A recently rediscovered archeological report, published as a letter to the editor in the Dec. 24, 1869, edition of the Bristol News (a precursor of the Bristol Herald Courier), serves as the earliest confirmation of the long-known Spanish presence in this region in the 16th century – and of the story of conquistadors attacking Yuchi Indians in Virginia in 1567.
Thirty years ago, archeological evidence for that Spanish presence was found at the site of Fort San Juan at Morganton, N.C., 75 miles due south of Saltville, Va. Some call that site "The first lost colony," referring to its being two decades older than the failed settlement of Sir Walter Raleigh in 1584 on the Carolina coast.
The 1869 editorial letter describes the excavation of a burial mound containing the body of a Spanish soldier. The mound was about 15 miles east of Bristol, near the route of today's Appalachian Trail.
In his 1869 report, T. C. King wrote that the mound was in a "gloomy gorge" on Jacob's Creek, in Sullivan County. There are two branches of Jacob's Creek. Both originate near the Johnson County line and flow into what today is South Holston Lake. King stumbled on the mound while out with a party of men on a "hunting excursions."
That buried Spanish soldier doubtless participated in the raid led by Hernando Moyano on the Indian town of Maniatique (now Saltville) in 1567. During 1566-68, Juan Pardo commanded two expeditions from Santa Elena (today's Parris Island) into what is now East Tennessee. Moyano was a deputy to Pardo, though acting independently when he went to Maniatique.
Sixteenth century Spanish documents say Moyano went north from Fort San Juan to make his attack.
The burial mound found by King lies close to Moyano's route.
Since I first wrote about Moyano's attack on Saltville in 1567 (in a 2004 Smithfield Review article), the account has become mainstream Virginia history. The Library of Virginia's online chronology states for 1567 "A Spanish party under the command of Hernando Moyano attacked a Holstonia town at the site of Saltville in Washington County."
Virginia Tech history professor Peter Wallenstein included the story in his one-volume Virginia history book, Cradle of America: Four Centuries of Virginia History (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2007). Over the past decade, reports of the conquistadors at Saltville have appeared in newspapers such as the Washington Post, Richmond Times Dispatch and Roanoke Times.
In an article I published in the Bristol Herald Courier last summer ("Evidence suggests Holstonians could have been Yuchi,") I made the case that it was Yuchi Indians who suffered Moyano's attack.
I first learned of this stunning new evidence in March, in an email message from my Bristol acquaintance Wilma Smith. She told me her friend Amy Bryant Fuller had been studying the 1869 Bristol News on microfilm and had seen the name "De Soto." From that lead, searching the online digital edition of the Bristol News at the Library of Congress, I found T. C. King's archeological report.
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the European claim to Florida. In April 1513, Ponce de León made landfall on the northeast coast of the Florida peninsula. In commemoration of that event, the Florida Historical Quarterly published a special volume devoted to 16th century Florida history. It was edited by the distinguished historian Paul Hoffman, who years earlier had translated the Spanish documents relating to the Pardo expeditions.
Hoffman was the first historian I emailed with news of the find of the buried soldier. He promptly emailed back: "Congratulations on finding this new evidence."
The story of Virginia, in its traditional telling, begins with the Jamestown settlement in 1607. Now, there is compelling evidence that Virginia was Florida before it was Virginia.
Over the past few years, some Bristol-area residents have heaped scorn and sarcasm on the story of conquistadors attacking Yuchi Indians in Virginia in 1567. As the story becomes ever more concrete, opposition is increasingly seen to be politically motivated and disrespectful of the solidifying historical truth.
Jim Glanville is a retired professor who lives in Blacksburg, Va. He holds a doctorate degree in chemistry and frequently speaks about the history of southwest Virginia and northeast Tennessee, including a couple presentations at the Bristol Public Library.