Native Americans are known to have lived in Georgia for more than 10,000 years. About 4,000 years ago they began making pottery vessels, which allowed them to store food year round. Agriculture began in the area about 3,000 years ago. About 1,200 years ago the people of the Mississippian culture, also called Mound Builders, were building great temple mounds, as can be seen today at Ocmulgee National Monument or Kolomoki Mounds State Park. By the time Europeans arrived in the 1500s, more than 1 million people lived in the American South. Unfortunately, the newcomers brought diseases against which the residents had no immunity. The death toll from smallpox, diphtheria, measles, and other illnesses was tremendous. It is estimated that the Native American population dropped by at least half between 1500 and 1700. By the time the British colonized Georgia in the 1730s the Cherokee and Creek, who then occupied it, were much fewer in number than their predecessors.
The Spanish were the first Europeans in Georgia. Explorer Hernando de Soto landed in Florida in 1539, and in 1540 his expedition crossed the Savannah and Ocmulgee rivers. In 1566 Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded a mission and fort on Saint Catherines Island. Over the next 100 years the Spanish built forts and missions along the coast of Georgia, which they called Guale.
Franciscan friars, members of a Roman Catholic religious order, were the central agents of Spanish civilization. In the mid-1590s a dozen priests and lay brothers, supported by a few Spanish soldiers, established missions to convert the Native Americans along the Atlantic Coast from Florida to South Carolina.
About half were located in the principal villages of Guale. Their efforts were rewarded with many converts, but also the first major conflict with Native Americans in Georgia. In 1597 a young Guale man named Juanillo, angry that a priest had blocked his selection as mico (chief), killed the meddling cleric. He then launched a war that left most of the Franciscans dead. The war continued about ten months and ended only after a Spanish army arrived from Florida. Afterward the Franciscans returned, and in the first half of the 17th century they were highly successful. At one time they had 25,000 converts in 38 missions. This was the golden age of Spanish influence in the South.
Spain claimed the right to govern Guale, but its claim was contested. England asserted a claim in 1629, when King Charles I included the area in a land grant of “Carolana” to Sir Robert Heath. However, because Heath failed to establish a settlement there, King Charles II regranted Carolana—changing its name slightly to Carolina—to eight lords proprietors in 1663. After founding a colony at Charleston (now in South Carolina) in 1670, the Carolinians pushed southward along the Atlantic coast. In 1680, with Native American allies, they attacked the Spanish missions and outposts and forced the Spanish to give up Saint Catherines Island. By 1686 the Spanish abandoned Guale, but for more than 70 years they continued to fight for possession from their bases in Florida. "Georgia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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