History

Prehistoric Wakulla

The ancient lands to be later called Wakulla County was home to Upper Paleolithic – Paleo-Indian over 12,000 years ago and were descendants of people who crossed into North America from eastern Asia during the Pleistocene epoch.  Clovis spear points have been found at Wakulla Springs and would have been used in the hunting of Mastodon, Columbian Mammoth, Equus (prehistoric horses), Camelops (ice age camel), and other fauna.  The spears would have also helped these ancient people defend themselves from Ice Age lions, Short-faced bear, and Saber-toothed tiger.

Spanish rule

In 1528, Panfilo de Narvaez found his way to what would be Wakulla County from Tampa, Florida camping at the confluence of the Wakulla River and St. Marks River. Narvaez would find this a very suitable spot for a fort. In 1539, Hernando de Soto followed with his soldiers establishing San Marcos de Apalache.

Early 19th century

The area to become Wakulla County was an active place in the early 1800s.  A former British officer named William Augustus Bowles attempted to unify and lead 400 Creek Indians against the Spanish outpost of San Marcos capturing it.  This provoked Spain and a Spanish flotilla arrived some 5 weeks later and assumed control of San Marcos.  In 1818, General Andrew Jackson invaded the territory (Wakulla) taking control of San Marcos.  Two captured British citizens, Robert Ambrister and Alexander Arbuthnot, were tried and found guilty of inciting Indian raids and executed causing a diplomatic nightmare between the United States and England.  In 1821, Florida was ceded to the United States and the San Marcos was occupied by U.S. troops.  In 1824, the fort was abandoned and turned over to the Territory of Florida.  By 1839, the fort was returned to the U.S. and a federal marine hospital was built.  The hospital provided care for victims of yellow fever in the area.

Forts of Wakulla County

1840 – Camp Lawson, northwest of Wakulla and northeast of Ivan, on the St. Marks River.  A log stockade also known as Fort Lawson.

1841-1842 – Fort Many located near Wakulla Springs.

1839 – Fort Number Five (M) located near Sopchoppy.

1839-1843 – Fort Stansbury was located on the Wakulla River 9 miles from St. Marks.

1841-1843 – Fort Port Leon.  Abandoned after a hurricane destroyed it.  Site was later used for a CSA gun battery.

1839 – James Island Post located on James Island.

Antebellum Wakulla

Wakulla County was created in 1843.  It may (although this is disputed) be named for the Timucuan Indian word for “spring of water” or “mysterious water.” This is in reference to Wakulla County’s greatest natural attraction, Wakulla Springs, which is one of the world’s largest freshwater springs, both in terms of depth and water flow.  In 1974, the water flow was measured at 1.23 billion gallons per day””the greatest recorded flow ever for a single spring.

Another possible origin for the name Wakulla, not as widely accepted, is that it means “mist” or “misting”, perhaps in reference to the Wakulla Volcano, a 19th century phenomenon in which a column of smoke could be seen emerging from the swamp for miles.

Civil War

During the Civil War, Wakulla County was partly involved.  From 1861-1865 a Union squadron blockaded the mouth of the St. Marks River.  Confederates took the old Spanish fort site known as San Marcos de Apalache and renamed it Fort Ward.  The Battle of Natural Bridge eventually stopped the Union force that intended to take Fort Ward.

Etymology

The name Wakulla is corrupted from Guacara. Guacara is a Spanish phonetic spelling of an original Indian name, and Wakulla is a Muskhogean pronunciation of Guacara.  The Spanish Gua is the equivalent of the Creek wa, and as the Creek alphabet does not exhibit an “R” sound, the second element cara would have been pronounced kala by the Creeks.  The Creek voiceless “L” is always substituted for the Spanish “R”.  Thus the word Guacara was pronounced Wakala by the Seminoles who are Muskhogean in their origin and language.

Since Wakulla was probably a Timucuan word, it is unlikely that its meaning will ever be known.  It may contain the word kala which signified a “spring of water” in some Indian dialects.

Geography

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 1,906 km (736 mi). 1,571 km (607 mi) of it is land and 334 km (129 mi) of it (17.54%) is water.Wakulla County is part of the Tallahassee Metropolitan Statistical Area.

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