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Spanish Indian Missions of Florida and Georgia

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13155

A trail of Spanish Indian missions stretched across Florida from the 1560s to the 1700s. There the native tribes could live, learn, and be baptized as Christians. What could go wrong? Plenty!

categories

United States

subject
History
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:

Do you know which city is the oldest continuously occupied settlement founded by Europeans in the United States, also known as America's Oldest City?

Hint: It's not Jamestown, Virginia (founded 1620) or Plymouth, Massachusetts (founded 1607).

To find out, you have to look further south!

Can you guess? (If you're thinking it was the site of a Spanish mission, you are correct!)

When the Spanish came to the New World, they established Indian missions all across the country, from Florida to California, to introduce the natives to Christianity, to teach them new skills, and to integrate them into European society.

Each mission was unique, but they were built along a basic plan. There was a church, a council house (meeting house), and a convento -- a house with rooms for the priests, workshops, storage rooms, an office, and a kitchen.

The Indians lived in huts on the mission grounds. Around the mission were fields for farming and raising livestock. Some missions had barracks for Spanish soldiers, while others stationed them a small distance away in forts.

Many people are familiar with the Spanish missions of California and the Southwest, but fewer know about the trail of missions established across Florida and even up into Georgia. This is because, while many of the Southwestern missions survive to this day, the missions of Florida were wiped out.

The Spanish established over 150 missions in Florida. However, by the time Spain gave Florida to Great Britain in 1763, there were only two missions left.

  • How did that happen?
  • And what effect did it have on the native tribes?

Read on to find out!

Florida

The Spanish cleared a trail across north Florida, from the east coast to the west, and established missions all along it. This trail is called El Camino Real (the Royal Road).

map of trail across Florida used by the Spanish

Image by Florida Division of Historical Resources, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

They also established missions further south, but we'll focus on the northern missions because there were more of them and more is known about them.

There were two main Native American tribes in north Florida: the Timicua (pronounced "Tim--oo-kwa") and the Apalachee.

The first Spanish mission was established in Florida in St. Augustine, where the Timicua lived.

If you haven't already guessed, the oldest city in America is St. Augustine, pictured above. It was founded in 1565!

After the establishment of St. Augustine, the Spanish built the first Florida mission (and, of course, the first in America) there. It probably looked something like this Nombre de Dios recreation image created by the Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park.

Learn more about the Spanish arrival in St. Augustine and their interactions with the Timicua with the following video clip:

St. Augustine 450 - The story of St. Augustine's People from Jessica Clark:

  • What did you learn from the video about the effect of the arrival of the Spanish on the Timicua?
  • What was one of the main reasons the Timicua disappeared from Florida?

Despite the spread of disease and the disappearance of the Timicuans when the English arrived, the Spanish presence brought positive effects as well. Most importantly, a written language for the Timicua tribe was developed.

Franciscan friar Francisco Pareja wanted to help teach the Timicua. Discovering that they did not have a written language, he began to construct one for them. It was the first time a Native American language had ever been written down! Because of Fr. Pareja's work, the Timicuans learned to read and write and were able to communicate with each other through letters.

mission friar illustration

Image from "Mission San Diego" by Zephyrin Engelhardt, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

On the other side of El Camino Real, to the west in what is now Tallahassee, the Spanish later established Mission San Luis for another native group, the Apalachee.

This mission has been reconstructed by the State of Florida and is now a state park where visitors can relive the past and see what life was like in the missions. Watch the video below to learn more!

As you watch the video, think about the answers to the following questions:

  • Why did the Apalachee ask the missionaries to come?
  • What were some of the effects of the mission system on the Apalachee?
  • What custom did the Apalachee think was important to keep after they converted?
  • What European things did the Apalachee like?
  • How were the Spanish and Apalachee homes different?

The Story of Mission San Luis from Mission San Luis:

As you saw in the video, the fate of the Apalachee was similar to that of the Timicua.

Let's learn about another native group that lived in Spanish missions.

Georgia

The Franciscans (religious orders within the Catholic Church) started some missions along the coast of Georgia, as well. The most famous is Mission Santa Catalina, established for the Guale Indians (pronounced Wall-ay).

Though the exact site of the mission has never been found, it's now famous for a very sad thing that happened there. It's called the Guale Uprising; however, as you'll see, historians now believe that it was not an uprising against the mission system. Instead, they believe it was a conflict between natives, in which the missionaries got in the way.

The trouble began when one of the chiefs, who was a married man, wanted to take another wife. The following video tells the story.

Bloodshed in Spanish Florida: Guale Rebellion of 1597 | Secrets of the Dead | PBS:

End of the Mission Period

You learned from the videos that the British began to attack the missions, and eventually the Spanish were forced to leave Florida and hand it over to them. By this time, many natives had died due to diseases brought by the Europeans. So the mission period came to an end.

Now that you've learned a bit about Florida and Georgia native missions, head over to the Got It? section. There, you'll take a tour of Mission San Luis; write a journal entry as a friar, Spanish official, or native; and decide if the missions were good or bad for the natives of Florida and Georgia!

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