Mission San Luis de Apalachee
The Mission San Luis de Apalachee was first built by the Spanish in 1633, housing both Franciscan friars and Spanish soldiers in addition to the Apalachees until its abandonment in 1704 due to invading forces. Over 1,400 Native Apalachees and Spanish lived here during that time, the natives being organized to grow crops to support the fort at St. Augustine and also be converted to Christianity. The Mission buildings were reconstructed in the 1990s just askew of the archaeological foundations and provide a tantalizing glimpse of life here in the 1770s. The recreation of the Mission was excellent and felt very natural.
What brings this Mission to life however are the volunteers who portray actual historical figures. Though this living model can sometimes feel stilted in other historical reconstructions, the volunteers here were extremely – and I do mean extremely – knowledgeable and able to provide a great deal of information. I believe I was lucky to visit on a day in which I only saw one other visitor because it gave me an opportunity to spend multiple hours with these individuals, who were happy to talk to me about details of mission life that I would have otherwise not known.
Two of my favorite volunteers were brothers Daniel and Thomas who were working at the blacksmith shop. Because they seemed so young (or I’m just getting old) I admit I was initially surprised that they were working unsupervised with flames flying but they very obviously knew their craft and their poise was far beyond their years. I was given a demonstration on to create a nail and was allowed to keep the final product, which is now my good luck charm in my car. They were able to answer any question I threw at them, both technical and historical, though sadly as I write this a month later I’ve forgotten some of the technical terms. But I was so impressed. Thanks, guys!
My other favorite volunteer was portraying an Apalachee woman at the Council House. Though she and I spoke for at least an hour and a half, I completely neglected to get her name or take a picture. This young woman had immense knowledge of the Apalachee Tribe, not just historical, but relating to their struggles for recognition today and their present-day use of the reconstructed Council House. Our conversation drifted naturally into Native American politics and I was overwhelmed with the amount of knowledge and insights she had into current and past situations. It was one of the most enlightening conversations I’ve had in a long time.
In summary, the Mission San Luis de Apalachee was a wonderful stop on my journey, but what made it excellent was the knowledge of the volunteers. I would highly recommend going and talking with the amazing people who dedicate their time to making the mission come alive.