guale Indians, Native American Indians, guale uprising
The University of North Florida

College Students Stumble Upon Centuries-Old Murder Mystery

October 15, 2008 07:58 AM
by Lindsey Chapman
Students from the University of North Florida have found evidence that challenges a long-accepted explanation for the death of five Franciscan friars.

The Guale Uprising

When students in a Spanish paleography class translated a document written more than 410 years ago, they found “a 16th-century murder mystery,” according to The Florida Times-Union.

The letter they translated relates to the 1597 Guale Indian uprising in Spanish Florida, during which five Franciscan friars were killed.

Historians have long viewed the friars as martyrs, allegedly killed for chastising a baptized Indian who married a second wife. However, one of the paleography students and her professor, Michael Francis, are writing a book challenging that idea. “There’s no smoking gun in any of the investigation,” Francis told The Florida Times-Union.

Francis said his ideas haven’t been confirmed, but there is a chance the friars disrupted Guale politics, or were somehow responsible for their own demise.

“I was under this mistaken impression that everything had already been done about Spanish Florida,” Francis said. “But what these students found in their projects is that it’s in its infancy. There are 50 more years of projects to be done.”

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has honored the friars, and there is even a petition before the Vatican to have the men named as saints. The report that makes the case to have the men canonized took 23 years to assemble, and consists of almost 500 pages.

Rev. Conrad Harkins has overseen research into the lives and deaths of the friars. For a person to be declared a saint, there must be proof that a miracle or martyrdom took place. Those studying the friars have found letters to King Philip III describing their deaths.

“Death resulted because of their unwillingness to water down the teaching of the faith,” Bishop J. Kevin Boland told The Augusta Chronicle. Rev. Harkins said, “This case, despite the amount of time it has taken, is really very simple. You’re either going to accept the historical documents or you’re not.”

Historical Context: Meeting the Guale Indians

In coastal Georgia, the Guale Indians (pronounced “wally”) were some of the first indigenous people who Europeans met when exploring north of Mexico, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia. Starting in the 1560s, the Spanish conducted extensive mission activity in the area. There weren’t many Spanish colonists, so missions were established to help settle the region.

Related Topic: Newly-named saints

Reference: Paleography


Most Recent Beyond The Headlines