Friday, August 8, 2014

#67 A Spanish knight in Jackson County (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Flag of Spain flies over San Marcos de Apalache
St. Marks, Florida
The little known story of a Spanish knight and his exploration of our area is #67 on my list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

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

Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala was a Knight of the Order of Santiago and newly appointed Governor of Florida when he was ordered to cross the Panhandle  and explore the territory between Pensacola and Mobile Bays. He carried out that exploration 321 years ago in 1693.

If Torres y Ayala's name seems familiar, it may be because he is the featured villain in the video game Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag.

Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala
Courtesy Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Entry into the Order of Santiago, which bore the Spanish name for St. James, was highly restricted. A candidate had to prove that he, his parents and his grandparents were of noble blood. Jews, Muslims, converts to Christianity, attorneys, moneylenders, notaries public, retail merchants and those without the wealth to support themselves were barred from membership.

In anticipation of the planting of a new settlement on Pensacola Bay, the King of Spain on June 26, 1692, ordered an exploration of the lands between that point and Mobile Bay. His orders were delivered to Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala in Mexico City on January 12, 1693, by the Viceroy of New Spain.

Sailing aboard a frigate from Havana, Cuba, on May 2, 1693, the governor reached Florida at San Marcos de Apalache (present-day St. Marks) thirteen days later. After making proper arrangements for supply by sea, he marched west from Mission San Luis (present-day Tallahassee) on June 8, 1693. Following him was a force of more than 100 Spanish soldiers and priests.

New Interpretive Station at site of Mission San Carlos
Sneads, Florida
The expedition reached the Apalachicola River at present-day Chattahoochee on the evening of June 9th. Torres y Ayala crossed over that same day with the priests and a small escort. They landed on the Jackson County shore and followed the trail up the hill to Mission San Carlos.

Then the westernmost Spanish outpost in all of Florida, the mission stood on the site of today's Jim Woodruff Dam Overlook at Sneads. Its location is Tour Stop #3 on the Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail and is marked by an interpretive kiosk.

Torres y Ayala remained at Mission San Carlos for two nights as he waited for the rest of his command to cross the river and bring up the horses. He was able to secure the services of five Chacato Indian guides that seemed to have some familiarity with the way to Pensacola Bay.

The governor described his departure from San Carlos in his detailed journal:

Blue Springs in Jackson County, Florida
On the 11th I started northwest, and, after traveling five leagues, pitched camp by an excellent spring which, they told me, flows into the Apalachicola river. These five leagues from the Chacato village to this spring, called Calistobe, are through pine groves, except for some woods around small ponds. - Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala, Journal Entry for June 11, 1693.

 The spring that early Spanish explorers called Calistobe or Calistoble was today's Blue Springs. They believed it was the head of the Chipola River, which they knew flowed into the Apalachicola near the Gulf. It is Tour Stop #1 on the Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail.

The road that the expedition followed from Mission San Carlos to the spring was the original Old Spanish Trail. It followed today's Reddoch Road from State Highway 69 to Blue Springs.A section of the original pathway can still be seen just inside the entrance to Blue Springs Recreational Area and is Tour Stop #2 on the Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail. Free guidebooks to the new 150-mile tour are available at the historic Russ House & Visitor Center in Marianna.  Interpretive kiosks mark each of the stops.

Cross of the Knights of Santiago
The Knight of Santiago and his followers camped at Blue Springs on the night of June 11, 1693. The next morning the resumed their march, following the trail to the northwest and the Natural Bridge of the Chipola in today's Florida Caverns State Park. Torres y Ayala's description indicates that water was high and the Natural Bridge muddy when he arrived:

...In a short distance we ran into considerable difficulty in getting both the horses and the men on foot through because of the many bogs, creeks, and woods; the horses became mired to their cinch straps, and the men on foot to their waists. However, our determination caused bridges and brush roads to be built so that we could keep moving forward on foot, with the unloaded horses falling and getting up again. - Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala, Journal entry for June 12, 1693.

The men eventually made it through the mud and bogs, emerging from the swamp near Blue Hole Spring. Because of the use of the Natural Bridge by early explorers, Florida Caverns State Park is Tour Stop #9 on the Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail.

A Cave in Jackson County
Continuing forward on the Old Spanish Trail, they soon reached a large cave where the lost Spanish mission of San Nicolas de Tolentino had stood 19 years earlier:

...I pitched camp in a cave, a very pleasant spot called San Nicolas, where there was formerly a Chacato village. This cave is formed of calcareous stone and has a very large spring of water; there our entire pack train took shelter after we had traveled five leagues this day. - Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala, Journal entry for June 12, 1693.

The cave where the San Nicolas stood and the governor's command spent the night of June 12, 1693, has never been positively identified. It was likely one of several large caves about three miles northwest of Marianna on private property. An interpretive kiosk stands at the intersection of State Highway 73 and Union Road, which has been designated Tour Stop #10 on the Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail.

The cave where Torres y Ayala camped?
Being a knight of royal blood had its privileges.  Exhausted from the difficult journey, Torres y Ayala decided to rest at the cave for an extra day while sending part of his force ahead under Fray Rodrigo de la Barreda to open a better road.  The Franciscan friar set out on the 13th with 25 men to while the governor remained behind to enjoy cold water and cool temperatures of the cave.

Leaving the San Nicolas cave on the 14th after his day of rest, Torres y Ayala followed the trail blazed by Barreda:

...Then I went four leagues west-northwest through beautiful woods of laurel, live oak, chestnut, oak, sassafras and pine. I spent the night at the same spot where the very reverend father, Friar Rodrigo, and his band has been the night before. On June 15 I continued northwest through a league of pine groves, and then crossed a deep creek.... - Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala, Journal entries for June 14-15, 1693.

Pensacola Bay
A Spanish league of that day was a little under three miles. The deep creek that the governor described crossing on June 15, 1693, was Holmes Creek. The exact site where he crossed it and left Jackson County is not known, but based on the direction of his march it may have been the old Marianna ford near today's Tri-County Airport south of Graceville.

Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala eventually reached Pensacola Bay. In doing so he completed the first known crossing of the Florida Panhandle by a European explorer. His march was the last known crossing of Jackson County by a Spanish military force. Mission San Carlos at Sneads was destroyed three years later in an attack by Creek Indians and was never rebuilt.

The real march of this long-forgotten Spanish knight and video game villain more than 300 years ago is #67 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

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