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Dr. Keith Ashley, University of North Florida – Early Spanish Missions

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Keith Ashley of the University of North Florida reveals what life was like for Native Americans at the earliest Spanish missions.

Keith Ashley is Coordinator of Archaeological Research at the University of North Florida where his research is focused on the Native Americans of southeastern North America during the late pre-Columbian and historic (post-European contact) eras. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Florida.

About Dr. Ashley

Dr. Keith Ashley – Early Spanish Missions

When most people think of Spanish missions in colonial America, they envision masonry churches in places like California and Texas.  But the Spanish mission system began nearly two centuries earlier in northern Florida and coastal Georgia, where simple wooden churches with thatched roofs were built within select Native American villages.

My colleagues and I at the University of North Florida are examining one of these frontier missions through the combined disciplines of archaeology and history. Mission Santa Cruz de Guadalquini currently lies beneath the surface of National Park Service lands in coastal Jacksonville, Florida. Although originally located on St. Simons Island, Georgia, this Mocama Indian community was forced to move to Florida in 1684. Against a turbulent backdrop marked by French piracy and British-backed slave raiding, Santa Cruz survived for only 12 years in Florida.

 Our excavations have exposed refuse middens and the outline of a clay-daubed building. We have uncovered artifacts showing that mission Indians at this time were armed with flintlock rifles and acquired goods of Spanish and British origin, yet continued to craft items of  clay, bone, and shell.  They grew corn and ate European peaches and pigs, but also fished, gathered shellfish, and hunted deer, as they had for millennia along the Atlantic coast.   

Missionization brought irreparable change to Native life and culture. But the Mocama were not passive pawns in the process, rather they mediated the winds of European colonization through choices and actions that redefined their culture and distinguished them from Spanish colonizers, as they lived beneath the mission bell.

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