DeSoto Encampment Historical Site

When Hernando DeSoto landed in Tampa Bay in May 1539, he was disappointed. He was hoping to find gold and silver; instead he found Cayusa Native Americans who had no wealth for him. But they told stories of a large trading city to the north, among a tribe known as the Appalachee. So DeSoto took about 600 people with him and traveled north. In the winter of 1539 he found the Appalachee village known as “Anhaica”, which, to his disappointment, also had no gold or silver. Deciding to stay for the winter, DeSoto’s troops expelled the Appalachee from the village and took over, putting up a stockade fence for protection. The Natives made several attacks on the fortress, and also ambushed any Spaniards who went outside to gather water or firewood. DeSoto, faced with constant hostility and finding nothing to plunder, left in the spring. He would eventually make it all the way to the Mississippi River before dying of a fever in 1542.

In succeeding centuries, the Appalachee tribes left the area, and the former site of Anhaica was occupied by the Miccosukee, who called it “Tallahassee”. After Florida was ceded to the US in 1821, the territorial government decided to establish its capitol in Tallahassee, mostly because it was midway between the two large cities of St Augustine and Pensacola.

In 1924, the Mayor of Jacksonville, John Martin, was elected Governor and moved to Tallahassee. After serving two terms, he built a home, which he called “Appalachee”, on 27 acres of land on the edge of town. In 1986, the Martin House was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and was obtained by the State of Florida.

In 1987, archaeologist B. Calvin Jones was doing some excavating at the site of the Gov Martin House when he came upon some unusual artifacts—links of chainmail armor, the iron head of a crossbow bolt, and pig bones. It turned out that the house had been unknowingly built upon the long-forgotten site where DeSoto had made his winter camp in 1539.

Today, the site is a small state-owned park, and the Governor Martin House is the headquarters building for the Bureau of Archaeological Research.

Here are a few photos from a visit (unfortunately there are no displays or museum at the site).

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