The Joara Excavations or Morganton, North Carolina

Jeannette Holland Austin
3 min readApr 24

Everyone knows that Indian tribes occupied most of the Northern United States of America. The old Indian maps reveal a network of towns from the eastern seaboard into the Mississippi Valley. However, one thing is for sure. The settlers encountered numerous Indian tribes along their trek across the western territories. No matter how you look at it, their mounds and evidence towns were spread across the map. President Andrew Jackson caused much of the problems because, in the interest of having the Europeans establish their new civilization, Jackson preferred that no Indian evidence be left. Actually, the amount of damage done is unknown. But one thing is for sure. The Europeans crossed the plains and won the fight for the land.

Before this happened, though, the tribes were frequently at war with one another, and that is how the expansion occurred. Members of one tribe would break off and join another tribe.

Map of Indian Settlements

The Joara Excavations

As settlers migrated across the mountain of North Carolina, certain families also expanded into the border counties of Kentucky and Virginia. A popular county of such transitions was Burke.

These survivors finally abandoned the area. Two hundred years later, European settlers came to the deserted region. As the English, Scotch-Irish, and German immigrants poured into the region, they found their way to the western mountains of Burke County. Genealogists often find this county was a stopping point for their ancestors before moving on.

The History of Joara

Fort San Juan was established at the site of the American Indian town of Joara in 1567, two decades before The Lost Colony at Roanoke Island and forty years before Jamestown.

Explorer Juan Pardo named the Spanish settlement Cuenca after his hometown in Spain. It lasted less than 18 months before the Indians and the Spanish soldiers fought it out. The Spanish fort and the other forts built by Pardo were burned to the ground. One Spanish soldier escaped and brought news to the Spanish colonial capital at Santa Elena, S.C. (today’s Parris Island), that the experiment was over.

The North Carolina Office of Archives and History explains the historical marker erected in Morganton thusly: “The Berry site witnessed one of the longest periods of sustained contact between Europeans and the peoples of North America’s interior until the 17th century.”

Old country store in Morganton, North Carolina

Jeannette Holland Austin

Author of 100+ genealogy books. Owner of 8 genealogy websites available by subscription.