Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Feeding the Luna Expedition: What did mid-16th-century Spaniards normally eat? (Part 2)

John E. Worth
© UWF Archaeology Institute

The Tristán de Luna expedition was organized, supplied, and launched from New Spain (modern Mexico), and thus while it was populated mostly by Spaniards, most of them had been living in New Spain for years or even decades. Some were even the children of the first conquistadors, born and raised in the New World.  For this reason, even though the diet of colonists in New Spain was fundamentally based on the Iberian Spanish pattern of the era, there were unquestionably adaptations and modifications owing to the fact that Spanish colonists had been living among and interacting with the indigenous people of New Spain for more than a generation by 1559.  Not only had new foods been incorporated into colonial Spanish foodways, but new tools and utensils accompanying these foods were being used as well.  

A good example of this is the substantial proportion of corn shipped on Luna’s original colonization fleet, far greater than the amount of hardtack and unprocessed wheat flour that was also present, along with the substitution of frijoles (New World beans) instead of the normal fava beans, chickpeas, and rice serving as vegetables and starches (compiled from expense records in Legajo 877, Contaduría, Archivo General de Indias, Seville, Spain). 

Food for the Luna Expedition
Item
Amount
Unit
Corn
288683
kilos
Hardtack
132523
kilos
Wheat Flour
6579
kilos
New World Beans
22774
kilos
Chickpeas
207
kilos
Rice
52
kilos
Beef
58915
kilos
Pork
10272
kilos
Fish
1404
kilos
Cheese
937
kilos
Salt
10628
kilos
Olive Oil
6132
liters
Wine
7875
liters
Vinegar
17408
liters

These foods marked a significant departure from the normal dietary staples used in Spain at the time. Furthermore, they required adaptations in associated equipment and practices, since corn was normally shipped as whole dried kernels to avoid spoilage, and had to be ground before consumption.  For the Luna expedition, we see this in the form of more than 1,650 kilograms (18 cargas weighing 200 lbs. each) of basalt grinding stones transported from Xalapa to be loaded on Luna’s ships for use in the Florida colony., We have already found several fragments of these grinding stones at the Luna settlement (pictured below).

Two views of basalt mano fragment found at the Luna settlement.


Documents also reveal that this ground corn was normally formed into tortillas, with a little more than a third of a kilo (4 almudes, weighing about 18.5 kilos, rationed for 50 days) of corn daily being enough for nine tortillas as rationed by Luna in the summer of 1560 (Priestley 1928,v.2:8-9; see conversions online here).

Some of Luna’s relief supplies were brought directly from Cuba after the 1559 hurricane (more on that in a later blog post). While we have no inventory of what was brought to Ochuse, we can nonetheless turn to slightly later records of supply expeditions directly from Havana to the forts established and maintained by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés in South Florida between 1566 and 1570 (found in Legajo 1174, Contaduría, Archivo General de Indias, Seville, Spain).  These records reveal that, in addition to the substitution of corn for the majority of the staple grains supplied to Spanish soldiers stationed in small garrisons at Mound Key, Tampa Bay, and Miami during those years, Cuban supplies substituted cassava root instead of the more typical beans, chickpeas, and rice used as vegetables and starches.

Food for South Florida Forts, 1566-1570
Item
Amount
Units
Corn
62572
kilos
Wheat Flour
33495
kilos
Hardtack
25305
kilos
Cassava
23005
kilos
Beef
17253
kilos
Pigs
300
item
Hens
100
item
Goats
30
item
Wine
26450
liters
Vinegar
1896
liters
Olive Oil
1884
liters
Honey
97
liters

Perhaps in part due to the proximity of Havana, live animals were also supplied including pigs, hens, and goats.  An unspecified number of live chickens were loaded into nearly 40 chicken coops on Luna’s original fleet, and the expedition treasurer Alonso Velázquez Rodríguez later testified in his 1562 service record that he brought sheep, goats, and calves back from Cuba to the Florida settlement at his own cost after the hurricane (found in Legajo 65, No. 1, Ramo 14, Patronato, Archivo General de Indias, Seville, Spain), so the inventory of supplies sent to the Menéndez forts may well resemble the types of foods eaten by Luna colonists during their stay at Pensacola.

In contrast to the supplies in Menéndez’s South Florida forts, however, foods stored in the warehouses at the two primary Spanish colonial settlements at St. Augustine and Santa Elena during these same years were somewhat more Iberian in character, presumably because many were shipped directly from Spain (found in Legajo 941, Contaduría, Archivo General de Indias, Seville, Spain).  Neither corn nor cassava or New World beans were present in the inventories reviewed, and only a small portion of the wheat flour was kept as hardtack, with the vast majority being wheat flour that could be baked into fresh bread.

Food for Santa Elena and St. Augustine, 1567-1569
Item
Amount
Unit
Wheat Flour
118244
kilos
Hardtack
7593
kilos
Chickpeas and Fava Beans
4440
liters
Beef
518
kilos
Cheese
644
kilos
Raisins
368
kilos
Almonds
138
kilos
Salt
2452
kilos
Wine
29708
liters
Vinegar
20904
liters
Olive Oil
19265
liters
Honey
2
liters

What is important to learn from these supply inventories is the fact that mid-16th-century Spaniards living in Spain’s overseas colonies likely used a mixed assortment of dietary staples based principally on longstanding Iberian foodways and traditions, but commonly incorporating a number of New World foods that had already become important in colonial diets.  For this reason, we might expect to find not just the standard array of Spanish material culture associated with food consumption, preparation, storage, and transport, but probably also a number of other items that would have been more typical of other New World cultures including Mesoamerican and Caribbean culinary traditions.  And perhaps most importantly of all, by virtue of losing most of their original food supplies in the 1559 hurricane that left them stranded, the Luna colonists living at Santa María de Ochuse were also forced to adapt quickly and seek completely new food resources in and around Pensacola and the interior regions to the north.  Documents including survivors’ service records indicate that in addition to trading for food with Native American groups in the interior of Alabama and Georgia (and occasionally appropriating untended or abandoned supplies), Luna expedition members hunted and fished as well.  Experimentation with unknown plants was also attempted, and while at least a few colonists reportedly died from poisonous plants (Dávila Padilla 1625:201), the fact that most did not indicates that the Luna settlers must have found a variety of ways to meet their caloric needs. We look forward to exploring the colony’s foodways archaeologically throughout this summer’s fieldwork and beyond.

Selected References

Dávila Padilla, Augustín
1625    Historia de la Fundación y Discurso de la Provincia de Santiago de México de la Orden de Predicadores, por las vidas de sus varones insignes y casos Notables de Nueva España (pp. 189-229 for the Luna section).  Online Here

Priestly, Herbert Ingram
1928 The Luna Papers: Documents Relating to the Expedition of Don Tristán de Luna y Arellano for the Conquest of La Florida in 1559-1561.  DeLand: Florida State Historical Society.  Volume I online Volume II online

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