Thursday, July 20, 2017

Crossbows and the Luna Expedition

John E. Worth
© UWF Archaeology Institute

Excavations conducted by the University of West Florida Archaeology Institute at the 1559-1561 Tristán de Luna settlement on Pensacola Bay have only been going on since November of 2015, but during that short time an important assemblage of tightly-dated mid-16th-century artifacts has already been recovered for detailed study and analysis.  One thing that has become clear is that the terrestrial artifacts from the Luna settlement are in many cases identical to those that have previously been discovered on the Emanuel Point I and II shipwrecks not far offshore, providing further confirmation that all these sites resulted from the same Spanish colonial expedition.  One of the artifact types found in both terrestrial and maritime contexts is the crossbow bolt tip, four of which had previously been recovered from the bow section of the Emanuel Point I wreck during the 1990s (Bratten 2009:111-113; photos below from the T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Museum and the UWF Archaeology Institute).  Another four of these copper bolt tips have now been discovered on the terrestrial Luna settlement site, two during 2016 and two found during 2017 UWF excavations as recently as this week (photos immediately below).


Unconserved copper crossbow bolt tips found at the Luna settlement site.


Conserved copper crossbow bolt tips on display at the T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Museum.



Conserved copper crossbow bolt tips on display at the UWF Archaeology Institute.

These artifacts, while rare, provide a tangible link to a piece of medieval weaponry, the crossbow (ballesta), that would only last another decade or so as a part of typical Spanish military equipment in the New World.  The crossbow would soon be completely replaced by firearms such as the match-lock arquebus (arcabuz) and musket (mosquete).


Image of 15th-century crossbowman from “Le Livre de chasse” (cited below), f. 96r.

The Luna expedition carried both crossbows and arquebuses, but while the arquebuses were among a list of items to be purchased directly from Spain (Eguino 1560), the crossbows were evidently brought directly from Mexico.  Even though they receive comparatively little direct mention in the correspondence and narratives of the expedition (Priestley 1928; Dávila Padilla 1625), financial accounts of the Luna expedition make direct reference to crossbows among 2,250 lbs. of diverse goods transported by one drover from Mexico City to the ships at San Juan de Ulua, and also among 1,900 lbs. of “weapons and munitions” transported by another drover (Yugoyen 1569).

As a military weapon, the crossbow did not survive long past the Luna expedition, though crossbows were still in use during the first years of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés’ successful Florida settlements at St. Augustine and Santa Elena in 1565 and 1566.  This was not simply a coincidence; Menéndez reported that the Florida Indians learned quickly that Spanish matchlock arquebuses could not function well during rainstorms, and adjusted their tactics accordingly.  In 1566, Menéndez wrote to the king that “arquebuses without crossbows in this land are useless weapons, and we cannot defend ourselves from the Indians nor make war against them without crossbows, since every day they kill us Christians without us being able to kill an Indian if we do not have crossbows.” Menéndez further specified that “these savages are so skillful that, trusting in their agility and strength, which they never lose, they attack us when it rains when we cannot take advantage of the arquebuses.”

Documentary records confirm that Menéndez’s soldiers used both crossbows and firearms, and both types of weapons were included as part of normal military equipment in Florida during the late 1560s, including during the 1566-1568 Juan Pardo expeditions into the deep interior Southeast.  Warehouse inventories provide evidence for substantial numbers of these weapons; during the two years of Juan de Junco’s oversight of the St. Augustine warehouse between 1567 and 1569, the warehouse was recorded to have originally contained or received 394 crossbows and 10,368 bolts, of which 169 crossbows with 3,468 bolts were issued to soldiers, leaving a balance of 225 crossbows and 6,900 bolts in the warehouse after his departure late in 1569 (accounts found in Legajo 941, Contaduría, Archivo General de Indias, Seville, Spain).  During the same period, however, only 161 arquebuses were recorded, of which 109 were issued to soldiers, with just 52 remaining in 1569.  Nevertheless, inventories of 13 ships that arrived in St. Augustine with supplies from Spain between 1568 and 1587 contain not a single crossbow, but included some 44 arquebuses and 25 muskets along with lead and lead shot, match cord, and gunpowder and powder flasks (Lyon 1992:37-50).  Moreover, two decades later, by the time of later and more continuous St. Augustine warehouse accounts covering the period between 1592 and 1602 (in Legajos 947, 949, and 950, Contaduría, AGI), only arquebuses and muskets and their associated equipment and munitions were listed, with crossbows and bolts completely absent from the royal warehouse.  Clearly, military crossbows had gone out of use in Florida by no later than the early 1590s.

Pinning down the exact timing of this transition from crossbows and firearms to only firearms is difficult using Florida records alone, but Spanish ship manifests across this period show a far clearer pattern.  My own review of the inventories of armaments, equipment, and supplies loaded on a diverse array of Spanish ships between 1523 and 1615 (generally found in the Contratación section of the AGI in Seville, many digitized and online) shows that both crossbows and firearms (initially escopetas, followed by arcabuzes) were included as ship’s armament through 1570, after which only firearms (arcabuzes as well as the larger mosquetes) remained.  At the same time as the abandonment of the crossbow, thrown projectile weapons such as the javelin (gorguz) and dart (dardo) also disappeared from the inventories, though polearms (pikes, halberds, lances, etc.) persisted throughout the entire 16th-century.  Though crossbows were and are still employed in hunting game, their common military use seems to end after about 1570, making crossbow bolts a reliable diagnostic marker of only the earliest Spanish era in Florida.

Apart from the Luna settlement and Emanuel Point I wreck, archaeological finds of crossbow bolt tips in Spanish Florida are extremely limited, including one iron tip from the Governor Martin Site in Tallahassee (Hernando de Soto’s 1539-1540 winter encampment) and eight iron tips from the site of Menéndez’s 1566-1587 settlement of Santa Elena on Parris Island, South Carolina (Ewen and Hann 1998:80; South et al. 1988:100-103).  Notably, all crossbow bolt tips from Spanish expeditions originating in Spain seem to have been made from iron, while those from expeditions originating in Mexico were almost exclusively made from copper, including not just the Luna expedition but also the 1540-1542 expedition of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, on which Luna himself had been an officer (Gagné 2003).  Another copper bolt tip virtually identical to those from the Luna settlement and wrecks was found at the Poarch Farm site in northwest Georgia (Langford and Smith 1990), and although both Soto and Luna expeditions are believed to have passed through the site as part of the chiefdom of Coosa, the copper bolt tip seems most likely to have been a product of Mateo del Saúz’s stay there during the Luna expedition.

The production of copper crossbow bolt tips by Mexican Indian craftsmen is in fact documented as early as 1521, when Hernando Cortés ordered the native towns around Texcoco to produce more than 50,000 crossbow bolts and helmets of indigenous copper using Spanish models within a space of eight days before the seige of Tenochtitlán (Díaz del Castillo 1796:166-168).  Early Spanish satisfaction with these results seems to have translated into a longer-term local industry, likely accounting for the clear dominance of copper bolt tips on both the Coronado and Luna expeditions to the modern United States.  The eventual disappearance of these Mexican-made copper bolt tips from the archaeological record seems less likely to have been a result of differences in effectiveness in comparison to iron (since metal armor was not present among American Indians), and much more likely to have simply been a result of the overall decline in use of the military crossbow within half a century of the initial Mexican production of copper bolt tips in the 1520s.  Nevertheless, the Luna settlement continues to reveal additional evidence of this short-lived industry, highlighting the fusion of Old World and New World technologies during the early colonial era.

Selected References

Bratten, John R.
2009    The Mesoamerican Component of the Emanuel Point Ships: Obsidian, Ceramics, and Projectile Points. The Florida Anthropologist 62(3-4):109-114.

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

Díaz del Castillo, Bernal
1796    Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España, Vol. 3.  Imprenta de Don Benito Cano, Madrid.  https://books.google.com/books?id=zUtqjTonOgEC&pg=PA3#v=onepage&q&f=false

Eguino, Antonio de
1560    Accounts of weapons, munitions, trade goods, and other things that were bought to send to the viceroy of New Spain by order of His Majesty.  Legajo 283, Contaduría, Archivo General de Indias, Seville, Spain.

Ewen, Charles R., and John H. Hann
1998    Hernando de Soto among the Apalachee: The Archaeology of the First Winter Encampment.  Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

Gagné, Frank R., Jr.
2003    Spanish Crossbow Boltheads of Sixteenth-Century North America: A Comparative Analysis.  In The Coronado Expedition from the Distance of 460 Years, editors Richard Flint and Shirley Cushing Flint, pp. 240-252.  University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

Langford, James B., Jr., and Marvin T. Smith
1990    Recent Investigations in the Core of the Coosa Province.  In Lamar Archaeology: Mississippian Chiefdoms in the Deep South, editors J. Mark Williams and Gary Shapiro, pp. 104-116.  University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.

Lyon, Eugene
1992    Richer Than We Thought: The Material Culture of Sixteenth-Century St. Augustine.  El Escribano 29:1-117.

Menéndez de Avilés, Pedro
1566    Letter to the Spanish Crown, October 15, 1566.  Legajo 115, Santo Domingo, Archivo General de Indias, Seville, Spain.

Phebus, Gaston
1401-1500       Le Livre de chasse, que fist le comte PHEBUS DE FOYS, seigneur de Bearn.  Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Français 617.  http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b52506558z?rk=42918;4

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

South, Stanley, Russell K. Skowronek, and Richard E. Johnson
1988    Spanish Artifacts from Santa Elena.  Occasional Papers of the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, Anthropological Studies 7.  Columbia, South Carolina. Online Here

Yugoyen, Martín de
1569    Audit of the accounts of Alonso Ortíz de Urrutia, deputy treasurer of Veracruz, March 21, 1554–January 31, 1559 (and through November 4, 1559)Legajo 877, Contaduría, Archivo General de Indias, Seville, Spain.  Translations by R. Wayne Childers (1999) on file, Archaeology Institute, University of West Florida, Pensacola.

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