Saturday, June 18, 2016

How large would Tristán de Luna’s 1559-1561 settlement have been?

In late August and early September of 1559, some 1,500 soldiers and other colonists disembarked and unloaded their equipment and supplies from the ships that brought them to Pensacola Bay, and began to erect what they hoped would be the first successful Spanish settlement on the northern Gulf coast of the region then known as Florida.  The principal intent of this first settlement, which they named Santa María de Ochuse, was to establish a beachhead from which to penetrate the mainland and eventually establish an overland route to the Atlantic coast, and a port from which people and supplies could subsequently be funneled into the new colony.  While the hurricane that struck on September 19th devastated the fleet and food stores certainly interrupted and altered that initial process, it nonetheless only augmented the importance of that first settlement both as a refuge for the now-stranded colonists, and also as a pivotal link to the outside world, where relief fleets could arrive and deliver food and other supplies.

Documentary evidence detailing the configuration of the intended settlement is limited, but includes an initial plan for the pueblo to be constructed at Ochuse and sent by the viceroy to the Spanish crown a few weeks before the fleet departed.  This plan was described as showing 140 house lots, the central 40 of which were to be reserved for a plaza, church, warehouse, and other public structures.  Some 100 lots were to be laid out for 100 families to remain at the port settlement, and the four gates of the town were to be visible from the plaza on all sides.  While this layout was obviously idealized and speculative at the time, since neither the viceroy nor Luna had laid eyes on Pensacola Bay to choose a suitable location, in other similar drawings sent back from the New World during the late 16th century (see example below), house lots (solares) were normally grouped in blocks of four, arranged within a rectangular grid of streets, with a public plaza being located in the center of the town layout.  In addition, later royal ordinances dating to 1573 also normalized the practice that the principal plaza for port settlements should be at the port’s landing, and should be rectangular, measuring no less than 200 by 300 Spanish feet (about 56 by 84 meters), but no more than 800 feet in length (222 meters).  All these details suggest that the original layout for Luna’s first settlement would have consisted of a 5 by 7 rectangular configuration of four-lot blocks, with a central area adjacent to the landing area containing a plaza bordered by all major public buildings.

The exact size of each house lot intended for the Luna settlement is unknown, but a contemporaneous town plan drawn in 1561 for the new city of Mendoza in modern-day Argentina was comprised of a 5 by 5 grid of four-lot blocks, with each square lot said to measure 225 Spanish feet on a side (about 63 meters), amounting to more than 3,900 square meters in area (AGI Buenos Aires 221).  For this town, each block of four lots measuring 550 feet (125 meters) on a side was divided by roads measuring 35 feet wide (about 10 meters).  The original 5 by 5 block plan would therefore have amounted to 2,890 Spanish feet on a side, or about 666 meters.  These figures are quite comparable with the central part of the present-day city of Mendoza, which has blocks measuring about 125 meters between street centerlines, as shown on Google Maps.

In contrast to this earlier example, however, the 1573 ordinances formally defined individual house lots as being 50 by 100 Spanish feet (just under 14 by 28 meters) for peonías, and 100 by 200 feet (28 by 56 meters) for caballerías, sizes distributed to footsoldiers and cavalry, respectively.  These lots would equate to areas comprising about 388 and 1,552 square meters, or if square, roughly 20 and 40 meters on a side, respectively.

Using these two examples, then, we might estimate that a hypothetical 5 by 7 block configuration of square lots in Luna’s settlement could have measured as small as 200 by 280 meters to as large as 625 by 875 meters, covering between 5.6 hectares (nearly 14 acres) to as much as 54.6 hectares (135 acres).  Of course this initial plan would doubtless have been adjusted or modified to fit the shape and topography of the location chosen for the settlement, and may only have been strictly adhered to during the first five weeks after the fleet’s arrival, before the hurricane that changed everything.  The overall size of Luna’s settlement would naturally reflect not just the initial occupation area inhabited by the first 1,500 colonists between August 1559 and February 1560, but also a presumably smaller zone within this broader area where a dwindling number of colonists (only 362 at the end of August 1560) remained during the final year of the settlement.  The central core of the site, likely adjacent to the port landing and including the royal warehouse and other public structures, was in fact never abandoned, though it was inhabited by less than 100 soldiers and other colonists between February and July of 1560, and between April and August of 1561.  And while we have only a few documentary details regarding final configuration of the Luna settlement itself, we can nonetheless turn to archaeological evidence to establish a comparative baseline for other early Spanish settlements in Florida.  To this end, we have two roughly contemporary sixteenth-century settlements from the Pedro Menéndez era to provide some comparison for what we might expect in terms of the size of the Luna site: St. Augustine and Santa Elena, both of which have been the subjects of considerable archaeological investigation.

The 1565 settlement of St. Augustine was located at the Fountain of Youth Park site (8SJ31), and initially housed some 600 Spaniards for a short period, though this number dwindled as garrisons were established elsewhere, reaching perhaps just 200 by the end of the year (Deagan 2009:33).  This location was relocated to somewhere on nearby Anastasia Island in 1566, but eventually what is still the location of modern St. Augustine was settled in 1572.  Archaeological work led by Kathleen Deagan has shown that Menéndez’s original settlement at the Fountain of Youth Park site was roughly 8,000 square meters in size (0.8 hectares), or about 1.9 acres, measuring about 90 by 60 meters (295 by 197 feet) in shape (Deagan 2009:325).

The 1572 settlement, however, has been documented by Deagan to cover an area of about 4.0 hectares, or 10.55 acres (DePratter and South 1995:25-26).  Dimensions of this area are roughly 260 by 230 meters (850 by 750 feet) based on maps of a 1981 survey by Deagan (1981; see also Deagn 1982:189 and Hoffman 1977).  It seems to have held a population of well under a thousand people throughout this period, comprising probably 300 residents in 1580, growing to around 600 residents by the end of the century.

The 1566-1587 settlement at Santa Elena on Parris Island, South Carolina has been investigated extensively by Stanley South and Chester DePratter, and the total size of this town was about 6 hectares, or 15 acres (DePratter and South 1995:47-49).  The shape was an elongated triangle, running some 367 meters (1200 feet) long and tapering in width from 213 meters (700 feet) down to 91.5 meters (300 feet).  The total population of Santa Elena during this era probably comprised somewhere in the vicinity of 300-400 residents.

Based on these three examples, the size of early Spanish colonial settlements in sixteenth-century Florida ranged between less than a hectare and up to 6 hectares, with no less than about 250 people per hectare at the Fountain of Youth Park (and for a short time more than 600) to as few as perhaps 66-150 people per hectare in Santa Elena and downtown St. Augustine during the same era.  Using this admittedly broad range of population densities for Florida’s other sixteenth-century settlements, we might estimate that the original 1559 Luna settlement of 1,500 people could have ranged in size from as small as 6 hectares, or 15 acres (it could have even been considerably smaller given the highly compact nature of Menéndez’s Fountain of Youth Park settlement, potentially even as small as 2 hectares, or 5 acres), to as large as 23 hectares, or 57 acres.  This latter figure of course seems likely to have been too large and unwieldy to have provided any effective protection for residents of such an isolated colonial port community in the Florida frontier.  Nevertheless, the sixteenth-century Spanish cattle-ranching town of Puerto Real in modern Haiti, occupied by some 250 inhabitants between 1503 and 1579, covered as much as 20 hectares in a rectangle measuring about 400 by 500 meters (FLMNH 2016).

So what is ongoing UWF archaeological survey during the first half of 2016 revealing about the spatial extent of the Luna settlement site?  Though our shovel testing is still ongoing, and a great deal of followup labwork remains to be completed, we can now say definitively that the same assemblage of residential debris that characterized the initial discovery of the site in the fall of 2015 (ceramics, nails, etc.) extends for no less than 540 meters along the bluff edge of the bay (and may well extend farther once we expand our testing area), and seems to extend inland from the bluff at least 200 meters, though once again, shovel testing may increase this number as we continue our research.  At present, therefore, the areal extent of the Luna settlement might initially be estimated to cover as much as 10 hectares or more, about 26 acres or more.  If these preliminary results are borne out by further testing, this makes the Luna settlement the largest sixteenth-century Spanish site in the Southeast, and certainly larger than both St. Augustine and Santa Elena.  And this is precisely what we would expect based on documentary evidence, since Luna’s colonial fleet carried more than twice the number of colonists that initially settled St. Augustine six years later.  Of course we are still accumulating data on the layout and internal configuration of the site, but its size appears entirely consistent with what we would expect from Santa María de Ochuse.

References Cited

Deagan, Kathleen
1981 Downtown Survey: The Discovery of Sixteenth-Century St. Augustine in an Urban Area. American Antiquity 46(3):626-634.

1982 St. Augustine: First Urban Enclave in the United States.  North American Archaeologist 3(3):183-205.

2009 Historical Archaeology at the Fountain of Youth Park Site (8SJ31), St. Augustine, Florida, 1934-2007.  Final Report on Florida Bureau of Historical Resources Special Category Grant #SC 616, Draft 3.  Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville.

DePratter, Chester B., and Stanley South
1995 Discovery at Santa Elena: Boundary Survey.  Research Manuscript Series, Book 223.

Florida Museum of Natural History
2016 Spatial Organization of Puerto Real.  Historical Archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Hoffman, Paul E.
1977 St. Augustine 1580: The Research Project.  El Escribano 14:5-19.

John E. Worth
© 2016 UWF Archaeology Institute

Friday, June 3, 2016

Trade goods or residential debris: are all sixteenth-century Spanish artifact assemblages the same?

Sixteenth-century Spanish artifacts are rare finds in the Southeastern United States, but certainly not unknown.  The vast majority of such artifacts are found within Native American villages occupied during the period of Spanish exploration and early settlement, and most were placed in the burials of their final owners.  Archaeological investigations at the Luna settlement, however, show quite definitively that the sixteenth-century artifact assemblage here is different, and not associated with Native American burials.  What makes the Luna settlement assemblage different, and why is this important in identifying the site as the 1559-1561 location of Santa María de Ochuse?

During the 52 years that preceded the 1565 establishment of a permanent Spanish colonial presence in St. Augustine, Florida, no fewer than 15 documented Spanish expeditions reached the southeastern shores of mainland North America, several of which even pushed inland, with two reaching as far north as the Appalachian mountains.  All of these expeditions brought gifts and trade goods for the native groups they expected and intended to encounter and interact with, and thus it is no surprise that archaeological evidence for early to mid sixteenth-century Spanish artifacts is widely distributed across the Southeast, if nonetheless comparatively rare due to the low volume and relative infrequency of such contacts during this era of initial contact and exploration.  The amount of such gift and trade goods only increased after the establishment of twin Spanish colonies at St. Augustine, Florida and at Santa Elena on Parris Island, South Carolina in 1565 and 1566. The penetration of several additional expeditions into the interior, and the expansion of Spanish missions along the coast and gradually into the interior by the beginning of the seventeenth century also led to increases in gift and trade goods.

The nature of these gift and trade assemblages is relatively well-documented through a combination of historical documents and archaeological discoveries at the native sites where such goods ended up.  Relatively extensive documentation for gifts brought and distributed on early expeditions or traded and gifted during the early mission period in Florida provides a clear picture of the normal items provided by Spaniards and consumed by Native Americans.  The most frequent items documented in detailed and voluminous records over the course of two decades (1595-1616) in the early Florida mission period included strings of glass beads, sleigh bells, buttons, fixed-blade knives, iron axes and hoes, and woven blankets, along with a large and diverse range of raw cloth, thread, and finished clothing items including hats and shoes, sometimes far more expensive than other items distributed.  To this can be added a range of other items that were given out much less frequently, including mirrors, scissors, adzes, and raw iron and lead.  Though not generally quantified like later records, lists of goods given out on early exploratory expeditions include all of the above items, as well as other iron tools such as chisels and wedges, as well as sickles and fishhooks.
Table showing quantities of goods recorded in documents between 1595 and 1616 (Worth 2015)

Nueva Cadiz and seven layer chevron beads
Excluding the South Florida region, where native groups routinely salvaged shipwrecks for silver and other exotic materials, archaeological finds of sixteenth-century Spanish artifact assemblages within Native American sites in the Southeast are normally very consistent with the documentary record of gifts and trade goods. Several sites also include a small number and limited range of Spanish weapon and armor parts, including pieces of chain mail and plate armor, sword or dagger fragments, crossbow bolt tips, lead shot, and occasionally iron spikes or nails.  Such pieces may of course have resulted from idosyncratic gifts or trade, but may also have been trophies from skirmishes or items scavenged from battlefields or camps.  Importantly, the archaeological context of these assemblages is generally consistent for this early period, since such objects seem to have been commonly placed in human burials or funerary mounds not long after their acquisition, most likely with their final Indian owners.  Since such objects were highly portable, their final distribution was more dependent on existing patterns of trade and tribute among indigenous chiefdoms than on the actual routes of Spanish explorers or the landing sites of coastal expeditions.  Nevertheless, the overall assemblage composition was generally limited to the standard suite of gift and trade goods noted above, supplemented by occasional weapon and armor parts as noted.

Aglet or lacing tip
Not surprisingly, however, the standard Indian gift and trade good assemblage of the sixteenth century was only a tiny subset of the normal material culture brought and used by Spaniards themselves both shipboard and on land.  Shipboard assemblages are normally only recovered among the artifacts found in association with shipwrecks (the oldest two of which in Florida just happen to be in Pensacola Bay not far from Luna’s settlement), but terrestrial assemblages associated with groups of early- to mid-sixteenth-century Spaniards actually camping or residing in greater Spanish Florida (including the states of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and the Carolinas) are also extremely rare.  Only a few such sites have been positively identified archaeologically, in large part because the archaeological trace of fast-moving terrestrial expeditions would be ephemeral at best, constituting only the occasional lost item at nightly camps or along the road. Only longer-term encampments or formal settlements would be expected to accumulate a more substantial and representative sample of the typical range of material culture used by Spaniards themselves during this period.  The largest two of these of course are the settlements of 1565 St. Augustine at the Fountain of Youth Park (and its successor settlement from the 1570s under present-day St. Augustine), and the 1566-1587 settlement at Santa Elena on Parris Island, South Carolina.  Of the dozen or so Menéndez-era garrisoned forts documented for the period between 1566 and 1571, only Fort San Juan at the Berry site in western North Carolina has been identified and studied in detail.  Beyond these three sites, the earliest site with evidence for resident Spaniards is the 1539-1540 winter encampment of the Hernando de Soto expedition at the Martin site in downtown Tallahassee, Florida.  These sites held several dozen to several hundred Spaniards for between several months and several years, and thus provide good evidence for a typical debris scatter characteristic of Spanish colonists during the era.

Early middle style olive jar neck
All four of these sites possess not just a more ample assemblage of Spanish material culture than the Indian trade and gift assemblage described above, but stand out in particular due to the presence of one very important and telling category of artifact that generally serves as a reliable marker for the presence of resident Spaniards: Spanish ceramics.  From liquid storage and transport containers such as olive jars (called botijas) to tin-enameled tableware known as majolica (called loza fina by Spaniards at the time) as well as a range of lead-glazed and unglazed cookware, Spaniards brought, used, and broke their distinctive ceramics on all the sites where they resided for more than brief visit.  And it is precisely these ceramics which distinguish residential from gift and trade assemblages, since they were neither given or traded by sixteenth-century Spaniards, nor generally desired or consumed by contemporaneous Southeastern Indians, who already had their own well-developed pottery styles that were uniquely adapted to their traditional foodways, and who thus had no real use for Spanish ceramics designed for European-style transport mechanisms, cooking techniques, or tabletop dining.  Moreover, not only was Spanish pottery not given or traded to Native American groups, it does not even seem to have been scavenged from abandoned Spanish settlements or campsites, unlike other discarded objects that did indeed have utilitarian or social value among indigenous groups, such as metal tools or weapons.

Caret head nail
In addition to Spanish ceramics, other artifact types also serve as evidence for Spanish residential presence instead of trade, particularly including nails, tacks, spikes, and other fasteners associated both with the construction of Spanish-style structures as well as those used for containers and even for attaching horseshoes.  Though occasionally such items do appear in Native burial contexts, they are never found in large numbers outside Spanish residential settings.  Moreover, in some cases it is not the presence but rather the absence of certain items from residential debris that can serve as yet another clue, as is the case with finished metal tools like axes, wedges, and chisels, which are proportionally commonplace in Native American gift and trade assemblages found in burials, but are relatively scarce at Spanish settlements and campsites (since they were rarely lost, and were generally taken away when the Spaniards left).

All these Spanish residential characteristics are present at the Luna settlement site we are currently investigating, including a huge quantity of mid-sixteenth-century Spanish ceramics of diverse types and forms, a similarly remarkable quantity of iron nails, among the most numerous of which are caret-head nails generally thought to be horseshoe nails, and a general absence of finished metal tools.  A small number of weapon and armor fragments have also been found, including crossbow bolt tips and a riveted ring from mail armor.  The basic components of this residential assemblage are now known to be scattered across literally thousands of square meters, precisely as would be expected for the Luna settlement, and exactly as is already documented for the later Spanish settlements at both St. Augustine and Santa Elena.  While a handful of Indian trade goods have indeed been discovered in the form of colored glass beads, their context is consistent with supplies brought on the Luna expedition for precisely this purpose, and they were presumably lost in and around the warehouse or residences at the Spanish settlement. 

Mail armor fragment, x-ray clearly showing rivet location on right
For pure quantity of mid-sixteenth-century Spanish ceramics and other residential debris not normally associated with Indian gift or trade goods, the newly-discovered Luna settlement has only two terrestrial peers in the entire Southeastern U.S.: the colonial settlements at St. Augustine and Santa Elena.  The only other sites that also contain even remotely similar proportions of Spanish ceramics are the DeSoto winter encampment at the Martin site, and the Menéndez-era fort at the Berry site.  Virtually all other sites that have produced assemblages of Spanish artifacts from the same era (and there are more than a few) are clearly dominated by gift and trade goods, not infrequently including weapon or armor parts and a few idiosyncratic items that easily could have been taken in battle or scavenged from battle or camp sites.  But missing from these assemblages are substantial proportions of the one major category of artifact that seems to have been consistently present where Spaniards lived: ceramics.  Where Spanish settlers brought food, prepared food, and served food for themselves, they brought ceramics.  But such items were of little interest to the Southeastern Indians. The remains of broken Spanish ceramics were not recycled or scavenged by the Indians, and remained in place as a testament to the residential Spanish presence.  Far from being a simple collection of Indian trade goods at a Native village, the Luna settlement assemblage provides clear and convincing archaeological evidence that Spaniards actually lived on site.   When combined with the documentary evidence for the location of Luna’s settlement on Pensacola Bay, not to mention the nearby location of two of Luna’s wrecked ships, there is really no other reasonable conclusion other than identifying it as the 1559-1561 location of Santa María de Ochuse.

For more information please see the following articles

Blanton, Dennis B.
2013       Point of Contact: Archaeological Evaluation of a Potential De Soto Encampment in Georgia.  Final Technical Report, Fernbank Museum of Natural History, Atlanta, Georgia.

Smith, Marvin T., and David J. Hally
2015       The Acquisition of Sixteenth-Century European Objects by Native Americans in the Southeastern United States.  In Forging Southeastern Identities: Social Archaeology and Ethnohistory of the Mississippian to Early Historic South, edited by Gregory A. Waselkov and Marvin T. Smith.  University of Alabama Press, in review.

2015       Precursors of Missionization: Early European Contact on the Georgia Coast, 1514-1587.  Paper presented in the “2015 Fryxell Award Symposium: Papers in Honor of David Hurst Thomas” at the 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California, April 17, 2015.