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From Contemporary Narratives and Letters
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Christopher Carleill
Christopher Carleill, stepson of Queen Elizabeth's Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham, and Lieutenant General of the Drake expedition of 1585—86. From the engraving first published in Holland's HEROOLOGIA ANGLIA.


St. Augustine was never a self-supporting settlement. Subsidies from New Spain (Mexico) kept the colony alive. The subsidies were expensive, and at the beginning of the 1600's Spanish officials seriously considered abandoning St. Augustine. Gonçalo Méndez de Canço, one of most foresighted of the Florida Governors, was asked for an opinion. He adroitly turned a defense of the colony into a logical plea for further development, and his ably presented argument, liberally fortified with statistics, did much to save the situation. The following extracts from Canço's lengthy opinion illustrates what Florida meant to Spain in early colonial days, both as a coast guard station saving hundreds of Spanish lives and as headquarters for a mission system, which also worked as a giant buffer to become one of Florida's most important defenses against encroachment by other Europeans.


* * * My opinion is, if it please your majesty, that you should not order the abandonment of this presidio until in the meantime an entry into the interior land can be made, and it can be known and understood with certainty whether there are mines of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls. This entry can be made easily and at little cost in this way (your majesty being pleased to consider the said entry favorably), by ordering a number of about sixty or seventy soldiers to be provided besides those who already serve here * * *

In abandoning this presidio entirely, two difficulties are manifest to me, in my opinion very serious, which your majesty ought to consider. These are: if this fort should be abandoned, it would be obligatory to withdraw the Christian Indians who are protected by it, as well as the religious who teach them, because the said religious might continue to work among them. Their lives would meet with much danger and the said Indians would return to their idolatries as they used to. And the other: since the year of [one thousand] five hundred eighty-nine, many Spaniards (who were shipwrecked on the coast of the provinces) escaped and were delivered from death, because this presidio was nearby. And those who escaped came in the following manner:

The said year [1589] on this coast four battered and dismasted ships under command of the general Martín Perez de Olesabal, more than four hundred fifty persons. One of their ships entered this port and from here it departed for Spain.

The said year [1589] the crew of the frigate in the service of this presidio discovered and rescued another forty persons of another ship from the said flota that was lost on Cape Canaveral.

The year of ninety-two [1592] another ship in distress, which was sailing from Havana to Santo Domingo, put into this port battered arid damaged. Here it was repaired in every way that was necessary and continued its voyage. * * * [Additional similar rescues are listed.]

So then, there are in all five hundred seventy-eight persons who had fled here at times. Consistent with these two considerations, then, your majesty will at once determine and command what might better serve and befit your service and the service of God, our Lord. * * *


Letter of Governor Canço to the Crown, September 22, 1602.


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