UWF Digging For The Past In Molino; 2,000 Year Old Artifacts Found
June 29, 2009
Archaeologists from the University of West Florida are hard at work this summer uncovering the past in Molino, looking hard for a mission settlement dating back to the 1750’s. So far, they have not found definitive evidence of the village, but they have uncovered evidence of prehistoric life in Molino.
The Pensacola Colonial Frontiers Survey Field School, led by archaeologist John Worth, centers on the search for outlying communities associated with Pensacola’s three Spanish presidios including Native American villages and farmsteads. The students are searching an area along and near the Escambia River in Molino for a missions settlement that is believed to have included a Spanish missionary church and a small Apalachee Indian village.
The Mission San Joseph De Escambe was established upriver along the Escambia River — which actually took its later name from the mission near Molino. The Apalachee Indian settlement with about 75 residents is well documented, according to archaeologist John Worth. It was established in the 1740’s. A Franciscan missionary was stationed by the Spanish at the village along with 15 members of a Spanish cavalry unit until about 1757.
The village was led by Apalachee Chief Juan Marcos Fant until it was destroyed during a Creek Indian raid on April 9, 1761. The village and the church were at least partially burned during the raid. Following the raid, the residents moved down the Escambia River to what is now downtown Pensacola.
The Apalachee Indians created pottery for trade with the Spanish in Pensacola, and Worth would like nothing more than to find some of that pottery. If he’s lucky, Worth also hopes to find evidence that the Apalachee Indians also traded with the Upper Creek Indians of Alabama and directly, or indirectly with the French, even though the French and Indian War (1756-1763) was underway.
“Historical documents have narrowed our search for Pensacola’s lost Spanish missions, but now our students are conducting the archaeological fieldwork designed to locate them on the ground and learn more about this chapter of our local history,” said Worth.
Worth is fairly certain that he knows where the mission was located along the Escambia River in Molino, and his field school students have spent most of the last month digging meticulously for the evidence. That evidence will likely be period pottery, Worth said, created by the Apalachee Indians. If he finds the pottery, or perhaps the remains of the burned out mission church, it will be an important link in colonial Florida history.
There have been several historic pieces discovered. The first day of the project uncovered a piece of Brown Salt Glazed stoneware pre-dating 1775 and fragments of free-blown olive green glass possibly also from the colonial period.
“All these are tantalizing signs of the missing chapters of early colonial history in this region, but much more work remains,” Worth said.
Worth hopes to find remains of the village fairly intact; he said that evidence indicates that the immediate area he is searching has never been plowed or farmed. His students dig small test holes, noting their exact location via GPS and logging the contents, if any, found in the hole. It’s a slow careful process, with small scoops of dirt shaken through a screen to collect any items that might be hidden.
Last week, as the students moved from residential backyards into a thickly wooded area closer to the river, shovel tests found small pottery fragments believed to have dated between 1,000 and 2,500 years ago — the first ever prehistoric evidence of occupation in North Escambia.
This past Friday, the UWF students uncovered a small concentration of Native American pottery sherds that appear to be from the 18th-century, several lead shot pellets consistent with those found at Spanish presidios in that period, more lead shot pellets and other items including a melted lump of copper or brass.
They also found more prehistoric pottery, evidence dating to the first millennium A.D., of settlements along the modern-day Escambia River in Molino.
NorthEscambia.com will continue to follow the search for Mission San Joseph De Escambe near Molino, and we will keep you updated over the next few weeks. We will have more photos from the site, and we will let you know what the archaeologists find.
Editor’s Note: While we have mentioned that the archaeological dig is in the Molino area of North Escambia, we are not revealing the exact location at this point. It is all on private property (public access would be trespassing), and UWF wishes to protect the area until their work is done and to not compromise the integrity of any artifacts that might be in the area. Once the project is complete, we will publish an article with the exact location of the dig.
Pictured above: UWF Archeology students carefully sift through soil while search for artifacts near Molino. Pictured below: A piece of possibly 19th century pottery that was found during our visit. NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.