RALEIGH – In a place called Xuala, Joara, Cuena, and now Morganton, the 16th century Spanish explorer Capt. Juan Pardo and his men constructed a fort. Garrisoned with 30 soldiers and called Fort San Juan, it was the largest of several fortifications Pardo constructed. Within two years all were destroyed. The memory of Fort San Juan will be honored by the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources with a N. C. Highway Historical Marker dedication on Aug. 15, at 11 a.m., at McDowell House on St. Mary’s Church Rd. The marker will stand at Green St. and Bost Rd. in Morganton.
In May 1568, word reached Santa Elena, now Parris Island, Fla., that the forts had been destroyed by American Indians for reasons unknown. Evidence suggests that during the 18 months the Spanish made too many demands on their hosts and may have behaved inappropriately with native women. Today the archaeological site near Morganton continues to produce artifacts that support the theory that the tract was the location of Fort San Juan The 12 acre tract, known as the Berry Site, belongs to the Berry family and has yielded artifacts including Spanish olive jars, pieces of chain mail, pipes, and other articles consistent with long-term occupation. The excavated buildings are appropriate to a 16th century Spanish fort, and more significantly, the buildings were all burned at the same time.
Each summer the public is invited to volunteer at the Berry Site for an archaeological field school. The site has born many names as a result of early European and American Indian contact. By any name it is among premier archaeological site in America.
For additional information about the marker dedication, contact Dr. David Moore at (828) 298-3325. For information about the Highway Marker Program, contact Ansley Wegner at (919) 807-7290. The Highway Marker Program, within the Office of Archives and History, is administered by the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, the state agency dedicated to the promotion and protection of North Carolina’s arts, history and culture. Now podcasting 24/7 information about the Department of Cultural Resources at w.ncculture.com.