August 17, 2021
Melissa shared a news feed she receives that highlight what happened on this day in Native American history. August 14th, 1559, noted the arrival of several priests, 500 soldiers and 1000 settlers in Pensacola Bay in present day Florida. The expedition met with tragedy as a hurricane struck not long after arrival and many of the people were either killed or later starved. The post had a side note that 6 of the original 13 ships had recently been discovered. The real cause of the tragedy was they had not unloaded the tools and food and it was destroyed by the hurricane. The original settlement has now been rediscovered in a single-family subdivision and is being excavated.
When I looked online, I found Tristan de Luna y Arellano was born into a noble family, came to New Spain, and in 1559 was sent on an expedition to colonize Florida. In August he established a temporary colony at modern-day Pensacola. On arrival Luna sent two search parties inland to search for other inhabitants before unloading the supplies and cargo. On the night of September 19, 1559, a hurricane and storm surge swept through and destroyed most of the ships and cargo. Most of the men traveled inland to the abandoned village, and named the town Santa Cruz de Nanipacana, where they remained through the end of June 1560. The Viceroy in Mexico sent two relief ships in November with the promise of more aid in the spring. When the relief did not come Luna sent 200 men upriver to the Coosa chiefdom (Coça) in Northwest Georgia, where they remained through November. The increasing tensions between Luna and his remaining officers and men prompted the Viceroy to replaced Luna with a new governor, who arrived in April 1561. The Luna settlement was occupied by a small detachment through August 1561 when they were picked up and returned to Veracruz. The Pensacola area was not populated again by Europeans until 1698. The Luna colony was the earliest multi-year European settlement in the continental US.
The site of Luna’s colony was re-discovered by local historian Tom Garner in October 2015 and is being investigated by an expedition from the University of West Florida archaeology program under principal investigator John Worth. The location is not published to keep unwanted visitors out of the area. Having worked on archaeological expeditions I have found crowd control is a serious matter. Visitors have a habit of showing up to see what is going on. I have witnessed people not only walk to the edge of the excavation (walls do collapse) but even enter the dig itself. Visitors not only get in the way, but the bigger issue is the questions. Being the expert onsite means you are bombarded with all sorts of questions that you are expected to stop and answer. I was tempted to say, “just read the book,” but I knew it would not be out for several years.
Thoughts: When I read about the ill-fated expedition the irony of the story struck me. As the colony searched for food, they came across an abandoned village. This was probably one of the villages that had been wiped out by the disease spread to the Americas by colonists. Part of the group was saved by wintering with another Native village who shared their food with them. Descendants of these Natives would later be forced from their homes and marched across the south on what came to be called the Trail of Tears. What is it they say about no good deed going unpunished? Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.