When Florida was the Frontier: Mission San Luis de Apalachee

Mission San Luis de Apalachee Tallahassee Florida

Located atop one of Tallahassee’s most scenic hills, Mission San Luis de Apalachee is a 60 acre archaeological park, the site of a 17th century Spanish mission, Spanish fort, church and residences.

Towering over all is the Apalachee council house, near the Indian village.

Once a month, a living history program focuses on Spanish life at the mission in the 1680s.

I was fortunate enough to travel back in time on that day.

History of the Mission

Mission San Luis de Apalachee dates from 1656, and was one of more than 100 mission settlements established in Spanish Florida during the 16th and 17th centuries. Like  California, the Spanish missions were built to Christianize Indians, bringing them under Spanish control.

While the Apalachee embraced the church, they didn’t realize that in inviting the church, they were also inviting the Spanish military.

By 1675 more than 1,400 Spaniards and Apalachee lived under the jurisdiction of San Luis. Because the only

Spanish women at San Luis were the wives, daughters or sisters-in-law  of wealth merchants (and in a class higher than the soldiers), the Spanish at the fort frequently married Indian women. This was encouraged as a means to Christianize the native population and make them more “civilized.”

Living History Day

This was my third visit to the Mission, and by far the most interesting–all because I’d been fortunate enough to arrive on Living History day.  Reenactors were all around the grounds including soldiers at the newly built stockade – at least new since my last visit.

Also taking advantage of Living History Day were a few hundred school kids – whose learning lesson began seated under the grape arbor, reaching a fever pitch while soldiers at the fort showed off the canon, rifle, and the bows used the Apalachee.

Soldier at the San Luis Mission FortI could tell the kids were loving every minute of it, but when I asked one of the soldiers if the contigent of enthusiastic youngsters trailing behind him were his prisoners, he replied: “If only.”

One of the most interesting conversations I had was with the wealthy merchant’s sister-in-law. From her, I learned that travelers from Saint Augustine (on Florida’s east coast) to the Mission (on the west side of the panhandle) typically traveled by ship around the very tip of Florida, sailing up her western side to the mouth of St. Mark’s River.

When I asked her why such a long route, she said the trip overland took three times longer than by ship, plus when traveling overland they were always at risk of being attacked at the British.

Of course, I was curious as to whether she ever visited the fort or had soldiers over for dinner; the look of horror on Blacksmith, Mission San Luisher face could have frozen stone. Apparently the soldiers were good-for-nothings, frequently thieves, cutthroats, and other low lives who had found their way to the New World under dark clouds of suspicion!

Down the way, I ran into the blacksmith. As always, I found him to be a fount of knowledge, and a true craftsman who could repair broken cooking pot handles, make latches for the windows, as well as craft just about anything metal needed in the colony. When asked about tending his forge fire, he replied that Indian children were his fire tenders.

Make the Pilgrimage

If you’re in Tallahassee, Florida and have a few hours to spare, don’t miss the Mission San Luis de Apalachee. On my three visits I’ve always met new people, learned more about the Apalachee (like how incredibly tall they were – well over 6-feet), and how they were ferocious in hand-to-hand combat because they could reach further than the typical 5’5″ opponents.


Want to Learn More?

The Apalachee Indians and Mission San Luis by John H. Hann, Bonnie G. McEwan

Apalachee: The Land between the Rivers, by John H. Hann

The Particulars

2020 Mission Rd
Tallahassee, FL 32304
(850) 487-3711
Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 A.M. – 4:00 P.M.
Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas
Admission free, with suggested donation of $5.00

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