The History Museum

of Burke County

Exhibit – Unearthing Our Forgotten Past

Exploring Joara Foundation announced that the first formal museum exhibit featuring Fort San Juan and Joara, a large Native American town, has been opened at The History Museum of Burke County. The museum will be hosting this interactive exhibit from 2017-2019.

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As part of celebrations for “The Spanish and Indian Colonial Trail: 450th Anniversary of the Juan Pardo Expeditions, 1567-2017”, the exhibit chronicles the Spanish incursion into the area of present day Burke County.

The Berry site was named for the current landowners. Archaeologists have identified the site as the location of the Native American town of Joara, one of the largest Native American towns in western North Carolina. The town was visited by the Spanish explorers Hernando de Soto (1540) and Juan Pardo (1567).  In 2013, archaeologists confirmed that this site is also the site of the Spanish Fort San Juan, established by Juan Pardo in 1567. Fort San Juan predates Roanoke by nearly 20 years and Jamestown by 40 years. The fort was one of several established by Spanish soldiers seeking to establish an overland route to Mexico.

Joara was occupied from about A.D. 1400-1600. During the mid-16th century, Joara is thought to have been among the largest Native American towns in North America.  Joara, was visited by the Hernando de Soto expedition in 1540 and by the Juan Pardo expedition from 1567-68. Pardo built a fort at Joara. This fort, Fort San Juan was the earliest European settlement in the interior of what is now the United States.

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Spanish soldiers lived at Fort San Juan for 18 months, from January 1567 until about June 1568. During the spring of 1568, relations between the Spaniards and the native peoples of Joara ended violently, with nearly all the soldiers killed and the fort being burned and destroyed. (The Native American population burned the six forts established by Juan Pardo and killed all but one of the 120 Spanish soldiers stationed in those garrisons.)  Soon thereafter, the Spanish ended their colonizing effort in the southeastern interior.

By the time most English, Scots-Irish, and German settlers arrived in the area in the 18th century, Joara and many of the other native towns in the region had been abandoned.

We invite the community to visit the museum free of charge.