Searching for Yamasee Mission San Antonio de Punta Rasa: Mulat

As part of my dissertation research, I spent time in the Pensacola area looking for the 1749-1761 Spanish Mission San Antonio de Punta Rasa building on John Worth’s success in finding 1741-1761 Apalachee Mission San Joseph de Escambe. Spanish maps are unfortunately rather vague or imprecise. Juan Joseph Elixio de la Puente made two maps in 1768 that show a few geographical mistakes–he marked the Escambia River “San Antonio” after the Yamasee rather than the Apalachee– while Agustin Lopez de la Cámara Alta’s map precisely marked geographical features but not necessarily settlements. Incidentally, all the maps are from the wonderful Early Maps of the American South hosted by the University of North Carolina’s Research Laboratories of Archaeology.

Soon after the 1763 Treaty of Paris, in which England received Florida from Spain in exchange for Cuba, British surveys offered more precise maps. John Clune and Margo Stringfield’s Historic Pensacola describes the entire survey, but a few plats label “old hut” that may relate to the Yamasee mission.

Robert_Carkett_GrantThis plat orients with north at the bottom, River Governador is present-day Mulatto Bayou, a “New House” (as of the late 1760s) is in the center at the bottom with “Garden” to the east and “Land Formerly Cultivated” to the west and “Old Hut” to the west of that.

In 1983, Judith Bense led a UWF field school that included Jan Lloyd that surveyed the Escambia Bay area. Their excavations revealed a range of prehistoric materials—people in the area still talk about the Bernath site— but no definitively eighteenth-century material. Their work did lead one land-owner to report finding a piece of Spanish majolica called San Luis Polychrome— named after the Apalachee mission San Luis de Talimali— and a Native American sherd with no decoration but a fine sand temper not uncommon in the eighteenth century.

Based on these historical and archaeological insights, I started my search for the Yamasee site by sharing this flier with Mulat-area landowners. Armed with those photos of potentially Yamasee pottery decorations of stamping, red filming, and brushing I asked if anyone had seen similar pottery. I also requested permission to look at the surface of their land and to excavate in conjunction with the University of West Florida Archaeology Institute. Out of the 30 or so people I asked, more than half gave me permission for at least surface examination, and many invited me into their homes for very helpful chats about the neighborhood and local history. Everyone was very gracious!

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One family in particular had an extensive collection of multiple boxes of historical material though only a few sherds were potentially made by Yamasees. Based on their findings, and the fact they lived near where the British marked an “old hut” I started my excavations there! UWF students and graduates Michelle Pigott, Jen Knutson, Melissa Maynard, Kayla Rowe, Jillian Okray, and Kenyan Murell as well as Dr. John Worth kindly volunteered their time. In two days they excavated eleven 50 x 50 cm shovel tests, and while a few contained nothing, we gained valuable knowledge about the local soil layers and found several Native American pottery sherds and some European materials.

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This 50 x 50 cm shovel test included a turquoise British trade bead located above the feature shown above at 40 cm below ground surface. No cultural material was found in that feature, though, so we may have to return to this spot to interpret it in more detail. However, recovering a British bead in addition to the pottery the landowners found shows that the British maps precisely and accurately marked eighteenth-century settlements. We didn’t quite have enough luck to find sherds with suggestively-Yamasee designs by the second day of fieldwork; that took until the third day!

About Patrick Johnson

I'm an anthropology PhD candidate studying archaeology and history of Southeastern Native Americans and writing a dissertation about the diplomatic and daily life of Yamasee Indians in eighteenth-century Florida. Find me at https://twitter.com/patj86 or https://wm.academia.edu/PatrickJohnson if you're so inclined!
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