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

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