Morganton is a city in and the county seat of Burke County, North Carolina, United States. The population was 16,918 at the 2010 census.
Morganton is one of the principal cities in the Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, NC Metropolitan Statistical Area. A site five miles north of here has been identified as the Mississippian culture chiefdom of Joara, occupied from AD 1400 to AD 1600. This was also the site of Fort San Juan, built in 1567 by a Spanish expedition as the first European settlement in the interior of North America, 40 years before the English settlement of Jamestown, Virginia.
The oldest-known European inland (non-coastal) settlement in the United States of Fort San Juan has been identified at Joara, a former Mississippian culture chiefdom located about five miles north of present-day Morganton. In 1567 a Spanish expedition built the fort there, while seeking to establish an interior route to Mexican silver mines. This was more than 40 years before the English settled Jamestown, Virginia, their first permanent settlement in North America.
The Spanish left a 31-man garrison that occupied the fort for 18 months before being overcome in a Mississippian attack. Five other Spanish forts in the larger interior region were also destroyed about that time. Only one soldier survived. The fort and Indian settlement have been under professional excavation since the early 21st century, with findings published since 2004.