The Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe: The Longest Dugout Recorded in Florida


This past Saturday we had the privilege of visiting the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture , as they were host to a wonderful lecture on local history. While there we finally got to see the infamous Apalachicola

The 50 foot long Apalachicola Traders' Canoe is made of a single cypress log and is the longest dugout on record in Florida.

The 50 foot long Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe is made of a single cypress log and is the longest dugout on record in Florida. (Photo courtesy of the Florida Master Site File)

Traders’ Canoe. I have heard mention of it before and I have always been curious to see it. You are probably wondering why I would be so excited about a dugout canoe, right? What if I told you that it was the longest dugout canoe ever recovered, in one piece, in the state of Florida? It is over 50 feet long! 50 feet, 4 inches to be exact! Imagine trying to paddle such a beast upstream! This dugout was initially found in 2006 by two gentleman that were out bass fishing on the Apalachicola River. While they were loading their boat onto a trailer they noticed what appeared to be a board sticking out of the water. When their trailer struck it the object floated higher out of the water and they knew immediately they had come across an old dugout canoe. They attempted to pull it out of the water to load it onto their trailer, but soon realized it was too long. One of the gentleman operated a nearby sawmill, and so was able to arrange for a logging truck to transport it  to the sawmill for safe keeping. They then reported the find to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They recognized the potential significance of their find and wanted to do the right thing by reporting it to the proper authorities. The dugout quickly became a local celebrity, receiving numerous visitors wanting to witness this behemoth firsthand. A few days after the initial discovery archaeologists from the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research were able to visit the dugout and work with other state officials and the individuals who discovered the dugout to come up with a plan to make sure that it was properly cared for and preserved.

Archaeologists generally discourage people from removing dugouts or other wooden artifacts from water or muck. These objects are usually quite saturated and have been that way for a long time. The state usually receives calls about dugouts becoming exposed during drought events, when water levels drop and they are found sticking out of the mud.  Once they are removed they start to dry out quickly and can degrade into a pile of nothing more than saw dust quite rapidly. It takes a trained conservator to ensure that the wooden object is dried carefully and in a controlled manner so that damage is kept to a minimum. Additionally, in some cases various conservation treatments are applied to ensure that the cellular structure of the object remains stable for years to come. These treatments can be very lengthy and sometimes expensive, and until the object can be treated properly, it is best preserved in place. If you are ever in a situation where you  find a dugout canoe or any other archaeological remains, you may call the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research to report it. You can also contact your local FPAN office, as all of us work closely with the folks at the Bureau of Archaeological Research.

After the the Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe was properly conserved, archaeologists could see tool marks on the boat which indicated that it was made using metal tools, but with techniques commonly used by Native Americans. The fact that metal tools were used, along with the shape of the canoe, suggest that it was manufactured sometime between 1750 and 1850. Dugout canoes had long since been used by Native Americans but the technology was adapted and modified to meet the needs of Florida’s many early European settlers. It is possible that it was made by Native American craftsmen under the direction of Americans, the British or  the Spanish.

The Apalachicola Traders' Canoe is currently on display at the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture. (Photo courtesy of the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture)

The Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe is currently on display at the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture. (Photo courtesy of the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture)

Hundreds of dugout canoes have been recovered from Florida’s lakes and rivers. Some of you may remember the dugout that was recovered from Lake Munson a few years ago. During the 2000 drought event, hundreds of dugouts and dugout fragments were recorded in Newnan Lake near Gainesville. Forty  wood samples were taken from the Newnan canoes and were found to be between 3,200 and 5,000 years old. Most dugout canoes measure between 18 and 20 feet. The traders’ canoe is more than twice that length! The traders’ canoe was also manufactured from a single cypress log. The majority of dugouts that have been recorded in Florida have been carved from pine logs, although cypress dugouts are not unheard of in Florida. It is quite possible that Florida has the largest concentration of dugout canoes in the Americans, possibly the world. Our state’s unique aquatic environment, complete with anaerobic muck river and lake bottoms, lends itself to the preservation of these delicate artifacts. In an anaerobic environment, few bacteria can survive and thus, they cannot contribute to the deterioration of organic material. In other words, there are less bacteria nibbling on the wooden artifacts and so objects that might otherwise degrade are preserved and provide archaeologists and the public a unique glimpse of our past.

If you want to check out the Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe for yourself, and I encourage you to do so, it is on display at the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture! Their hours of operation are Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 12 noon to 5 PM.  It is located on the corner of Avenue E and Water Street in one of the beautifully restored cotton warehouses on the Apalachicola River.  You can make a day trip out of it and continue your forays into the local maritime culture by visiting the Apalachicola Maritime Museum as well!

Call to Action: Florida’s Comprehensive Historic Preservation Plan is Up For Reveiw

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Many folks are familiar with comprehensive plans. Most communities guide their development and infrastructure planning based on information provided in these documents. But are you aware that the State of Florida has a comprehensive plan dedicated to the planning for historic preservation of our state’s cultural resources? As you can imagine, any comprehensive plan requires updating on a regular basis in order to reflect the most recent concerns and planning issues. The Florida Division of Historical Resources, within the Florida Department of State, is seeking public input for the latest update to the Comprehensive Historic Preservation Plan. The Division Director, otherwise known as the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) directs the Division of Historical Resources to cooperate with state, federal and local agencies and governments, as well as private organizations and individuals to conduct a comprehensive statewide survey of Florida’s historic resources, to maintain an inventory of these resources and to develop a statewide historic preservation plan.

The comprehensive plan provides guidance for the implementation of sound planning procedures for the location, identification, and protection of the state’s cultural resources. As part of this process, the state is requesting your input. You may attend one of the meetings that will be held around the state and you can also provide feedback by completing an online survey. The survey only takes approximately ten minutes and your input will contribute greatly towards preservation planning and protection of our state’s resources. This also ties in with the year-long Preservation 50 celebration, which recognizes the 50th anniversary of the signing of the National Historic Preservation Act on October 15, 1966. comp plan meetings 001



The Tallahassee Old City Cemetery

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Yellow fever victims are buried in these graves.

This past Saturday, as many of you know, we hosted a tour of the Old City Cemetery in Tallahassee. It was a great success, due in large part to our great tour guide, Erik Robinson!

We had about 35 people attend and I have received a ton of good reviews! I like to think of historic cemeteries as outdoor museums. There is so much history to be learned at these sites, and this cemetery is no exception. This cemetery is the oldest public cemetery in Tallahassee, established in 1829 during Florida’s Territorial Period. It was later acquired by the city in 1840 and in 1841 it twas laid out in a system of squares and lots when a yellow fever epidemic swept through the city. During the time of it’s establishment it was actually located outside of the city, although now it is located downtown. The cemetery was bordered on its far side y a 200  foot wide clearing that surrounded the town to protect it from Indian attacks. The cemetery was segregated, the whites buried in the eastern sections and the African Americans buried in the western sections. Originally various religious denominations had their own plots, but there are few indications today of the Presbyterian and Catholic areas. The majority of the Jewish burials have since been moved to other cemeteries.

This is the final resting place for many men and women who contributed to the development of Tallahassee and the State of Florida. For a long time it was Tallahassee’s only

Constructed in 1890s, this platform is still used for memorial services.

public burial ground it represents a cross section of Tallahassee residents during the 19th century. As you walk through the cemetery you will recognize many names from Tallahassee and Florida’s rich history – James D. Wescott (Wescott Building at Florida State University), John G. Riley (his house is now a museum and the headquarters for the Tallahassee chapter of the NAACP), Thomas Vann Gibbs (founder of Florida State Normal Industrial School, now Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University)…well, you get the picture! I could go on and on. The graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers that fought in the Battles of Natural Bridge and Olustee are also buried in this cemetery. A platform was constructed next to the Confederate graves by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) in the 1890s. Today that same platform is still used to for commemorations and memorial services by the UDC.

Memorial Service at the Old City Cemetery in the early 1900s.

Early Tallahassee was small and frontier-like. People had to make do with what they had and what was locally available. Many of the earliest graves were marked with wood head and footboards, which have since degraded and disappeared. The last plot was sold in 1902 and the cemetery is full, although many graves have no marker above ground anymore. During the Territorial Period there are newspaper accounts of hogs and cattle roaming through the cemetery and running over the graves. There are also articles complaining about the unkept appearance of the cemetery. Today there is a fence around the cemetery and it underwent a major restoration in 1991, with financial support from the Florida Department of State. This project was sponsored and administered by the Historic Tallahassee Preservation Board. Unfortunately, due to limited funding not all of the gravemarkers in the cemetery were restored. They were able to restore the majority of those that had been badly damaged by vandalism and weathering. Unfortunately since the time of the restoration many of the monuments have been victims of vandalism once again! The cemetery is open to the public for visitation during daylight hours.

The marker for the oldest marked grave in the cemetery now lays face down in the dirt because of vandalism.

Another cemetery, located immediately north of this one, the St. Johns Episcopal Cemetery is also open to the public. We encourage you to visit these historic sites, however, please be aware that they are non-renewable historic resources that provide much valuable historical information about their community. They also provide valuable green space for both people and wildlife. Please be respectful and be sure not to damage any of the monuments. Although they are constructed of stone and metal and other very durable material, they are very old and very fragile.

If you are not able to make a trip to this cemetery, we have posted a photo tour on our Facebook page !

The DeSoto Site: A Unique Piece of Tallahassee History!

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In 1987 B. Calvin Jones, an archaeologist working for the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research was driving along Lafayette Street in Tallahassee. He noticed that land clearing

Calvin Jones excavating at the DeSoto Site (photo courtesy of the Florida Memory Project)

had begun near the entrance of the Governor Martin House property in preparation for construction activities. He asked permission to inspect the area and dig a few shovel tests. He had done extensive work on Spanish Missions in the Tallahassee area, and he knew that one mission site was known to exist near this neighborhood,  Myers Park, but had yet to be found.  Because of his past work relating to Spanish-era sites in the area, he was uniquely qualified to recognize the de Soto winter camp when he found it.

During the initial shovel testing he found artifacts relating both to the Apalache and the Spanish. Some of these artifacts included Apalache Fort Walton ceramics, Chattahoochee Brushed Seminole ceramics, a rusted cross bow dart and early style olive jar fragments. The cross bow was no longer in use during the Spanish Mission period in Florida and later style olive jars were used during the Spanish Mission period. Based on the artifacts it was confirmed that this site dated to an earlier time period than the Spanish Missions. This site dated to the early 1500s, during the period of Spanish exploration in Florida. The only two expeditions known to have been in the northwestern Florida area were the Narvaez expedition of 1527-1528 and the de Soto expedition in 1539-1540.

Calvin Jones met with the project contractor for the construction project to discuss the possibility of further study of this site. At this time, there were no Federal or State laws or local ordinances that required any change of plans, and the construction company had already obtained all of the required permits. The construction company was within their rights to deny Calvin Jones access to the property. Fortunately, the construction company was interested in learning more about the site, and granted Calvin Jones access to the property and adjusted project construction activities as needed to accommodate the archaeological investigation.

During the excavation it became evident that this site was likely that of Anhaica Apalache, where it is documented that the de Soto expedition spent the winter of 1539-1540. It just so happened that this site was discovered near the 450th anniversary of that exact event. The site took on a statewide, national and international importance as the only confirmed site of the de Soto expedition. Shovel testing was able to further confirm the presence of Apalache and Spanish artifacts. It was demonstrated by shovel testing and auger testing that the site was large enough to contain 250 Apalache structures, which was the same amount of structures chronicled by Spanish Explorers at Anhaica Apalache. These Apalache structures were circular or oval shaped with thatched roofs and clay plastered walls, commonly referred to as daub. The Spanish, when they arrived, constructed square or rectangular buildings using metal fastenings. These buildings were only meant as temporary structures. Evidence of both types of structures was found at this site. Also found at this site were early sixteenth century native and Spanish artifacts. In fact, over a thousand artifacts were recovered from this site!

It was proposed that the property should be acquired by the state. The construction company agreed to sell the property for use as a State Park. It is believed that the area acquired

Volunteers assisting with excavation of DeSoto Site (photo courtesy of the Florida Memory Project)

by the State of Florida represents the most advantageous part of the village area-the area where the chief’s house and where de Soto and his primary lieutenants were likely house during their stay.

In 2005 the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research moved into the Governor Martin House, located on the de Soto property, and the Governor Martin House was co-named the B. Calvin Jones Center for Archaeology in recognition of his many outstanding contribution to Florida archaeology, including the discovery of the de Soto winter encampment site. Today three Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources, Bureau of Archaeological Research programs are headquartered at the B. Calvin Jones Center for Archaeology- Florida Public Lands Archaeology, Archaeological Resource Management Training and Underwater Archaeology. The property  is home to the North Central Regional office of the Florida Public Archaeology Network. An exhibit, featuring artifacts from the de Soto excavation, is open to the public at the Governor Martin House, B. Calvin Jones Center for Archaeology. So next time you are in the area, stop by and give us a visit!

Florida Archaeology Month is Upon Us!

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Happy Florida Archaeology Month everyone! That’s right, our wonderful state has a whole month dedicated to archaeology, and that month is March! This statewide event is held each year to allow Floridians  and visitors a chance to learn more about the archaeology and history of our state, and to preserve these important parts of our rich cultural heritage. Each year we have a different theme, and this year’s theme is “Native Plants, Native People”. It explores how native people in Florida used plants and how archaeologist investigate these plants that were used by prehistoric inhabitants of Florida. You can find a calendar of events at

Each year many organizations are involved in coordinating this statewide celebration, including the Florida Anthropological Society, the Florida Public Archaeology Network, the Florida Archaeological Council and the Department of State, Division of Historical Resources. Many local museums, historical commissions, libraries, and public and private schools also participate and support Florida Archaeology Month.

Each year there is also a poster that is created around the theme. This years poster is two sided and highlights some of the sites in Florida that have contained plant remains. It is a beautiful poster! Probably one of my favorites so far. If you would like to pick one up, just let me know. They are free and a wonderful educational tool. You can also view it at the website mentioned above.

Most people don’t think of plants when they think of archaeology, but the study of  plants can provide us with insight into what prehistoric people were eating, what medicines they were using, what tools they were making and their ceremonial activities. By studying sites that contain plants, such as Windover, Key Marco, Pineland, Hontoon Island and various others, we have learned that plants made up to fifty percent of the native diet and at least that much (if not more) of their material goods!  However, plant remains are very fragile, and it is very rare to find plant remains at an archaeological site, so these sites are very special and unique. In celebration of Florida Archaeology Month this year, we are going to explore the native plants of Florida and how they were used by prehistoric peoples with our “Plant of the Week” posts. Of course, it is very important to note that this information is just for INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES! Do not use the plants in the manner that we will describe. Native people had an intensive and vast knowledge of the plants and the individuals that were using them. We are just beginning to understand how these plants were used by prehistoric people, so remember, read and learn, but please don’t try! Even edible plants that are considered harmless can have undesirable effects on your body if you are not used to ingesting or using them in the manner described. We hope you will learn a great deal this month about our state’s unique cultural heritage. Hopefully this new knowledge that you gain this month will create a greater appreciation for our state’s cultural sites. So please, take some time this month to attend some local Florida Archaeology Month events in your area. You never know what you might learn! So, again, happy Florida Archaeology Month!

If you are in the Tallahassee area, you might consider joining the Panhandle Archaeological Society at Tallahassee tonight at the B. Calvin Jones Center for Archaeology (Governor Martin House-located at 1001 DeSoto Park Drive, off of Lafayette Street behind Olive Garden) starting at 7pm for a discussion on native plants and the prehistoric peoples of Florida. Loran Anderson and myself will both be presenting on this topic. It is sure to be a great time for all and a wonderful way to kick off Florida Archaeology Month.  Anderson&Hines