Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Founding of St. Augustine

Some Americans believe that the first permanent European settlement in the present-day United States was the English village at Jamestown, Virginia.  But 42 years before the founding of Jamestown, the Spanish established a permanent settlement at St. Augustine in Florida.  It is now the oldest city in the U.S.
The Spanish began exploring Florida in 1513, when Juan Ponce de Leon first landed there.  But Ponce de Leon and the Spanish who followed him were searching for gold, and did not remain.  Then in the 1560s, the French claimed control of the region.   They built a wooden fortress, Fort Caroline, on the northeast coast.  King Philip II of Spain quickly sent a fleet, commanded by Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, to destroy the French fort.  Menendez drove away the French in 1565, and built a Spanish outpost on a nearby inlet.   He named it St. Augustine, after the saint whose feast day was August 28, the day Menendez first saw the site of the settlement.

St. Augustine was attacked several times in its long history, but the residents stayed on.  In 1586, St. Augustine was looted and burned by an English force led by Sir Francis Drake.  Today, a few ruins still stand from St. Augustine’s earliest days.  And many reconstructions show what the settlement must have been like in the 1500s.