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Menéndez De Avilés, Pedro, Colonization Efforts of


MENÉNDEZ DE AVILÉS, PEDRO, COLONIZATION EFFORTS OF. Pedro Menéndez de Avilés (1519–1574) was a mariner, explorer, colonizer, and governor of Florida. A prominent defender of Spain against French privateers in Europe, he served as captain general of the Indies fleet in 1554, 1560, and 1561.

In 1565, Menéndez contracted with King Phillip II to colonize and explore La Florida, which as conceived by Spain at that time, extended from the Florida Panhandle to Newfoundland. Pressured by French Huguenot fort-building in present-day Florida, the Spanish felt it imperative to quickly establish a settlement in the territory. In addition to expelling the French from their fort on the Saint John's River, Menéndez's objectives were to explore, to found settlements, to find a passage to the Pacific, and to convert the native peoples. He was to accomplish these goals at his own expense, with some royal troops provided by King Phillip.

Menéndez led his party of eight hundred soldiers, sailors, and settlers, including the wives and children of twenty-six of his men, to Saint Augustine in 1565. He claimed Florida for Spain on 8 September. After securing a place for the settlers in a Timucuan Indian village, Menéndez set out with his soldiers to attack the French fort, which he conquered on 20 September. After finishing off the French forces at Matanzas Inlet, he addressed his other objectives.

In 1565, Menéndez reconnoitered the east coast of Florida, preparing for the establishment of outposts, and then sailed to Cuba for supplies. In early 1566 he explored the southwestern coast of Florida. During these journeys, he discovered currents and channels that eased navigation for the Spanish fleets. Upon his return to Saint Augustine in 1566, he had to put down a mutiny among his troops before he could continue carrying out his plans. Later, he sent out expeditionary parties to roam the interior, map the coastline, and find a passage to the Pacific. He founded a number of garrison settlements in southern Florida and a promising settlement at Santa Elena in what became South Carolina.

In 1565 the first Catholic mission, Nombre de Dios, was established at Saint Augustine. Menéndez set up a tribute system whereby the local Indians would supply the colonists with corn, skins, pottery, and labor. Many of the men married Indian women and formed a new society based on Indian and Spanish culture. By the end of the sixteenth century, Saint Augustine had become a city based on Spanish planning principles. It did not, however, become economically self-sufficient during Menéndez's rule. Life for the colonists was one of privation and hardship. Its main purpose was military—to protect the Spanish treasure fleets as they sailed up the coast in the Gulf Stream.

Eventually, Indian resistance led Menéndez to give up Spanish outposts in southern Florida. After 1569 he focused on the development of Santa Elena, but soon exhausted his personal resources. Upon receiving a royal subsidy in 1570, he brought his family from Spain to Santa Elena. Menéndez intended to build an estate, but this plan was interrupted in 1574, when he was called home to help quell a rebellion in the Spanish Netherlands. As he was gathering his forces in Santander, Spain, he became ill with a fever and died.

Menéndez was always more interested in exploration than colonization, but his most important accomplishment was the founding of Saint Augustine, the first continuous European settlement in what became the United States. Although Saint Augustine never flourished under Menéndez's rule, it survived.


Manucy, Albert. Menéndez: Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, Captain General of the Ocean Sea. Sarasota, Fla.: Pineapple Press, 1992.

Milanich, Jerald T., and Susan Milbrath, eds. First Encounters: Spanish Explorations in the Caribbean and the United States, 1492–1570. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1991.

Bonnie L.Ford

See alsoColonial Administration, Spanish ; Exploration and Expeditions: Spanish ; Florida ; Indian Policy, Colonial ; Saint Augustine ; South Carolina ; Spanish Borderlands .

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