Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Safety Harbor Mounds - Safety Harbor, Florida

The massive temple mound at Philippi Park in Safety Harbor is one of the most significant archaeological and historic sites in Florida.

Located just north of St. Petersburg and bordering Old Tampa Bay, Safety Harbor was once the site of a major Tocobaga Indian village that was thriving when the first Spanish explorers landing in the area. In fact, there are many indications that it was the capital of the primary cacique or chief of the Tocobaga.

Both Hernando de Soto and Panfilo de Narvaez encountered the Tocobaga as they stormed ashore in the Tampa Bay area, but it was Pedro Menendez de Aviles, the founder of St. Augustine, who first took more than a passing interest in them. Shortly after founding the oldest city in the U.S. on Florida's East Coast, Menendez implemented a systematic plan to conquer all of Florida and bring it under Spanish dominion.

He began by establishing forts on the east coast and by 1566 had made his way around the peninsula to Florida's Southwest Coast. He arrived at Tampa Bay that same year in an effort to make peace between the Tocobaga and their neighbors, the Calusa, who lived down the coast. The two warring nations agreed to a temporary peace and the Tocobaga even agreed to let Menendez build a fort at their primary town, believe to be the one that surrounded the Safety Harbor Temple Mound.

The first Spanish settlement on Old Tampa Bay did not last long. After about a year the Tocobaga rose up against the Europeans and slaughtered them to a man. The fort was destroyed and a priest of the time blamed the attack on cruelty committed against the Indians by the garrison.

The Tocobaga themselves did not long survive the arrival of the Spanish in Florida. Less than 100 years later, they had vanished, leaving only shell middens and mounds as reminders that they had ever walked the shores of the Gulf Coast.

The temple mound at Philippi Park is the best preserved of several mounds that once stood at the Safety Harbor site. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/safetyharbor.

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