For thousands of years, indigenous peoples populated the land that would become Manatee County. With only spoken word and no written texts, we do not know what these peoples were named or exactly where they lived. The only records they left behind are the middens consisting of shells and artifacts. One thing we do know was that oral traditions were important to these peoples as they shared skills and crafts through stories and teaching handed down from generation to generation. When these indigenous people died or were driven from their land, the methods that they used to fish, make clothing, hunt, grow crops, and preserve food were lost.
As new settlers arrived they had to learn to adapt the skills that they learned in their former homes for life in the Sunshine State. Women learned to wear cotton instead of wool, men learned to grow crops in the “tomato sand” along the river, and families travelled by wooden boats instead of horse and wagon. Some of their new knowledge came from trial and error. Other information was gleaned from the settlers who came before them.
Families also played a large part in transferring skills to the next generation. In the community that became known as Cortez for example, five fishermen from North Carolina’s Carteret County—Charlie Jones, Jim Guthries, William Fulford, Nathan Fulford and Sanders Fulford (three brothers)—are given credit for creating Cortez in the 1880s. Along with them came their wives, children and parents. They chose Hunter’s Point, later named Cortez, for its small safe harbor and plentiful fish, especially mullet. From generation to generation, the men and women of Cortez taught the crafts of quilt making, canning, fishing, net mending and other skills necessary to survive. They lived off the land and sea and so did their children and their children’s children.
Today, many people are displaced from the land. We live in houses powered by electricity, cooking prepared foods bought at the grocery store and wearing clothing purchased at the mall. We no longer know the chain of events it takes to create food, lodging, clothing or furnishing. Like the indigenous peoples of thousands of years ago, a whole way of life and culture is being lost.
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