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Pogrom in Apalachee

In 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 Timucua.

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 gone.

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.

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