thrashing around lost, hungry. Maybe she picked up a rosary bead in the grounds of the fort at St. Marks.
But the Spanish were rapidly becoming just a romantic story, a fairy story, like their own fantastic tales of the Fountains of Youth or the mermaids Columbus says he heard singing off the Atlantic coast. Jane and Rufus and their children and all those other heretic white folks would live in the swamp where the Spanish died. Nobody had to worry about the Calusas or the Ocales or the Apalachees anymore: Thousands were taken as slaves to Cuba or Puerto Rico. Many died in battle. Most died of illnesses they had no words for: measles, typhoid fever, smallpox, Old World pathogens spat out in the New World. By 1720 they were almost all gone, dead because Europeans came to Florida and breathed their air.
By the time Hernando de Soto was dispatched to Florida in 1539, the Spanish were no longer interested in miracles and wonders. This time they meant business. They wanted the place conquered, whipped, slapped around, beaten into submission, and tidily absorbed into the Spanish empire. Florida needed to make money -- the Reconquista was expensive. Fighting wars with heretics was expensive. The Inquisition was expensive.
De Soto had studied Hispano-Indian relations with Francisco Pizarro in Peru as they slashed and burned their way through the early 1530s, looting the great Inca cities, piling up bodies, and piling up treasure. When he headed back to Spain in 1535, he was insanely rich and seriously ambitious. He asked Carlos V if he could have Ecuador; the king gave him Florida.
De Soto was smarter than Narváez: He left the supply ships safe in Tampa Bay, guarded by cavalry, until he sent men back with a road map and precise instructions where to meet him. He took a large, slow company into the interior, heading for Apalachee lands: soldiers, priests, horses, mules, long-legged range hogs. De Soto was no Cabeza de Vaca liberal. When the Spanish came across a Tocobaga or Ocale village, a priest would read out the Requirimiento, a proclamation of the necessity and supremacy of the Roman Catholic faith. The Requirimiento was, of course, in Spanish. The Tocobagas and the Ocales hadn't the least idea what they were hearing, but if one of them so much as looked sideways at these small, pallid people with their beards and their beads and their images of a suffering god nailed to a tree, de Soto's soldiers might cut off his nose or ear or hand, or maybe take his daughter or wife the way they had probably already taken the village's supply of corn.
De Soto and his hard-liners had waded ashore in midsummer; it was October when they got to Apalachee lands west of the Aucilla River. The Apalachees were no more accommodating than they were the last time they met a conquistador. They burned their own villages and their own corn, withdrawing inland, waiting for a chance to ambush. In December the Spanish passed through fields of winter crops, hills rising up around them and cool little streams lacing across the land. At the St. Marks River, the Spanish fought a pitched battle with the Apalachees. It was ugly. The blood soaked into the red clay of the riverbanks and spilled into the water like poison. This time the crossbows and swords of the Spaniards beat the medicine-charged arrows of the Apalachees. De Soto occupied the Apalachee town of Anhaica, where on December 25, 1539, the priests sang the Christmas mass to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace.
A hundred years later, Spanish soldiers had raised mud and coquina forts along the coasts. Spanish monks had strung missions along the Red Hills, each with its little pine chapel dedicated to an archangel, a saint, or a martyr. There was even one, San Martín de Tomoli, there on the Cody Scarp where one day the Americans would build a log hut and call it a capital. In the spring, if it wasn't raining, you could see all the way down to the Bay of Horses.
Two hundred years later, the Spanish forts needed repairing, and the missions were mostly just a few rickety walls covered in trumpet vine. A Carolina Scot, John McIver, built his house on what was left of San Martin de Tomoli. He said he liked the view. But the "royal road" the Spanish had made between San Agustín and Pensacola was more or less intact, if full of thigh-deep ruts. Rufus and Jane rode down it past de Soto's 1539 camp in the middle of the old capital, Anhaica, now part of the new capital, Tallahassee.
These days the site is asphalted over with offices and condominiums (the Florida curse), obscuring the ancient earth. But before the buildings went up in the late 1980s, the state archaeologist found a tiny piece of chain mail. Then a few blown glass beads. Then the iron point of a crossbow and a copper coin, a four-maravedi piece, minted when Ferdinand and Isabella still sat on the twin thrones of Castile and Aragon. Then the jawbone of a pig.
In the uncertain lands between the Cody Scarp and the sea, kin of that pig got good at avoiding alligators in the creeks and feeding off poison ivy. Their forefathers and mothers had been hardy, resourceful range pigs from the hot scrublands of Extremadura. The Spanish abandoned Florida, but their swine never left, thriving generation upon generation in the very swamps that defeated Narváez and confounded de Soto. My Roberts grandfather -- we called him Papa -- would tell how his great-grandmother Jane would hear them at night, trying to get into her vegetable garden. "Great-Granddaddy Rufus would get up and try to shoot him one," said my grandfather. "Those old conquistador hogs were lean as a cat," he said. Not so tasty as domesticated, slop-fed hogs, but they cured up okay for the winter.
Down at the River, as Papa referred to our ancestral swamp, he kept a pen of respectable pigs. He'd let me help scoop out their feed, hard corn kernels yellow as mustard, and tell me about the conquistador hogs that ran in packs like wild dogs. "The old king hog, he had them living over on Mack Island." Papa would gesture out in the direction of a piece of liquid ground out there in the labyrinth of bays, landings, hammocks, marshes, and forest. Once when I was down there I saw six or seven of these wild pigs, their bloodlines going back to the Reconquista, swimming across our slough. They held their brindled snouts out of the brown water as daintily as sorority girls trying not to get their hair wet in the pool. Their eyes were hard as bone. Papa told us that a hog bite is worse than a cottonmouth bite or a rattlesnake bite. It's worse than anything except a human bite. I ran back to the car and hit the automatic lock, as if conquistador hogs would know how to open doors.
Jane Broward Tucker wrote to her father back at the Broward place that his grandson Charles Broward Tucker, born in 1842, was doing well, and that she and Rufus had a hundred acres or so now. She didn't tell him that half of it was underwater. The important thing was that once again a French Brouard had stuck it out where the Spanish had turned tail and run.
Before Port Leon got wrecked in the big hurricane of 1843, Jane and Rufus would drive down there, or to Kings Bay to buy oysters. Rufus loved oysters. Jane would walk on the beach carrying the parasol her Uncle John had brought her from Jamaica. She had heard that you could still see crosses carved in the bark by the desperate and starving Spanish, who hoped that God, at least, hadn't forgotten them in the land of the Apalachees. Some of the old people, part African, part Indian, who made potions and conjures in the swamp, said that once the white sand there had been covered with the skulls of horses.
Luther Tucker, Jane and Rufus's third son, would tell how one time Rufus and Jane took him and his brothers Charlie and Washington over to St. Marks. Franklin and Milton were too little, so they were left home with Sarey. Rufus hired a skiff from a fellow and took them up the Wakulla River (Charlie was big enough to help row) all the way to the springs. Rufus said that this was the genuine Fountain of Youth that the old Spaniard Ponce de León was looking for hundreds of years ago. Rufus told how de Soto kept going once he discovered that the Fountain of Youth didn't work and there was no city of El Dorado in Florida. "He went to Georgia and he went to the Carolinas and Tennessee and Alabama. He ran smack into the Mississippi River. Got sick as a dog and died." Rufus always repeated that part, "Got sick as a dog and died."
The remnants of de Soto's conquering Christians buried him in a secret place in the bed of the river, where maybe the catfish feasted on his mortal remains.
Rufus would tell this story at Wakulla Springs. Jane would trail her hand in the rock-cold water. They'd let the skiff drift a little in the middle of the round spring, while Rufus would show the boys the bones of a giant beast on the bottom. Papa's grandfather Luther thought it was a dragon. Luther's brother Charlie said there were no dragons, it was some old animal that had died even before the Spanish came. Jane wondered if maybe it had drowned in the Flood that covered the earth in Bible times, maybe at the very beginning of the world.
Copyright © 2004 by Diane Roberts