The Discovery of the Lost Mission of San Buenaventura De Potano

Author(s): Fred White

Year: 2012


The College of Central Florida - New World Archaeology Series

Documentary Interviews with:

Dr. Jerald T. Milanich, Curator Emeritus in Archaeology of the Florida Museum of Natural History

Dr. Michele C. White, Bioarchaeologist and Excavation Team,1539 De Soto Project Site

Dr. Alan M. Stahl, Curator of Numismatics, Princeton University

Ethan A. White, Site Survey, Grid Layout and Excavation Team, 1539 De Soto Project Site, Trinity Catholic Honors Program

Dr. Ashley White, Director of the Florida Archaeological Survey, Hernando De Soto Field School

In early 2003 a project began to find of one of the earliest Spanish missions established in what is now the United States, one which had been nearly lost from history. No one had yet to even locate the ancient town associated with the Franciscan outpost. The discovery of a mission from this period would add immeasurably to our knowledge of Indian history and what impact the European exposure had on this culture.

There are few extant seventeenth century documents that discuss central Florida and those that do, present serious difficulties in that they were not written with the purpose of turn by turn directions. They just provide descriptions of villages and census information. Some accounts did have travel distances so the decision was made to base a search around those notes and incorporate current archaeological findings. One good starting point was the religious chronicle and bibliographical rarity entitled Relacion de los martires que a avido en las provincias de la Florida, published in Madrid ca. 1617, by Luis Jerónimo de Oré. The son of a conquistador, Fray Oré spent his early years exploring South America. He became a Franciscan priest and was an expert linguist in Quechua and Aymara. Fray Oré traversed through La Florida to review the progress of the Catholic mission system in 1616. He left St. Augustine by canoe and made his way down the St. Johns River to the Ocklawaha River and then overland to the Native villages of the Potano. The extinct Potano hold a prominent name in history as conquistadors reportedly encamped with them during the first New World expeditions.

Very little is still known of the Potano, and their ancient villages are the ones we hoped to locate. Mission period history relays that in 1580 the Spanish established a visita named Apula in the town of Potano that had been visited by Hernando de Soto in 1539. A visita is a primitive mission without a resident priest.

It is known that the Potano moved from some of their pre-historic villages to Spanish occupied areas. Spanish priests set up the Apulo visita at the MR03538 site as it predates the Richardson site in European material culture and this area would have been central to several villages. At some period the mission activity of San Buenaventura de Potano was relocated to the Richardson site and our findings of non aboriginal features at that site concur.

Cite this Record

The Discovery of the Lost Mission of San Buenaventura De Potano. Fred White. Presented at College of Central Florida, New World Archaeology Series, Ocala, FL. 2012 ( tDAR id: 391660)


Spatial Coverage

min long: -82.634; min lat: 29.167 ; max long: -81.716; max lat: 29.717 ;