Catholicism and Native Americans in Early North America: Parish, Church, and Mission

Catholicism and Native Americans in Early North America: Parish, Church, and Mission

by Kathleen Deagan (Editor)
Catholicism and Native Americans in Early North America: Parish, Church, and Mission

Catholicism and Native Americans in Early North America: Parish, Church, and Mission

by Kathleen Deagan (Editor)


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Catholicism and Native Americans in Early North America interrogates the profound cultural impacts of Catholic policies and practice in La Florida during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Catholicism and Native Americans in Early North America explores the ways in which the church negotiated the founding of a Catholic society in colonial America, beginning in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565. Although the church was deeply involved in all aspects of daily life and institutional organization, the book underscores the tensions inherent in creating and sustaining a Catholic tradition in an unfamiliar and socially diverse population.

Using new primary academic scholarship, the contributors explore missionaries’ accommodations to Catholic practice in the process of conversion; the ways in which social and racial differentiation were played out in the treatment of the dead; Native literacy and the production of religious texts; the impacts of differing conversion philosophies among various religious orders; and the historical and theological backgrounds of Catholicism in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century America. Bringing together insights from archaeology, social history, linguistics, and theology, this groundbreaking volume moves beyond the missions to reveal how Native people, friars, secular priests, and Spanish parishioners practiced Catholicism across what is now the southeastern United States.

Contributors: Kathleen Deagan, Keith Ashley, George Aaron Broadwell, José Antonio Crespo-Francés Y Valero, Timothy J. Johnson, Rochelle Marrinan, Susan Richbourg Parker, David Hurst Thomas, Gifford Waters

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780268207557
Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press
Publication date: 04/15/2024
Pages: 374
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.69(d)

About the Author

Kathleen Deagan is Distinguished Research Curator Emerita and Lockwood Professor Emerita of Caribbean and Florida Archaeology at the University of Florida’s Florida Museum of Natural History. She received the J. C. Harrington Award from the Society for Historical Archaeology in 2004. Deagan is co-author of Columbus’s Outpost among the Taínos and co-author of Fort Mose: Colonial America’s Black Fortress of Freedom.

Read an Excerpt

Secular priests attended Menendez’s founding of St. Augustine, and within a year, Jesuit friars began ministering to La Florida’s original inhabitants. Menendez’s plan was to station Jesuits at missions and garrison outposts in strategic locations along the coastal frontier of La Florida, from south Florida to Chesapeake Bay. In effect, Spain’s goal was to create a “pax hispanica” that would assimilate a subjugated Native population, an endeavor that ultimately failed (see also Thomas, this volume Chapter 4). Among the earliest Jesuit missionaries was Fray Pedro Martinez, who on his maiden voyage to La Florida in 1567 became lost, went ashore for directions, and was allegedly killed by several Mocama Indians somewhere between Ft. George and Cumberland islands. Menendez blamed Tacatacuru for this killing and others, leading him to order the capture and death of the Mocama leader. Sensing failure, beleaguered Jesuits officials formally ended missionary efforts in La Florida in 1572.

Responsibility for missionizing among the Indigenous peoples soon fell to brown-robed friars of the Franciscan Order. After first landing in St. Augustine in 1573, the number of friars grew slowly, with missionaries dispersing from St. Augustine to the Mocama frontier in 1587 and north to Guale territory in 1595. As friars gained entrance into these new locations—by being invited to join these communities by Indigenous leaders—existing Native towns within the mission system became known to the Spanish as doctrinas and visitas. Doctrinas were mission communities with a sturdy church and a convento to house a resident friar. Unlike Spanish missions in California, these symbols of Spanish affiliation—fashioned of wood, clay, and thatch by Native hands—have been lost to the ravages of nature and time. Nearby Native settlements, tethered to a doctrina, “were pueblos de visita, so called because one of the [doctrina] fathers visited them periodically to catechize, preach, and say mass.” These outlying visitas purportedly maintained a small church or open chapel to serve the liturgical needs of the visiting friar. Each Mocama town retained its own council house, which continued to serve as the center of community politics. Beyond the mission compound, cleared and maintained cornfields and smaller agricultural plots surrounded domestic houses, as farming intensified to satisfy the demands of both the resident friar and colonial tribute. Regardless of Spanish status as a doctrina or visita, these settlements remained Indigenous communities.

Community leaders retained, and possibly even enhanced, their community authority during mission times. The La Florida colony relied heavily on the cooperation of community leaders, because securing their allegiance enabled conversion, or what the Spanish viewed as conversion, to trickle down through the political hierarchy. Within the colonial system, loyal “chiefs” received rewards in the form of prized gifts, heightened status, and exemption from tribute and other labor requirements. Pages of Spanish parchment testify to the persistence of Indigenous chiefly titles and elite honors (perhaps in name only) throughout the colonial period among missioned Mocama, Timucua, Guale, and Apalachee.

Among the Mocama, missionization began circa 1587 with the naissance of San Juan del Puerto on Fort George Island, Florida and San Pedro de Mocama on Cumberland Island, Georgia. A common practice among the Franciscans of La Florida was to build a mission compound within a chiefdom’s principal town, once permission to live there had been secured. With this said, it is not surprising that San Pedro was emplaced at the town of Tacatacuru, but it is curious that Alimacani was chosen for the site of San Juan over the former capital town of Saturiwa. The latter may have lost its paramountcy following the death of its namesake, although mission period documents never mention Saturiwa as a person or community. Perhaps it resurfaces in Spanish texts under a new name such as San Pablo, a visita of San Juan located on the river’s south side near its mouth.

Two additional Spanish missions emerged among the Mocama during the early years of the seventeenth century. The visita of Santa María de la Sena on Amelia Island, Florida, and an upstart doctrina named San Buenaventura de Guadalquini on St. Simons Island, Georgia each received resident friars. These four doctrinas along with scores of visitas comprised the San Pedro or Mocama Province during the early 1600s.

While clergy worked to save souls, they could not save lives, as disease swept across portions of the Southeast. Mission populations suffered demographic decline via lethal pathogens introduced by Old World peoples and animals to which the American Indians had no defense. Spanish documents identify a series of deadly epidemics among the Mocama between the 1590s and 1650s. The deleterious impact of disease was one component of the structural violence inflicted on Indigenous population through a political and economic framework of colonization that led to weakening health and death. Another contributing factor to Mocama depopulation was outmigration on the part of those disillusioned with the new world order imposed by the Spanish. To combat population losses and to better control those who remained, friars eventually sought to move the residents of nearby visitas to doctrinas. In fact, the last San Juan visita, Vera Cruz, was relocated to the doctrina by 1630. In the Mocama province, the number of Indian continued to drop despite the transfer of hinterland Timucua of southeastern Georgia to the missions of San Juan and San Pedro.

(excerpted from chapter 6)

Table of Contents

A Word to the Reader by Santiago Cabanas, Ambassador of Spain to the United States

Foreword by Cándido Creís Estrada, Former Consul General of Spain

Introduction by Kathleen Deagan

1. St. Augustine's Parishioners: The Heart of the Community by Susan Parker

2. Death and Burial in Spanish St. Augustine by Kathleen Deagan

3. Mission And Shrine, Nombre De Dios and Nuestra Señora de la Leche y Buen Parto, 1587-1763 by Kathleen Deagan

4. Georgia’s Long-Lost Spanish Missions by David Hurst Thomas

5. Legacies of Literacies: Fray Francisco Pareja and Timucuan Communities in Colonial Spanish Florida by George A. Broadwell and Timothy I. Johnson

6. Doctrinas and Visitas among the Mocama by Keith Ashley

7. Spanish Missions of North-Central Florida by Gifford Waters

8. Apalachee Province by Rochelle Marrinan

9. The Dream of an Order: Pedro Menéndez de Aviles and the Catholic Church in Florida by Juan Antonio Crespo-Francés

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