Santa Maria arrives in Beaufort, Shipwrecks of America’s Lost Century shared at Scholars Symposium, Legendary Dr. Eugene Lyon to be honored
March 27, 2019 – Before Jamestown, before Plymouth Rock, before America’s early settlers carved out the colonies, there was Santa Elena. The story of Santa Elena, and America’s First Century, are shared today with visitors at the Santa Elena History Center in Beaufort and often outside of the museum walls, like the three events announced here.

Settled by the Spanish in 1566, Santa Elena is acknowledged to be North America’s first European capital. It was founded by Pedro Menendez de Aviles, a Spanish Naval Captian who went on to become a renowned explorer and then South Carolina’s first governor.

Bolstered by funds from King Philip II, who sought to secure the land called La Florida for the Spanish and to protect Spain’s lucrative treasure routes, Menendez and a brave band of 400 settlers established Santa Elena along the coast of South Carolina in present-day Beaufort. At its height, the settlement housed hundreds of men, women and children who battled disease, hunger and storms to eke out a perilous living. After more than two decades after it was founded, Santa Elena came to a sad ending. When Sir Francis Drake attacked St. Augustine in 1586, Santa Elena’s settlers consolidated with St. Augustine, Havana and other Spanish settlements.

Four hundred years later, the 16th century site of Santa Elena was discovered through archeology conducted by the South Carolina Institute of Archeology. From 1979 through the present, active projects have uncovered evidence of the story researched in historical record. The scientific proof of this history tells much about “America’s First Century” as archeologists continue to find artifacts that provide a window into how the early settlers lived.


Tour the Santa Maria in downtown Beaufort’s Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. The Nao Santa María is one of the most famous ships of humanity. On October 12, 1492, captained by Christopher Columbus, the Santa Maria led a fleet to the discovery of America and the western hemisphere, launching an age of discovery.

The modern-day replica offers a self-guided tour through the 4 decks of the Santa María, where you can find informative panels with the history of the ship, ornamental elements of the time and understand Spanish sailors from 500 years ago. Meet the crew and hear their stories! Making its first east coast stop in Beaufort, the flagship is open to the public March 29 (Weather may delay arrival) to April 7, 10a-7p.
Special thanks to City of Beaufort, Beaufort Convention & Visitors Bureau, O’Quinn Marine, United Infrastructure and the Nao Victoria Foundation.

Pay tribute to a legendary 16th Century scholar, Dr. Eugene Lyon. Integral to the slate of activities is recognition of Dr. Eugene Lyon, perhaps the pre-eminent historian of Spanish exploration and colonization efforts of North America before the arrival of the English.
The Santa Elena Foundation will culminate the Shipwreck Symposium with a dedication of the Eugene Lyon Center for Scholarship at the Santa Elena History Center on the afternoon of April 6. Aside from his work at the better known Saint Augustine, Dr. Lyon’s work with National Geographic, Spain’s Archives of the Indies, and archaeologists in the 1970’s unveiled the story of America’s First Century that is being told today at the Santa Elena History Center, where his work and a bronze Columbus statue commissioned by National Geographic is on display.

Hear latest research on Shipwrecks of the 16th century. Now, in the newest chapter of the saga of Santa Elena, South Carolina underwater archeologist James Spirek will be joined by ten eminent maritime historians and nautical archeologists at a symposium entitled, “Shipwrecks of America’s Lost Century,” April 5 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at the USCB Center for the Arts, 805 Carteret St.

Sponsored by SC Humanities and presented by the South Carolina Institute of Archeology and Anthropology, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of South Carolina Beaufort, and the Santa Elena Foundation, the symposium will explore Spain’s colonization attempt along the South Carolina-Georgia coast in 1526, the wrecked 1565 Ribaut fleet, and the 1576 French corsair Le Prince now resting at the bottom of Port Royal Sound, just to name a few.

Sixteenth century sailing ships fell victim to shipwrecks for a variety of reasons: sometimes just pure carelessness or accidents. Other times, they were overcome by storms, by enemy warships, by scuttling and more. In fact, barely two months after discovering an island in the New World, Columbus lost his ship, the Santa Maria, on the north coast of Hispaniola, the island shared today by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Presenters at the shipwreck symposium represent a virtual who’s who of revered subject authorities:

• James Spirek, the symposium organizer and moderator, is the State Underwater Archeologist at the South Carolina Institute of Archeology and Anthropology.
His presentation is entitled, “He who has weapons in his fist, and who is the strongest, carries the day.” – French Corsairing and the Final Voyage of Le Prince.

• Carla Rahn Phillips, Ph.D., Union Pacific Professor, Emerita, in Comparative Early Modern History, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. Her presentation is entitled, “Iberean Seafaring and Naval Operations during the Sixteenth Century.”

• Don Keith, Ph.D., president, Ships of Discovery, and research affiliate, Turks & Caicos National Museum. Dr. Keith has more than 45 years of experience in prehistoric and historic terrestrial and underwater archeology. His presentation is entitled, “Early 16 Century Shipwrecks in the New World.”

• Paul E. Hoffman, Ph.D., professor emeritus of History, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge The title of his presentation is “Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón’s discovery of Southeastern North America, 1521-26.”

• Barto Arnold, B.A., M.A., director of Texas Operations, Institute of Nautical Archeology, Texas A&M University. His presentation is entitled, “1554 Flota Wreck, Padre Island, Texas.”

• Roger C. Smith, Ph.D., state underwater archeologist (ret.), Florida Division of Historical Resources. His presentation is entitled, “The Old Spaniard: Exploration and Analysis of the first shipwreck to be discovered from the 1559 expedition to colonize Florida.”

• John R. Bratten, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Anthropology department at the University of West Florida. His presentation is entitled, “Ballast and Timbers Beneath the Sand: Exploration and Analysis of the Second and Third Shipwrecks to be Discovered from the 1559 Expedition to Colonize Florida.”

• Chuck Meide, B.S., M.S., director, Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. His presentation is entitled, “Jean Ribault’s Lost French Fleet of 1565: The Search for and Discovery of the Earliest French Shipwrecks in Florida.”

• Corey Malcom, Ph.D., director of Archaeology, Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, Key West, Fla. His presentation is entitled, “On the Eve of La Florida: The Wreck of Santa Clara and the Tierra Firme fleet of 1563-1564.”

• Brad Loewen, Ph.D., professor of Contract Period Archaeology, Post-medieval Archaeology, and Maritime Archaeology in the Anthropology department, Université de Montréal. His presentation is entitled, “The Wreck of the San Juan, a Basque Whaler at Red Bay, Labrador (1565).”