Jason Herbert


In the spring of 1774, Abaya welcomed British merchants to his Cuscowilla home with a lavish feast. His guests were a usual sight on the Alachua Plains of north central Florida, and their presence signaled the importance of a healthy international commerce to both Indian and European communities alike. What a celebration it was. Traditional Indigenous dishes dominated the menu: corn cakes, milk and hominy, venison stew, and a drink of honey mixed with water. William Bartram, a naturalist who joined the trading party with hopes of cataloging the region's ecosystem, apparently enjoyed each of the courses. Although he expressed a fondness for the bear fat that coated the venison stew and other dishes of Indigenous origins, it was beef from Ahaya's own local Alachua herd that drew most of his attention. Like others who had traveled through the Native South, Bartram had grown accustomed to feasts that privileged the consumption of turkey, deer, bear, and other meats of American origin. The beef barbeque surprised Bartram even though, and perhaps because, cattle were a European introduction. In any case, its presence matters in ways that extended beyond the changing nature of food consumption in early Florida. Cattle represented both Ahaya's authority and the source of his autonomy in the region. Indeed, prior to the celebration Abaya had ordered "the best steers of his droves" as the main course for the evening's festivities. As mico (headman) of the talwa (town) and master of the herd, Abaya likely slaughtered the animals himself before they were processed and prepared by Cuscowilla's townswomen. "The banquet," Bartram later recalled, "succeeds."

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