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Located Just west of the State Capitol you will find Mission San Luis, which is a living history site and National Historic Landmark. The Mission San Luis acted as the western capital of Spanish missions in Florida from 1656 to 1704. The 65-acre site is home to reconstructed period structures, including a Franciscan church, an Apalachee council house, and a Spanish residence and fort. Visitors can also view various exhibits in the visitor center that display artifacts recovered from archaeological digs on the site. Additional attractions include a gift shop and several spaces available for rent.

The reconstructed Francisan church was built in 2000. Its large size reflects the close ties between the Spanish and Apalachees and the social, economic and religious importance of the mission.

The reconstructed Francisan church was built in 2000. Its large size reflects the close ties between the Spanish and Apalachees and the social, economic and religious importance of the mission.

The replica Apalachee council

The replica Apalachee council

The visitor center

Sky, Plant, Building, Window

Spanish exploration and colonization of Florida and southeastern North America began in the early 1500s. Explorer Juan Ponce de León is believed to be the first European to reach Florida, leading his first expedition (to the east coast) in 1513 and the second (to the west coast) in 1521. He claimed the land for Spain and named it "La Florida." Other explorers, Pánfilo de Narváez and Hernando de Soto, led subsequent expeditions in 1528 and 1539, respectively. Sixteen years later, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés established St. Augustine on the east coast of Florida.

De Soto was the first European to camp in the Tallahassee area at an Apalachee Indian village called Anhaica Apalache (it was also called other names such as Yniahico), which would later become the site of Mission San Luis. As a "head war town," it was an important settlement in the Apalachee Province (an area in the northwestern part of the state) and likely why De Soto chose to camp there.

Some Apalachees welcomed the Spanish and converted to Catholicism. In 1607 (or 1608), the Anhaica chief traveled to St. Augustine to declare allegiance to Spain and ask if priests could come to the village. At the time, the Apalachees were suffering from disease and foreign attacks, prompting some to question the efficacy of tribal customs and leadership. As as a result, they turned to Spanish rule for guidance and a new faith. However, Spain did not make an effort to officially colonize the province until 1633, when it established the mission at Anhaica. Over the next two years, around 5,000 Apalachees converted to Catholicism.

In 1656, the Anhaica chief moved the mission to the second-highest hill in Tallahassee. It is likely the chief made this decision in order to maintain his alliance with the Spanish, who viewed the new site in strategic terms. He also agreed to build a fortified house for soldiers. Soon Anhaica became the western Spanish capital in Florida and was one of the largest Spanish missions in Florida. Over 1,500 people lived here, including the Spanish deputy governor and Apalachee chiefs and their families, who lived in thatch-covered houses surrounding a central plaza. The largest building was the council house, which could accommodate 2,000 to 3,000 people. There was also a church, friary, and a detached kitchen.

Over the next several decades, the mission prospered. The Spanish and Apalachees lived together side-by-side, blending bloodlines and culture. They grew crops, raised non-native domesticated animals, and traded with other peoples in the region. Some chiefs even learned to read and write. Apalachee men engaged in warfare were trained in European weapons, served as sentries, and received military titles. Other men worked as farmers, ranch hands, or semi-skilled laborers. Apalachee women were encouraged to marry Spanish men and it is possible they considered intermarriage as means to upward mobility (another appealing contributing factor to intermarriage was the fact that mixed children, who were called as mestizos, were not required to become manual laborers). Other native women became servants or mistresses. In addition to the Apalachees and Spanish soldiers and priest, Spanish families began arriving in 1675 and lived in square houses close to the central square. The Spanish often treated the Apalachees poorly and forced them to work, sometimes with little to no pay.

The end of Mission San Luis came on July 31, 1704. For many years before that, tension had been building between Spain and England, as escaped enslaved people from the English-controlled Carolinas fled to Florida where they were granted freedom. War broke out between England and allies Spain and France in 1701 (the War of Spanish Succession) and the conflict spilled over to the colonies in America. Over the course of the war, most of the Spanish missions in Florida and Georgia were destroyed. However, mission San Luis was well protected and not attacked for a long time. Before the English (and their native allies) arrived, villagers set the mission on fire and fled. Some went to St. Augustine, whose fort was still standing, and others traveled to a French mission in Mobile. A portion of the villagers assimilated with the Creek Indians. 

In 1983, the state bought fifty acres of the mission site but rebuilding and formal research and archaeological investigation did not begin until 1998. The mission church was rebuilt in 2000 and the fort (Castillo de San Luis) in 2007. The visitor center opened in 2009. It appears the council house was also erected in the early 2000s.

"A 17th Century Florida Mission." Accessed May 11, 2015.

"About Mission San Luis." Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources. Accessed May 11, 2015.

"The Apalachees of Northwest Florida." Florida Center for Instructional Technology. 2000.

"History." Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources. Accessed January 10, 2023.