1702, Col. James Moore, of English Carolina, launched a land and
sea attack on St. Augustine for the purpose of extirpating the center
of Spanish power in the American Southeast. His force consisted
of 600 English volunteers and 600 Native allies. As the land force
moved south, it destroyed the coastal Franciscan missions to the
At St. Augustine, unable to reduce the Spaniards’ Shellrock
fortress, Castillo de San Marcos, Moore vented his frustration
by torching the entire city, excepting its hospital. Lost in the
conflagration was the motherhouse of the Franciscan Order, Convento
de la Concepción Immaculada, at the corner of today’s
St. Francis and Marine Streets. The Florida National Guard Arsenal
occupies the site today.
When the English and Native invaders withdrew, a war correspondent
from a New York newspaper lamented the sacrilege that had been
done in burning the monastery’s library with its Holy Bible
in Latin. A modern historian may be forgiven for lamenting more
the fiery destruction of the Florida mission records: maps, drawings,
interviews, studies, correspondence - all irretrievably
When Moore returned to Carolina he found himself disgraced. He
had failed to capture St. Augustine; he had incurred a sizeable
colonial debt; and he had scuttled his sea-going fleet. He determined
to do something “to restore the reputation we seem to have
lost.” That something, it turned out, was the destruction
of the Franciscan missions in Apalachee, the Native province that
lay between the Ocklockonee and Aucilla rivers, with its headquarters
mission, San Luis, at today’s Tallahassee.
This time with 300 Carolinians and 1,500 vengeful Creek allies,
Moore fell upon the 12 active Franciscan missions, beginning with
Concepción de Ayubale, on Jan. 25, 1704. To his surprise,
the Ayubale Christians put up a stout defense under the leadership
of their friar, Angel de Miranda. Twice, musket fire and arrows
repulsed Moore’s assaults against the wood fence-enclosed
mission compound. After nine hours, however, their ammunition
expended, the Apalachee surrendered.
Moore let friar Angel live, but he showed no mercy to the Christian
converts. Most were slain by knives and swords; others were burned
to death; still others were impaled on stakes. Some victims cried
out, “We go to enjoy God as Christians.”
And so it went throughout the province. Where for nearly half
a century friars and Natives had lived peacefully within the sound
of mission bells, cross-topped churches and compounds were depopulated
and burned. Altogether, Moore’s terrorists killed 1,000
Apalachee converts (and two friars), forced 2,000 into exile,
and took 1,000 to Carolina as slaves. It has been called the largest
slave raid ever in the South.
Among those who went into exile were the communicants of mission
San Luis, who, in advance of the marauders, burned their buildings
and took refuge among the Catholic French at Mobile. Descendants
of one of those exile families were found in 1996, in Louisiana.
They kept the Faith.
Michael Gannon, Ph.D.