The Mount Royal Archaeological Site includes a Native American burial mound, earthworks, village area, and evidence of a British plantation, as well as the remains of a Spanish mission occupied by the Timucua Indians. Of those, only a one-acre area is preserved in a parcel owned and managed by the Florida Department of Historical Resources.
Mount Royal has attracted the attention of explorers, scientists, and visitors for hundreds of years. A interpretive display at the site tells the story of Mount Royal based on the observations and studies conducted by some of these notable people, including naturalist William Bartram, antiquarian Clarence B. Moore, and archaeologist B. Calvin Jones.
William Bartram (1739-1823) was a noted naturalist and explorer who traveled extensively in the American Southeast. He spent considerable time in eastern Florida and along the St. Johns River where a thriving British colony was developing. Bartram wrote of his observations on natural history, as well as his experiences with American Indians like the Cherokee and Seminole. He visited the Mount Royal site at least twice, once with his father John Bartram in 1766 and again in 1774. Bartram's observations on the Mount Royal mound and other archaeological sites, along with his information on contemporary American Indian tribes figured prominently in the nineteenth century debate regarding the origins of these mounds.
"At fifty yards from the landing place, stands a magnificent Indian mount. About fifteen years ago I visited this place, at which time there were no settlements of white people, but all appeared wild and savage; yet in that uncultivated state, it possessed an almost inexpressible extent of old fields, round about the mount; there was also a large Orange grove, together with Palms and Live Oaks extending from near the mount, along the banks, downwards all of which has since been cleared away to make room for planting ground. But what greatly contributed towards completing the magnificence of the scene was a noble Indian highway, which led from the great mount on a strait line, three quarters of a mile, first through a point or wing of the Orange grove, and continuing thence through an awful forest of Live Oaks, it was terminated by Palms and Laurel Magnolias, on the verge of an oblong artificial lake, which was on the edge of an extensive green level savanna. This grand highway was about fifty yards wide, sank a little below the common level, and the earth thrown up on each side, making a bank of about two feet high."
-- William Bartram, 1791
Clarence B. Moore (1852 - 1936) was born into a wealthy Philadelphia family and attended Harvard University. In the early 1890s he focused his attention on American Indian mound sites of the southeastern United States. He traveled extensively, often via houseboat, and made arrangements to excavate many of the mounds along navigable waterways of the South. At the end of each excavation season he returned to Philadelphia to illustrate and describe his finds, producing 21 large books and several articles. Some archaeologists criticize Moore's approach, which often included the complete excavation of mound sites, however, others are grateful for his careful maps and artifact illustrations, which preserve information about these sites that would have been lost to looting and mining. Many of the artifacts that Moore collected in Florida are now at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C..
Moore excavated at Mount Royal in April 1893 and again in March and April 1894. He focused on the large mound where he uncovered human burials, as well as marine shell implements, polished stone tools and ornaments, shell and pearl beads, pottery, and a number of items made of copper. Most notable among the discoveries are the artifacts of sheet copper, which he compared with those found in other parts of the country. He concluded that they were made by a more ancient American Indians culture than the Timucua speaking people described by the French and Spanish. Archaeologists have more recently recognized that the copper artifacts from Mount Royal are representative of artifacts associated with the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex found at archaeological sites throughout the Southeast during the Mississippian period (around 1,100 to 400 years ago).
"Its true height from the summit plateau to the base, as shown by measurement at the center of the mound, is 16 feet, the circumference is 555 feet. It is composed of the yellow sand of the surrounding fields, with pockets and local layers of white sand along and above the base. Wherever opened, the sand at the bottom of the mound was found mingled with pieces of charcoal. Beginning at the margin at the base, a layer of sand colored by admixture of powdered hematite ranging from crushed strawberry to brick red in color, covered the entire mound. This layer attained a maximum thickness of 7 feet on the northeastern portion of the summit plateau and adjacent slope."
-- Clarence Moore, 1894
B. Calvin Jones (1938-1998) worked as an archaeologist for the State of Florida from 1968 until his death in 1998. Jones had a distinguished career, built in part on his uncanny knack at finding significant archaeological sites. In many cases his excavations were designed to salvage information before the bulldozers cleared the way for development. Spanish mission sites held particular interest, and he located a number of Spanish missions in the area around Tallahassee and had a keen knowledge of mission era artifacts and site types.
Jones had the opportunity to test the idea proposed by earlier archaeologists that the Spanish mission of San Antonio de Anacape was located at Mount Royal during the development of Mount Royal Airpark and Mount Royal Estates. Beginning in 1983, with additional work in 1994 and 1995, Jones and a dedicated group of volunteers excavated areas to the south of the mound. Excavations uncovered evidence of an American Indian village occupied before and after European contact. The remains of American Indian houses and European buildings associated with the Spanish mission period were found. The excavations uncovered many artifacts, including American Indian and Spanish pottery fragments, shell and stone tools, charred corn cobs, glass beads, religious medals, iron nails and fittings. Artifacts associated with early mission efforts by the Jesuits in the sixteenth century, and later efforts by Franciscans were found at the site and help corroborate an association with San Antonio de Anacape.
"I will say that Mount Royal is one of the most fascinating places of all the sites I've ever worked. While a lot of sites up and down the St. Johns (River) are on bluffs, some of which had mounds which are gone now. Mount Royal is one of the most unique ones that I've seen. And to me the aura that it gives off from people having lived there is absolutely marvelous. Once you go to Mount Royal, it's something that gets in your blood that never quite leaves you."
-- B. Calvin Jones, 1998
PLAN YOUR VISIT
PUBLIC ACCESS ADDRESS:
120 Indian Mound Dr,
Crescent City, FL 32112
Mount Royal is located three miles south of Welaka, Florida in a subdivision near the Mount Royal Airpark, off County Road 309 on the eastern bank of the St. Johns River.
Please remember as you visit Mount Royal that the mound is the final resting place for many of the Timucua and that the site it considered a sacred space.
page information credit: Florida Division of Historical Resources, Bureau of Archaeological Research
photos from the sources listed above, as well as publicly posted online sites with thanks to the contributors