Fort San Juan – Joara – Xuala- The Berry Site


All of these are names for the same place, the primary fort built by Juan Pardo during his 1566-1567 foray into heartland America, near present day Morgantown, NC, in Burke County.  But in case you thought he was the first, he wasn’t.  Spanish conquistador Hernando De Soto beat him by more than 20 years.  He visited this area in 1540, almost 70 years before the English settlement at Jamestown and 47 years before sir Walter Raleigh’s “Lost Colony” at Roanoke Island.

The map above shows the Joara site, spelled Xuala, from a 1584 Spanish map of La Florida.  The map below shows DeSoto’s believed route.

de soto map

The site, known at the Berry Site, has been being excavated in the summers now for several years, beginning in 2000.  Recently , the New York Times published an update on this year’s dig.  In July of 2013, archaeologists announced that they have found the actual Spanish fort itself, shown below.  Be sure to watch the video in the article.

joara fort excavation

Archaeological finds from excavations have established evidence of both substantial Mississippian and sustained Spanish 16th-century settlement at the Berry site.

Established about AD 1000, Joara was the largest Mississippian culture settlement within the current boundaries of North Carolina.  In 1540, Spanish conquistador Hernando De Soto encountered the people at this chiefdom site.  It was still thriving in January 1567 when the Spanish soldiers under Captain Juan Pardo arrived.  Pardo established a base there for the winter, called the settlement Cuenca, and built Fort San Juan. After 18 months, the natives killed the soldiers at the fort and burned the structures down. That same year, 1568, the natives destroyed all six forts in the southeast interior and killed all but one of the 120 men Pardo had stationed in them. As a result, the Spanish ended their colonizing effort in the southeastern interior and the Native people apparently abandoned this site.

The Warren Wilson College site has a wonderful page on the dig, pictures of several artifacts and maps of Pardo’s expedition.

This Science Daily article shows a photo with the moat and other features overlaid over the excavation shown in the photo above.

Hat tip to Doug for the NY Times article and to Joy for the Science Daily article.

About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in Archaeology, Berry Site, Joara. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Fort San Juan – Joara – Xuala- The Berry Site

  1. angie says:

    In the history I have read, the Catawba were in Cofitechequi and Joara is a Cheraw (or Sara site).
    This area was the Essaw Nation, which included many Siouan tribes. The pottery from what I have read is also exactly alike. So is this not an Essaw nation site? I believe it is, which includes all of those little villages who spoke Siouan. Sometimes it seems there is not clarification and that
    one tribe closes in on something and the full evidence is not there. What evidence sets apart Catawba from everyone else who was located there? These groups of Siouan speaking languages all were one confederation, were they not?

  2. Sandy Berry says:

    May I ask why this area is called the Berry site? Anything to do with the lost colonists named Berry? I ask because my husband’s ancestors (Berry) are from the Drowning Creek area of NC, where many Lumbees still live.

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