St. Augustine History

The mainland of the North American continent was first sighted by the Spanish explorer and treasure hunter, Don Juan Ponce de Leon, on Easter, March 27, 1513. He claimed the land for Spain and named it La Florida, meaning "Land of Flowers." Between 1513 and 1563 the government of Spain launched six expeditions to settle Florida, but all failed. The French succeeded in establishing a fort and colony on the St. Johns River in 1564 and, in doing so, threatened Spain's treasure fleets which sailed along Florida's shoreline returning to Spain. As a result of this incursion into Florida, King Phillip II named Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, Spain's most experienced admiral, as governor of Florida, instructing him to explore and to colonize the territory. Menendez was also instructed to drive out any pirates or settlers of other nations, should they be found there.

When Menendez arrived off the coast of Florida, it was August 28, 1565, the Feast Day of St. Augustine. Eleven days later, he and his six hundred soldiers and settlers came ashore at the site of the Timucuan Indian village of Seloy with banners flying and trumpets sounding. He hastily fortified the fledgling village and named it St. Augustine.

Utilizing brilliant military maneuvers, Menendez destroyed the French garrison on the St. Johns River and, with the help of a hurricane, also defeated the French fleet. With the coast of Florida firmly in Spanish hands, he then set to work building the town, establishing missions to the Indians for the Church, and exploring the land.

Thus, St. Augustine was founded forty-two years before the English colony at Jamestown, Virginia, and fifty-five years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts - making it the oldest permanent European settlement on the North American continent.

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