The culture of North America changed forever in the
year 1513. In April, the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon landed
while searching for the fabled isle of Bimini. The exact landing
spot where Ponce and his men came ashore remains unknown, but it
was apparently somewhere between the Cape Canaveral area and the
mouth of the St. Johns River. Searching for this historic site,
archeologists have conducted numerous "digs" at the Fountain of
Youth, a National Archeological Park, where a Timucuan Indian
village called Seloy was located and where the city of St.
Augustine had its beginning.
Ponce de Leon was on a mission of exploration, not
settlement, and his visit to northeast Florida was brief. Because
he arrived during the Easter season, known as the Pascua Florida,
Ponce named his new discovery La Florida – a name still used
today. Besides naming the land and claiming it for Spain, Ponce de
Leon made a discovery that was to lead to the creation of St.
Augustine. Sailing along the Florida coastline, Ponce de Leon
realized that a strong current was carrying his ships rapidly
northward. This would aid in quickly returning Spanish ships home
and was later called the Gulf Stream. Although Timucuans may not
have had much contact with the Spanish after Ponce de Leon sailed
away, Native Americans in other parts of Florida welcomed, battled
with and fled from numerous Spanish expeditions. Ponce turned his
attention to the west coast of Florida where he died from a
Men like Tristan de Luna, Cabeza de Vaca, and
Hernando de Soto followed Ponce de Leon to Florida and reluctantly
concluded that major investment in this land was not worthwhile. It
was filled with dangerous animals like alligators and snakes, as
well as insects. Heat, humidity, hurricanes and other storms were
serious unavoidable problems. Some parts of Florida welcomed the
Spanish, but it soon became apparent that the war-like natives
would not be as easily subdued as those from other parts of the New
World. Natives from these far more lucrative areas could be forced
to work as slaves while Spain took their gold and silver. Also,
European agriculture did not take hold on the coasts. It seemed
apparent that a colony would have to depend on help from Spain to
survive. Based on these conclusions, the Spanish simply ignored
In 1562, French Protestants known as Huguenots
arrived in Florida. Led by Jean Ribault, their goal was to
establish a colony in the New World as a possible haven. Despite
the Spanish claim to a vast La Florida-- from modern-day Florida to
Labrador and as far westward as the King of Spain could imagine--
the Frenchmen established a small settlement near the mouth of the
St. Johns River. Unfortunately for them, their food supply shipment
never arrived. Though Timucuans happily shared their beans and
squash with their visitors, eventually the French faced starvation
and mutiny. Thus, the Frenchman devoted their efforts to building a
boat and wasted no time in sailing away from Florida.
In 1564, a much larger and better prepared French
expedition -- Huguenots including women and children-- arrived at
the earlier settlement. Led by Rene Laudonniere, Fort Caroline was
built from the remains of the previous village.
In 1561, Spain’s King Phillip II had declared
that no more effort would be made to colonize Florida. It was
explained to Phillip by his advisors that the arrival of the French
was a trespass on Spanish territory, and as Protestants, they were
heretics. Beyond that, the presence of a French base on the eastern
shore of La Florida would pose a very dangerous threat to the
Spanish treasure fleets returning home.
Diplomatically, the Spanish reminded Queen
Catherine of France that the Pope had confirmed that La Florida was
the property of Spain. They asked her to remove her subjects, but
soon learned that the French were preparing an even larger fleet to
sail for Florida. The French would have to be removed by force.
King Phillip knew the best man to complete such a task was Don
Pedro Menendez de Aviles.
Admiral General Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles was
born in Aviles, Spain in 1519. When Menendez was only 30, King
Charles of Spain directed him to pursue and capture a French
corsair named Jean Alfonse who had recently seized ten Spanish
ships. Although the king provided neither money, ships nor troops
for the mission, Menendez headed out to sea where he freed five of
the ships and killed Alfonse. In 1554, the king placed him in
charge of the treasure fleets sailing between Spain and her
colonies in the New World. The Casa de Contratacion, previously in
charge, had lost fleets to corsairs. Menendez excelled without
bribery and successfully led the fleets on their long journeys.
Another war between Spain and France resulted in new duties for
Menendez. He distinguished himself in battles, and at the
war’s end, he was given the honor of transporting King
Phillip home to Spain.
Confident that he had the direct support of the
throne, Menendez became more and more disrespectful of the Casa,
who had became increasingly annoyed with his success and honesty.
In one famous incident, he insulted the Casa members publicly by
personally removing the King’s banner from one of their small
boats. When he returned from the 1563 voyage, the Casa accused him
of numerous infractions and he was imprisoned in the Almohades
treasure house in Seville.