Mission San Joseph de Escambe, ca. 1741-1761

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Apalachees in 1733During the summer of 2009, members of a University of West Florida archaeological field school searched for and discovered an archaeological site that appears to be the long-lost remains of Mission San Joseph de Escambe.  This mission is the original namesake for the Escambia River along which the site is located, and also for Escambia County, Florida.  Although the burned ruins of this site were still visible during the 1770s, and were known to early British travelers and settlers in the area, memory of the mission's location and identity was largely lost by the time the region was permanently settled during the 19th century.  Detailed historical and archaeological work carried out as a part of the Pensacola Colonial Frontiers Project have resulted in the identification of the 250-year-old archaeological site on private land in Molino, Florida, and archaeological research is still ongoing in order to learn more about the site and its inhabitants (see the 2009-2012 fieldschool blog, as well as online papers and reports for the project).

Chiscas mission 1756Documentary evidence indicates that the mission was certainly inhabited during the 1750s, and was likely founded in 1741.  The river on which the mission was located had been known as the Rio de los Chiscas since the late 17th century, in reference to a much earlier Southeastern Indian group that had settled in West Florida during the last half of the 17th century.  In 1741, a new mission community was established by Fray Marcos de Hita using funds allocated to Presidio Isla de Santa Rosa (1722-1756), and its name, "Nuevo Pueblo de los Chiscas," almost certainly refers to the fact that it was a new town established along the Chiscas River (the modern Escambia).  The appearance of a town labeled "Chiscas" along the west bank of this river in the adjacent map (see right) would seem to support this hypothesis.  While the identity of the 30 original residents of the town are not specified, later evidence confirms that the town was principally inhabited by Apalachee Indians under the Apalachee chief Juan Marcos Fant, who had established an earlier town near the mouth of the same river in 1718.  Not long after the 1740 English seige on St. Augustine, a group of Yamasee Indians there had moved west to settle near Pensacola, and so the establishment of a new Apalachee town farther up the river may have been one reaction to the arrival of these new Yamasee refugees (who eventually formed the Punta Rasa mission near Garcon Point).

Documentary evidence regarding Mission Escambe's early years have yet to be identified, but considerable documentation is available for the period during the Seven Years War (1756-1763).  Following long-distance negotiations between the English-allied Upper Creek Indians (in the vicinity of Montgomery, Alabama and northward) and Spanish-allied Yamasee and Apalachee leaders from the two Pensacola-area missions of Punta Rasa and Escambe, a general peace treaty between Creek and Spanish leaders was signed in Pensacola on April 14, 1758.  In its aftermath, two new Creek towns were established within Spanish Florida by the spring of 1759, one of which was located just a few leagues upriver from Mission Escambe.  At about the same time, Pensacola Governor Miguel Roman de Castilla y Lugo decided to send half of the new Spanish cavalry company to be garrisoned in Escambe, including fifteen men and an officer.  The stated reason for this move was to pasture the horses in a better location, and to block the escape of Spanish fugitives northward from the Pensacola presidio, though the new garrison undoubtedly also provided a more effective out-guard and sentinel post along the Creek-Spanish frontier.  The garrison was established no later than early 1760, and for the next year and a half, the Apalachee mission village of Escambe was also home to a formal garrison of Spanish soldiers.

Indian town in 1765In 1761, Spanish-Creek relations deteriorated precipitously, in part due to abuses by the officer in charge of the Escambe garrison, Ensign Pedro Ximeno, whose illicit trading activities with visiting Creeks included watered-down liquor and abusive treatment of dissatisfied customers (see details in the translated documents below).  Despite a February 12 Creek assault on the Punta Rasa mission at Garcon Point, in which a Spanish infantry leader and virtually his entire family were murdered along with two other soldiers, the Escambe garrison was nonetheless maintained along the northern edge of Spanish control through spring.  On April 9, however, a night-attack by 28 Creek warriors resulted in the destruction of the entire Escambe mission village, the murder of two soldiers, the scalping of a third, and the capture of four others, along with the plunder of seven horses and assorted weapons,  munitions, and other equipment.  In the aftermath, the Apalachee residents of Mission Escambe retreated southward to the vicinity of modern Pensacola, where they joined the previously-relocated Yamasee fugitives from Punta Rasa immediately adjacent to the Spanish fort (see 1765 image of still-standing structures in "Indian Town," to left).  Two years later, the 108 inhabitants of this combined Yamasee-Apalachee refugee community voluntarily evacuated Pensacola with the Spanish, eventually settling near Veracruz, Mexico, where some of their distant descendants might still live.

Spanish Fort 1771When British traders and settlers first began to travel up and down the Escambia River drainage as a primary corridor of travel and trade between British Pensacola and the Upper Creeks, they soon became aware of the burned ruins of Mission Escambe alongside the river.  Several maps and text descriptions from the 1770s and 1780s make explicit note of what was interpreted as a "Spanish fort" in this location.  Since Spanish descriptions of the location of the Escambe mission are remarkably consistent with later British maps and accounts, the British description of the burned "fort" undoubtedly refers to the garrisoned mission village, including not only the cavalry barracks with its stockaded compound but also the ruined church and other residential dwellings.  Creek Indian informants doubtless remembered the presence of the stockaded Spanish cavalry garrison at the location, so British observers referred to the site as a fort, even though its defenses were relatively insubstantial, as the rapid destruction of the village makes obvious.

Spanish fort 1773In addition to the Taitt map of 1771, and the Romans map of 1773 (selections shown here), brief mentions of this "Spanish fort" also appear in published British narratives.  Thomas Hutchins (1784) noted the "old stockaded fort" nearly opposite a British plantation owned by William Marshall located on a large island in the river, and Bernard Romans (1773) asserted that "on the banks of this river, on an eminence, are the remains of a Spanish out-guard, or stocado fort." Both texts  indicate that the fort was located some twenty-eight miles by road from Pensacola, and forty miles by water.  Combined with the map evidence above, as well as earlier Spanish descriptions, these accounts provided substantial guidance in locating a target area for archaeological survey during the summer of 2009 along the Escambia River in the modern community of Molino, Florida.  While no archaeological evidence for the mission community had previously been identified in this area, systematic survey by UWF students this summer have largely confirmed the details from British and Spanish documentary sources, and provided the remarkable opportunity to conduct targeted archaeological investigations of this garrisoned Apalachee mission community from the mid-18th century.

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Selected Document Translations

Below are preliminary translations I made from my transcripts of an original bundle of documents in the Archivo General de la Nación in Mexico City during 2008.  The original materials are located in the bound bundle of documents designated Marina 17.  All the reports and testimony below date to 1761.  The first selection is from a more lengthy written report submitted by the Captain of the cavalry company in Pensacola, and the other four selections are from written transcripts of oral testimony provided by witnesses interviewed after the Creek raids of 1761.

Selection 1

[Extract from] Transcript of the Report of Captain of Cavalry Don Luís de Ullate, which he expressed by order of the Governor of Panzacola Don Diego Ortíz Parilla, about the state of the Presidio and his Company.

I say that the service that my company made since its re-establishment before the war, was that of a detachment that was maintained in the pueblo of Escambe, distant twelve leagues from this presidio, which was comprised of a subaltern and fifteen men, with the order of receiving the Indians that might come with moderation and tranquility, sending word of everything that might happen to this presidio, but this detachment was poorly managed, because even though it was of cavalry, they went by boat through the river, because in the aforementioned Escambe, there was no disposition for a garrison, and even less for cavalry, and in this time the Governor ordered all the King’s horses to the detachment (such as it was) so that they could graze in the country, and that the official who found himself there could take care of them, having them gathered in the afternoon and given the ration of two pounds, eleven ounces of corn that the King provided, and that he should order the soldiers of the detachment themselves to cut fodder and bring it loaded on the King’s horses upon the saddles.  After my lieutenant advised me that the aforementioned saddles were being mistreated, and the soldiers were shredding all their clothing, I suggested to the Governor that he should take other steps in light of this destruction, because those that they were observing by his disposition were not normal.  He responded that he did not know what to do, at which I said that he should order some convict laborers to cut the grass that the aforementioned horses ate, to which he responded yes, but this was never executed.  On account of this, at my own expense I had some pack saddles made in order to preserve the saddles, but the soldier proceeded in his task until the officers informed me of the bad state of the troops, and that of the horses, since they maintained themselves all night tied up in the open, suffering the inclemency of the wether in such a rigorous winter, in such a manner that they woke up on the ground, it being necessary for the soldiers to get them up.  At the same time, the detachment found itself in an old house, poorly formed, that had been of an Indian, in which the officer found himself mixed in with the soldiers.  After informing myself about it, I determined to make a new appeal to the Governor, which I did at the cost of suffering extraordinary excesses, but I finally achieved that the Governor determined to go to the aforementioned pueblo, as he did with the Engineer and I, accompanying them in the month of June, and the lodging for the officer, troops, and horses was begun.  At the end of some days we returned, leaving the project under the care of the officer who found himself there, and while he proceeded in its construction, there occurred the storm that half-demolished that which had already been constructed.  Thus it has remained until now, and nothing has been rebuilt at any price, on account of the omission that there has been for it.  The remaining little houses of the pueblo having been ruined, the Governor determined that the officer should be withdrawn, and there should only remain eight men and a squad leader in the house of the Father Chaplain, which was abandoned by the Father on account of the bad condition it was left in by the storm, since it was left almost without a roof, with the walls collapsed and various large holes.  Thus the detachment was maintained, with the hope that I had that the construction project could be continued, which was never carried out …. [When] the misfortune of the pueblo of Punta Rasa happened (by the Indians, who on the twelfth of February killed the detachment of infantry that found itself in it), I went to see the Governor, and I informed him that my detachment of Escambe found itself in total helplessness, as I have described, and that it was necessary to withdraw the detachment or take steps for its better defense, to which he responded that the murders executed in Punta Rasa were no novelty for him, since they were the defects of some vagabond Indians, and that he would give prompt news to the chief Acmucaiche so that they should be punished.  I told him that he should consider history, and that the Indians were about to rise up, which made it necessary to reinforce my detachment, and place it in defense, for which I would go to it, or at least one of my officers.  To this he said that there was no lodging for the officer, and that a squad leader should command, and that he would augment the detachment up to the number of fifteen men, including the squad leader.  To this I responded that it was not normal that there should be fourteen men at the direction of a squad leader, and he responded that I should execute what he commanded, and that it was necessary to obey him as my superior.  I told him that if not, at least a wall could be built around the poorly-prepared house in which the detachment was .  He said no, because he was not worried, and moreover, he was going to dispatch the Indian chief Don Andrés de Escudero in order to have the aggressors of Punta Rasa punished, and that he had made a general peace with the Indians with all formality, on account of which he did not believe there would be anything new.  Nevertheless, I gave my precautions to the squad leader, because I always suspected, charging him to be cautious, and giving him the best people and weapons.  In a short time, the aforementioned squad leader informed the Governor that the Indian Tafisa, chief of the mouth of the river, advised him that he should tell his Governor that the Indians were risen up, and that he should be prepared.  Having given this news with a letter he wrote, the reply that [the Governor] gave to the soldier that brought it was that it was good that they should be cautious, notwithstanding the fact that the news that the Indian Tafisa gave were lies in order to obtain a little corn that he had sent to ask for.  On the ninth of April, at the point of the [evening] prayers, the Alibamo Indians [we found out afterwards...that the number of them was only twenty-eight] fell on the detachment by surprise and killed two soldiers in the defense that they made, and they left another for dead, since they cut off his scalp entirely, and took four prisoners, carrying them to their territory along with the weapons and munitions, with seven saddles and seven horses that were found in the aforementioned detachment.  At dawn on the following day a soldier arrived in this presidio with the fatal news, and there were the investigations.  Whoever thinks, would assure Your Lordship that if they Indians who fell upon the aforementioned detachment had done so to this Presidio, they would have achieved the same result, since nothing at all had been done, and if everything was very unprepared, the loss of so many souls would have been painful, since there is no doubt that they would have achieved their ruin.

Selection 2

[Testimony of Juan Marcos, chief of the pueblo of San Joseph de Escambe, age 60 (approx.)]

In continuation, for the aforementioned investigation, I had appear before me and before the aforementioned witnesses Juan Marcos, chief of the pueblo of Escambe of this jurisdiction, of whom I took the oath that he made by God Our Lord and the sign of the Holy Cross, for which he promised to tell the truth in what he might be asked, and being questioned by the tenor of the preceding decree, by means of the interpreter, the chief Don Andrés Escudero, who he cites him in his declaration, despite the fact that the said Juan Marcos speaks well in Spanish, he said that in the time that there was a detachment of a few cavalry soldiers placed in Escambe, he did not know or understand that there had been any disputes with the pagan Indians who came to that pueblo, and that after the detachment was enlarged to fourteen or fifteen soldiers and an officer, the declarant went to the pueblo of the Tobases, of this jurisdiction, to make some canoes, where he remained many days, during which time he does not know if the Indians who came to his town had any dispute, or were mistreated by the soldiers or the officer, who was at that time the Ensign of cavalry, and he only found out in the aforementioned pueblo of the Tovases, and when he returned to his [pueblo] of Escambe, that the aforementioned Ensign bought from the aforementioned pagan Indians a great portion of skins in exchange for liquor, which he sold in the said pueblo.  The wife of the declarant dressed these skins, and he gave her one bottle of liquor for each two buckskins, but he does not know if they had any uneasiness with the aforementioned Indians.  Asked if he knows or has understood that some person in this Presidio or outside of it might have given some motive for complaint, doing some harm to them, he responded that  he has had no news of such a thing, because he has always seen that they have treated them well when they came to this [Presidio], from which they left very content and satisfied.

Selection 3

[Testimony of Juan Antonio de Sandoval, soldier of light cavalry, age 19]

...he said that he was one of the first soldiers who were sent from the beginning of the past year [1761] to the detachment of Escambe, where he maintained himselve about a year and a half in different occasions, and in which time he saw come different squads of pagan Indians to the aforementioned pueblo, and they returned after having left the soldiers some meat that they brought in exchange for bread, chocolate, or tobacco, which is what they had, but all this was done with great friendship and peace among one another.  Afterwards it happened that the detachment was augmented with fifteen men with an officer, the first of which was Don Thomás Sebastián.  This witness remainding in the aforementioned detachment, he saw that it continued with the Indians in the same manner, and with the same friendship.  Having moved the aforementioned lieutenant, and succeeded him with Ensign Don Pedro Ximeno, the pagan Indians always continued to come to that pueblo, but then on that occasion they normally sold some of their skins, which the aforementioned Ensign bought from them in exchange for liquor that he had carried to that detachment, and the wife of the chief Marcos dressed them.  In the said time there arrived a chief of the Alibamos with four Indians of the same nation who had accompanied Fupalca, War Captain of the same nation of the Alibamos, who had come to this Presidio to see His Lordship.  The aforementioned Indian chief had a horse that the said Ensign bought for two barrels of liquor and a little corn, and remaining there several days, on one of them the Indian got angry without being drunk, and told the Ensign by means of a young interpreter that he would bury the bones of the Spaniards and their horses below his feet, and that he would come to throw the Spaniards out of there, and other statements to this effect.  And asking what motive there was for this anger, he responded that what he understood was that they did not give him everything that he wanted them to give him.  And asked again whether some soldier or other person made any offense to the aforementioned Indians, he said that in the time that this witness remained there, there was only that which he has stated above, and before the officers arrived, while Squad Leader Francisco Roldán in the said detachment with ten soldiers, among them this witness, he came to blows with a pagan Indian named Quilate, because the aforementioned Indian was very insolent.

Selection 4

[Testimony of Francisco Guerrero, head of laborers at San Miguel de Panzacola, age 64]

...he said that it is true that finding himself in the pueblo of Escambe overseeing the laborers who were repairing the church, and cutting wood in order to build a cavalry barracks, he saw that Ensign Don Pedro Ximeno, who was detached in the said pueblo, bought from the pagan Indians who arrived there not only skins but blankets and anything else that they carried in exchange for liquor, and it is true that on one occasion he asked this witness to loan him a little on account of having exhausted that which he had, and as a result he loaned him a flask and a half.  He also found out that when five pagan Indians arrived there, among them an important chief, the aforementioned Ensign bought a horse from him in exchange for liquor, which he gave to him very watered-down, because there resulted a great quarrel in which he greatly mistreated the Indian, who went away very angry, threatening him.  This witness having returned from the said pueblo, in this time when he returned, the Ensign Don Pedro Ximeno himself told him how the aforementioned Indian had had the audaciousness to return to that pueblo, and suddenly searched his house, because he said that they had stolen from him a gun and a blanket there, for which the Ensign said that he wanted to shoot him.  And it is true that he had different quarrels with other Indians who arrived, mistreating them and buying what they had for liquor while they were drunk, and whenever they returned and asked for their clothes, not wanting to give it to them, he came to blows with them, and sent them away very angry, and in this the one who can give more extensive details is Pedro de Alba, who was always there in the pueblo while this witness was there, and who knew everything that happened with the Ensign and the Indians.

Selection 5

[Testimony of Pedro de Alba, former mariner at San Miguel de Panzacola, age 60]

...he said that it is true that he was in the pueblo of Escambe in company of Sargent Guerrero working with the laborers in cutting wood for a stable that they wanted to make there, and that in this said time Ensign Don Pedro Ximeno also found himself detached in the aforementioned Pueblo, who bought the skins and clothes that the pagan Indians who came to that pueblo in exchange for liquor.  When this seemed very watery to them, and wanting on account of this to recover their clothes, he refused to do so, and came to blows with them.  For this same reason he had a great quarrel with a pagan Indian chief who arrived there with another four, from whom he bought a horse and some clothes for liquor.  This Indian went away very angry, threatening the aforementioned Ensign, saying that he would return to throw the Spaniards out of this land. Also, it was public knowledge in that pueblo among all the Indians who found themselves there that when an Alibamo Indian, a War Captain named Mestizo, arrived at the aforementioned pueblo from this Presidio, having gotten him drunk, he bought a flesh-colored waistcoat and some other clothes that he was bringing.  The Indian having slept off his drunkenness, and seeing that he had sold his clothes for watered-down liquor, and very little of that, he wished to recover it.  When theEnsign refused to give it to him, they had words, and the Ensign threatened him with the soldiers, saying he would kill him.  Seeing this, the Indian put himself in front with his arms open and told him “Well, kill me! Kill me, because if you don’t kill me now, I will come back to recover my clothes, and I will kill you and anyone who is with you,” and in this form the Indian left very fiercely.  According to the rumors that have circulated afterwards, it was this Indian who came as captain of the troop that surprised the detachment of the aforementioned pueblo of Escambe.

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References Cited

Hutchins, Thomas

1968  An Historical Narrative and Topographical Description of Louisiana and West-Florida (reprint of 1784 edition).  Gainesville: University of Florida Press.

Romans, Bernard

1999  A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida (reprint of 1773 edition; editor Kathryn H. Braund).  Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.

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