Santa Elena

Local Organizations Join Forces to Elevate Beaufort County’s Unique Heritage and History

6/5/2020 – Celebrating five years in operation, the Santa Elena History Center sincerely thanks the dedicated volunteers, generous supporters, numerous partners, and especially Beaufort County, for launching efforts to claim Santa Elena as America’s First Capital. Now, the Santa Elena Foundation will move on to an exciting new chapter as a part of the Coastal Discovery Museum, the only Smithsonian affiliate organization in Beaufort County.

Amid the uncertainty and change of these unprecedented times lies new opportunity. The goal of both non-profits is to better serve local communities and everyone interested in the heritage of the Lowcountry. This official collaboration will be known moving forward as the Santa Elena Center at the Coastal Discovery Museum.

Aligning efforts will allow Santa Elena’s mission – To discover, preserve, and share the untold story of America’s first and lost century through the rise and fall of Santa Elena to become part of the overall mission of the Coastal Discovery Museum – To inspire people to care for the Lowcountry. Led by archaeologist Dr. Rex Garniewicz at the Coastal Discovery Museum, the Santa Elena Center will continue to discover, preserve and educate the public about the National Heritage Landmark site of Charlesfort-Santa Elena.

“This is really one of the most incredibly complex and fascinating histories we have to tell in the Lowcountry.” According to Dr. Garniewicz “It was where the brutal rivalry between France and Spain took hold in the New World and where the Spanish based their northern operations, building forts all the way into the Appalachian Mountains. Santa Elena marks the shift from European exploration to settlement, and intense conflict with Native American populations who had already established sophisticated chiefdoms along the coast. In an intense struggle for survival, these Mississippian chiefdoms were able to defeat the Spanish in the interior and burn Santa Elena but eventually suffered great losses to their culture in the face of European colonialism. “

The shared vision is to create a new center of excellence at the museum on the historic Honey Horn property to continue all the progress that Santa Elena Foundation made in its developmental phase, including public programming, special events, educational initiatives, and outreach to students of all ages.  The center will be a resource and repository for scholarly research and publications.

Additional components are in development, such as a 1,000 sq. ft. traveling exhibition to improve the public profile of this incredible story — the story of America’s first century. The first stop is Coastal Discovery Museum’s “Discovery House” on Hilton Head Island, where it will debut in October 2020, adding to the array of local information shared on that historic site. Eventually the goal is to also connect visitors to Beaufort and Parris Island through a tour of the archaeological site and a possible onsite presence, as well as continuing support for the archaeological discoveries yet to be made.

Both institutions see this as a strong, positive move and, to make it possible, they created the Santa Elena Society as an avenue for supporters to provide funding during these challenging times to enable both organizations to seize this opportunity. This will move it forward with great diligence and ensure that future generations know and understand Santa Elena’s place in America’s first century.

“It’s been a rewarding journey for those involved in the establishment of the Santa Elena Foundation,” says Megan Morris, Foundation Director. “There are thousands of stakeholders – donors, volunteers, and partners – that helped this organization progress quickly and thanks to them, we are at a crossroads of success. We are excited to transition to the next chapter and new projects.”

Look for more information about our new initiatives, ways to be involved, and how you can support this important endeavor coming soon!

About Coastal Discovery Museum:

The Coastal Discovery Museum opened at a small mid-island storefront on Hilton Head Island in 1985, moved to 100 William Hilton Parkway in 1995 and moved in 2007 to the beautiful 68-acre Historic Honey Horn property in 2007 with a mission to inspire people to care for the Lowcountry.  Throughout its operation’s history, the Museum it has always focused on education and connecting people to important aspects of the Lowcountry’s environment, history, and art, culture and natural environments.

Since opening at Honey Horn, the museum has become a trusted community resource and source of pride among Beaufort County families and visitors.  The Coastal Discovery Museum envisions that it can help take the Santa Elena story to the next level. Since opening at Honey Horn, the Coastal Discovery Museum has welcomed over 1.3 Million visitors. Beyond this the museum is a Smithsonian Affiliate (one of only 200 organizations in the country with this important designation), has educated over 100,000 students in its standards-based school programming, holds 1,200 family and adult education programs and lectures yearly, hosts numerous large-scale, community events. The Museum has over 250 dedicated volunteers and 2,500 devoted members. Since opening at Honey Horn, the museum is financially sound, even amidst the current health crisis, and has continually operated in the black for over a decade and been able to increase programming and staffing.

SCIAA & SEF Team Up to Search for Le Prince Shipwreck in Port Royal Sound

NOAA, South Carolina Institute of Archaeology & Anthropology, Santa Elena Foundation
Shoals and Shipwrecks, University of South Carolina launches marine archaeological survey off Port Royal Sound.

 UPDATE, APRIL 2020 — This research project is experiencing some delay due to the Pandemic but will resume as soon as possible.

The South Carolina Institute of Archeology and Anthropology at the University of South Carolina, Columbia will conduct a two-year search for shipwrecks offshore Port Royal Sound, South Carolina. Extending about seven miles offshore into the Atlantic Ocean, the entrance shoals at Port Royal Sound have proved to be  a “ship trap” since the earliest days of European exploration along the southeastern U.S. coastline. Historical documents suggest approximately forty vessels from the 16th to 19th centuries met their fate on and around this treacherous shoal complex with evocative names such as Martins Industry, Great North Breakers, and Cole’s Care. Shipwrecks include a French galleon called Le Prince that wrecked in 1577, the HM brig Colibri that sank on the shoals during the War of 1812, and the bark Marcia loaded with a cargo of stone and part of the Great Stone Fleet sent by the Union navy to obstruct southern ports during the Civil War. Interspersed amongst these shipwrecks lie numerous other casualties of the shoals.

The project is called “Shoals and Shipwrecks: Archaeological Explorations off Port Royal Sound, South Carolina,” and  is under the direction of James Spirek, the state underwater archaeologist and head of the Maritime Research Division at the institute.

“The resources to explore for Le Prince and other unfortunates lost on the shoals permit a sustained effort to advance our knowledge and understanding of the maritime archaeology and history of Port Royal Sound, South Carolina, and the U.S.,” said Spirek.

Other key institute personnel include Ryan Bradley, underwater archaeologist, and Dr. Chester DePratter, research archaeologist.

“This is a great opportunity to bridge  the land archaeology with underwater archaeological investigations, particularly related to early Spanish colonial endeavors associated with the 16th century settlement site of Santa Elena , “said DePratter, director of the excavations at the Charlesfort/Santa Elena  archaeological site on present-day Parris Island.

The research team seeks to continue and expand efforts to locate shipwrecks and other structures, sites, and objects of archaeological and historical significance in the area. With funding, they aim to support preservation efforts by recording and identifying their discoveries, enabling more in-depth investigations and mitigation in the future. The team will use advanced marine remote-sensing technology and visual inspections in the search area, which includes both state and federal waters. They will complement this work with historical research to develop the maritime historical context of the region.

A significant partner in the project is the Santa Elena History Center based in Beaufort is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization devoted to educating the public about the 16th century Spanish colonial presence at Santa Elena and other time periods of South Carolina and Beaufort’s history.

“Our collaborative efforts to discover, promote, and preserve this research and to educate our visitors are very valuable, especially the story of Le Prince, to create a better understanding of many significant stories during 500 years of American history, with many occurring here in Beaufort” said Megan Morris, director of the Santa Elena Foundation and History Center.

In addition to filling in knowledge gaps regarding the region’s historical maritime activities, such as transport, trade, and warfare, findings from this project will also be used to inform state and federal seafloor management decisions. Resource managers will be able to use this information to balance uses and minimize conflicts between the preservation of these archaeological remnants and competing interests in the area’s mineral resources, for example beach quality sand needed to rebuild local beaches.

Another important mission of the team is to engage the public through a variety of educational and outreach opportunities to promote an awareness and appreciation of the maritime and historical archaeological legacy in Port Royal Sound. The information derived from the project will provide the foundation for informing the public about ongoing progress and results delivered through various mediums including newsletter articles, social media postings, a webpage devoted to the project, as well as public and professional lectures. The project team will also contribute to NOAA’s Ocean Explorer website ( The team will also develop a short film about the project hosted on the institute’s YouTube Channel and at the center.

Project findings will also be incorporated into the institute’s educational programming “SUBMERGED: The Underwater Archaeology of South Carolina,” that targets middle school students in underserved school districts throughout the Palmetto State.

“The process of fieldwork and research associated with this underwater archaeological exploration will augment our educational offerings and provide students with a greater understanding of the blending of science, archaeology, and history to gain a deeper understanding of our past,” said Bradley.

A formal report documenting the scope and results will be made available for download at the conclusion of the project.

Santa Elena manuscript with new research, insights in progress

2/25/20 – At the close of her special lecture at the Santa Elena History Center yesterday, Dr. Karen Paar, of Mars Hill University, signed an agreement to write a book-length manuscript on the significant story of Santa Elena from the perspective of the settlers who lived at America’s first capital in the 16th century.

Building on her research over the past 20 years, Dr. Paar will consult both primary and secondary resources to produce a cohesive and accurate portrayal of this history. She one of a few translators of 16th century Spanish and has extensively studied the Archives of the Indies.

“The goal of this book is to provide a scholarly sound, but readable, account of the history of Santa Elena and its significance for understanding the region’s history,” says Dr. Paar.
“Furthermore, I hope this book will be the launching point for further historical research and that archaeologists will find it helpful as they continue investigation into the Charlesfort-Santa Elena site on Parris Island.”

The Santa Elena Foundation recognizes great value in the work of Dr. Paar and this project, which will meet all three key elements of its mission — to discover, promote, and preserve the first century of American history through the lens of Santa Elena. The manuscript will shed new light on three important perspectives of the history– the role of conquest in America’s development, the role of women in colonization, and the depth of engagement and disruption of the indigenous communities in this land.

“Multi-national colonization is an important part of the history of this nation,” states Dr. Paar.

“And modern-day discovery of America’s first century is changing what we know about our history, how we can learn from it, and what it means to be an American,” agrees Megan Morris, Director of Santa Elena Foundation. “Dr. Paar’s research and writing parallels multiple current efforts to uncover Santa Elena and the much larger context it leads us to understand.”

The timeline for the completion of the manuscript is by May 2021, when it will then be published and disseminated.


Dr. Karen Paar is an archivist, historian, and among a handful of scholars capable of reading archaic paleography from the Columbus era. Dr. 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 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. Dr. Paar regularly lectures in support of the University of South Carolina Beaufort’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and continues her research on Santa Elena from primary source period archives on the Iberian Peninsula which will be transitioned into a book in 2021.


As the entry sign to Parris Island indicates with its display of the Ribault monument along with the Marine Corps logo, there is rich heritage on this island in Port Royal Sound. Spend a day at Parris Island to learn about its 100+ years of history as a Marine Recruit Depot and its earliest history as the first European capital of North America 450 years ago!

Then, in the afternoon, enjoy a golf tournament at The Legends course, just steps away from the Charlesfort-Santa Elena National Heritage Landmark site!

Schedule for November 15, 2019:

8am Meet at Golf Clubhouse to sign-in
9am Attend Graduation of female and male recruits
10:30am Enjoy a Parris Island Museum Visit
11:30pm Lunch and Ceremony at Charlesfort-Santa Elena site with group photo
1pm Arquebus firing for shotgun start of Golf Tournament
5pm Awards and Closing Ceremony at the Clubhouse


Support this experience as a SPONSOR! To inquire about levels and opportunities:


Join the Santa Elena Living History Company!

Announcing a new season of re-enactments and interpretation of the 16th Century with our own Santa Elena Living History Company! Join other enthusiasts to bring history to life at community events and special programs.

Two meeting dates announced: Friday, August 2 and Friday September 6 — both at 4pm at the Santa Elena History Center.

The Company will work on a special showcase event, “Omnium Gatherum,” for the Fall and the annual Lowcountry Fair with Historic Flair in the Spring, along with other outings, including mingling at downtown Beaufort’s First Fridays!

Come check it out …. it’s a BLAST (literally!)
Email for more information

Beaufort Heritage Explorers SuMmEr CaMp!

Sign up for a week of exploring Beaufort History with lots of dynamic activities and presenters at the Santa Elena History Center!

Proceeds benefit participating non-profits:
Historic Beaufort Foundation, Reconstruction Beaufort Inc. and Santa Elena Foundation

At the Santa Elena History Center

Hosting organizations:  Santa Elena Foundation, Reconstruction Beaufort Inc, and Historic Beaufort Foundation

Immerse your child in a week of interesting local history from 1500s-1900s!
July 29-August 2 9:00am-1:00pm
Each day concludes with lunch from 12:15 until pick up, lunch provided on Friday

$150 per child, proceeds benefit participating non-profits

Rising 3rd grade – Rising 5TH and Rising 6th grade – Rising 8 TH grade
Bring to Santa Elena, Email to,
or mail to PO Box 1005, Beaufort, SC 29901

Schedule and topics


How did early settlers get to the New World?
  –Videos about galleons and 16th century ships, navigation tools and techniques, Recreating the true size of a caravel ship, Name and color your galleon! And make your own rope!

How did maps evolve during Age of Discovery?
  –Slideshow of maps from 1492-1607, Create your own map, Understanding Port Royal Sound     history, walk along the bluff, observe the Beaufort River


What were the early settlers like?
  –“Imagine” presentation, Tour exhibit and find crossword clues, Meet Domingo Duramano at his   “soldier’s bunk”

 What was it like to live at Santa Elena?
  –Food and cooking demonstration, Salt-making demonstration, Weaponry program, live fire!


Beaufort is now home to the Reconstruction Era National Park. Camp Reconstruction Beaufort will explore the deep history of this period and why Beaufort was so significant. Not only important to Beaufort, there’s a new wave of interest in this period spreading nationwide, acknowledging that Reconstruction is still shaping today’s narrative.

(ELEMENTARY AGES)  Campers will be transformed back in time and will learn what life was like for children their age in Beaufort. Camp counsellors will use the experiential style approach of learning and explore this deep period of history. Campers will create a Reconstruction Board game exposing them to the many historical landmarks, buildings and homes that have shaped history. Learning history will be relevant and fun!

(MIDDLE SCHOOL AGES)  Campers will dig deep into the history of what was happening during this time in Beaufort but will also explore the significance of the 13th, 14th and 15th Constitutional Amendments, all introduced and passed during Reconstruction. Campers will be encouraged to explore this period of history through conversation learning in exciting and relevant ways. Campers will create a large canvas mural of their interpretation of Reconstruction Beaufort, which will be displayed in the Beaufort Reconstruction gallery.


TOUR THE ONLY PLANTER’S HOUSE IN BEAUFORT OPEN TO THE PUBLIC!  Enjoy this special program and activity: “The Mystery and Magic of Indigo and Its Role in Antebellum Beaufort”.

Campers will learn about blue dye in early cultures and how it was made. The session culminates with the participants creating their own dyed bandana, scarf or bookmark.


–Walk to St. Helena Church Cemetery (tour), Walk around downtown park/playground, Return to SEHC to make paper flowers, Pizza Party!!

Santa Elena Archaeology Updates in Post & Courier Article

Click here to see the original article by the Post & Courier:

Special Thanks to Author Robert Behre and Photographer Andrew Whitaker


PARRIS ISLAND — As archaeologist Chester DePratter walked toward the tall stone pillar on this island’s southern tip, he underscored how much our knowledge of one of South Carolina’s most historic sites is subject to change.

The impressive monument is an enlarged copy of the one French explorer Jean Ribault erected here more than four centuries ago when he founded Charlesfort in 1562, an early French outpost in the New World.

“This is not Charlesfort,” DePratter said. “The monument is in the wrong place.”

The misplaced monument may be the most prominent example of how this site’s history is being rewritten, but DePratter later points toward a large oak tree not far away for a more recent example.

It was here, under the oak, that he and archaeologist Victor Thompson recently used remote sensing devices — special equipment that detects soil disturbances underground — to find the location of Fort San Marco, one of several Spanish fortifications built shortly after Charlesfort.

This Spanish fort is just a small part of a larger story only recently coming to light, at least in a public way.

It’s a story of South Carolina’s first European settlement, one that took root a century before the English established Charles Towne — or Jamestowne or the Plymouth Colony, for that matter. It’s also a story of the former Spanish capital of La Florida.

Dr. Andrew Beall, chairman of the Santa Elena Foundation, said the young organization spent 18 months figuring if there was a story here, who knew something about it, and how to present it to the public. The work is picking up speed.

“It’s a lost century that’s not known by many,” he said.

‘One common story’

When Ribault arrived in 1562 with 27 men he considered Port Royal Sound the finest harbor in the world. Its breadth made it easily navigable and it was routinely flushed by a nine-foot tidal swing.

From the tip of Parris Island, one can look toward the Atlantic Ocean, framed by modern day Hilton Head Island on the right and Bay Island on the left.

His Charlesfort settlement would not last long. Ribault returned to France for supplies but never made it back. The remaining settlers abandoned the site.

Meanwhile, the Spanish considered this territory part of their New World claim, part of La Florida, which covered everything north of Mexico. A surviving document shows they had named this area Santa Elena as far back as 1526, said Foundation member retired U.S. Army Col. Chris Allen.

“Santa Elena is one of the oldest European place names in continuous use in the New World,” he said, surpassed in age only by Florida and Corpus Christi.

The Spanish first staked their claim by creating a garrison in St. Augustine in 1565, then a permanent settlement in 1566 at Santa Elena, building atop the abandoned French fort. Santa Elena served as the Spanish capital of Florida from 1569 to 1587.

“This was the first European capital in all of North America.”

“Nobody knows that,” Allen said. “It’s an amazing milestone in America’s evolution.”

A third European power, England, ultimately sealed the fate of Santa Elena.

Prompted by Sir Francis Drake’s attacks on Spanish holdings in the Caribbean in 1586, Spain — stretched thin financially — decided to retrench in St. Augustine.

“It dwarfed St. Augustine at the time,” Allen said. During its peak, Santa Elena had about 400 residents and dozens of buildings, including homes and churches.

Allen said the story complements, not competes with, St. Augustine’s.

“There’s no value into getting into, ‘we’re first, they’re first,’ ” he said. “It’s all one common story.”

What was learned

After the Spanish abandoned Santa Elena to retrench in St. Augustine in 1587, the site never again became a town.

More than a century later, the land eventually became part of a plantation. After the Civil War, the Marine Corps arrived here. While the corps once had an active encampment near the historic settlement, relatively little land was disturbed. In the mid-20th century, a golf course was built over part of it.

Previously, archaeologists, including DePratter and the late Stanley South, had gridded off 34 acres and conducted 1,383 shovel tests.

“What we found was the town of Santa Elena covers 15 acres,” DePratter said.

But there are few surviving structures, aside from remnants of a kiln discovered during a previous dig. The kiln, which dates to about 1585, may be the oldest surviving European kiln in North America. Little else is left over.

“The forts were made out of wood, and you know how wood rots around here, so they would rebuild them,” DePratter said. “They couldn’t fire their guns anymore because they were afraid the fort would fall down because of the rot.”

Thompson, who directs the University of Georgia’s Center for Archaeological Sciences, recently worked with DePratter on the site, using remote sensing equipment to try to create a map.

“The conditions at Santa Elena were just ideal for this type of remote sensing survey,” Thompson said. “We simply could not ask for better circumstances.”

They sent pulses and electric currents into the ground and measured differences in local magnetic fields in order to discern the locations of two missing forts, a church, shops and houses, as well as streets and a plaza.

Their work also pinpointed the likely location of native council houses from the 17th century, sites of former slave cabins, and circular figures that appear to reflect Native American occupation from about three or four millennia ago.

Among their biggest discoveries: the location of Fort San Marco, the third Spanish fort built on the site.

“As it turns out,” DePratter said, “It’s right here under this oak tree.”

Meanwhile, 12 miles away

The U.S. Marine Corps gradually has opened up the Charlesfort-Santa Elena site as more of its history has become known.

In 2007, the Marine Corps reconfigured its Legends Golf Course in 2007, moving a few of its holes further away from the most historic acreage.

The site reopened to the public Aug. 20, after restoration work was done after Hurricane Matthew damage from two years ago. Those visiting will find a trail with a series of markers explaining not only highlights about Charlesfort and Santa Elena but also its Native American, plantation and Marine Corps past.

Meanwhile, the story of Santa Elena also is told in a small exhibit inside the Marine Corps Museum, where several artifacts from past digs are on display. These include assorted pottery shards, a small crucifix, a thimble, a tiny dice made of bone and other small bits. Together, they show the primitive, frontier-like conditions of the early European presence.

But the story is best explained inside a new museum about 12 miles away in Beaufort.

The Santa Elena History Center opened in April 2016 inside the former federal courthouse at 1501 Bay St., and it has expanded its exhibits several times since. The nonprofit running it is interested not only in presenting the story but also with funding research.

Inside, its displays, video and living history try to explain both the 16th century history and the 21st century efforts to rediscover it.

Beaufort County Councilman Stu Rodman serves on the foundation’s board and helped it secure the courthouse space to rewrite the area’s history in a more expansive way.

“History is written by the victors, and the British were the victors, so the history started 50 years later in Plymouth,” Rodman said.

“Santa Elena is a pretty amazing story, and it kind of went undiscovered for a long time,” he added. “It really has renewed interest in the county and many locals about building on a lot of heritage tourism things. … We probably don’t do as much as we could to convince people to stay for an extra day or two days or a week.”

The known and the unknown

As the detailed site map takes shape, archaeologists can plan future excavations on individual structures, such as the church, a house or a fort.

“We know enough now that we can focus on small, specific targets,” DePratter said.

Before any digging begins again, DePratter and others must reprocess (wash, weigh, reanalyze and rebag) the vast trove of artifacts already uncovered since archaeologist Stanley South began work here almost four decades ago.

“Things he identified in 1979 are different than what we’d identify them as today,” DePratter said.

He estimated that only about 5 percent of the site has been explored, meaning that there is much more to discover.

As those mysteries are probed and solved, that will continue to thrust the story of Santa Elena into a more public light.

Megan Meyer, executive director of the foundation, said, “Just as fascinating as what we know is what we don’t know.”

More Information  (From the National Historic Landmark documentation of the site, approved in 2001)


Announcing inaugural HISTORY DAY FOR STUDENTS at the 2018 Lowcountry Fair with Historical Flair

10/5/18 — Santa Elena History Center is putting the “FIELD” in “Field Trip!” This year the Lowcountry Fair with Historical Flair is opening a day early, exclusively for a STUDENT HISTORY DAY, to allow local students the opportunity to experience the unique culture and heritage of South Carolina first hand on the grounds of Cotton Hall Plantation.

Although the annual Lowcountry Fair and Marsh Tacky races are open to the general public on Saturday, November 3 from 11am – 5pm, students and their teachers are invited to take a field trip to see living history re-enactments, weaponry demonstrations, and selected other educational (and fun!) activities on Friday, November 2, from 10am to 2pm. The richness of our Spanish, French, English , Scottish and Native American history will be the focus of the day’s activities, along with exploring the plantation colonial sugar mill, walking through the petting zoo, and learning about Marsh Tacky horses.

As students meet and greet the gentle marsh tacky horses, they will learn about South Carolina’s heritage horse, an activity led by the Carolina Marsh Tacky Association. Other organizations on display include National Park Service with their Junior Ranger program, Coastal Discovery Museum with information about nature and their own Marsh Tacky “Comet,” Lowcountry Raptors, Morris Center for Heritage, Mitchelville, and more.

An on-site picnic area is perfect for packing a lunch to enjoy on the plantation, and there is plenty of bus parking within the 50 acre field. Many local schools have already signed up, but the more the merrier! Check with your child’s school to make sure he or she is taking part in this unique opportunity. Home school students are also welcome.

For Friday and registered school groups only, a nominal $3 admission is charged per attendee for History Day admission. LINK TO REGISTRATION FORM FOR SCHOOL HISTORY DAY!

The public is invited for the full Lowcountry Fair with Historical Flair on Saturday, which will include all these activities and much more — including the only Marsh Tacky horse races of 2018!

Cotton Hall Plantation is located off Route 17 in Northern Beaufort County. Please email Megan Morris at the Santa Elena History Center for more information at

Marsh Tacky Horses, Historical Demonstrations, and Festival Fun at the 2018 Lowcountry Fair

9/19/18 — What could be more fun than an old-fashioned country fair, filled to the brim with historical flair? With the arrival of crisp fall air, the Santa Elena Foundation hosts the second annual Lowcountry Fair on Saturday, November 3 from 11am to 5pm at the beautiful, privately-owned Cotton Hall Plantation, only 5 miles from Interstate-95 in Northern Beaufort County.

It’s the perfect way for the entire family to spend a fall day in the Lowcountry! And the event is the host of the ONLY Marsh Tacky Horse Races in 2018!

With Hargray Communications and several other generous sponsors, plans are in place for a community event unlike any other! Moderately-priced tickets and family ticket packages allow visitors of all ages to enjoy special activities and events throughout the day at no extra cost. The fun, family-friendly atmosphere will showcase Marsh Tacky horses from around the region in obstacle courses, meet-and-greet areas and several racing heats.

“At the end of the day, we will awarding a grand champion of the horse races, but with a great community event like this – everyone wins!” said Megan Morris, executive director of the Santa Elena History Center. “This fall’s Lowcountry Fair will be a stand-out event for the community to experience local heritage mixed in with plenty of good fun, food and friendship. This continues our efforts to highlight Beaufort County’s unique history and collaborate with others in the region.”

The events featuring the Marsh Tacky horse will be the perfect complement to other headline activities, like Living History. Across a 50-acre field, over 500 years of local history will be on display with historical re-enactors showing family life, living conditions, and times of war, sacrifice, and change. From 16th century colonial times when Santa Elena was founded by the Spanish, through the American Revolution, the Civil War/Reconstruction era and up to WWII — men, women and children will demonstrate history in period costume. They will mingle with spectators, tell fascinating stories of life in days gone by, fire their weaponry, walk in a parade and engage visitors in fun, educational activities.

The most delicious local food concessions will be available for purchase throughout the day. Do you love oysters or barbecue? Why choose? Enjoy the day’s activities with a lowcountry lunch, a sweet treat, and perhaps even a local brewed beer or Spanish wine. Sip and see throughout the area with music playing and artisans displaying their original products from iron-welded signs, to local honey, and everything in between.

Children will also enjoy the exotic petting zoo, pony rides, and other fun activities. They can meet friends at the National Park Service and participate in a Junior Ranger program, or head over to see the critters brought by Coastal Discovery Museum, who have their own Marsh Tacky on site, named Comet.

And just when you think you’ve seen it all, follow a trail down to the plantation’s original operating sugar mill, still in use today. Enjoy a walk back in time to see how “sugar” was made in the antebellum South, thanks to the plantation owners who have preserved this art for decades and now welcome us to their home.

Tickets are available online ( and at the gate.
Patron Level ($100), General Admission ($20), Children 7-17 ($5)
Family Package (two Adults and 2+ Children) — $50
Active Military Families (two adults and 2+ Children) — $40
Food Vendors: Plums & Saltus, Q on Bay, Sea Eagle Market, Lady’s Island Single Oysters, and more
Craft Beer Tastings: Salt Marsh Brewing Company
Musical Guest (Before the races): Chilly Willy Band
Broadcast Company: Beaufort County Channel

Organizations participating: Santa Elena Living History Company, Carolina Marsh Tacky Association, National Park Service, Coastal Discovery Museum, Mitchelville, Coastal Heritage Society, Charleston Few, Men of Menendez, Parris Island Marine Recruit Depot

Lead Sponsors: Joe and Allyson Harden, Quarforth Family Foundation, Hargray Communications

Newly Discovered Fort on Santa Elena Site Reconstructed for First Time in 440 Years

March 24 2016 – A special unveiling of a 3D Scaled Model of Fort San Marcos, which was built on the Santa Elena site in 1577, will take place Friday, March 24 at the Santa Elena History Center. This never-before-seen reconstruction follows the major announcement by Archaeologists Dr. Chester DePratter and Dr. Victor Thompson, who recently discovered the long-lost fort.

“The search for this fort lasted for 23 years, and finally, last year, we found it. Fort San Marcos was an important landmark in Spain’s attempt to reclaim and hold on to Santa Elena, its northernmost colonial outpost and former capital in the 16th century,” says Dr. DePratter. “Working on this model brought the past to life for me.”

By cross-referencing analysis from the non-invasive archaeology site work, maps found in Spanish Archives, and a detailed description of the fort by a Spanish Inspector General in 1578, Dr. DePratter worked with local model-maker Alex Coplo to build the structure and its contents. The model will be installed within the main exhibit, in the historic, former courthouse on Bay Street.

“The continuous emergence of information about a ‘lost century’ of American history, much of which occurred right here in Beaufort County, creates ongoing excitement and opportunity for our community,” remarks Megan Meyer, Executive Director of the Santa Elena History Center. “Thanks to our colleagues and community supporters who have made this project possible, efforts to create a first-class History Center and claim Beaufort’s chapter in early American History are forging ahead.”

The project launches the History Center’s plans to expand the main exhibit with new aspects of this significant 16th century history, along with models, replicas and artifacts to help bring the story to life, preserve the earliest local history, and create a must-see experience for residents and visitors.

The archaeological discovery of Fort San Marcos took multiple years and non-invasive methods by leading archaeologists. The announcement of its location ran in hundreds of news outlets internationally. In the attached press release from the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology (SCIAA), the University of Georgia, and the Parris Island Marine Recruit Depot, further details of the finding are explained.

Casa of the Brave? (article by Island Packet)

Pieces of the Past: Story of Santa Elena emerges in fragments (article by Island Packet)


SANTA ELENA HISTORY CENTER One of Beaufort’s Coolest Attractions Awaits

From Dude Magazine:

Santa-Elena-and-Alvaro-ArmaThis is a very exciting time for those who have been involved in the formation of the Santa Elena Foundation. Not only have they secured a solid board of directors of some of the greatest historians of our time, that know tremendous amounts information about the 16th century, they have also secured the old federal courthouse on Bay Street, in beautiful downtown Beaufort. This will be the home of the soon to be opened Santa Elena History Center. DUDE, you are going to love this place! (read more – download article)

Efforts target bringing Beaufort County’s past into the present

CaptureFrom the Beaufort Gazette:

“More than 30 people filled the meeting room at the Beaufort County Library last week in Beaufort to hear a presentation about progress at Fort Frederick.

After watching S.C. Department of Natural Resources videos, the group piled into cars and followed DNR archeologist Meg Gaillard down to Port Royal, eventually rumbling down a dirt path behind Beaufort Naval Hospital to an 18th-century fort, thought to be the oldest tabby structure in the state and built by the British to defend Port Royal Sound and the city of Beaufort from the Spanish.” Read More at the Island Packet / Beaufort Gazette

Santa Elena History

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.

Meet The Experts

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.

SEF Experts 2  8-14-14-0098


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.

SEF Experts Dr Karen Paar  8-14-14-0067Dr. 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.



SEF Experts Dr Paul Hoffman  8-14-14-0082Dr. 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.

SEF Experts Dr Gene Lyon  8-14-14-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.

SEF Experts Dr Chester DePratter  8-14-14-0108Dr. 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.


SEF David Moore 1Dr. 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.



EJF Introductory Materials


#6-Europe1550In 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.


Charlesfort Excavation  Courtesy of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History

Charlesfort Excavation
Courtesy of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History

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.

Spanish artist Francisco de Paula Martí engraved this portrait of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés in 1791.Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Spanish artist Francisco de Paula Martí engraved this portrait of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés in 1791.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

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.

Spain’s Santa Elena


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.

(Source: The U.S. National Park Service,