The Search for San Miguel de Gualdape

The late archaeologist James L. Michie of Coastal Carolina University conducted extensive archaeological and historical research to determine the location of San Miguel de Gualdape, one of the first European settlements in the New World.  In 1991, Michie was granted permission to conduct an archaeological survey on the shores of Winyah Bay just a short distance from Hobcaw House.

San Miguel de Gualdape was settled by Spanish explorer Lucas Vazquez de Allyon in the mid-sixteenth century. Allyon received a patent from King Charles V to establish a colony in the New World, and in July of 1526 Allyon set sail from the island of Hispaniola for North America. His  six ships, carrying at least 600 people, including women, children, Dominican friars, and African slave, made landfall near Cape Fear, North Carolina. Seeking a suitable location for a settlement, they moved south along the coast until somewhere, possibly in the vicinity of Hobcaw Barony, the lead ship, Capitana, struck a sandbar and sank, carrying with it most of the supplies. Traveling further south, the colonists finally found the well-drained high ground they were seeking and established the colony they called San Miguel de Guadalpe.

A series of tragedies struck the settlement shortly after its founding, dooming it to failure. In addition to the hardship brought on by the lack of supplies, the colonists suffered an outbreak of malaria that swept through the village during the heat of the summer and took many lives, including Allyon’s. Soon after, a revolt broke out among the leadership and a number of settlers were killed. Following this, the African slaves rebelled against the harsh treatment they received, and when the insurrection failed, were executed. The approaching winter drove the discouraged settlers, numbering only 150, to abandon the colony and return to the Caribbean.

The location of San Miguel de Gualdape is currently unknown, although many historians and archaeologists – including James Michie – have attempted to determine its whereabouts. In 1991 Michie conducted a number of surface tests near the grounds of Hobcaw House. His project did not yield evidence of a sixteenth century Spanish colony, but he did find numerous eighteenth century artifacts that indicate European colonization.

In 2015  a team of archaeologists from the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology (SCIAA), led by Dr. Karen Smith, began reexamining James Michie’s findings and rehabilitating the artifacts he collected. This  has led to new archaeological work on the grounds of Hobcaw House and in Winyah Bay in front of the property, as a result of which the team has discovered a number of Native American and historic artifacts. In the video below Dr. Smith outlines the process of conducting a new archaeological survey and reevaluating a study done 25 years ago.

Archaeology at Hobcaw from Between the Waters on Vimeo.

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