Who Were the Tequesta Indians?

The Tequesta Indians were a small, peaceful tribe of Native Americans that inhabited the portion of southern Florida extending from the Biscayne Bay to the mouth of the Miami River in the area that is known as Miami as of 2015. Evidence of permanent settlements indicates that they inhabited the region as early as 700 B.C. Their diet consisted mostly of fish, nuts, berries and locally grown plants, such as palmetto.

Men hunted shark, manatee, sailfish and larger fish, while Tequesta women and children gathered conch, oysters and turtle eggs. Groups living further inland subsisted on deer and wild boar. The Tequesta were largely hunters and gatherers and appear to have had only a slight reliance on agriculture. Unlike other tribes in the area that practiced farming, Tequesta populations never reached the population levels of their neighbors, the Calusa, with estimates ranging from as few as 800 people to as many as 10,000.

Explorers visiting the Biscayne Bay area noted some Tequesta customs, which included burying the chief's small bones with the body, but using the large bones as objects of worship for people throughout the village. In addition, they worshipped idols, and used a stuffed deer as the sun's representative. They also reported that the Tequesta may have engaged in human sacrifice.

The first encounters with Europeans occurred between 1500 and 1540 and were initially peaceful, but they grew hostile by 1560. The Spaniards adopted a policy of trading with the Florida Indians and converting them to Catholicism from 1700 to 1710, but attempts to relocate the Tequesta to Havana for religious instruction resulted in a vast majority of them succumbing to disease. The few remaining Tequesta returned to Florida where they faced additional threats from the tribes to the North and the British, who routinely kidnapped them and sold them as slaves. When Spain ceded Florida to the British in 1760, the handful of surviving Tequesta abandoned the area and relocated to Havana.