The Hispanic-American History Timeline
1565 Pedro Menendez de Avilés
Establishes St. Augustine
Conquistador Pedro Menendez de Avilés establishes St. Augustine, the first successful settlement in Spanish Florida, and the city that is to become the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the continental United States.
He names the settlement "San Agustin" because 11 days earlier, on August 28, the feast of San Agustin, his fleet sighted the coast of Florida. To commemorate the town's foundation, on Sept. 28, they celebrate a Catholic Mass with the Timacua natives of the area. That ceremony is to be regarded as America's first Thanksgiving.
Leading a fleet of several ships with some 1,000 sailors, soldiers and settlers, his mission is to survey the North American east coast, seek a suitable site to establish a permanent colony and drive away European intruders who could be encroaching on territory claimed by Spain. Yet shortly after sighting Florida, before exploring the coastline or seeking a settlement site, they find precisely what they had feared: French settlers secretly establishing a colony. It's part of France's effort to move into Spanish territory and contest Spain's claim of Florida.
But it is as much a war between two competing European powers as it is a war between two religions. The Spanish are Catholics and the French are Huguenots (members of the French Reform Church) led by French naval officer Jean Ribault, who has led French efforts to establish a colony in the territory claimed by Spain.
Unable to attack the French "Fort Caroline" (in present day Tallahassee, Fl.) by sea, Menendez leads his fleet further south and establishes "San Agustin," in Northeast Florida -- in the same area where Juan Ponce de Leon's first landed when he discovered Florida in 1513.
From San Agustin, Menendez leads an overland expedition, attacks and defeats Fort Caroline, and spares only the women and children. Spanish soldiers hang French bodies from the trees, with the inscription: "Not as Frenchmen, but as heretics."
In the meantime, the French fleet led by Ribault is southbound on its way to attack St. Augustine. Yet, driven by hurricane winds, the French end up shipwrecked and marooned on the beaches south of St. Augustine, in an area that would be known as "Matanzas," because Menendez's forces catch up to them there and "slaughter" them.
Menendez becomes the first governor of Florida and St. Augustine serves at the capital of Spanish Florida for more than 200 years. The city also served as the capital of British Florida during the 20-year period (1763-83) when "La Florida" was British, and then became Spanish again. When Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1821, St. Augustine remained the capital of the Florida Territory until 1824, when Tallahassee became the capital.
Today, St. Augustine is the foremost Spanish colonial city in the United States, dotted by landmarks and monuments that attract tourists from all over the world. The Castillo de San Marcos, The Fountain of Youth Park, the colonial downtown, centered by a statue of Juan Ponce de Leon, and the Cathedral of St. Augustine could each be enough to draw many tourists. Yet in St. Austine, they are only part many more great attractions.
By Yissel Liriano, Lehman College