The Hispanic-American History Timeline
1566 Santa Elena Built in South Carolina
Pedro Menendez de Avilés, the first governor of Spanish Florida, establishes Santa Elena, a Spanish settlement on what is now Parris Island, South Carolina.
One year after establishing St. Augustine, Menendez expands the Spanish emprire northward, building Santa Elena at a site near an abandoned French outpost, Charlesfort, which was build by explorer Jean Ribault in 1562 and deserted one year later.
At this time, Spanish Florida extends all the way north to the Carolinas, and Menendez makes Santa Elena the capital of Spanish Florida. Santa Elena becomes a sizeable community and the base of operations for Spanish Jesuit and military expansion.
From Santa Elena, Menendez orders inland expeditions -- led by Captain Juan Pardo -- to the interior of what is now South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee. Pardo's mission is to pacify and convert the natives to Catholicism, and to discourage the creation of French colonies in this area.
Pardo's first expedition reaches Joara, the great Native American regional center of Mississippian culture near present-day Morganton, N.C. From 1566 to 1568, Pardo buids six forts in what is now South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee and leaves a small contingent of Spanish soldiers, and Jesuit missionaries, at each one. These are considered the first European settlements in the interior of North America.
But the natives resist Spanish settlements. They attack and burn the forts, and within 18 months, kill all but one of the 120 soldiers and missionaries Pardo had left behind. This is the last time the Spanish try to imposed their colonial claim in the interior.
In 1576, even Santa Elena is attacked and burned by the natives of nearby villages, and the Spanish are forced to abandon their forts -- San Felipe and San Salvador -- on the island. They return one year later, reestablish the settlement and build a new fort, San Marcos, which was able to repell an attack by 2,000 natives in 1580.
Nevertheless, by 1587, the Spanish have lost interest in colonizing the Carolinas. They abandon Santa Elena and retreat to present-day Florida. Some of the native Escamacu people area, who had converted to Catholicism, kept their religion and Spanish rituals.
The site of Santa Elena has not been fully reoccupied since the Spanish left in 1587. In the past few decades, extensive archaeological excavations have been conducted at the Charlesport/Santa Elena site. Archaeologists have found many important clues about Spanish colonists in the 16th century. They found that Santa Elena had a series of colonial buildings around a central plaza.
Today, Charlesfort-Santa Elena is a National Hispanic Landmark. Visitors to Parris Island can learn about the island's history at the nearby USMC Parris Island Museum, within the United States Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island in Port Royal, SC. The museum is open daily from 10 am to 4:30 pm, except for holidays.
By Madly de la Rosa, Lehman College