In the mid-16th century, Spain and France competed for control of North America. The Spanish government believed it had exclusive rights to the continent by the blessing of the Catholic Church, and France disagreed. To protect its Atlantic shipping route from English and French privateers, Spain colonized points along the southeastern coast from the Caribbean to the Carolinas. One of these outposts was Santa Elena, the first colonial capital of Spanish Florida. Spanish colonists founded Santa Elena in 1566 on an island in the Port Royal Sound of present-day South Carolina. Both French and Spanish colonists occupied the site during the 16th century. Today, the Charlesfort-Santa Elena site is a National Historic Landmark important for its associations with the 16th century conflict between Spain and France for control of the New World and with officers Spaniard Pedro Menendez de Aviles and Frenchman Jean Ribault. The site is also considered archaeologically significant.
August 8, 2014, Beaufort, South Carolina – The Santa Elena Foundation Board of Directors welcomes Dr. Charles Cornett as Director of Historical Education. Cornett, a retired school superintendent, will serve on the Foundation’s advisory board and coordinate education outreach.
“Our goal is to align American understanding of our colonial past with historical evidence, particularly archaeological evidence that confirms the Spanish established the Santa Elena settlement on Parris Island circa 1566,” explained Cornett. “Santa Elena predates Jamestown and Plymouth by decades. Unfortunately, while school history texts describe the Pilgrims’ arrival and First Thanksgiving—with their cast of English characters—they say little about life at the earlier Santa Elena, a Spanish town that existed for twenty years. Of course in the past, only the victors wrote the history.” Cornett is facilitating the implementation of the National Park Services (NPS) Santa Elena curriculum by encouraging educators to use and enhance what he calls “inquiry-based” lesson plans that engage students in discussion, analysis of maps, use of the Internet and much more. In particular, he points to how the NPS plans seek to have students synthesize conclusions and apply new learning. For example, students are challenged to find ways to educate their own communities.
“The Santa Elena story should be a point of pride for South Carolinians and all Hispanic students,” Cornett said. “Santa Elena’s 450-year anniversary comes up in 2016 and we hope to have made real progress by then. The National Park Services will soon release a resource for teachers, including web-based lessons plans that challenge students to delve into the fascinating history of Santa Elena.
July 29, 2014, Beaufort, South Carolina – The Santa Elena Foundation Board of Directors welcomed Álvaro Armada Barcaiztegui to the foundation board. Sr. Armada is a direct descendent of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, the 16th Century Adelantado Mayor of La Florida (governor general) and founder of Santa Elena. Sr. Armada is the Count of Güemes and is to be named the IX Count of Revilla-Gigedo and XX Adelantado Mayor of La Florida by His Majesty Felipe VI, King of Spain.
Organized by local business leaders, civic leaders, and scholars, the Santa Elena Foundation promotes the history of European arrival on the North American coast. French construction of Charlesfort on Parris Island by Jean Ribault in 1562 drew a Spanish response. Spanish settlers established the community of Santa Elena in 1569, the first colonial capital in America. The story of European rivals struggling for dominance in North America involved French, Spanish, and English explorers and their interactions with nations of Native American peoples. The Santa Elena Foundation is dedicated to sharing the little known history of this “lost century” through archaeological research, a cultural interpretive center, and a living history museum.
Sr. Armada dedicates his time to the promotion of 500 years of distinguished family history and public service. The Count is curator of a private archive of original documents, one of the most important private collections in Spain. The archive he believes should be the basis for a new museum in the Asturias region of northern Spain dedicated to historic research. Sr. Armada serves a board member for MAPFRE PRAICO Corporation and CEO of Tourist and Cultural Project Development in Madrid. He brings to the Santa Elena Foundation considerable international leadership experience.
The Santa Elena Foundation in August brought together leading scholars to create a timeline of the Santa Elena settlement. The experts were historians Karen Paar of South Carolina, Eugene Lyon of Florida and Paul Hoffman of Louisiana, and archaeologists Chester DePratter, who excavated the related Huguenot settlement of Charlesfort, and David Moore, who helped discover Fort San Juan, an inland settlement near Morganton, North Carolina.
What is known about Santa Elena is the result of the work of a small group of historians and archaeologists. We honor five of these scholars. The group never before assembled worked recently as a team to craft a historic Santa Elena timeline. The timeline becomes the basis for future historical and archaeological research.
Dr. Karen Paar is an archivist and historian. Karen Paar grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, attended Oberlin College in Ohio, and completed a Ph.D. in Latin American History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Paar wrote her dissertation on the Santa Elena colony. As Research Assistant Professor at the Institute for Southern Studies at the University of South Carolina, Dr. Paar continued her grant-funded research on Santa Elena. Dr. Paar returned to North Carolina and attended library school at North Carolina Central University while working at the North Carolina State University Libraries. Karen Paar currently lives in western North Carolina and is the Director of the Liston B. Ramsey Center for Regional Studies and Archivist of the Southern Appalachian Archives at Mars Hill University. She continues her research on Santa Elena in her spare time.
Dr. Paul Hoffman: is the Murrill Distinguished Professor of History, at Louisiana State University. He received his PhD from the University of Florida. Dr. Hoffman is author of the award-winning A New Andalucia and a Way to the Orient (published in 1990 and again in 2004) and Florida’s Frontiers (published in 2002); he is author of four other books, and numerous other writings. With Dr. Eugene Lyon he worked with the St. Augustine Foundation, Inc. to propose a living history museum for the 16th century town. Recently he edited issues of the Florida Historical Quarterly dedicated to scholarship on the 16th century. He delivered the first Jerrell Shofner Lecture for the Florida Historical Society at the University of Central Florida (La Florida : Thoughts About a Story Still Largely Untold). His scholarship also includes essays on the 16th century cartography of North America and the role of the ecology of the Southeast in early Spanish settlement. He is a Fellow of the Louisiana Historical Association, and recipient of McGinty Life-time achievement award.
Dr. Eugene Lyon : A Florida native, served in the Korean War aboard the USS Hobson (DMS-26). He holds a Ph.D. degree from the University of Florida, and is a specialist in Spanish Colonial Florida and the Spanish maritime system.
Lyon’s publications include The Enterprise of Florida, The Search for the Atocha, and Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, a Sourcebook. The St. Augustine Historical Society published his book, Richer Than We Thought, and the University of South Carolina Press published Santa Elena: A Brief History of the Colony. He wrote a monograph on Spanish colonial nails. He has written many conference papers, book chapters, and five National Geographic articles—including two cover articles for National Geographic. One of those featured previously unpublished data on Christopher Columbus’s caravel Niña.
Lyon directed the St. Augustine Foundation for fourteen years. The Foundation holds more than a thousand reels of film of materials related to Spanish Florida.
From data in the Archives of the Indies, Lyon enabled salvor Mel Fisher to locate and definitively identify the sunken ships Nuestra Señora de Atocha and Santa Margarita in the lower Florida Keys.
Eugene Lyon received the grade of Official in the Order of Isabella from King Juan Carlos of Spain, and the grade of Comendador in the Order of Christopher Columbus from the President of the Dominican Republic. The City of St. Augustine granted him its highest honor, the Order of La Florida, and in 2003 the Florida Historical Society gave him the Jillian Prescott Award for lifetime service to Florida history. In 2005, he received the Mel Fisher Lifetime Achievement Award.
Dr. Chester DePratter: received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Georgia in 1983. His varied interests include coastal Georgia and South Carolina geology/archaeology, migrations of Native Americans across the southeastern United States in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Civil War prison camps, and Spanish colonial ventures in “La Florida.” As part of this latter interest he has conducted extensive excavations at Santa Elena (1566-1587). This work led to his discovery of the location of the French Charlesfort established on Parris Island in 1562. His work includes the identification of the routes of several sixteenth century Spanish expeditions to interior “La Florida” including those of Hernando de Soto, Tristan de Luna, and Juan Pardo; this work has helped redraw the map of the interior southeast and the locations of its Native American peoples in the sixteenth century. More recently he has worked in Mississippi and identified the locations for two 1736 battles between the Chickasaw and the French colonists there.
Dr. David Moore: received his B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley and his MA and Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina. He served as the North Carolina Western Office archaeologist for 18 years before becoming a full-time faculty member at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, NC. Dr. Moore has directed the archaeological investigations at the Berry site since 1986. He is the author and co-author of numerous book chapters and articles. Dr. Moore and his colleagues, Dr. Robin Beck (University of Michigan) and Dr. Christopher Rodning (Tulane University) submitted a monograph on the work at Joara including the archaeological discovery of Fort San Juan established by the Spanish explorer Juan Pardo from Santa Elena in 1566.
In the mid-16th century, Spain and France competed for control of North America. The Spanish government believed it had exclusive rights to the continent by the blessing of the Catholic Church, and France disagreed. To protect its Atlantic shipping route from English and French privateers, Spain colonized points along the southeastern coast from the Caribbean to the Carolinas. One of these outposts was Santa Elena, the first colonial capital of Spanish Florida. Spanish colonists founded Santa Elena in 1566 on an island in the Port Royal Sound of present-day South Carolina. Both French and Spanish colonists occupied the site during the 16th century. Today, the Charlesfort-Santa Elena site is a National Historic Landmark important for its associations with the 16th century conflict between Spain and France for control of the New World and with officers Spaniard Pedro Menendez de Aviles and Frenchman Jean Ribault. The site is also considered archeologically significant.
After Christopher Columbus opened the Americas to European colonization in 1492, private and royal ships loaded with valuable goods traveled between the colonies and Spain. One of the most important water routes was the Florida Straits between the Bahaman Islands and the Florida coast, where a strong current carries ships east out of the Gulf of Mexico and then straight north up the Atlantic coast. During the colonial era, French and English ships waited in these straits for silver-laden Spanish ships to attack and loot. To protect Spain’s interests, King Philip II of Spain decided to build towns on the Florida mainland coast to provide a safe haven for Spanish ships.
The king chose Spanish naval officer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés to be the adelantado, or governor, of Spanish Florida in 1565 and ordered him to establish military bases on the mainland by the Straits. Adelantado was an elite military and administrative position created when the Christian Spaniards took the Iberian Peninsula back from the Moslem Moors. In Europe, the Spanish adelantados built fortified outposts in hostile areas and were responsible for bringing the surrounding region under Spanish control. In return for the adelantado’s work, the Spanish crown granted the individual economic privileges and honors. When it began colonizing the Americas, Spain continued to use this system. Other Spaniards to hold the title adelantado of Florida before Menéndez were Ponce de Léon, two men by the name of Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón, Pánfilo de Narváez, Hernando de Soto, and Tristan de Luna y Arellano. However, Spain failed to establish a permanent settlement in Florida until Menéndez’s expedition.
Menéndez is best known for founding St. Augustine, the oldest continuously occupied European city in the continental United States, but his first colonial capital was Santa Elena on Parris Island in the Port Royal Sound. At the time, “Florida” was all land the Spanish believed was North of Mexico. Parris Island is located in present-day South Carolina. Before Menéndez arrived, his French rival, naval officer Jean Ribault, founded Charlesfort on the island in 1562 and claimed the land for France. Ribault’s fort was a blockhouse made of logs and clay, thatched with straw, and surrounded by a moat. Ribault’s expedition abandoned Charlesfort within a year and sailed south to found Fort Caroline. Menéndez arrived in the Straits in 1565 and fought Ribault’s forces on land and at sea along the Florida coast. He drove the French colonists from the Southeast, destroyed their forts, and reclaimed the territory for Spain.
When Menéndez arrived at Parris Island in 1566, he ordered his men to build a new fort, called San Salvador, and a few months later, he founded Santa Elena, the first capital of Florida. Menéndez oversaw the construction of a larger fort, San Felipe (I), after 250 reinforcements arrived on the island in the summer of 1566. Two years later, 225 settlers – including farmers, Catholic missionaries, and families – arrived in Florida from Spain and supplemented the garrisons at St. Augustine and Santa Elena. Menéndez’s city government at Santa Elena issued land for the immigrants, and by 1569, there were 40 houses around the central plaza.
For 21 years following colonization in 1566, Santa Elena’s Spanish leadership struggled to keep the coastal village working. The soil on the island could not support the farming needed to feed everyone, so there were food shortages. The Spanish were not on friendly terms with the native American Indians in the region – the Orista and Guale tribes – so the colonial farmers could not expand their farms beyond the fort’s protection. To reduce the number of people they had to feed, Menéndez’s lieutenant and kinsman, Esteban de las Alas, sent away all but 46 soldiers. This left the town vulnerable to attacks by the French and Native Americans. When ships from Spain arrived in 1571, carrying supplies and more colonists, they also brought a deadly sickness. At around the same time, a fire at San Felipe (I) destroyed the fort. Menéndez’s son-in-law, Don Diego de Velasco, oversaw the construction of a new fort, also named San Felipe (II). The purpose of this new fort was to protect and support the Spanish population during a raid.
Menéndez passed away in September 1574 and the Florida adelantado passed on to his daughter Catalina’s husband, Hernando de Miranda. Miranda arrived at Santa Elena from Spain in the winter of 1576. Upon arrival, Miranda had Velasco, who was married to Menéndez’s other daughter, arrested for mismanaging soldiers’ bonuses and took over the local government. The following summer, Miranda’s ill treatment of the Native Americans provoked violence, and both the Guale and Orista attacked the Spanish together launching an assault on the settlement and its ships. The colonists fled the town and gathered at the Fort San Felipe (II). When they were able, the surviving colonists and soldiers escaped from the island on small boats left undisturbed by the attackers. Behind them, the Guale and Orista burned the fort and sacked Santa Elena. Catalina and Miranda sailed back to Spain, and St. Augustine was the capital of Spanish Florida thereafter.
In 1577, the Spanish colonists returned to Santa Elena. Philip II appointed Menéndez’s nephew, Pedro Menéndez Márquez, as governor of Florida, which was no longer a private adelantado venture but a royal colony. Menéndez Márquez ordered his soldiers to build a new garrison, Fort San Marcos (I), and brought the Spanish colonists back to settle on the land. Under the new governor’s command, the Spanish soldiers invaded the Guale and Orista towns, which were harboring French castaways, and regained control of the island by 1580. The Spaniards’ successes at Santa Elena were short-lived, as the threat of an English empire in North America began to dawn and this changed the Spaniards’ approach in colonizing Florida. In 1586, the Spanish at St. Augustine heard of Sir Walter Raleigh’s Roanoke Island Colony on the coast of North Carolina. Menéndez Márquez also feared Sir Francis Drake’s war in the Caribbean. As Drake made his way north, he raided Spanish settlements at Santo Domingo, Cartagena, and St. Augustine. The English intended to take Santa Elena, too, but the fleet overshot it.
In response to the English threat, Spain decided to shrink the scope of its Florida colony and consolidate its colonial towns to strengthen them. Menéndez Márquez returned to Santa Elena in 1587 and ordered his men to destroy the town infrastructure and the second Fort San Marcos (II). The Parris Island colonists moved to St. Augustine and the Spanish abandoned Santa Elena for good. For two centuries after the Spanish left, Scottish and then English colonists occupied Port Royal Sound. The coastal region was a trading ground for American Indians and Europeans before plantations developed in the coastal low country in the early 1700s. South Carolina became part of the United States at the end of the 18th century, and the plantations thrived until the American Civil War.
In 1915, the United States Marine Corps created the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island. Little was known about the Spanish at Parris Island when the USMC arrived and most of the written history focused on the French presence. While the Marines settled on the island, Major George Osterhout oversaw archeological excavations at the site of one of the forts, which he believed was French, and Congress erected a monument to Jean Ribault in 1926. At the same time, a scholar of Spanish colonial studies, Hubert Eugene Bolton, began to publish articles about Spain’s presence on the island. In the 1950s, National Park Service historians reexamined artifacts recovered from Parris Island by Major Osterhout and the fort he excavated. They determined the artifacts are Spanish in origin and the “French” fort is likely Spain’s Fort San Marcos (I).
Since the late 1970s, archeologists continue to investigate the site of Charlesfort-Santa Elena for clues about its past inhabitants and the way they lived. In addition to revealing evidence of early European colonization in the United States, the site is valuable for what it can reveal about adelantado town planning. The site of Santa Elena was never reoccupied fully after the Spanish left in 1587. Archeologists today are able to explore the site to find information about what the town looked like in the 16th century. Excavations at Santa Elena reveal that the town had a central plaza with colonial buildings uniformly built around it. Visitors to Parris Island can learn about the island’s history at the nearby USMC Parris Island Museum.
In 1513, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon sailed to North America, claiming it for Spain. He named the land he discovered “La Florida” (place of flowers) because his crew arrived there at the time of “Pascua Florida” (Flowery Easter). The area 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 area was important to the Spaniards because of its proximity to the Caribbean and a major trade route to Spain. Settling there would mean Spain could use it as a base to protect their holdings from the French.
Throughout the 16th century, Spain and France both fought for territory in the Americas in a series of wars. For 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 had failed and knew how important it was to succeed. 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 also provide land to grow tropical crops they could not grow elsewhere.
In 1562, the French built a fort they called Charlesfort. Less than a year after arriving, they 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 establish 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 Spanish empire.
Pedro Menéndez de Avilés was the Spanish government’s appointed adelantado, an individual responsible for the conquest of new areas. The Spanish government granted adelantados contracts that outlined exactly what adelantados were supposed to do on specific missions. Menéndez was responsible for settling in Spanish Florida. When his contract was finalized, the French still occupied Fort Caroline near present-day Jacksonville, Fla. 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 to do after arriving in Florida was to remove the French from the territory.
Menéndez and the Spanish ships arrived at Fort Caroline in September 1565 and successfully took the fort from the French. With the French threat gone, the Spanish 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 on Parris Island in the spring of 1566.
A few months later, additional Spanish settlers arrived at Santa Elena and a concejo, or city government, was formed. The concejo issued town lots and farming plots to settlers. Some scholars think 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 1570. The settlers faced hardships including food shortages, difficulties growing crops in sandy soil and growing hostilities with the American Indian tribes, the Orista and the Guale.
After several years, Menéndez returned to Spain to secure funding and develop a plan for expansion. While there, he died Sept. 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 worsened. Some Spaniards stole food from the Indians when settlers faced a shortage. This stealing pushed the Indians to attack Spanish ships and soldiers. The Spanish settlers left Santa Elena as a result of this attack. The Indians destroyed the fort and burned the settlement. After Santa Elena was abandoned in 1576, the capital of La Florida was moved to St. Augustine.
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. La Florida was now under direct royal control. The Spanish rebuilt Santa Elena in 1577.
Sometime later, Indians told the Spaniards about a settlement 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 English threat came to fruition when Sir Francis Drake’s large fleet sacked and burned Santo Domingo and Cartagena in the Caribbean and later St. Augustine. But Drake missed the settlement at Santa Elena. He sailed north to Roanoke, rescued stranded colonists in North Carolina and sailed back to England.
Still, the threat of additional English attacks prompted 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 people moved to St. Augustine, effectively ending Spain’s settlement at Santa Elena. Today, St. Augustine is the oldest permanent city founded by Europeans in North America.