First in Georgia and Carolinas Catholics: The First in Georgia and the Carolinas

      Most Americans have been taught that the first permanent European settlement in America was Jamestown in Virginia, founded in 1607 by English Protestants. However, the first permanent settlement was Saint Augustine in Florida. This was established by Catholic Spaniards in 1565, and is the oldest city in America. In fact, there were twenty-seven Catholic mission/settlements established in present-day Florida alone before Jamestown was settled. Yet, many persons are already aware that the Spanish came to Florida and settled there quite early. What is not widely known is that Spanish Catholics established more than twenty mission/settlements in Georgia and the Carolinas before the English-Protestants settled Jamestown. (Between 1609 and 1686, a dozen more were established.) Think about it: more than twenty settlements in Georgia and the Carolinas before Jamestown! This is so significant a number that it could only be plain anti-Catholic bigotry for ignoring (or suppressing) such facts and omitting them from U.S. history text books.

       But, some may ask, weren't these Catholic missions just a hut for the priest, and then he would simply go out and preach? The answer is, no, not at all. Though missions were primarily for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they involved more than that. The conversion of a person is not just in his beliefs and behavior, but involves everything his life is about. His culturing, education, training in virtues, and more, are part and parcel of the Christian life. Thus, missions also were involved in the building and spreading of Christian civilization, in training in both virtues and skills, and in educating the Indians. In these missions the Indians were taught how to read and write (in both Spanish, and in their native tongue in many instances); they were taught basic arithmetic, poetry, music, and even chant. They also were taught many crafts and skills, including farming (plants such as wheat, rye, barley, oats, sugar cane, peas, apples, pears, plums, peaches, and others were first brought to and grown in this region by the Spanish). They were taught these things to help them both survive and live in a civilized way (the Indians of Georgia and the Carolinas were nomadic).

       Most missions were the beginnings of actual towns. They started out consisting of a chapel, a residence for the missionary(ies), a school building, and a supply building. As conversions increased, and, because of rejection and persecution, Indian converts could no longer dwell with their pagan tribesmen. So residences were built for Christian Indians. Shops would be built for the development of the different crafts taught to the native converts. Then there were buildings for the storage of crops, and stables for animals. Some of America's most well known cities in fact had their beginnings as missions: San Diego, Los Angelus, San Francisco, Detroit, Chicago, Santa Fe, Miami, New Orleans, Pensacola, Tallahassee, and Jacksonville, to name a few. Thus, these early Catholic missions were real settlements.

      + Back in 1518, the area of Santa Elena (Saint Helena), South Carolina, was explored by Diego Velazquez. He returns to Cuba to report of its suitability.
      + In 1520, Francisco Gordillo and Pedro Quexos head an expedition to what they called Chicora (Carolina). On June 24, they reached today's Cape Fear, landed and planted a cross and claimed the land for Christ and for Spain.
      + In 1525, during his expedition heading south along the east coast, Estaban Gomez sails into today's Charleston Harbor, as well as Santa Elena Sound, on his way down to Florida. He reports his findings.
       With these expeditions completed and confirmed, it was time now to make efforts to settle the Carolinas and bring the Light of the Gospel to the heathen natives.

1526: The First Settlement in America After Columbus

       In 1526, after a failed attempt to settle in southern Florida (due to the hostile nature and cannibalistic practices of the Calusa Tribe), Luca de Ayllon headed an expedition that sailed farther up the east coast and got as far as the Immaculate Conception Bay (also known back then as Santa Maria Bay -today's Chesapeake Bay). He had five ships, two Dominican priests and one religious Brother, only five soldiers, and numerous settlers, including women and children. They entered the mouth of present-day James River and anchored a few miles up the river not far from what was to become Jamestown. Ayllon and his party went ashore and one of the Dominican priests, Father Antonio de Montesinos, offered the first known Holy Mass in what is now Virginia. However, they were not satisfied with the location, and the local Indians were not at all friendly.

       The party journeyed south and on September 29th reached the mouth of what is now named Cape Fear River, North Carolina, but the name they gave to it was the Jordan River. Still heading south they landed in an area that is now Georgetown, South Carolina. Here they stayed and began to construct a town, a mission chapel, and a fort, all named San Miguel de Guadalupe. It is the very first European settlement in America after the discoveries of Columbus. Evangelization had begun with members of the Cusabo Tribe. At least two Indians converted and were baptized. However, Ayllon died on October 18th, and a most devastating winter came early on and many of the colonists became seriously ill. A number had in fact died. Before the new year, most of the group decided to return to Santo Domingo from whence they came. A few of the colonists did stay behind, including the new Indian converts and one of the priests. However, the settlement endured for only a few more years.

1540: De Soto Expedition

       After landing in and exploring Florida in 1539, Hernando De Soto's expedition crossed into present-day Georgia sometime in May, 1540. Some of the earliest baptisms of natives in North America occurred on De Soto's expedition. When they reached the Ocmulgee River near where Macon is today they encountered a small Indian village. There, the first known baptism of a baby in America took place in those waters, and he was given the Christian name of Pedro. By the end of Spring they reached the area around Augusta, crossed the Savannah River and entered South Carolina. They headed northeast, passed through the area of today's Columbia, SC, and stopped at Silver Bluff near today's Camden. The expedition then headed into North Carolina before turning west and out of the region which we are covering. Thus, the interior, and not just the coastal regions, of Georgia and the Carolinas was explored by Catholics more than 200 years before English Protestants came to this region.

1566: Carolinas

       After having established St. Augustine, Florida, the previous year, in Spring of 1566 Santa Elena in today's South Carolina was established by Spanish Catholics. On November 1, an expedition of more than 120 men, including a missionary priest and led by Captain Juan Pardo, departed from Santa Elena. They traveled inland as far as the barrier of Chattooga Ridge in present-day Oconee County. A small garrison was built there with thirty soldiers remaining, and who were instructed by Pardo to "teach them [the neighboring Indians] the Faith and let them know how they are to give service to God our Lord." They named the fort, San Juan de Xualla. Heading back east Pardo stopped at a large Indian village where the chief and the natives were open to hearing the Gospel proclaimed to them. As a result, a mission was established along the Saluda River in the eastern area of present-day Anderson County, South Carolina. There was immediate success with the local tribe, and soon there were a number of conversions and baptisms. Father Sabastian Montero, the chaplain of the expedition, remained with the Indians for more than six years. Many more conversions to the true Faith occurred as a result of his sacrifices and untiring labors. Father Montero taught the natives not only the catechism, but also numerous prayers, hymns, and the Ten Commandments in both Spanish and their own language. He also taught them how to read and write in Spanish. This mission was known as the Mission of Guatari.

       The need for protection was also of vital importance. By the end of 1566 there had already been four missionaries (and possibly two others) and ten laymen who had been murdered by hostile natives just in the Florida/Georgia areas alone. Consequently, soon after the founding of the Mission of Guatari a fort was built in nearby Polk County. It was named San Juan de Xualla, and was manned by thirteen soldiers. Between 1566 and 1574, four more missions and three other Spanish forts were established in the Carolinas, and many native conversions to the Faith resulted. The missions and the years of their founding are as follows:

          Mission of Guatari -1566 (South Carolina)
          Mission of Santa Elena -1568 (South Carolina; a settlement/fort, named San Felipe, was
          established in 1566.)
          Mission of Escamacu -1570 (South Carolina)
          Mission of Joada -1574 (North Carolina)

1587: Roanoke

       In 1587, an English-Protestant settlement, under the direction of Sir Walter Raleigh, was begun on Roanoke Island in present-day North Carolina. A supply ship was sent a year later and after arriving found no trace of the settlers. Their fate was never discovered, but suspicions were that they all were either captured or killed by local Indians. It is thus known as the "Lost Colony of Roanoke." As a side note: there is evidence that a few of the 117 colonists were refugee Catholics escaping persecution in England under the rule of the anti-Catholic queen, Elizabeth I.

1568: Georgia

       We mentioned above that, along with the Carolinas, Georgia had numerous mission/settlements even before the English-Protestants settled Jamestown. To be precise, there were nineteen of these established by the time of Jamestown in 1607. Another dozen mission/ settlements were established by 1690. Thus, the east coast of America below Virginia, yet above Florida, had more than thirty Catholic mission/settlements by the time the Protestant English came in 1607 to settle and (erroneously) claim land for themselves. (Virginia had one established in 1570, thirty-seven years before Jamestown!) Florida ALONE had two dozen mission settlements still occupied and functioning by the time Jamestown was founded.

       Georgia, known as Guale along the coast and Tama farther inland, was a region populated by the Yamasee Indians. Missionary work and settlements began not long after the founding of St. Augustine, Florida. At first the Yamasee resisted the Gospel, and the missionaries labored tirelessly among them. The resistence was so strong at one point that in 1597 alone five missionaries were martyred for the Faith. But, as martyrdom is the "seed of the Faith," God thus brought fruit to the missioners work, and soon many hundreds from all around converted and were baptized. Hence, the fact that Georgia had numerous mission/settlements by 1700.

       Below is a listing of the major mission/settlements of Georgia before the founding of Jamestown (1607) and the years of their establishment (those simply mentioned without names never developed into actual settlements, but consisted of a chapel and residence for a visiting missionary):

          Mission of Guale -1568
          One mission in 1570
          Mission of San Pedro -1585
          Mission of Santa Catalina -1587
          Mission of San Buenaventura -1587
          Mission of Santo Domingo -1587 (two others were established in this same year)
          Mission of Guadalupe -1595
          Mission of Santa Clara -1595
          Four missions in 1597
          Mission of Santa Maria de Sena -1602
          Mission of San Antonio -1602
          Mission of Santiago Ocone 1602
          Mission of San Jose Zapala -1602 (one other in this same year)

       Unlike the Protestant English, French and Spanish Catholics did not bring hundreds and hundreds (and then thousands) of colonists to settle and push the Indians off their lands. Rather, the European Catholics came with small numbers of colonists, many missionaries, and proceeded to evangelize, convert, educate and civilize thousands and thousands of Indians. (The first book written in the United States was by a missionary brother in Georgia who wrote a grammar of the Guale language in 1569.) Thus, the majority of the members of these Catholic settlements were Christian Indians. And by the turn of the 17th century, their numbers were quite substantial. As early as 1606 Bishop Juan Altamirano, of Cuba and Florida, confirmed about 1,200 Christian Indians in Georgia, including some brought from the Carolina missions (he had earlier confirmed more than 11,000 in Florida, including twenty-four tribal chiefs). Unfortunately, most these mission/settlements would not last past the beginning of the 18th century for one primary reason: Protestant English hatred for anything Catholic.

Destruction of Catholic Georgia-Carolina

       Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries both Protestant French and English pirates had raided, plundered, and even destroyed many Catholic settlements and coastal Indian missions. They put to death both missionaries and Christian Indian converts. Before the end of the 17th century, Protestant English settlers joined in on the attacks against Catholic mission/settlements in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. These attacks would involve both murder and the taking of Christian Indians as slaves. English slave traders had constantly sent out raiding expeditions to capture Indians, particularly converts -who were less hostile than the heathen natives- and sell them to owners in the Carolinas and other places. We will survey a few of the numerous attacks within present-day Georgia and South Carolina. (St. Augustine, Florida, and its surrounding missions were attacked numerous times causing great destruction and many deaths.)

       In 1680, a group of English Protestants from Charlestown (est. 1670) with their heathen Creek Indian allies attacked the Santiago de Ocone Mission. This mission, which had been in existence since 1606, was a thriving settlement with dozens of Catholic Spanish and many hundreds of Christian Indian converts living there. A number of Indian converts were killed, but the remainder, under a Spanish officer, held off the attack. This would only be the beginning of such attacks upon Catholic mission/settlements in this region.

       In the mid-1680s, three hundred English-led heathen Indians attacked other missions, including San Simon and San Buenaventura, near today's Brunswick, GA. These missions were attacked and destroyed by orders of South Carolina Protestant governor, James Moore.

       In 1683, the Protestant English pirate, Nicholas Agramont, raided and plundered the Santa Catalina Mission, which had existed since 1587. He and his fellow pirates murdered dozens of Christian Indians, steals the church tower bells and altar ornaments. The rest of the inhabitants had to flee southward toward the Florida missions. A short time later, the pirate Hinckley raids the settlement on present-day Jekyll Island and forces the Spanish and native Christians to depart. It is found out later that these raids were encouraged by Governor Moore.

       In 1692, Governor James Moore again led a military expedition of both English and Indians to attack three more Catholic mission/settlements in Georgia. Two of these Catholic settlements, Sans Pedro & Pablo and Fort George were in Georgia, while the third, Santa Maria Mission on Amelia Island, was on today's border of Florida and Georgia. All three were totally destroyed. Many of the Christian Indians were rounded up and sold into forced slave labor to landowners of Carolina and Virginia.

       In 1702, on his way to attack and destroy the Apalachee mission in Tallahassee, Florida, Governor Moore and his military expedition attacked the Santa Cruz Mission (founded in 1681) near present-day Lake Seminole. They killed two missionaries, numerous Christian Indians, and took the rest to sell into slavery. (In the Florida mission he and his band brutally tortured and murdered three Franciscan missionaries, 800 Christian Indians -including women and children- and then forced into slavery another 1,400 Indians who were living in the Apalachee Mission. When a Spanish rescue party arrived several days later they saw scenes of such horror and barbarity: scalped and mutilated bodies of men and women and children laying around or hung from stakes.)

       Yes, the Spanish retaliated on a number of occasions, but justice demanded that they do so. Nevertheless, the persistent hostility of the English Protestants prevented the Spanish Catholics from not only gaining back what territory they lost, but also destroyed any remaining chances of converting and civilizing any more Indians north of today's Florida. Over time, the Protestant English took some ten to twelve thousand Indians (most of whom were Catholic Christians) to the Carolinas as slaves. As a result of these events, the beautiful Spanish-American Indian civilization that had developed in Georgia and South Carolina was totally destroyed, the remnant being left in Florida (which itself was greatly diminished). This anti-Catholicism is a sad chapter of America's history that is ignored by the media and history texts.

                                                                                                                                   - Adam S. Miller

(Taken from the soon-to-be published Journey America: Pathways to the Present, Marian Publications, Inc.) ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

-The Catholic Pioneers of America, John O'Kane Murray (Philadelphia, PA: H. L. Kilner Co., 1882)
-The Cross in the Sand, Michael V. Gannon (Gainesville, FL.: Univ. of Florida Press, 1965)
-Documents of American Catholic History, John Tracy Ellis (Milwaukee, WI: Bruce Publishing Co., 1956)
-Our Catholic Heritage, By a Benedictine Monk (New York, NY: Benziger Brothers, Inc., 1950)
-Spanish Roots of America, Bishop David Arias (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 1992)
-Spanish Settlements within the Limits of the U.S., Woodbury Lowery (Russell, NY, 1959)
-The Spanish Missions of Georgia, John Tate Lanning (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1935)
-Trials and Triumphs of the Catholic Church in America, two vols., P.J. Mahon & Rev. J.M. Hayes, S.J. (Chicago: J.S. Hyland & Co., 1907)

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