When we think about South Carolina history, of course we think about the Civil War and the Revolutionary War and even Colonial times. But between the time when Columbus discovered the New World and before French and British immigrants began building cities, South Carolina saw its share of explorers trooping through, looking for gold or anything else to make venturing into our swampy thick forests worthwhile.
Such an adventurer was Spanish explorer Juan Pardo.
Pardo took an expedition from the Spanish Fort San Felipe on Parris Island near Beaufort to an area about 15 miles southeast of Augusta, Ga., then due north to the mountains. He then traveled east to the Wateree River in the center of the state and back to Beaufort.
Historians think Pardo followed trails between the Cherokees in the South Carolina foothills and the Catawbas in what is now York County. The 1567 expedition was to visit Fort San Juan – an outpost Pardo established a year earlier in the Appalachian foothills.
Earlier this year, a team of archaeologists said they had found the remains of Fort San Juan in western North Carolina – one of about six outposts he established in the Carolinas as part of an effort to connect the interior of North America with Spanish silver mines in Mexico. Their geography was a little off.
Just a few months after Pardo left for more exploration back toward the coast, local Indians attacked Fort San Juan and killed almost everyone. Eventually, the Spanish gave up on the Carolinas.
But, an artifact was left behind that was discovered in 1935 by a Spartanburg County farmer. The Pardo Stone is about the size of a legal-sized notepad, 4 inches thick. It has the date 1567 and an arrow etched into the stone, which looks like granite, but is softer, and a parallelogram below the number.
The relic was validated in 1936 by historian D.D. Wallace, who wrote in the Hispanic American Review that it was unlikely a fake because the average South Carolinian would not have known enough about the expedition to create a convincing artifact.
The Spartanburg Regional History Museum (864) 596-3501, 200 E. John St., is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 1-5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.
The stone is part of the museum's permanent exhibit, which offers a walk through Spartanburg history from the Spanish explorer through modern times and includes a good portion dedicated to the textile mills that were such a big part of Spartanburg’s 20th century story.