Mission San Luis

    The natives of what would become the southeastern United States first encountered the Spanish in the form of ruthless conquistadors like Hernando de Soto in the late 1530s and early 1540s.  The Spanish founded St Augustine in 1565, and missions were extended into what became Georgia and the Carolinas.  Seeing that the Spanish were capable of conquest, and seeing the advantages of good relations with Spain and peace with other tribes, some tribes invited Spanish missionaries into their communities.  At the time, epidemics were ravaging native populations, and the Christian Spanish appeared to be immune.  At the same time, neighboring tribes were always a threat.  These things were the case with Mission San Luis, one of the missions to the Apalachee tribe in what is now Tallahassee.  For Spain, these missions not only spread the Catholic faith, they increased Spanish influence and created client states that served as defensive buffers.  In Florida alone, the Spanish had over 100 missions.  In the case of the Apalachee, their territory was good agricultural land, and improved techniques along with newly arrived Spanish ranchers allowed the area to supply food to St Augustine and Havana.  Mission San Luis became Spanish Florida's western capital.  The mission developed over a number of years, with the first friar visiting what became Tallahassee in 1608.  The Apalachee requested a permanent mission a few years later, but the Spanish refused until about 1633.  Spans soldiers first arrived in 1638, and their presence would always be controversial, both with the natives and the friars.  In 1647 the Apalchees revolted, in part due to forced labor requirements, but the revolt was ultimately quashed.  Some Apalachee had been concerned that all Apalachee would be forced to convert to Christianity, and sure enough, once the revolt was put down, everyone was forced to convert.  Another source of friction was Spanish opposition to 'the ball game', a violent sport with origins in the old religion, a sport dedicated to the gods of rain and thunder.  In 1651, the soldiers were removed, only to return in 1654 due to the presence of English ships nearby.  Two years later the mission moved to its final site.  That same year the Apalachee were enlisted to put down a revolt by the neighboring Timucua to the east.  By 1675, around 1,400 Apalachees lived on the site as well as some Spanish settlers.  Relations with the Apalachee were strained between 1685 and 1687 during the two year stay of a brutal deputy governor.  Relations of the Apalachee and Spanish with the Creeks and their English allies to the north were also strained.  In 1689, the Spanish planned a blockhouse to defend Mission San Luis, but this was put on hold when the Spanish and Apalachee build a fort in the Chattahoochee Valley to counter English influence.  This fort is abandoned in 1691, and in 1695 construction began on a fort at Mission San Luis.  All was not well in the missions, however, with the Spanish abusing their power, and when the English attacked the area in 1704, Mission San Luis was abandoned and burned just two days before the British raid arrived.  The mission system in Florida had been destroyed.  The Apalachee fled, many to the French controlled area to the west.  The area was later repopulated by other tribes.


The mission was built on high ground overlooking a vast agricultural area.  At the center of the mission was a circular plaza surrounded by an earthwork.  Today, some of the buildings are reconstructed with living history programs.

Council House

An impressive circular structure with a 120 foot diameter, the Apalachee council house served a variety of functions - capital, hotel, and prison to name a few.  Dancing also took place - to the displeasure of the Spanish.  It was also the where cacina, a caffinated drink, was served.

Spanish House

Spaniards coexisted with the natives.  Some were merchants, exchanging Spanish goods for things like animal hides.  Spanish arrogance and condescension could rub the Apalachee the wrong way.  In one incident, a Spanish woman failed to look after the mentally retarded daughter of an Apalachee who was gathering nuts, and the child drowned.  As many as fifty Spanish buildings may have existed at the mission.  Buildings were not arranged in a grid pattern, perhaps because the mission was never designated a town, perhaps to convince the natives that there was no plan for a town.


Friar's House

The friar's house was connected to the kitchen with a covered walkway designed to be easily demolished in case of fire.  The friar was no fun at all and didn't want contact with money and women - the finer things in life - so his food was passed to him through a hole in the wall.  Apalachee men, on the other hand, liked contact with women, and one source of friction was that Christians men could no longer take more than one wife.


The church was an impressive structure, roughly 50 by 110 feet.  Natives packed in for mass despite being unable to understand Latin.  Some decorations were imported from Spain.  The reconstructed church was built to one side of the actual site because around 800 natives were buried beneath the church.


The fort consisted of a blockhouse roughly 40 by 70 feet surrounded by a four sided stockade roughly 130 by 230 feet.  Each corner except one, visible in the photo above, had a bastion.  

The number of soldiers at Mission San Luis changed over time, but between 12 and 25 was common until the 1680s when 40 became the new norm.



Copyright 2016 by John Hamill

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