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Birth of the City of St. Augustine

After twenty months in prison, Menendez received orders from King Phillip to sail for Florida. In an asiento (contract), Phillip directed Menendez to scout La Florida from the Keys as far as its northern boundary in present-day Canada, to report on its coastal features, and to set up a permanent colony. He was told to drive out any settlers or corsairs who were not subjects of the Spanish crown. The King then declared all earlier claims by Spanish explorers to be void and that Menendez and his descendants would rule Florida, signing a contract on March 20, 1565.

On July 28 Menendez set sail from Spain to conquer Florida. Led by his flagship the San Pelayo, the leading ships reached Puerto Rico on August 8. He left Puerto Rico on August 15 with five ships, reached Cape Canaveral on August 25, turned north and spent the next few days looking in vain for the French. Indians directed him north, to what the French called the River of Dolphins. On the feast day of St. Augustine, August 28, he sailed through the inlet and named the area after the saint.

Menendez searched the area for the French. By October 10, after several encounters, Jean Ribault and 70-80 Frenchmen finally surrendered at the inlet and were executed. The inlet was named Matanzas – place of “slaughters”.

Days of Difficulty

Due to a fire in the storehouse at San Mateo, the Spaniards worried about surviving the coming winter without supplies. Menendez decided to sail to Cuba for help. Soon after, many soldiers decided the New World had more fortunes to offer and departed. Then, some of the men stationed at San Mateo mutinied, abandoned the fort, and killed several Timucuan chiefs, losing Indian cooperation. Menendez was able to round up some of the missing ships and supplies from his original fleet, but received no help form the Casa in Cuba.

In May 1566, in response to deteriorating relations with neighboring Timucuans, Menendez withdrew the Spanish community to a more easily defended position on the northern end of Anastasia Island - where a new fort and a town were built. Six years later, the settlement was again relocated to the area just south of the Plaza near the center of today's downtown St. Augustine. The new position gave them protection from the Indians and intruding enemy ships. Satisfied that he had met the initial requirements of his contract with the King, including the establishment of three forts, Menendez returned to Spain in 1567. After several missions, Menendez became ill and died on September 17, 1574.

More Trouble for the Colony

In early 1568, a French force commanded by Dominique De Gourges joined with local Indian warriors to destroy the Spanish fort at San Mateo. In revenge for the killing of the French at Matanzas Inlet, De Gourges hanged his Spanish captives. By 1570, the commander of the Spanish fort at Santa Elena (settled by Menendez on present-day Parris Island, South Carolina) gave up and sailed for Spain with 120 men, hoping to increase the chance of survival for those he left behind. The Jesuit priests also left in 1571 after too many had been killed during their holy mission. The colony's failure to grow crops added to their misery, and colonists began constructing a ship so they could flee.

Fortunately, a new commander was named at this time--Don Pedro Menendez Marquez, nephew of the founder of St. Augustine. He reasoned with the St. Augustine mutineers and promised that if supplies didn’t arrive in time, he would take them to refuge in Cuba. At Santa Elena, in the face of constant Indian attacks, the fort was abandoned and the residents fled to St. Augustine. Menendez Marquez gathered up the pieces for a new fort and sailed to Santa Elena where by he pacified the Indians and re-established the outpost. As a result of his accomplishments, Don Pedro Menendez Marquez was named governor of Florida, a position he held until 1589. After the death of Pedro Menendez, King Phillip decided that St. Augustine was much too valuable as a haven for the treasure fleets to be abandoned, and ruled that the colony would be funded by the crown.

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