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Beginning in the second half of the 16th century, Spain established a number of missions throughout Florida in order to convert the population of Native Americans to Christianity, to take control of the areas and to prevent colonization by other countries, specifically England and France.
The bulk of these missions took place in northern Florida and southeastern Georgia and were divided into main four provinces. The term “province” was used to define the territory of a tribe or chiefdom, but there were no fixed boundaries of each province.
Most of the people taken into the mission system were Timucua speakers. The Timucua Province was originally established to serve the people known to the Spanish as the Timucua, who spoke the “Timucua proper dialect.” However, in time, it absorbed several other provinces of Timucua dialect and became the largest of all of the Florida mission districts.
The Timucua Province consisted of the area between the St. Johns and Suwannee River, and years later, the Yustaga Province, which served the Yustaga who lived to the east of the Suwannee River and as far as the Aucilla River, was added to the Timucua Province. The Timucua Province covered the majority of North, Central Florida.
In fact, the Yustaga held several colonial Spanish missions within Madison County, but most of these sites were abandoned after the 1656 Timucua Rebellion and again after the 1702-1704 raids by South Carolina militia troops and allied Indians.
These missions included:
San Francisco de Chuaquin (1623 - 1656), in Madison County near Hansen.
San Pedro y San Pablo de Potohiriba (1) (1623 - 1656), in Madison County at Lake Sampala, west of Hopewell
San Pedro de Potohiriba (2) (1656 – 1704), in Madison County, on the east-side of San Pedro Bay
Santa Elena de Machava (1628 - 1704), in Madison County, on Alligator Creek, west of Sirmans
San Idelfonso de Chamile (1628 - 1656), in Madison County near Spray or Dennet
San Miguel de Asile (2) (1656 - 1704 ), in Madison County, southeast of Lamont
San Pedro de Potohiriba was established in the Madison County area on the Old Spanish Trail, which was conceived in 1915 as the shortest route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and connects St. Augustine and San Diego. The first courthouse in Madison County was erected at San Pedro, as it was the county seat from 1828 to 1838, according to a historical marker located on State Road 360, near junction with State Road 14. San Pedro was located about 10 miles south of Madison and was on a post road from Tallahassee to Jacksonville.
To learn more about the Spanish missions in Florida, visit www.northamericanforts.com/East/flmiddle or www.nps.gov/timu/learn/historyculture/missions.