Sarasota 15,000 Years Ago
Fifteen thousand years ago, when humans first settled in Florida, the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico was one hundred miles farther to the west. In this era, hunting and gathering wass the primary means of subsistence. This was only possible in areas where water sources existed for hunter and prey alike. Deep springs and catchment basins, such as Warm Mineral Springs, were close enough to the Sarasota area to provide camp sites, but too far away for permanent settlements.
As the Pleistocene glaciers slowly melted, a more temperate climate began to advance northward. Sea levels began rising; they ultimately rose another 350 feet (110 m), resulting in the Florida shoreline of today, which provided attractive locations for human settlements.
Archaeological research in Sarasota documents more than ten thousand years of seasonal occupation by native peoples. For five thousand years while the current sea level existed, fishing in Sarasota Bay was the primary source of protein and large mounds of discarded shells and fish bones attest to the prehistoric human settlements that existed in Sarasota and were sustained by the bounty of its bay.
Early historical records
Europeans first explored the area in the early sixteenth century. The first recorded contact was in 1513, when a Spanish expedition landed at Charlotte Harbor, just to the south. Spanish was used by the natives during some of the initial encounters, providing evidence of earlier contacts.
In 1539, Spanish Conquistador Hernando de Soto sailed into South Tampa Bay and made landing at Little Manatee River. This South Bay area he called ZaraSota or “Radiance of Soto”. Zara is Arabic for ‘radiance’ and the surname Soto is derived from the Latin saltus, meaning a wooded copse or grove surrounded by meadowlands. Originally, both Bradenton (Manatee County) and Sarasota (Sarasota County) were known as Zara Zota, Zara Sota, Sarazota, Sarasota. There are a dozen identical or nearly identical place names called Sarasota in Mexico and South America.
The sheltered bay and its harbor attracted fish and marine traders. Soon there were fishing camps called ranchos along the bay that were established by both Americans and Cubans who traded fish and turtles with merchants in Havana. Florida changed hands between the Spanish, the English, and then the Spanish again.
After the 1819 acquisition of Florida as a territory by the United States and five years before it became a state in 1845, the army established Fort Armistead in Sarasota along the bay. The fort is thought to have been located in the Indian Beach area, and research continues there. The army established the fort at a rancho operated by Louis Pacheco, an African slave working for his Cuban-American owner. Shortly before the fort was abandoned because of severe epidemics, the chiefs of the Seminole tribe gathered to discuss their impending forced march to the Oklahoma Territory. These were Native Americans who had moved into Florida during the Spanish occupation. Most of the indigenous natives of Florida, such as the Tocobaga and the Caloosa, had perished from epidemics carried by the Spanish. They mostly had maintained permanent settlements that were used from late fall through spring, moving to settlements farther north during the summer.
Soon the remaining Seminoles were forced south into the Big Cypress Swamp and in 1842 the lands in Sarasota, which then were held by the federal government, were among those opened to private ownership by those of European descent via the Armed Occupation Act passed by the Congress of the United States. Even Louis Pacheco was deported with the Natives to Oklahoma.