Joara Exhibit Available Until Spring 2019

Joara Exhibit Available at History Museum Until Spring 2019, Then Will Move to Western Carolina University

Those of you who want to see the Joara exhibit at the History Museum, for the first time or for a repeat visit, have just a few more months to see it. On loan from Exploring Joara Foundation, the exhibit is the first formal museum exhibit showcasing Fort San Juan and Joara, a large Native American town in the late 16th century. It was developed as part of the celebration of the 450th Anniversary of the Juan Pardo Expeditions, during the 1560s, and tells the story of Spanish exploration and the founding of a fort in what is present-day Burke County. At a date still to be determined, the exhibit will move to the main exhibit gallery at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee.

Archaeologists identified the site near Morganton as the location of Joara, one of the largest Native American towns in what is today western North Carolina. The town was occupied from approximately A.D. 1400 to A.D. 1600. Hernando de Soto and Juan Pardo, Spanish explorers, visited the town in the 1560’s. In 2013, archaeologists confirmed that the town was also the site of Fort San Juan, established by Juan Pardo in 1567, nearly 20 years before the English settlement at Roanoke on the coast of North Carolina and 40 years before the English settlement at Jamestown in Virginia. The discovery of the fort, the earliest European settlement in the interior of what is now the United States, has changed history books.

Spanish soldiers lived at Fort San Juan from January 1567 until approximately June 1568. The relationship between the soldiers and the residents of Joara deteriorated and resulted in almost all the soldiers being killed and the fort being burned. The Spanish, who had been seeking gold, did not find it and soon quit their colonization efforts in the area.

Joara, along with a number of other Native American towns, was abandoned by the time the English, Scots-Irish, and German settlers moved into the area in the 1700s.

The campus of Western Carolina University is built on the site of a Cherokee town. The university enjoys sharing information through exhibits and lectures about the people who have inhabited western North Carolina through the centuries.

Nancy VanNoppen