Westerly Weird: Fort San Juan

Back west this week, but still in the always awesome North Carolina.

I recently learned of the discovery of a Spanish fort tucked away near Morganton, North Carolina. It’s very very interesting, because it’s not something I ever expected to hear about.

It probably would have been less surprising had the discovery been made in Florida and not North Carolina. St. Augustine, founded by the Spanish, is the oldest city in the United States and reflects its heritage very obviously.

I suppose the difference is that Fort San Juan, the North Carolinian fort, was only settled for about two years before the natives got tired of the Spanish soldiers taking far too many liberties with their people. Most of the men at the fort died.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

“We have known for more than a decade where the Spanish soldiers were living,” another excavator, Christopher Rodning of Tulane University, explained in a statement. This summer, the team returned to learn more about the Mississippian mound at the site, but last month, their excavations inadvertently exposed part of the fort.””For all of us, it was an incredible moment,” Rodning said.

Incredible, and exciting.

But as is par for the course of my weird little blog, I’m not here to raise questions about the fort. Here’s a quote from another guy who’s working on the project.

“Fort San Juan and six others that together stretched from coastal South Carolina into eastern Tennessee were occupied for less than 18 months before the Native Americans destroyed them, killing all but one of the Spanish soldiers who manned the garrisons,” University of Michigan archaeologist Robin Beck said in a statement.

But, as the article says, they haven’t found the others yet.

North America could have been a fascinating and fantastic resource, if it had held on to its buildings and structures as Europe has done. We already know this continent was well-populated and full of life, but there’s so little evidence left, and quite a bit of controversy over the actual population numbers. The discovery of Fort San Juan and the knowledge of how badly it ended is just a glimpse of who was here before and just how strong those people were. Invaders just couldn’t get a good foothold, in many cases, even after smallpox spread through the native population. Keep in mind, Columbus was also not the first European to hang out in this hemisphere.

Fort San Juan presents us with the eerie evidence of those who came before, who didn’t take kindly to invaders, and who left behind only fragments for us to imagine about, stories as exercises for imagination.

What would our world have been if they weren’t gone?


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