September 22nd, 2008 by twilson
While many of us believe that Latinos are relatively new to our area, history proves otherwise.
The Juan Pardo Expedition brought Spanish warriors through what is now Catawba County as early as 1567. Now known as the Berry site, the archaeological dig north of Morganton has already revealed a wealth of information about 16th century Native Americans and their Spanish visitors.
Dr. David Moore of Warren Wilson College and his cohorts from around the nation have been working the site since 1986. The site was once the native town of Joara, visited by the Spanish expeditions of Hernando de Soto in 1540 and Juan Pardo from 1567-1568. Pardo’s Fort San Juan, constructed at Joara, is the earliest Spanish outpost in the interior of what is now the United States, 40 years before the English founding of Jamestown and 20 years before the ill-fated Lost Colony.
An account of Pardo’s exploits is in The Juan Pardo Expeditions: Exploration of the Carolinas and Tennessee 1566-1568 by Charles Hudson (975.01 HUD) is available at the Main Library in Newton. In the book, Hudson literally re-wrote history as he detailed the expedition to seek an inland route to silver mines in Northern Mexico. They mistakenly assumed that the North American continent was much smaller than it actually is.
Hudson gleaned the Pardo documents to find a wealth of information about the explorer’s routes, his encounters with native peoples and delves into the social and political structures of Indians of the time. Joara in Burke County was actually the seat of a Mississippian chiefdom.
In late 1566, Capt. Juan Pardo left Santa Elena, the capital of Spanish Florida (on modern Parris Island, S.C.), with a company of 125 men. Their mission: to explore the interior, to claim the land for Spain while pacifying local Indians, and to forge a route to Mexico. In January 1567, Pardo arrived at Joara, the largest Indian settlement in what is now North Carolina. He renamed it Cuenca, after his hometown in Spain, and built Fort San Juan de Joara, leaving 30 men to defend the fort and occupy the town. For undetermined reasons, they met a fiery end soon afterward. Only one survivor made it back to Santa Elena.
David Moore co-wrote the afterward of Hudson’s book, describing how he and colleagues were led to the Berry site from writings of Domingo de Leon, who described the route that Pardo’s group traversed along what surely was the watercourse of the Catawba, more specifically Upper Creek. Discovery of 16th century artifacts such as pieces of olive jar, chain mail and nails reinforce their theory.
This book will give you a leg up on the history of Fort San Juan, which has already woven its way into local consciousness. Pardo’s men were depicted in a tableau during the recent Night at the Museum Catawba County Museum of History. And a group of area ladies have named their provisional chapter of Colonial Dames 17th Century the “Fort San Juan Chapter.”
Every summer the Berry Site Field School engages volunteers in the dig. And one Saturday in June, the public is invited to visit. For details, log on to http://www.warren-wilson.edu/~arch/fieldschoolBooks about archaeology in general are available on the 930.1 shelves at Catawba County Library.