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Determining the Facts

Reading 1: A History of Spain's Santa Elena.

In 1513, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon sailed to North America, claimed it for Spain, and named the land he discovered. He called the land La Florida ("Place of Flowers") because his crew arrived there at the time of Pascua Florida ("Flowery Easter"). The place the Spaniards called La Florida was much bigger than the state of Florida today. Spanish Florida included present-day Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Virginia and Louisiana. The location was important to the Spaniards because of how close it was to the Caribbean. La Florida was next to the major trade route from the Caribbean to Spain. Settling there would mean Spain could use it as a base to protect their other nearby colonies from the French.

Throughout the 16th century, Spain and France both fought for territory in the Americas in a series of wars. For both Spain and France, a settlement in La Florida would give a strategic advantage over the other. Unfortunately, the Spaniards had trouble establishing a settlement in La Florida.

The French knew the Spanish failed in La Florida and also knew how important it was strategically. They decided to establish their own settlement at Port Royal Sound, using Parris Island for a military advantage. The settlement would not only provide a way for the French to attack Spanish shipping, but it would also provide land to grow tropical crops they could not grow anywhere else.

In 1562, the French attempted to create a settlement along the Atlantic coast at Port Royal Sound. The fort they built was named Charlesfort. A few months after arriving, the French abandoned the fort because the settlers did not have enough supplies. In 1564, the French returned and settled at Fort Caroline on today’s St. John’s River in the state of Florida.

In 1565, after hearing about France’s settlements at Charlesfort and Fort Caroline, the Spanish decided to try to settle in La Florida again, including at Port Royal Sound, where they would eventually settle Santa Elena. There were many advantages to settling at Port Royal Sound. The site of Santa Elena provided a military advantage, favorable trade winds and some protection from hurricanes. The Spaniards hoped it would also provide rich farmland, a land passage to the Spanish Empire in modern-day Mexico and access to an American Indian population to increase the population within the empire.

Pedro Menéndez de Avilés was the Spanish government's appointed adelantado or, an individual responsible for the conquest of a new area. Adelantados were given contracts by the government outline exactly what they were supposed to do on a specific mission. Menéndez was responsible for settling in Spanish Florida. When his settlement contract was finalized, the French still occupied Fort Caroline. The Spanish government discovered the exact location after they captured three French ships sent to prey on the Spaniards in the Caribbean. The Spanish Governor of Cuba sent the information to the king. The first thing Menéndez was supposed to do after arriving in Florida was remove the French from the territory.

Menéndez and the Spanish ships arrived at Fort Caroline in September of 1565 and successfully took the fort from the French. With the French threat gone, the Spanish claimed La Florida as their own and began preparations to establish a capital. Menéndez established settlements at St. Augustine and Fort Caroline (renamed Fort San Mateo) in 1565 and at Santa Elena in the spring of 1566.

Two years later, additional Spanish settlers arrived at Santa Elena and a concejo, or city government, formed. The concejo issued town lots and farming plots to settlers. Some scholars believe the Spaniards built 40 houses grouped around a central plaza, as well as nearby Fort San Felipe, by 1569. Menéndez brought his wife and their household to the settlement in 1571. The settlers faced hardships including food shortages, difficulties growing crops in sandy soil and growing hostilities with the American Indian tribes, the Orista and Guale American Indian tribes.

After several years, Pedro Menéndez returned to Spain to fight for King Philip against the Dutch. While he was there, Menéndez died on September 17, 1574, passing his estate to his daughter Maria and the title of adelantado of La Florida to his son-in-law, Hernando de Miranda.

When Hernando de Miranda arrived in Santa Elena, the relationship between Spanish settlers and the Orista and Guale Indians continued to get worse. Some Spaniards stole food from the American Indians when settlers faced a food shortage. This stealing pushed the Indians to attack Spanish ships and soldiers. The Spanish settlers left Santa Elena as a result of this attack. American Indians destroyed the fort and burned the settlement.

Shortly after, the Spanish crown ordered the reoccupation of Santa Elena. This time, the governor was Pedro Menéndez Márquez, the nephew of Menéndez de Aviles. However, Márquez was not given the title adelantado. Without a crown-appointed adelantado, La Florida was now under direct royal control. After Santa Elena was abandoned in 1576, the capital of La Florida was moved to St. Augustine. The Spanish rebuilt Santa Elena in 1577, but St. Augustine continued to be the capital.

Sometime later, American Indians told the Spaniards of a settlement north of Santa Elena in modern-day North Carolina. The new settlers were under the control of an Englishman, Walter Raleigh. Raleigh established the Roanoke Island colony in North Carolina in 1585. The English were now considered a threat to Spanish settlement in North America.

The threat of the English would continue with Sir Francis Drake’s large fleet sacking and burning Santo Domingo and Cartagena in the Caribbean. There were rumors that Drake and his fleet were headed north to St. Augustine and Santa Elena. However, he missed the settlements at St. Augustine and Santa Elena. Drake sailed farther north to Roanoke, rescued the stranded colonists in North Carolina, and sailed back to England.

The threat of additional English attacks forced the Spaniards to reconsider their settlements in La Florida. On August 16, 1587, Governor Pedro Menéndez Márquez took his royal orders to Santa Elena and evacuated the settlement, destroying the fort and houses as he left. The population moved to St. Augustine, effectively ending the Spanish’s settlement at Santa Elena. Drake passed over Santa Elena and attacked St. Augustine, destroying the town and the fort. Despite that, the Spanish rebuilt there and today St. Augustine is the oldest permanent city founded by Europeans in North America.

Questions for Reading 1

1) Why was Port Royal Sound a strategic location for Europeans? Why was Santa Elena important to the Spaniards?

2) What is an adelantado? What is a concejo?

3) What kinds of objects, animals, personal items, and other physical goods do you think the Spanish settlers brought with them to North America? Why?

5) Do you think the Spanish settlement of La Florida was successful? Why or why not? Explain.

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