In 1591 Dutch engraver and goldsmith Theodor de Bry published Grand Voyages, which contained the earliest known European images of Native Americans in what is now Florida.
In 2013, Florida will commemorate the 500-year anniversary of the arrival of Europeans and Africans in the Americas. Juan Ponce de León’s expedition to Florida in 1513 marked a major turning point in world history. When Europeans and Africans met Native Americans on the shores of the land we now call Florida, life on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean was forever changed.
Although Theodor de Bry never traveled to the Americas, the images he created helped to shape the European perception of Native American cultures and the land they inhabited. The State Library and Archives of Florida presents the de Bry engravings in conjunction with the Florida Department of State’s Viva Florida 500 commemoration.
For Grand Voyages and later publications de Bry relied on accounts by men like John White, a member of the failed Virginia colony at Roanoke; Hans Staden, who endured nine months of captivity among the Tupinambá Indians of Brazil; and Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, a member of the short-lived French colony in Florida, Fort Caroline.
This collection features 42 plates from the first German-language edition of Grand Voyages, published in 1591. De Bry obtained Le Moyne’s original sketches shortly after his death in 1588. Le Moyne served as the artist for René de Laudonnière’s expedition to Florida in 1564. In September 1565, Spanish soldiers led by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés laid waste to the French colonists in an event known as the Fort Caroline Massacre. Le Moyne survived the attack and sought refuge in England.
De Bry’s renditions of Le Moyne’s sketches are both historically significant and highly controversial. Scholars point out that certain aspects of the engravings do not match later depictions of the Timucua Indians encountered by the French in northeastern Florida, and also contend that de Bry certainly altered the images prior to publication. Artistic license is evident in several of the images included here. For example, in the scene depicting Timucua warfare against the Potanou [Plate XIII], mountains are visible in what is supposed to be northeastern Florida. Other images also contain items not found in Florida, such as the Pacific nautilus rather than the Florida whelk shell as a Timucuan ceremonial object [Plates XIX and XL].
In other instances, more reliable clues about Timucuan culture emerge. For example, in Plate XVIII, “The Chief Applied to by Women Whose Husbands Have Died in the War or by Disease,” the Timucua chief is adorned with numerous tattoos. Because Europeans were largely unfamiliar with tattooing for decorative purposes, it is unlikely that either Le Moyne or de Bry fabricated Timucuan body art. Later ethnographic information confirms that tattooing was common among the southeastern Indians.
Regardless of authenticity, the images created by Le Moyne and published by de Bry constitute the earliest known visual representations of Florida and its indigenous people. Although the illustrations provide only a small window into the lives of the Timucua, they reveal a wealth of information about European aspirations to colonize Florida. Indeed, we learn more about Europeans than Native Americans from de Bry’s engravings.
Engravings such as Plate XIV, “Order of March Observed by Outina on a Military Expedition,” were meant to promote colonization. This image conveyed the notion that the Timucua obeyed authority, were organized and fit for war, and could perhaps aid the Protestant French against their Catholic enemies vying for control of the Americas. The images depict the Timucua as less sophisticated than Europeans, both in terms of dress and weaponry, and therefore they were seen as potential candidates for accepting French religion and civilization.
The digital copies of the de Bry engravings included here are made possible by a donation from the Michael W. and Dr. Linda Fisher Collection. All transcriptions are taken from Discovering the New World, Based on the Works of Theodore de Bry, edited by Michael Alexander (New York: Harper & Row, 1976).