Tallahassee, the State Capital of Florida, lies just south of the State of Georgia in what is called “The Panhandle”, the large area of land that runs west along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, with the State of Alabama on its northern and western border.
The name ‘Tallahassee’ comes from the Muskogeon language of the Apalachee Indians who lived in this area prior to and at the time of the Spanish establishing their settlement here. Tallahassee means “Old Fields” named in reference to the Crops that the Apalachee people grew here.
In the early days of Spanish exploration Juan Ponce de Leon (1474-1521) had sailed to the East Coast of the Florida peninsula in 1813, naming ‘La Florida’, but had never ventured inland. In 1527-28 the Spanish explorer, Panfilo de Narvάez (1478-1528) stopped at the Bahia de Tampa (Tampa Bay) and then at Bahia Apalachee on his voyage from Santo Domingo in Hispaniola (Haiti), before heading further west to the Delta del Mississippi where his ships were wrecked, and he was forced to salvage what he could and build rafts to travel further. A storm however washed the rafts out to sea, and Panfilo is thought to have drowned at sea, although his second in command managed to survive and eventually make it to Mexico.
In 1539 a Spanish Expedition led by Hernando de Soto (1496-1542), the Governor of Cuba sailed from Cuba to Tampa Bay before heading north overland to Georgia, stopping to camp during the winter months in Anhaica, the main town of the Apalachee people, in what is now known as Tallahassee. Their campsite is thought to be where Governor Martin House is located in the Hernando de Soto State Park – 1022 De Soto Park Drive. At the end of the winter in 1540 the de Soto Expedition headed north into Georgia, before turning west towards the Mississippi River and returning to Cuba. In 1542 Hernando de Soto died from fever and his body was laid to rest in the Mississippi River.
Pensacola on the far west coast of Florida lays claim to be the oldest settlement in the United States, the settlement established in 1559, but later abandoned, and on the East Coast, St Augustine also makes this claim on the basis of it being continuously settled by the Spanish, being founded in 1565. If “camping” is considered a settlement, then equally Tallahassee could also make a claim to this title, given that the campsite was established in the Apalachee Village in 1539-40. All three locations were however lands occupied by the Native American tribes that lived in each of the areas prior to the arrival of the Spanish – the Timucuan Indians in St Augustine, Apalachee in Tallahassee and the Muscogee Creek Indians in Pensacola.
The relations between the Apalachee people and Spanish varied from friendly to hostile, but there were also inter-marriages too, and when children were born, they were called ‘Mestizo’ – their heritage being both Spanish and Indian. The Apalachee people grew crops – such as maize, beans and squash, as well as fishing and hunting for game. They also traded with other tribes, and long trodden pathways existed. When the Spanish arrived, they also used these pathways and in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s, a pathway, what became known as ‘El Camino Real’ connected St Augustine on the east coast to Tallahassee and on to Pensacola. Franciscan Friars established their missions along this trail, with the Trail given the prestigious name of the ‘Royal Road’ which would later connect all the way to the Royal Road “El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro’ that in 1598 had been built from Mexico City to near Santa Fe in New Mexico.
In 1633 two Franciscan Friars, Pedro Munóz and Francisco Martinez established the ‘San Luis de Inhayca’ mission in the Apalachee Village and then in 1656 ‘San Luis de Talimali’ was built where Tallahassee is now. The Mission consisted of the Village thatched roof houses, a plaza, meeting house, church, friary and blockhouse with the village gardens and crop areas just outside the village and mission. A palisade wall constructed from timber logs was also built as protection and in 1679 this palisade became the Fort Marcos de Apalachee, which housed some 45 Spanish soldiers with around 400 Apalachee Indians living in the village. This set up of a village with both Spanish and Apalachee being together in the one village was unusual, as in most of the Spanish settlements, the settlements were built around a ‘Plaza de Armas’ a central square.
The Mission San Luis de Talimali became an important settlement with its mix of Apalachee, Spanish settlers, Mestizo, friars, soldiers and workers. The mission however would not survive.
While Florida was under Spanish control, the British had control over the areas to the north including Georgia and South Carolina where ownership and trading in slaves was an established way of life for the plantation owners. Slaves began to realize that if they escaped, they would have a chance of freedom if they made it to Spanish controlled Florida.
In 1701 Britain had declared war on Spain and on France, and in the war that followed over the next couple of years, British forces with their Creek Indian allies from Georgia attacked the Florida Missions and Forts. Rather than let the British take control over the San Luis Mission, the Spanish and Apalachee in 1704 abandoned the Mission and set fire to it, with many of the Apalachee fleeing to Mobile in Alabama, and then later to Louisiana.
The San Marcos Fort was only rebuilt by the Spanish in 1718 using timber logs again, before they started rebuilding it using Flintstone and Limestone in 1739. It then passed into British hands between 1763 and 1783, back into Spanish control from 1787 to 1818 when US General Andrew Jackson and his troops waged war in Florida in the First Seminole War. The Fort and Florida in the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 led to Americans taking control over Florida from the Spanish. In the years to follow, the Old San Marcos Fort also came under the control of the US Marines, who used stone from the Fort to build a Military Hospital; then in 1861 under Confederate control in the Civil War until the end of the Civil War took place. The Fort and earthworks constructed by the Confederate Forces were then largely abandoned and left to ruin. Those ruins and the Fort’s history and museum can be seen today in the San Marcos de Palachee Historic State Park at 148 Old Fort Rd, St Marks. The Mission San Luis de Apalachee is located at 2100 West Tennessee Street, Tallahassee.
The old Battlefield between the Union Forces and Confederates – what was called the Battle of Natural Bridge is located at 7502 Natural Bridge Rd in Tallahassee. The Confederates won this battle and Tallahassee was the only southern city that was never captured by the Union forces during the Civil War. The City has a real southern feel about it still today, so a total contrast to cities like Miami.
There is a lot of history to see and learn about in Tallahassee, and these are some of the other historic places that you might like to visit –
Tallahassee has the Malls and other places to shop, and being just 20 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, there is great seafood, including oysters, as well as fresh garden produce from the farms to the north.
There are also all the big name hotels to stay at, but also smaller places too, with bike and walking trails, lakes, forest, the history, gardens and four seasons to enjoy. The Canopy roads are certainly something different to experience, and it is also good to see some of the small towns that are close to Tallahassee, such as Apalachicola on the Gulf Coast, Bloutstown (about 55 miles from Tallahassee) where there is the Panhandle Pioneer Village (see www.panhandlepioner.org ) set out on 5 acres of grounds with buildings from the 1820’s to 1940’s. Also for a really historic small town, head to Havana about 17 miles from Tallahassee (known for its antiques)and also to Thomasville in Georgia (about 35 miles north of Tallahassee). There are lots of historic buildings here, just one of them being the Pebble Hill Plantation (see www.pebblehill.org). There is also the Sweet Grass Dairy which makes a range of different cheeses. See www.sweetgrassdairy.com and the Birdsong Nature Center, 106 Meridian Road. There are walking tours of the old town center, and lots of things to see.
If new to the South, you must try some grits, and also another specialty, Boiled peanuts. Welcome to Tallahassee.