Historic Tampa Bay: Tampa Origins Part 1

tampa photo

The city of Tampa has an extensive and rich history that dates back centuries. There is  confusion regarding the origins of the name. Many attribute the name to a word in the Calusa tribe, meaning “sticks of fire.” The first recorded usage of the name appears to be in the memoir of Hernando de Escalante Fontenada. He was a survivor of a shipwreck in the area now known as the Tampa Bay region. The survivors were picked up by the Calusa tribe, being sacrificed after being determined to be poor slaves by the Calusa. Fontenada was allegedly spared because he was able to understand orders given to him.He remained captive for seventeen years. This memoir, written in 1575, detailed the experience. He described the region he was held in as Tanpa. However, Tanpa was determined by archaeologists to be further south. The change from Tanpa to Tampa in the current location was attributed to translation errors when drawing maps of the region.

Native American tribes had inhabited the area for thousands of years prior to the arrival of European explorers. When the Spanish first arrived in Florida in 1500s, there were three tribes confirmed to be living in the primary segment of the Tampa Bay area. Evidence suggests there may have been a fourth tribe. The Tocobaga Tribe had their settlement near what is Safety Harbor in Pinellas County today. The Uzita Tribe controlled a region around Sarasota Bay. The Mocoso Tribe were located between Alafia and Hillsborough Rivers in Hillsborough County. The potential fourth tribe was called either Pohoy or Capaloey. There is not much certainty in regards to which was the correct name or even if they were truly an independent chiefdom.

Photo by State Library and Archives of Florida