This series has four easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: French First Discover Harbor of St Augustine.
Although Florida was discovered by Ponce de Leon as early as 1513, and was soon after visited by other Spanish explorers, no Spaniard gained permanent foothold there until after 1550. But when the Spaniards did secure such a foothold, it was to found the first permanent settlement on the mainland of the United States.
The vast territory which the Spaniards named Florida was claimed by Spain in right of the discoveries of Columbus, the grant of the pope, and various expeditions to the region; by England in right of Cabot’s discovery; and by France on account of Verrazano’s voyage (1524) and “vague traditions” of French visitors to the coast.
Following the early Spanish attempts at colonization, came the first Huguenot settlers from France, seeking refuge in the New World from persecution at home. What they did and what befell them in the Florida country, and how the founding of our oldest town, St. Augustine, was begun by their Spanish supplanters, is told by George Fairbanks in an interesting and carefully verified account.
This selection is from The Spaniards in Florida by George R. Fairbanks published in 1868. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Fairbanks was the founder and President of the Florida Historical Society. He wrote books on Florida history.
Place: St. Augustine, Florida
The settlement of Florida had its origin in the religious troubles experienced by the Huguenots under Charles IX in France. Their distinguished leader, Admiral Coligny, as early as 1555, projected colonies in America, and sent an expedition to Brazil, which proved unsuccessful. Having procured permission from Charles IX to found a colony in Florida, a designation which embraced in rather an indefinite manner the whole country from the Chesapeake to the Tortugas, he sent an expedition in 1562 from France, under command of Jean Ribault, composed of many young men of good family. They first landed at the St. John’s River, where they erected a monument, but finally established a settlement at Port Royal, South Carolina, and erected a fort. After some months, however, in consequence of dissensions among the officers of the garrison and difficulties with the Indians, this settlement was abandoned.
In 1564 another expedition came out under the command of Rene de Laudonnière, and made their first landing at the River of Dolphins, being the present harbor of St. Augustine, and so named by them in consequence of the great number of dolphins (porpoises) seen by them at its mouth. They afterward coasted to the north, and entered the river St. John’s, called by them the river May.
Upon an examination of this river Laudonnière concluded to establish his colony on its banks, and, proceeding about two leagues above its mouth, built a fort upon a pleasant hill of “mean height,” which, in honor of his sovereign, he named Fort Caroline. The colonists, after a few months, were reduced to great distress, and were about taking measures to abandon the country a second time, when Ribault arrived with reinforcements.
It is supposed that intelligence of these expeditions was communicated by the enemies of Coligny to the court of Spain. Jealousy of the aggrandizement of the French in the New World, mortification for their own unsuccessful efforts in that quarter, and a still stronger motive of hatred to the faith of the Huguenot, induced the bigoted Philip II of Spain to dispatch Pedro Menendez de Aviles, a brave, bigoted, and remorseless soldier, to drive out the French colony, and take possession of the country for himself. The compact made between the King and Menendez was, that he should furnish one galleon completely equipped, and provisions for a force of six hundred men; that he should conquer and settle the country.
He obligated himself to carry one hundred horses, two hundred horned cattle, four hundred hogs, four hundred sheep and some goats, and five hundred slaves–for which he had a permission free of duties–the third part of which should be men, for his own service and that of those who went with him, to aid in cultivating the land and in building; that he should take twelve priests, and four fathers of the Jesuit order. He was to build two or three towns of one hundred families, and in each town should build a fort according to the nature of the country. He was to have the title of Adelantado of the country, as also to be entitled a marquis (and his heirs after him), to have a tract of land, receive a salary of two thousand ducats, a percentage of the royal duties, and have the freedom of all the other ports of New Spain.
His force consisted, at starting, of eleven sail of vessels, with two thousand six hundred men; but, owing to storms and accidents, not more than one-half arrived. He came upon the coast on August 28, 1565, shortly after the arrival of the fleet of Ribault. On September 7th Menendez cast anchor in the River of Dolphins, the harbor of St. Augustine. He had previously discovered and given chase to some of the vessels of Ribault off the mouth of the river May. The Indian village of Selooe then stood upon the site of St. Augustine, and the landing of Menendez was upon the spot where the city of St. Augustine now stands.
Fra Francisco Lopez de Mendoza, the chaplain of the expedition, thus chronicles the disembarkation and attendant ceremonies:
On Saturday, September 8th, the day of the nativity of Our Lady, the General disembarked, with numerous banners displayed, trumpets and other martial music resounding, and amid salvos of artillery.
Carrying a cross, I proceeded at the head, chanting the hymn ‘Te Deum Laudamus.’ The General marched straight up to the cross, together with all those who accompanied him; and, kneeling, they all kissed the cross. A great number of Indians looked upon these ceremonies, and imitated whatever they saw done. Thereupon the General took possession of the country in the name of his majesty. All the officers then took an oath of allegiance to him, as their general and as adelantado of the whole country.”
The name of St. Augustine was given, in the usual manner of the early voyagers, because they had arrived upon the coast on the day dedicated in their calendar to that eminent saint of the primitive Church, revered like by the good of all ages for his learning and piety.
The first troops who landed, says Mendoza, were well received by the Indians, who gave them a large mansion belonging to the chief, situated near the banks of the river. The engineer officers immediately erected an entrenchment of earth, and a ditch around this house, with a slope made of earth and fascines, these being the only means of defence which the country presents; for, says the father with surprise, “there is not a stone to be found in the whole country.” They landed eighty cannon from the ships, of which the lightest weighed five hundred pounds.
Menendez had by no means forgotten the errand upon which he principally came; and by inquiries of the Indians he soon learned the position of the French fort and the condition of its defenders. Impelled by necessity, Laudonnière had been forced to seize from the Indians food to support his famished garrison, and had thus incurred their enmity, which was soon to produce its sad results.
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