4: The People of Florida

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John Lodge, The People of Florida Sacrificing Their First Born to the Sun from William Russell, The History of America, From its Discovery by Columbus to the Conclusion of the Late War (London: 1778)–etching and engraving, image size: 7.5 inches by 5.5 inches.

John Lodge’s etching The People of Florida Sacrificing Their First Born to the Sun, derives from William Russell’s book The History of America, From its Discovery by Columbus to the Conclusion of the Late War, published by Fielding & Walker in 1778. The print portrays the Native American (Timuca) religious ceremony of sacrificing the first-born son to their chief. The print depicts the moment before the sacrifice with the chief sitting on the bench and the mother of the child squatting in front of a tree trunk weeping at what is about to occur. The women beside her dance joyously and we can see the child in question at the center of the circle. On the other side of the scene are six classical-looking male figures standing around the native chosen to perform the sacrifice, who holds a club presumably to be used for the ceremony.

While the print portrays Florida as a place filled with exotic and unfamiliar ceremonies including human sacrifice, the book in which it is found presents a rather dry history of the seizing of Florida by the British. There is never a mention of human sacrifice nor cannibalism; the only graphic event involving Indians concerns an esteemed Scottish soldier having his head chopped off during the siege of St. Augustine (1740). Other than our image, this narrative is the only example of Indian savagery in the chapter on Florida, so it is curious that Russell, or his publishers, would have wanted to include Lodge’s print in his text. With that being said, the print supports Russell’s intent to criticize the Spanish’s lack of development in regards to the territory of Florida. Russell writes that the Spanish were “more employed in destroying the inhabitants than building towns or cultivating the earth” and when the British received the territory in 1763 through the Treaty of Paris, it was “almost all together desolate.”[1] In this context Lodge’s print works well to reinforce this idea that Florida under the control of the Spanish was chaotic and that they permitted the Indians to continue to practice their uncivilized ceremonies.

Picart
Bernard Picart, The People of Florida Sacrificing Their First Born to the Sun, 1723-43

However, this print is not an original invention by John Lodge. It is in fact a copy in reverse of a print by Bernard Picart, which illustrated Ceremonies et Coutumes Religieuses de tous les Peuples du Monde (1723-1743). This text illustrated by Picart and written by Jean Frederic Bernard sought to “capture the ritual and ceremonial life of all the known religions of the world.”[2] Therefore, Picart’s image (together with similar illustrations) was used to depict the religious ceremonies of the Americas, though he often left out the most graphic and especially cannibalistic images of the Indians that were available to him in order to further the rationalist and encyclopedic goals of the publication.[3]

Like Lodge, Picart relied heavily on his predecessors, especially the works of the late sixteenth-century engraver Theodore de Bry. Theodore de Bry was known for his works Petits Voyages and Grands Voyages, which illustrated the New World.  These works by de Bry were very popular and influenced many Europeans’ ideas of the New Americas.[4] Picart sometimes simply copied de Bry’s authoritative plates in order to reinforce his credibility, but also because these images were so popular and readily available to him.[5] Yet he would alter his images by removing the Spanish soldiers that de Bry always showed in order to update the images and place them in a more contemporary setting while at the same time, making them more relevant to his text. In this case Picart copied Theodore de Bry’s The People of Florida Sacrificing Their First Born to the Sun, which was originally published in Grands Voyages.[6] Although Theodore de Bry never traveled to Florida himself, he based his print off of a watercolor by Jacques Le Moyne, who had traveled with a French expedition to Florida in the 1560s.[7]

De Bry
Theodore de Bry, The People of Florida Sacrificing Their First Born to the Son, 1591

Overall, it is evident that the ideas about the New World expressed in De Bry’s print have been popular since its creation and it has been reworked to reflect different cultural and societal views of the New World. This began with De Bry himself. De Bry had never seen these people in the flesh and instead drew on preexisting sources, ultimately creating a classical perception of these individuals. He linked these figures to European mental constructs that led viewers to think about topics including Adam and Eve, the Classical age, the Ovidian Silver Age, etc. Lodge’s print, though produced nearly two centuries later, reinforces De Bry’s depictions of American natives, as it shows them as both barbaric and vaguely classical at the same time. Thus the English audience are convinced of these ideas through certain generalized European constructs. In the context of the Russell text, the English conceptualized their other colonies as civilized and, since Florida was new to the British Empire, they naturally wished to assume that it would have a degree of wildness to it. This idea is further highlighted by the text itself and helps to explain why the image is in the chapter, as English audiences would have expected to see some sort of wild native image filled with nudity and human sacrifice.

Cassandra Clark and Lillian Randall

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[1] William Russell, The History of America, From its Discovery by Columbus to the Conclusion of the Late War (London, England: Fielding and Walker, 1778), 41.

[2] “The Origins of Comparative Religion: Bernard and Picart’s Religious Ceremonies and Customs of All the Peoples of the World (1723-1743),” http://digital2.library.ucla.edu/picart/ (Accessed April 10, 2016).

[3] Lynn Hunt, The Book the Changed Europe: Picart & Bernard’s Religious Ceremonies of the World (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010), 153.

[4] Stefan Lorant, The New World: The First Pictures of America (New York: Duell, Sloan & Pierce, 1946), 283-284.

[5] Ibid., 143.

[6] Stefan Lorant, The New World: The First Pictures of America (New York: Duell, Sloan & Pierce, 1946) 284.

[7] Lynn Hunt, The Book that Changed Europe: Picart & Bernard’s Religious Ceremonies of the World (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 2010) 143.

 

 

 

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