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Father Sebastian Montero

Father Montero came to Florida as a chaplain to the company of Captain Juan Pardo, which anchored in the harbor of San Agustin at the end of June, 1566. Pardo's company included 300 men, 1,200 soldiers, 500 sailors, fourteen women, and five secular priests, including Father Montero. In the fall of 1566, Captain Pardo, Father Montero, and 300 other men, were dispatched from San Agustin to the Spanish fort at Santa Elena (present day Parris Island, SC) as relief. Shortly after, Captain Pardo and company left Santa Elena on December 1, 1566 to embark on the most extensive overland expedition since De Soto. Thus began Father Sebastian Montero's missionary adventures.

Guatari- Wateree Tribe

This expedition led the troops along the Catawba river, visiting a variety of indian villages along the way including Guiamae, Cufitachiqui,  Tagaya  and then eventually ending at Joara (located in present day Burke County)*. At each new location Pardo and company would visit, Pardo would assemble the chieftains of that village and have them swear allegiance to "God and his Majesty". After spending 2 weeks in Joara, while they constructed the Fort San Juan, Pardo departed in an easterly direction, most likely along the South Yadkin River, until they arrived at Guatari (located in present day Rowan County) in early February of 1567. Below is Pardo's own account of his arrival at Guatari:

. . . On another day I approached Guatari, where I found more than thirty chieftains and a great number of Indians, and I held the usual parley with them, and they placed themselves under the authority of His Holiness and His Majesty; here I stayed fifteen or sixteen days, more or less, where those chieftains asked me to give them someone to instruct them, and so, I gave them the priest [clerigo] of my company and four soldiers, because there came to me there a letter from Estevan [sic'] de las Alas ordering me to return to Santa Elena, for thus I would comply with the best service of His Majesty, since news had come about the French.**

This is the first time we see evidence of Father Sebastian Montero (the priest) on this expedition. One of the four soldiers also assigned to stay in Guatari, Alvaro de Mendana, reported on the good work of Father Montero as he stayed in Guatari:

He [Mendana] saw that the said Sebastian Montero, all the time that he was in Florida, served his office well and faithfully, with much care and solicitude, indoctrinating the native Indians, especially the Indians of Guatari, which is eighty leagues inland, where this witness was in his company. And he saw that the said Sebastian Montero worked with much Christian care and diligence in teaching the said Indians the four prayers [Pater, Ave, Credo, Salve Regina] and other Christian things that are necessary to them for their salvation. And by discipline and instruction, the said Sebastian Montero likewise taught the Spanish language to many of the said Indians, especially the principal caciques. And they [the Indians] kept the holy days, especially the Sundays, and did not eat meat on Fridays : for which the said Indians showed respect, [and] in which they had been enjoined to show good Christian customs [by] the said Sebastian Montero more than by the soldiers. And so this is a public and well-known fact among many soldiers who are knowledgeable on this point, as is the witness.

Another of the four soldiers, Juan Santos, also testified to Father Montero's success with the natives:

And he taught them the Spanish language so that many of them under? stood much of it through his direction and instruction, especially the principal caciques with whom he worked a great deal . . . with the result that they [the caciques'] began coming each morning and evening to the doctrina. And this witness saw how the principal caciques came to like the doctrine and good customs that he taught them. And they joined the other Indians so that they might not be lost but might be instructed, too. . . . The said Sebastian Montero suffered much hunger and want in the said Florida all the time he was there . . . and this is a public and well-known thing among the soldiers.

It is believe that Montero returned to Santa Elena in the spring of1568 after, spending a little over a year with his flock. Why did Father Montero leave this successful mission so soon? According to Domino De Leon:

Since they were mining so much in that time, Juan Pardo [became] envious, seeing that they respected the cleric as much as him, because they carried Juan Pardo on a litter [en unas andas] when he traveled, and they did the same to the cleric. He said that he should not be equal with him, and seeing that all the Indians loved and praised [Montero] and they said that he was an interpreter of the affairs of heaven and held him in great reverence, Juan Pardo therefore sent a letter that if he found [Montero] there, he would hang him [le abia de colgar], and thus the said cleric came to the forts and left the Indians.***

* Joara is the site of a recent archeological dig that began in 1997. You can read more about those findings in Identifying Fort San Juan: A Sixteenth-Century Spanish Occupation at the Berry Site, North Carolina.

**A.G.I. 1-1-1/19, Pardo, "Relacion.

***Beck, R. A., Rodning, C. B., & Moore, D. G. (Eds.). (2016). Fort san juan and the limits of empire : Colonialism and household practice at the berry site. University Press of Florida. p 71

After Montero's Departure

Shortly after Montero's return to Santa Elena disaster struck. Sometime before July 25, 1568, at least five forts, that the Spanish had built in the Carolinas, fell to the Indians. Some speculate that the bad example of the Spanish soldiers, their reckless and ruthless natures, and their immoral way of life, compromised the Spanish forts, and ultimately the missionary work of Father Montero. 

What happened to Montero after 1568? Father Montero remained in La Florida until 1572, when failing health forced him to return to Spain. The only facts we know about Montero after his return to Spain is that he initiated an interrogation of himself, conducted in Seville, to proclaim his missionary success. This interrogation was in an effort to receive appropriate compensation for his services and personal funds that had been spent on the mission. Five soldiers, who were also part of Pardo's company, gave testimony at this interrogation as to the success of Father Montero and his mission.

Father Sebastian Montero was the first, and last, Spanish missionary priest in the interior of the Carolinas. While he left no trace of his efforts, due to his untimely departure, many believe he should be credited with founding the first, and most successful, mission to the natives of American. It is amazing to think that all this happened, here, in Rowan County, where the Catholic Church would began its rebirth in the early 1800's.

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Pardo's first expedition, December 1, 1566-March 7, 1567 .


Juan Pardo Meeting Natives in Joara


Juan Pardo grave at the church of San Francisco in Betanzos, Spain

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