Museum of the Islands

Preserving the past for the future on Pine Island, Florida

Details Emerge on “Spanish Indians” of Useppa Island

It has long been known that the Cuban fishermen of Useppa Island’s well-known fishing rancho lived with and in some cases intermarried with a little-known group of Native Americans known as “Spanish Indians” during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Many of these Indians not only spoke Spanish, but were also transported back to Cuba for baptisms and perhaps other Catholic sacraments. In recent years my own archival research into the Cuban fishing period of Southwest Florida has provided voluminous new information regarding not only the origin and ethnic identity of these “Spanish Indians” (predominantly of Creek/Muskogee extraction), but also their routine interactions with Cuban fishermen, both here along the Gulf coast and during regular visits to Havana on board Cuban sailing vessels. The amount of information alone is a daunting task, increasing in volume from the American Revolution era through the transfer of Florida to United States control in 1821.  What has only recently come to light are remarkable personal details contained in parish registries for the church of Nuestra Señora de Regla in the harbor side community of Regla, Cuba, the base for the South Florida fishing fleet in Cuba at that time. Thanks to recent digitization of many of these records through a project entitled “Ecclesiastical Sources and Historical Research on the African Diaspora in Brazil and Cuba” administered by Dr. Jane Landers of Vanderbilt University, I have been able to review records of non-white baptisms in the Regla church, revealing a number of these “Spanish Indian” baptisms during the early 19th century.  Credit Friends of the Randell Research Center

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