This is a history of the town and surrounding area of Archer, from earliest known times up to the start of the Twentieth Century. Archer is located in the southwest corner of Alachua County on gently rolling hammock land.
The first human occupants in the area were Paleo Indians, who made camps near Archer approximately ten thousand years ago. The only evidence left of these early people are spearheads, scrapers and other stone tools.
By the time Columbus discovered the New World in 1492, the
Indians in Florida had begun to settle into more or less permanent
villages, in loose tribal federations. The spot where Archer would
someday be built lay in the heart of the Timucuan province.
Villages dotted the area. Constructed near water or on fertile
ground, these villages were laid out roughly in squares and
contained anywhere from 25 to 250 buildings. The early Spanish
explorers described these buildings as rectangular in shape, with
sides thatched with grass or palmettos, and having a peaked roof
of cane cut to resemble tiles. The center of the village was set
aside for the public buildings such as the long house, the public
square and the 'chunky yard' or playing field. Surrounding the village was a palisade of logs.
The first Europeans in the area were Spanish explorers and adventurers looking for glory and riches, In 1540 Hernando De Soto and 600 of his followers passed northward through Alachua County, cutting towards the Suwannee River from Ocala; their route passed several miles to the east of Archer. While in the area, somewhere between Ocala and Old Town, De Soto fought a pitched two-day battle against Vitachuco, the ruler of Timucua, and several hundred of his Indian warriors. De Soto inflicted heavy casualties on the Timucuans and killed Vitachuco.
After these early explorations the Spanish concentrated settling on the coasts and rivers of Florida and only gradually penetrated inland. The first attempts to settle the interior came from missionaries who sought to Christianize the Indians, Proselyting started in 1608 in Timucua, and by 1675, when Spanish power and influence were at their zenith, there were many Christianized Indians living near the nine missions located in the province. Also, along with the missionaries came military garrisons and a number of ranchers and planters.
One of the missions of the Timucuans, the mission of San Francisco de Potano, was located in the southern part of Alachua County, near Archer, northwest of Payne's Prairie, possibly at Fox Pond, Like its sister missions, it was constructed of local materials, which probably included wattle-and-daub walls and a tamped clay floor.
San Francisco de Potano was attacked and burned in 1703 by
Colonel James Moore, who led a ragtag army of 80 North Carolinians
and 1500 Creek Indians, into Spanish Florida on a raid. The
Christianized Indians living near the mission were either tortured
and killed or carried off as slaves; those few who did escape fled
far away from the area. Soldiers and priests rebuilt the mission.
In 1705 the British had managed to completely destroy the Apalachee
missions and the few survivors from Ivitachuco arrived at San
Francisco de Potano to reinforce the garrison there; this mission
which at one time had been in the heart of the Timucuan province now stood as the western-most outpost of the Spanish. Finally, in 1706, after enduring another year of unrelenting raids, the mission was finally abandoned and the survivors made their way overland to the comparative safety and protection of St. Augustine.
The British and Creek Indian raids continued for some years after the closing of the missions. By the time Spain relinquished Florida to Great Britain in 1763, the interior of the state was devoid of people. Of the 15,000 Indians estimated to have populated Florida before the coming of the Spanish less than two hundred years earlier, only 83 remained to sail away with them to Cuba.
British colonization was similar to Spanish in that it concentrated on developing towns on the seacoasts and waterways in Florida. The interior of the state was largely ignored by the British. However, by the late 1760's-early 1770's several offshoot tribes of Creek Indians began moving into Florida. Called Seminoles by the whites, these Indians came to Florida after being pushed off their original lands by white expansion, and after a bitter political factionalization that occurred within the Creek nation. They found the interior of the state to be rich in natural game and abounding with cattle, hogs and horses which had been left by the Spanish, One group of Seminoles called the Latchoways moved into the Alachua County area and allied themselves to the British at St. Augustine. During the American Revolution they helped defend the city from attack, as well as help the British capture an American stronghold, Fort McIntosh, on the Saltilla River.
William Bartram, the famous naturalist, visited Alachua County
in 1774. In his journal he recorded his impressions of the
Seminoles and their towns near the present-day site of Micanopy and
commented on the large numbers of cattle grazing on Payne's
Prairie, which he called the Alachua Savannah. It is possible that
some of his excursions through the southwestern part of Alachua
County led him through what would one day become Archer; however
he nearest reference to the area made by the naturalist is a
journal entry of an overnight camp he and some traders made near Lake Kanapaha off the 'Old Spanish Highway'.
In 1783, after the thirteen colonies had won independence from Great Britain, Florida again returned to Spanish possession. Almost from the start Americans from Georgia began looking at Florida with a covetous eye. A series of border incidents which included both cattle and slave stealing raids occurred over a thirty year period, and served to keep tensions, which had been strained during the Revolutionary War, high between the Georgians and the Seminoles, In 1812 and 1813 volunteers from Georgia and Tennessee made two military raids into Florida in support of Spanish settlers with American ancestry who were attempting a "patriots' revolt". The targets of these raids, instead of being Spanish strongholds, were Seminole villages. Although the first expedition resulted in the death of King Payne, a powerful Seminole leader, it was otherwise unsuccessful. However, the second was more effective, destroying large quantities of supplies and weapons, burning several towns and recapturing numerous slaves; this incursion severely crippled the fighting strength of the Seminoles, a blow they never sufficiently recovered from.
Florida became a U.S. possession in 1821. In 1824 Seminole leaders signed the Treaty of Moultrie Creek, which ceded their lands in North Central Florida to the whites and set up a reservation for the Indians from Ocala southward. In order to keep the Seminoles from receiving guns and ammunition from Cuba, the boundaries of the reservation were eleven miles from each coast. Micanopy, whose band lived near the town that today bears his name, moved about a hundred miles south to where Okahumpka is today. Other bands of Seminoles moved into the Tampa Bay area or as far south as the Everglades. A few chose to remain near the Indian agent at Fort King located in what is today Ocala.
Indian removal opened up thousands of acres of fertile land
for settlement. Many pioneers from Georgia arrived in Alachua
County at this time. Among some of these early families were the
Gillettes, the Townsends and the Ellises, who all settled in the area of Archer.
Problems soon began between the settlers and the Seminoles who were starting to leave their reservation. Clashes occurred over ownership of cattle and slaves much as it had along the Georgia- Florida border twenty years earlier. Because of poor government rations, several years of bad droughts or terrible freezes and poor quality lands on which to grow crops, the Seminoles were raiding nearby white farms for food in 1831. The settlers complained to the government about the Indians and urged that they be relocated elsewhere. A new treaty was drafted with the Indians, which called for their removal to lands set aside for them in Oklahoma where they could practice traditional lifestyles without interference from the whites. Selected chiefs or micos were allowed to tour the new lands prior to signing the treaty; when they returned they told the officials handling the treaty that the lands weren't satisfactory and they refused to sign. The U.S. government then decided to do several things that would either force the Seminoles to leave or fight.
The first act was to declare that the chiefs
who had refused to sign were not rightful heads of the Seminoles
and to choose new leaders from among the Indians who would comply
with white demands. Another act which infuriated the Seminoles was
an order to trading posts that they were to refuse to sell powder
and shot to them. A third incident occurred when Osceola, a
popular leader, was publicly humiliated by Indian Agent Wiley
Thompson, who slapped him during an argument and placed him in the
blockhouse at Fort King for a few days. Settlers began preparing
for the possibility of an Indian War by forming into militia
companies; in Alachua County, fifty to sixty citizens formed the
Spring Grove Guard in Hogtown, whose duties included, in addition
to marching and drilling, the scouting of the surrounding
countryside for any sign of hostile Indians. As the whites
prepared for war, the Seminole leaders were divided over what they
should do; while some favored leaving for Oklahoma, others vowed
to stay and fight, even if that meant to the death.
Part 2.... Part 3.... Part 4.... Part 5.... Part 6.... Part 7.... Part 8.... Archer History Page 1