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,
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
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.
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.