| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Pedro Menéndez de Avilés
A naval officer of renown, bravery, and skill, Menéndez de Avilés
became Captain-General under Philip II, who also commissioned him to colonize
Florida, an indefinite area at the time stretching from New Mexico on the west
to Newfoundland in the north. The mandate was permanently to colonize the
territory and to expel the Huguenots who were threatening the Spanish trade
route (see Laudonnière). Arriving at St. John’s River in 1565, Menéndez de
Avilés surprised the French garrison at Fort Caroline, executed the Protestant
prisoners, including Jean Ribault, and re-christened the site Fort Matéo. He
also founded St. Augustine, now the oldest permanent city of European origin in
the United States.
Unlike the aims of
Narváez or de Soto, Menéndez de Avilés’s goal was not mineral riches but the
settling of as large an area as possible, for his grant was to him and his
family in perpetuity. As was the custom at the time, while his venture required
official approval, the crown invested only a small percentage of the total funds
needed. To outfit a formidable fleet, a military land force, and the colonizers
needed to settle the land, Menéndez de Avilés had to organize investors,
tapping his family’s and his friends’ fortunes. Success would bring them
prosperity for generations; failure, ruin. So, in addition to soldiers, he
recruited craftsmen from thirty-eight trades, over one hundred farmers, and
twenty-seven families, including women and children. He had permission to take
five hundred black slaves to perform the most difficult work. Determined to
expand his holdings, he sent missionaries north into Santa Maria Bay (the
Chesapeake), and built blockhouses from the coast of the present Carolinas to
the Alleghenies. From St. Augustine the Camino Real would set out toward Tallahassee
and points west.
But the desperate tone
to his letters, in which he pleaded for equipment to hold the land and priests
to christianize the natives, was well-founded. His mistake, perhaps, was to try
to occupy too much territory with too few settlers at a time when the king was
unwilling to invest more funds, once the immediate French threat had been
eliminated. Menéndez de Avilés lacked the personal fortune to keep his
lieutenants content in outposts where they were both incredibly uncomfortable
and perilously outnumbered by hostile natives. The colonials mutinied
continually, until the far-flung outpost had to be abandoned, leaving only the
settlement concentrated around St. Augustine, which continued as the emporium
of Spanish power in the area for almost three centuries.
University of California at Irvine
In the Heath Anthology
from Letter to Philip II (October 15, 1565) (1565)
from To a Jesuit Friend (October 15, 1566) (1566)
There are no Cultural Objects for this author.
Would you like to add a Cultural Object?
There are no pedagogical assignments or approaches for this author.
Thomas Jefferson Papers
Digital reproduction of a detailed engraving of de Avilés.
Welcome to the First Coast
Page including historical information on de Avilés founding of St. Augustine and the French colonization in 16th century.
Henry Folmer, Franco-Spanish Rivalry in North America, 1524-1763, 1953
Roger Kennedy, Rediscovering America, 1990
Woodbury Lowery, The Spanish Settlements Within the Present Limits of the United States, v. 2, 1959