During September of 1696 an hurricane wrecked the Reformation on the shore near the present day town of Jupiter, Florida. The Reformation was a small sailing vessel carrying Jonathan Dickinson and his household along with the crew of mariners. Dickinson was a Quaker merchant in the process of moving from Jamaica to the new colony of Pennsylvania. His household included his wife, infant son, 8 African-American slaves, and an Indian servant girl. They were captured by the hostile Jobeses Indians shortly after salvaging their belongings on the beach. Spain claimed Florida during this time period, and the Indians were subservient to the Spanish. Although Spain had signed a peace treaty with England, the Indians never got the message, and they thought they were at war with the British or “Nickaleers” as they called them. Dickinson’s party considered it wise to pose as Spanish, and this may have saved their lives. The Indians were suspicious of Dickinson’s true identity but afraid to commit an atrocity against their Spanish masters. Nevertheless, the Indians stole everything they had, literally stripping the clothes off their backs. The Indians constantly threatened to kill them and offered little food, giving them 3 meals a week. Eventually, Dickinson convinced a chief to let them walk north toward St. Augustine. They traveled naked, exposed to hot days, cold nights and storms; while subsisting on a starvation diet. After 2 months Spanish soldiers discovered the party and helped them make it the rest of the way to St. Augustine but not before Dickinson’s cousin (probably weakened by malaria) and 2 of his servants died. They were well treated by the Spanish who then assisted them to Charleston, South Carolina by providing boats, soldiers, Indian guides, and supplies. Dickinson kept a journal of this ordeal and later published it.
An hurricane wrecked the ship carrying Jonathan Dickinson and his family in 1696 near Jupiter, Florida. The traveled on foot and in canoes from Jupiter to St. Augustine before they received real help. The Indians they met provided little aid and threatened to kill them.
The Jobeses Indians did not practice agriculture. Their diet consisted of fish, shellfish, and wild plant foods. Dried palmetto berries were an important subsistence item, but members of Dickinson’s party had a hard time adjusting to them. Dickinson described the taste as resembling “rotten blue cheese.” Despite their starving condition, many in his party spit them out and just couldn’t keep them down. They did find coco plums and sea grapes more palatable. Coco plums are a tropical fruit native to south Florida and the West Indies. The seed is also edible, reportedly tasting like almonds. Sea grapes are another tropical fruit, though I have seen them as far north as Harbor Island, South Carolina (far outside their official range.) They are not real grapes–the plant is a member of the buckwheat family. Dickinson doesn’t mention prickly pears (Opuntia sp.), but this is a common species in the region exploited by the Indians as well.
Coco plums (Chrisobalanus icaco). This was 1 of the “berries” Jonathan Dickinson and family had to eat to survive. They found these more palatable than Carolina palmetto berries.
Palmetto berries were an important staple item in the Indian diet on the east coast of Florida. The shipwrecked crew had a hard time tolerating them, even though they were starving.
Sea grapes (Cocoloba uvifera). This species is not closely related to real grapes but are in the buckwheat family. These were also more palatable for the shipwrecked crew than palmetto berries.
The storm surge of the hurricane that wrecked the ship stranded fish for a mile on the beach. Dickinson’s party gathered as many as they could before they spoiled. After this, they depended upon the Indians for fish and clams. Some of the Indians were excellent spear fishers in the surf, and others caught them from canoes at night, using torch lights that attracted the fish. Dickinson doesn’t specify what kind of fish the Indians gave them with the exception of 1 entry which mentions drum, probably red drum (Scianops ocellatus). This is the species nearly wiped out by the blackened redfish craze of the 1980s.
Red drum. Although they often ate fish on their journey, this is the only species specifically mentioned in Jonathan Dickinson’s journal.
Dickinson’s party didn’t come across cultivated fields until they almost reached St. Augustine. Here, they found a field of “pompions.” Pumpkins don’t grow well in Florida. Instead, these were probably a variety of winter squash. The Indians who lived north of St. Augustine on the Georgia and South Carolina coast did practice agriculture. On Dickinson’s journey from St. Augustine to Charleston they were well supplied with corn, beans (which he mistakenly calls “peas”), squash, and unspecified herbs. They were even able to procure garlic and hot pepper to season the corn and beans.
Dickinson barely mentions the wildlife they encountered. He saw bear tracks “and the marks of other beasts” in the sand near an inlet. When they traveled by sail between St. Augustine and Charleston, they often stopped for the night or a few days on the sea islands. Deer and wild hogs abounded on these islands and their Indian guides hunted them and provided meat for everybody. There were plenty of rabbits on 1 island but they didn’t stay long enough to hunt them.
Dickinson’s party had to traverse many natural communities between their shipwreck and Charleston such as beach, scrub pine, pine flatwoods and savannah, maritime forests, cypress swamps, mangroves, salt marshes, and ocean inlets. Florida named a state park in honor of Jonathan Dickinson near the site of their shipwreck, and many of these natural communities are represented there.
Jonathan Dickinson’s Journal or God’s Protecting Providence
Florida Classics Library 1985