Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mala Compra Plantation – Palm Coast, Florida

We never set out to go to the Mala Compra Plantation Archeological Site in Palm Coast, Florida. We were driving down A1A, heading toward Ormond Beach, saw the sign, and turned around. We were glad we did. After a day of museum crawling at planned sites (some of which were disappointing), it was great to find this little gem, the best site we visited that day. Mala Compra is a Spanish phrase for bad bargain or bad purchase, and the plantation, one of northeast Florida’s largest, was worked from 1816 through 1836. The plantation was owned and worked largely by one of Florida’s most important early settlers: Joseph Hernandez. Hernandez was born in St. Augustine in 1793. He later joined the United States Army to fight the Seminoles, and was commissioned brigadier general by President James Monroe. Later, Hernandez served as the first Hispanic member of the United States Congress and as the first delegate from the state of Florida. The plantation produced sea island cotton, corn, and sweet oranges, and John James Audubon visited Mala Compra in December 1831. The plantation was burned by the Seminole in 1836. The site was purchased by Flagler County in 1989, and excavations have been performed over the past twenty years. The original house, kitchen, and well have been uncovered. The entire site is preserved under a pole barn-type structure, and artifacts and audio exhibits greet visitors.

Beside the archaeological site, there are numerous hiking trails, places to fish, and a boat launch ramp. The site is open from sunrise to sunset. You can learn more here.

From the historian’s perspective: Michael really enjoyed the original artifacts that are available for viewing. The markers contain a wealth of information about the Hernandez family, their slaves, and life in the early 1800s.

From the educator’s perspective: Elizabeth liked how accessible and visitor-focused the site was, with lights that illuminated areas of the dig while the markers displayed the way that section appeared originally. This really helps visitors, particularly kids, to put the dig in context. Many of the dug items on display were also impressive and great educational tools. The family’s well, a segment of a child’s shoe, and shattered tableware also bring these long dead-people to life for visitors. Even younger children will enjoy this site, as it is not too overwhelming in size, and there is plenty of room to roam.
From an eight year old’s perspective: Nathaniel enjoyed seeing “real” archaeology at work, and was delighted with the solar-powered, timed lights that make the site energy efficient and well as interesting from a technical standpoint. He also enjoyed picturing the site as it existed long ago.