The Western Invasion: Spain’s Empire in La Florida, 1565–1585
Consolidation. Following his defeat of the French in 1565, Pedro Menéndez de Aviles, Spanish governor of La Florida, moved to establish control over the southeastern
part of North America. He began by securing his northern flank through the construction of Fort San Felipe on Parris Island, South Carolina, near the site of the short-lived stronghold the French had built in 1562. Garrisoned with 160 men and six cannon, San Felipe joined St. Augustine and Fort Caroline—renamed San Mateo by the Spanish—as the core of Spain’s defenses in La Florida. Menéndez supplemented these larger forts with seven smaller coastal garrisons spread along both sides of the Florida coast. These smaller installations, Menéndez ordered, were to be supplied by tribute extracted from the local Indians. Partly because of the hostility that this supply system inspired among the peninsula’s Native Americans, all of the smaller garrisons failed by 1569 save for the Guale mission of San Pedro de Tacatcuru on the coast of present-day Georgia.
Inland Empire. Having established at least nominal command of the coast, Menéndez moved to gain control over the interior of southeastern North America. In 1566 he sent a force of several hundred soldiers under the command of newly arrived Capt. Juan Pardo inland from San Felipe with orders to take food from the Indians and to conquer the interior. In 1567 Pardo again ventured inland, going as far as the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where his men built the small fort of San Juan de Xuala. After garrisoning the fort with a small force of thirty men under the command of Sgt. Hernando Moyano de Morales, Pardo explored an alternate return route to the coast. Moyano had little interest in defending a static post, however, and consequently became involved in intertribal warfare. Later, Pardo returned from the coast with orders to construct and garrison a series of blockhouses spread across the Southeast. The establishment of these garrisons and the Indians’ apparent willingness to accept Spanish rule led Menéndez to conclude in late 1567 that he had pacified the region.
Decline. Menéndez’s empire collapsed suddenly in the spring of 1568. As with the installations along the Florida coast, the scattered garrisons that he established to control the interior proved to be simultaneously too small to dominate the Indians and too large for the Native Americans to supply easily with food. Enraged by Spanish abuses and demands for provisions, the Indians rose up against the invaders, destroyed all of their blockhouses, and ejected them from the interior. That same year, the French retaliated for Menéndez’s earlier execution of Huguenot prisoners by sacking Fort San Mateo and hanging the survivors. A later French effort to take control of the area failed, however, because of Indian hostility and an untimely shipwreck.
Anglo-Spanish War. The Spanish continued their efforts to establish control over the Southeast during the next few decades, but never had the manpower needed to dominate the Indians of the region. Indeed Native American resistance led the Spanish to abandon temporarily Fort San Felipe in the 1570s; the Cusabo tribe quickly took advantage of their absence by burning the fort to the ground. On the eve of the Anglo-Spanish War, therefore, the Spanish found themselves too weak to overcome the opposition of powerful Indian tribes and, thus, unable to subjugate the Southeast. At the same time, however, they were able to deny Florida to their European rivals and were thereby able to protect the valuable treasure fleets from privateers based on the strategically critical peninsula.
Eugene Lyon, The Enterprise of Florida: Pedro Menéndez de Aviles and the Spanish Conquest of 1565–1568 (Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1976);
Paul Quattlebaum, The Land Called Chicora: The Carolinas under Spanish Rule with French Intrusions, 1520–1670 (Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1956);
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