This 6-acre archaeological site is located in Tallahassee a mile east of the state capitol. It is the only place that the Spanish explorer, Hernando de Soto, is confirmed to have visited during his 1539-1540 expedition of the Southeastern United States.
De Soto had come to conquer and establish a colony in La Florida, which at that time a territory covering most of the southeastern United States. To accomplish his goals, he brought a wide array of people including soldiers, slaves, craftspeople, and bureaucrats. A veteran of campaigns in Central and South America, De Soto was a ruthless and skilled soldier. After landing in the Tampa Bay region in May of 1539, and after months of exploring central Florida, De Soto had failed to find great sources of wealth, such as gold and silver. The indigenous tribes he encountered, like the Tocobaga and central Timucua, each told tales of chiefdoms further inland or north which were wealthier. De Soto was lured north to the Apalachee territory following reports by other tribes that the Apalachee were rich and powerful.
The conquistadors blazed a trail northward up the peninsula, fighting battles with resisting indigenous tribes, enslaving men and women, raiding stocks of food, and burning villages along the way. After fighting their way up the state and across the Suwannee River, the army entered the territory of the Apalachee. These people, like the other tribes to the south, resisted the invasion with attacks by the fierce warriors, and by burning their own fields. The Apalachee abandoned their towns in anticipation of the Spaniards' arrival. From October 1539 through March 1540, the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto and his expedition of more than 600 people occupied the Apalachee capital of Anhaica, located in present-day Tallahassee.
Hernando de Soto's first winter was a turning point in his expedition. While at Anhaica, De Soto altered his expedition plans and decided to explore further north. He moved supply lines and gathered intelligence on possible routes. He used the Apalachee's extensive food stores and semi-permanent buildings to feed and house his expedition. After leaving Anhaica, his violent excursion into the southeastern United States forever changed the region and the native inhabitants.
Based on the timing of their occupation of Anhaica, members of DeSoto's expedition likely celebrated the first Christmas mass in what would become the United States. Although there is no mention of Christmas in the chronicles, the Spanish were devout Catholics, and clergy in the party would probably have held a Christmas mass. At the time, Christmas was a more solemn affair, and it lacked many of the celebrations associated with present-day celebrations. The holiday was one of several feast days celebrated by Catholics. However, because the expedition was under frequent attack by the Apalachee, De Soto and his men were likely too busy to participate in many holiday celebrations. During Christmas, De Soto sent some of his men out on auxiliary expeditions to establish new supply lines for an eventual push inland. The holiday may be noted in a map associated with the expedition.
The three priests who accompanied the De Soto expedition would have ensured that Christmas traditions were upheld. Late 17th century Mission period documents note that during Christmas people were expected to abstain from work and attend Mass. They were also obliged to fast on the Vigil of Christmas (Christmas Eve). Celebrants then attended a midnight Mass. Christmas day would have been a day for feasting. De Soto’s Christmas feast was likely a mix of Spanish and Apalachee foods. De Soto brought a herd of pigs along on the expedition. He restricted eating the pigs because he hoped to use the pigs in establishing colonies. A Christmas feast may have provided his men a rare opportunity to eat pork. The discovery of pigs skeletal material at the site suggests that some pigs may have been consumed during De Soto’s stay in Anhaica. The Spaniards relied heavily on stolen food and used native captives as cooks. Apalachee foods such as maize corn, beans, and wild game were also likely eaten during Christmas feasts.
The Apalachee territory spanned between the Aucilla to the Apalachicola Rivers, and from southern Georgia down to the Gulf Coast. The ancestors of the Apalachee had long roots in the area. Five hundred years before meeting Europeans, they had built the mounds at Lake Jackson. Archaeological evidence demonstrates that the Apalachee farmed maize and focused their settlements on high ground around the red hills of Tallahassee. The Apalachee who De Soto encountered are part of the archaeological "Fort Walton" culture, a term used by archaeologists to describe patterned similarities in material cultures, especially pottery styles.
Accounts in the historical record suggest that the Apalachee were well known and respected by their neighbors. These chronicles describe the Apalachee province as having many towns and plentiful food. There are many recorded sites dating to the Fort Walton period. Archaeological findings show a sprawling settlement pattern where principal towns were surrounded by hamlets and homesteads. The precise sociopolitical structure of the Apalachee remains unclear. Historic accounts suggest that their capital was located at Anhaica, although they may have had an alternate capital at Ivitachuco, which was likely located on the Aucilla River. The chronicles give little information about the everyday life of the Apalachee. Continuing archaeological work may shed light into more aspects of Apalachee life during the early 16th century and before.
Despite the trauma of De Soto's occupation of their capital, the Apalachee survived. They reoccupied Anhaica after De Soto left and were still at the town when the Spanish returned to the area in the 1600s. In 1633 the Apalachee invited Spanish Franciscan friars to the area to establish a mission. The Apalachee remained at their homeland until 1704 when they fled the region due to pressure from invading British and Creek forces. The Apalachee Nation today live in Louisiana.
Historians had long puzzled over De Soto's expedition route. Through reconstructing distances and landmarks noted in accounts of the expedition, researchers suspected that the 1539–1540 winter camp would be located in Tallahassee. Material evidence for the expedition remained elusive until 1987, when Division of Historical Resources archaeologist, B. Calvin Jones, was overseeing a construction site on Lafayette street in Tallahassee. Dr. Jones discovered a fragment of Spanish Olive Jar, a type that could only date to the early 16th century. Archaeologists with the State of Florida undertook an excavation which uncovered chainmail, crossbow bolts, and 7-layer chevron beads; items that all date to the early to mid-1500s, and would not be expected in the later Mission-era Spanish settlements in the area. Findings confirmed the presence of an early 16th century Apalachee settlement along with De Soto related artifacts. The presence of fired clay with palm frond impressions from an Apalachee structure may confirm the burning of Anhaica by the Apalachee during De Soto's occupation.
Research into the Hernando de Soto Winter Encampment site continues. In recent years the Florida Department of State's Bureau of Archaeological Research (BAR) collaborated with the Panhandle Archaeological Society at Tallahassee (PAST), a local chapter of the Florida Anthropological Society (FAS), to find further evidence at Anhaica. The BAR are working with colleagues at Florida State University and the University of Florida to apply cutting-edge chemical analyses to learn more about the encampment site. Archaeologists have used an advanced form of analysis to learn about the chemical compositions of distinct seven-layer chevron beads found at the site and are comparing them to beads from other early 16th century sites in Florida, in an attempt to distinguish between the beads from different early conquistador expeditions. The BAR also hope to learn about the source and manufacture of these essential trade items which served as conduits for early contact between Indians and Europeans.
A sample of early 16th century artifacts from the Hernando de Soto Winter Encampment at the Martin site (8LE853b).
A: pieces of conserved chainmail, B: a conserved crossbow bolt, C and D: early 16th century Olive Jar fragments, E: a four Maravedi coin that dates to the early 16th century.
A sample of Apalachee artifacts from the Hernando de Soto Winter Encampment at the Martin site (8LE853b).
A: Fort Walton Incised pottery fragment, B: Carrabelle Punctate pottery fragment, C: Pinellas type projectile point, D: charred maize (Zea mays) cobs, E: burned clay with palm frond impression.
Artifacts from Hernando de Soto Winter Encampment archaeological site excavations are displayed inside the Martin House, which is located on the property. The house was built in 1934 by John Wellborn Martin, the 24th governor of Florida (1925-1929). The Georgian Revival style house, called "Apalachee," was originally on 27 acres. In 1941, Martin sold the property to local developers who incorporated all but approximately six acres into a new subdivision called Governor's Park. It has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1986.
The house currently serves as offices for the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research (B. Calvin Jones Center for Archaeology at the Governor Martin House). The Bureau is entrusted with the maintenance, preservation and protection of over 12,000 years of Florida heritage. Archaeological and historical resources on state-owned and state-controlled lands, including sovereignty submerged lands, are the direct responsibility of the Bureau. The Bureau is divided into areas of responsibility, including Collections and Conservation, Education and Research, Public Lands Archaeology (PLA) program, and Underwater Archaeology. The five sections work together to ensure that Florida archaeological heritage will endure for future generations.
PLAN YOUR VISIT
Today three Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources, Bureau of Archaeological Research programs are headquartered at the B. Calvin Jones Center for Archaeology- Florida Public Lands Archaeology, Archaeological Resource Management Training and Underwater Archaeology. The property is home to the North Central Regional office of the Florida Public Archaeology Network. An exhibit, featuring artifacts from the Hernando de Soto Winter Encampment Site excavation, is open to the public at the Governor Martin House, B. Calvin Jones Center for Archaeology.
ADDRESS: 1001 Desoto Park Dr, Tallahassee, FL 32301
PHONE: 850-877-2206 (FPAN North Central)
HOURS: Outside park open 24 hours with display panels. Inside exhibits 9am to 4pm Monday - Friday.
page information credit: Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research, Florida State Parks, Historical Markers Project, Mark Hilton, Wikipedia
photos from the sources listed above, as well as publicly posted online sites with thanks to the contributors