The Search for a non-Luna site in Pensacola, Florida

Searching for Yamasee Mission San Antonio de Punta Rasa: Garcon Point

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.

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!

We started at a lovely home right on the water and did two shovel tests in the front yard and two in the back yard. Almost immediately, in the front yard we found a stamped sherd that matches pottery at other Yamasee sites, as well as other Native American sherds and potentially eighteenth-century nails and pieces of a button. Five meters away, in the top ten centimeters, we found another Altamaha/San Marcos sherd among other undecorated sherds. Archaeologists in South Carolina call this pottery Altamaha after the Yamasee capital town of that name in South Carolina while archaeologists in Florida call it San Marcos after the Castillo of that name in St. Augustine where Yamasees moved to when leaving the Carolinas after the 1715 Yamasee War.

Shovel tests in the backyard were disturbed by construction, development, and erosion, but after 126 shovel tests we have found about 1,000 Native American pottery sherds in and around Garcon Point. People in the area reported extensive damage from hurricanes, particularly Ivan, as well as disturbances from construction and episodes of fill. However, the old driveways in the front yards of properties did protect a potential midden, so intact eighteenth-century features may be waiting to be found thanks to the support and volunteers from University of West Florida and the College of William & Mary.


So of course, for Day of Archaeology 2016, we put together a little video montage…


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