Wednesday, June 4, 2014

#73 Mission San Carlos (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

View of Lake Seminole from the Mission San Carlos site
A long-forgotten Spanish mission that stood on a hilltop near Sneads is #73 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Please click here to see the entire list as it is unveiled.

The first attempt by Spanish missionaries to convert the Chacato Indians of Jackson County to Christianity ended in disaster. Less than one year after two missions and a part-time church were established west of the Chipola River, the Chacato rose up against the priests and drove them from the area in 1675.

Restored fort at Mission San Luis in Tallahassee
Spanish authorities responded by sending soldiers and Apalachee militia from Fort San Luis at present-day Tallahassee. The towns and fields of the Chacato were burned and the people forced to flee into the woods. Many eventually joined the Alabama/Coushatta (Coosada) towns of the Upper Creeks near Montgomery, Alabama.

The Chacato who had converted to the Catholic faith, however, remained behind and relocated from western Jackson County to the high hill overlooking the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers near present-day Sneads. Spanish documents first refer to their presence at this site in 1680.

Jim Woodruff Dam from Mission San Carlos site
Because the group of Christian Indians came primarily from the destroyed village at Mission San Carlos (in Washington County), they named their new village San Carlos as well. The chiefs appealed to the Spanish for a new friar to lead them and in 1680 the name of Mission San Carlos appeared in official documents.

For the next 16 years, Mission San Carlos or Senor San Carlos de Chacatos was the most outlying Spanish settlement and Royal outpost in Florida. This gave it critical importance as the launching point for numerous exploration and diplomatic parties that entered western Florida and Alabama during the years 1680-1696. Among these was the 1686 diplomatic mission to the Upper Creeks led by Marcos Delgado and the 1693 crossing of the Florida Panhandle by the exploration party of Governor Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala.

Restored Spanish church at Mission San Luis in Tallahassee
Life at Mission San Carlos for the American Indians who lived there consisted of farming, fishing and hunting, as well as Catholic Mass in the chapel. The mission likely had a smaller version of the restored church that can be seen today at Mission San Luis in Tallahassee. The priest lived next door in a convento or residence.

The arrival of the English in South Carolina, however, spelled the doom of Mission San Carlos and its peaceful inhabitants. The English wanted slaves to do heavy labor in the development of their American colonies and arranged to purchase captives taken by the Creek Indians for that purpose. With slave trading now a profitable enterprise, the Creeks set out on a series of raids against the mission settlements in Florida, rounding up men, women and children to be taken to Carolina and sold into slavery.

The church at Mission San Carlos was smaller but
probably constructed in a similar manner to this one
at Mission San Luis in Tallahassee.
It is a little known fact that the first large group of slaves in the American colonies were peaceful Christian Indians from Florida. Between 1693 and 1706, the Creek slave raids wiped out the Timucua, Apalachee, Chacato and other tribes that had lived in Florida for hundreds of years. The captives wound up living in slavery as far north as New England.

The Creeks first attacked Mission San Carlos in 1693. The church and homes were looted and captives taken. The raid did not destroy the settlement, but severely damaged it. The mission's days, however, were numbered.

Spanish friars served at Mission San Carlos in 1680-1696.
Creek warriors returned to Mission San Carlos three years later in 1696. They destroyed the Chacato village, desecrated the church, looted the settlement and made off with a large number of captives to be sold as slaves to the English. The remaining inhabitants scattered into the woods and swamps.

Mission San Carlos was never rebuilt after this 1696 raid. A village named San Carlos was established near modern Tallahassee a short time later and populated by Chacato refugees from the Jackson County settlement. That community, in turn, was destroyed by raiders in 1702-1704. Some of the surviving Chacato fled to St. Augustine. Others made their way west to Mobile Bay where they soon settled near the French, who also practiced their Catholic faith. Their descendants live in Louisiana and Texas today.

Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail
(Click to Enlarge)
A major historic site, Mission San Carlos is now Stop #3 on the Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail. A new 150-mile driving tour of important Spanish colonial sites in the county, the trail begins and ends at the historic Russ House & Visitor Center on West Lafayette Street in Marianna. Free guidebooks are available there.

An interpretive kiosk for the mission site has been purchased by the Jackson County Tourist Development Council and was erected this morning (6/4/2014) by the Jackson County Parks Department with assistance from the Town of Sneads and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Learn more about the Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail by visiting

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