The Elling Eide Center Florida Scholars Speaker Series

Jesus Maria

— A new translation of the oldest Native American letter from Florida

George Aaron Broadwell

Elling Eide Professor of Anthropology at the University of Florida.

November 18, 2021

11:00 AM, EST

During the Spanish colonial period in Florida, Native people — their land, their governance, and their souls — were major preoccupations of the Spanish governors and the Catholic missionaries. Spanish secular and religious oversight of Florida produced thousands of letters, reports, petitions, and other documents. Naturally the great majority of colonial documents are in Spanish, but literacy in colonial Florida was not restricted to European languages. This talk discusses one of two surviving letters written in Timucua, the Native language of much of North Florida.  The Jesus Maria letter was written in 1651 and is the oldest letter in a Native American language of the United States. This letter was never translated due to lack of sufficient knowledge of the Timucua language. However, using modern linguistic technology, it has recently become possible to translate the Jesus Maria letter for the first time. The Jesus Maria letter is a protest against the oppressive land and labor practices of 17th century Florida and it details the mistreatment of Native people, the broken promises, and the attempt to take Native land without compensation. The letter also shows considerable linguistic sophistication as it attempts to flatter some Spaniards while criticizing others. This talk will also describe how it is possible to create a dictionary and grammar of a Native language that has not been spoken for at least 200 years and the techniques involved in translating historical documents in Native American languages.

Covid restrictions: socially distanced seating, masks requested.