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From Potano to Pluto
by Michael Gannon, Ph.D.

The Franciscan ministry to the interior Apalachee tribes of Florida was effectively destroyed by the English assault from Carolina in 1704. Two years later, English-sponsored Creek Indian raiders swept through the western Timucuan missions farther south, including San Francisco de Potano, near present-day Gainesville, where for a full 100 years the gospel of the Prince of Peace had been proclaimed.

In 1704, 400 Catholic refugees from the Apalachee mission town of San Lorenzo (St. Lawrence) de Ivitachuco had fled south with their leader Don Patricio (Patrick) Hinachuba to seek shelter near San Francisco, where the resident Potano tribe belonged to the Timucua nation.

But Potano remained secure for fewer than two years. During the winter of 1705-1706 the Ivitachuco Apalachees were besieged by Creeks, mission San Francisco was laid waste, and Don Patricio was forced to take his people east to St. Augustine, where they settled within a musket shot of the Spanish coquina rock castle Castillo de San Marcos.

At St. Augustine the refugees received the consolations of religion from Franciscan friars resident in the city. But over time their identities as Apalachees diminished. This was owed to the fact that their band included disproportionately more men than women. The Apalachee sons were forced to seek wives among the Timucua. By 1763, when Florida was ceded by treaty to Great Britain, of the 89 surviving Christian Indians at St. Augustine who elected to sail for Cuba with the Spaniards, only five were identified as Apalachee. In Cuba the Christian converts were settled in the Havana suburb of Guanabacoa. Within a year many were dead, possibly from communicable diseases to which they had no acquired immunities.

Returning attention to Potano, the Florida Indian province where Mission San Francisco once stood: The mission’s location eight miles northwest of today’s Gainesville was first suggested in the 1950s by archaeologists at the University of Florida. Early this year, with funding from the State of Florida, UF archaeologist Kathleen Deagan, Ph.D. and her assistant Gifford Waters, Ph.D., undertook an intense subsurface survey of the site – I am the historian on the team. On last January 19th Dr. Deagan called me with the exciting news that Dr. Waters had unearthed a shard from a Spanish olive jar – first confirmation (among many more confirmations to follow) that we were on the mission grounds.

I drove to the survey site where Dr. Deagan examined the shard closely, and then placed it in my right hand. The time was 2 p.m. While I turned the shard over and around with my fingers, I chanced to look up at the southeast horizon where a thin white contrail marked the ascending path of a rocket from Cape Canaveral. Dr. Waters observed, “That’s the rocket that’s going to Pluto.”

After a moment’s silence Dr. Deagan said, “From Potano to Pluto – in 400 years.”

The emotions we three shared were those of wonder and awe.

Michael Gannon, Ph.D.

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