History: Missions of La Florida

With the Spanish discovery of the New World in 1492 came the desire to introduce the aboriginal people to the Catholic faith. Within years of discovery the church sent missionaries to the Caribbean islands, Central, and South America. Though Spain claimed all of present day United States, it was unable to protect its claim from other nation’s conquests. When I speak of Spanish Florida the reader must think in terms of Florida encompassing all of the east coast, from Key West to Newfoundland and west to Texas. It wasn’t until 1526 that the first known mission was attempted in Spanish Florida. At various times in their history the missions spanned from present day Miami, north to the Chesapeake bay, and west to Pensacola. Though many people in St. Augustine, Florida may not want to hear this, Mission Nombre de Dios was not the first mission effort in Spanish La Florida, present day United States. In fact, four short-lived mission efforts in Spanish La Florida that pre-dated Nombre de Dios. The Mission Nombre de Dios is unique in that it was the longest surviving effort.

Most people identify the early Spanish missions in the United States with California or the Southwest. The average American does not associate Spanish missions with Florida, Georgia, or the southeastern United States. It was only in the twentieth century that a deepening interest in early missions resulted in several new research efforts and the knowledge we have to date. Thanks to Dr. John H. Hann of Tallahassee, a research historian and leading scholar on the missions of Spanish Florida, we now have the most-up-to date findings and writings. Documentation exists of at least 124 missions during the first Spanish occupation (1565-1763) of the southeastern United States. These missionary efforts can be divided into five distinct periods. A pre-mission settlement period followed by a first, second, third, and forth mission period.

The Earliest Period, 1526-1565, was not highly successful. Only four missions were attempted, and all were abandoned within 18 months. At the time, La Florida didn’t provide the same rich resources available as other Spanish held territories.

The First Mission Era Period, 1566-1587 best described as tentative and mostly unsuccessful, had a total of 13 missions established, with only three still in use in 1587. Most of the early missionaries were Jesuits, the Franciscans making their first appearance in 1573.

The Second Mission Era Period, 1587-1616, saw success, but also tragedy. Some missions took root, while others provoked rebellion and Spanish retaliation when five friars were killed. An unknown epidemic stuck between 1612-1616 killing as many as ten thousand mission Indians. Though 50 missions were established during this period, it is hard to say exactly how many were still in operation at its end because it was common practice by the church to move missions from one location to another. Sometimes names changed, at other times the same name was used. Almost nothing is known of this process.

The Third Mission Era Period, 1616-1655 was one of great missionary activity and serious attrition of the native people, which led to the demise of many earlier missions. Another unknown epidemic took its toll in 1649-1650. Again, smallpox struck in 1655, and two years later, measles. Though it is unknown exactly how many died, it had a devastating effect on the native population. Twenty-nine missions were established during this time.

The Forth Mission Era Period, 1656 1702, offers the most documentation to date. Should Cuba ever allow a more thorough investigation of its archives we will likely find more information on earlier mission efforts. The second half of this period, beginning in 1680, saw mounting pressure from the English colonists in South Carolina and the natives allied with them. That pressure destroyed all of the surviving missions between 1680-1706. Mission populations were killed, carried off, or escaped to St. Augustine area missions and the protection of the Spanish. Though the Spain held St. Augustine until 1763, English advances and the destruction of missions virtually ended all missionary activity by 1706.

To date only a handful of mission locations have been found and excavated. The State of Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research, and the Museum of Florida History are involved in exploring of one of the missions in Tallahassee where the remains of Mission San Luis is now a State owned historical site open to the public. At the site are ongoing archaeological excavations and an early replica of the mission church. The last time I was in Tallahassee Dr. John H. Hann was on staff. In time it is hoped that more information will emerge and we will have a clearer understanding of the earliest chapter in the European conquest of Florida. Thanks to Dr. Hann and other scholars we have the foundation for further research.

“Summary Guide to Spanish Florida Missions and Vistas with Churches in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries”

This is a chronological listing of documented Missions. The list includes, Dotrinas: mission centers, and vistas: outstations where a church is known or there is evidence that supports the existence and native villages where a priest or lay brother resided in a missionary capacity.

Most are yet to be discovered.

1. San Miguel de Gualdape
2. Anhaica Apalace
3. Ochuse or Santa Maria Filipina
4. Nanipacana or Ypacana (Santa Cruz de Nanipacana)
5. Nombre de Dios
6. San Antonio de Carlos
7. Tequesta
8. Santa Elena
9. Guale (in time of Menéndez de Avilés)
10. Tupiqui (Jesuit presence)
11. Escamacu-Orista
12. Ajacan
13. Tacatacuru or Fort San Pedro
14. Palican or Palica
15. Soloy
16. Guatari
17. Joada
18. San Sebastian
19. San Juan del Puerto
20. San Pedro de Mocama
21. Puturiba or Puturihato (San Pedro y San Pablo de)
22. San Antonio de Enacape or Antonico
23. Santa Catalina de Guale
24. Convent of St. Ann. Potano
25. San Buenaventura de Guadalquini
26. Santo Domingo de Asao (mainland)
27. Santo Domingo de Asao or Asaho (St. Simons Island)
28. Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Tolomato (Guale)
29. Santa Clara de Tupiqui
30. Espogache
31. Ospo or Talapo or Tulapo
32. Tulafina
33. Ibi
34. Tocoy
35. San Julian
36. Olatayco or Alatico
37. Santo Domingo (Napa, Napuica. or Napoyca)
38. Santa Maria de la Sena (Island)
39. Santa Maria mission (mainland)
40. San Antonio (visita of San Pedro Mocama)
41. Chica Faya la Madalena
42. Veracruz
43. Molo or Moloa
44. Potayo
45. San Mateo (on St. Johns River)
44. San Pablo (near San Juan del Puerto)
47. Hicachirico
48. Chinisca
49. Carabay or Sarabay
50. San José de Zapala
51. Yoa
52. San Francisco Potano
53. San Miguel de Potano
54. San Buenaventura de Potano
55. Santa Fe de Teleco or Toloco
56. San Luis de Acucra or Avino
57. San Martin de Ayaocuto or Ayacatu
58. San Juan de Guacara
59. Santa Cruz de Tarihica
60. Santa Isabel de Utinahica
61. Santiago de Ocone
62. San Pedro or San Felipe de Athuluteca
63. San Diego de Satuache or Chatuache
64. San Felipe de Alabe
65. Apalo
66. Cascangue and Ycafui
67. Socochuno
68. San Luis de Eloquale
69. San Agustin de Urica
70. Santa Maria de los Angeles de Arapaha
71. San Ildefonso dc Chamini or Chamile
72. Santa Cruz Cachipile
73. San Francisco de Chuaquin
74. Santa Catalina de Ajoica or Afuica
75. San Pedro y San Pablo de Potohiriba or Poturiba
76. Santa Elena de Machaba
77. San Matheo de Tolapatafi
78. San Miguel de Asile
79. San Lorenzo de lvitachuco
80. Concepcion or Santa Maria de Ayubale
81. San Francisco de Oconi
82. San Joseph de Ocuia
83. San Juan de Aspalaga
84. San Juan de Aspalaga II
85. San Pedro y San Pablo de Patale
86. San Pedro de Patale II
87. Santa Maria de Bacuqua
88. San Antonio de Bacuqua
89. San Cosme San Damian de Cupaica or Escambe
90. San Damian de Ilcombe
91. San Luis de Xinayca or Nixaxipa or Talimali
92. San Luis de Xinayca (early site of mission)
93. San Martin de Tomole
94. Santa Lucia de Acuera
95. San Salvador de Macaya
96. San Diego de Laca
97. Santa Cruz de Ytuchafun or Ychuntafun or Capoli
or Santa Cruz y San Pedro de Alcantara de Ychutafun
98. Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria de Tama or La Purificación de Tama
99. Assumpción del Puerto or Assunción del Nuesra Señor
100. San Pedro de los Chines
101. San Antonio de los Chines
102. Nativity of Our Lady
103. San Carlos de los Chacatos (in Apalachee)
104. San Carlos de los Chacatos or de Yalcatanu (near Marianna, Fl.)
105. San Nicolás de Tolentino (near Marianna)
106. San Nicolás de los Chatos (on or near the Apalachicola River)
107. La Encarnación a la Santa Cruz de Sabacola or Santa Cruz de Sabacola el Menor
108. San Carlos de los Chacatos (on the Apalachicola River)
109. San Simón
110. Ocotonico
111. Santa Maria de los Yamasee or Santa Maria de Guale (Cumberland Island)
112. Santa Catalina or Santa Maria de Guale (Amelia Island)
113. San Felipe (on Cumberland Island)
114. San Felipe (on Amelia Island)
115. Santa Clara de Tupique (on Amelia Island)
116. Santa Cruz de Guadaiquini
117. La Natividad de Nuestra Señora de Tolmato or
Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Tolomato or Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe
118. Santa Rosa de Ivitanayo
119. San Diego de Salamototo
120. Señor San Antonio de Anacapi (1680-1697)
121. San Salvador de Mayaca
122. San Joseph de Jororo
123. La Concepción de Atoyquime
124. Atissirne or Atisme or Jizime
125. Sabacola (on the Chattahoochee River)
126. San Carlos de Savacola or Savacola Chuba
127. The Mission to the Calusa of 1697
128. Ivitachuco at Abosaya