Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

Identifying Fort San Juan: A Sixteenth-Century Spanish Occupation at the Berry Site, North Carolina

Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

Identifying Fort San Juan: A Sixteenth-Century Spanish Occupation at the Berry Site, North Carolina

Article excerpt

In January 1567, a Spanish expedition under the command of Capt. Juan Pardo arrived at the native town of Joara, located deep in the interior along the upper Catawba River in what is now western North Carolina. Here, Pardo founded a garrison, Fort San Juan, and manned it with 30 soldiers. Fort San Juan de Joara was occupied for nearly eighteen months and was the earliest European settlement in the interior of the present-day United States. This was the most important of several forts that Pardo built during the course of his expedition across the Carolinas and eastern Tennessee, but all were destroyed by natives in 1568. Archaeological research indicates that the Berry site (31BK22), located near Morganton, North Carolina, was the site of Joara and Fort San Juan. In this paper, we use documents from Pardo's expeditions to suggest material correlates for Fort San Juan; we then compare these specific correlates with archaeological data from the Berry site. These data include sixteenth-century Spanish ceramics and hardware which we have recovered in association with a compound of several burned buildings and large features. We conclude that this compound represents material remains from Fort San Juan.

Columbus's landfall in the Bahamas in October 1492 initiated what was perhaps the most dramatic century of cultural exchange in human history. Over two continents, the native peoples of the Americas withstood waves of explorers, colonists, and proselytizers from Spain, England, France, Portugal, the Netherlands, and other distant centers of European colonial aspiration. Of these nations, Spain was by far the most ambitious in its early efforts at exploration and conquest (Bray 1993; Deagan 2003; Thomas 1989, 1990, 1991). Archaeological research at the Berry site in North Carolina (Figure 1) sheds significant new light on this time of the first sustained contact between Europeans and the peoples of North America, as its borderland setting was the northern frontier of Spain's long reach (e.g., Huffman 1990; Hudson 1990; Lyon 1976; Paar 1999). Here, in January 1567 at a native village named Joara, Capt. Juan Pardo founded a garrison, Fort San Juan, and manned it with 30 soldiers. Although occupied for little less than 18 months, until May 1568, this was the earliest European settlement founded in the interior of what is now the United States. Its founding also initiated one of the longest periods of sustained contact between Europeans and the native peoples of North America's interior until the seventeenth century. Our research into the long-forgotten episode of Fort San Juan's construction and subsequent fiery end promises to shed new light on the history of Spanish colonization along the Atlantic frontier and on the ethnogenesis of this region's historic period native societies.

The Juan Pardo Expeditions and Fort San Juan

During the first half of the sixteenth century, a succession of Spanish explorers failed in their efforts to colonize what is now the southeastern United States (León [1521], Ayllón [1526], Narváez [1528], de Soto [1539-44], and Luna [1559-61]). In 1565-66, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés finally succeeded in founding two small settlements on the southern Atlantic Coast: San Agustin, founded September 1565 in northern Florida, and Santa Elena, founded April 1566 on present-day Parris Island, South Carolina; the latter was to be the principal site of Menéndez's colonial aspirations (Hoffman 1990; Hudson 1990; Lyon 1976, 1984; Paar 1999). When Philip II learned of this success, he ordered reinforcements for the new colony. In July 1566, Capt. Juan Pardo arrived at Santa Elena with a company of 250 soldiers and began to fortify the settlement. As the Santa Elena colony was ill prepared to feed this large contingent of men for very long, however, Menéndez ordered Pardo to prepare half of his army for an expedition into the interior lands that lay behind the Atlantic Coast. Pardo's task was to explore the region, to claim the land for Spain while pacifying local Indians, and to find an overland route from Santa Elena to the silver mines in Zacatecas, central Mexico. …

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