|etween the mid-sixteenth and early nineteenth
centuries, the coastal areas of Georgia and Florida were a sporadic battleground for
European colonial ambitions. France, England, and Spain each laid claim to the North
American continent, but the Spanish were the first to establish a permanent settlement.
Several failed attempts at Spanish settlement in Florida followed Juan Ponce de León's 1513 landing on the east coast of the peninsula. The founding of St. Augustine by Spain in 1565 was a direct response to an effort by the French to establish a settlement in North Florida. French ship captains had traded with Native Americans along the South Carolina and Georgia coasts for some time, and in 1564, an expedition under René Goulaine de Laudonnière built Fort de la Caroline on the south bank of the St. Johns as a haven for persecuted French Huguenots. Sent to deal with the French threat, Spaniard Pedro Menéndez de Avilés took the fort, slaughtering the French soldiers and colonists, whom he considered heretics. Founded by Avilés on September 8, 1565, St. Augustine became the focus of the 200-year Spanish presence on the east coast of the continent.
Before long, the growth of the English colonies in Virginia and South Carolina threatened the shaky Spanish empire. British raids beginning around 1700 led to power changeovers between Spain and Britain, until Florida was finally ceded to the United States in 1821.