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456 years old: Here’s a brief history of St. Augustine

St. Augustine was founded on September 8, 1565

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ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – When many Americans think of the first settlement on the continent, they may think about Plymouth or Jamestown. Floridians may think of Ponce De Leon, who first landed in the area in March of 1513 and discovered a lavish landscape and beautiful beaches and claimed it for Spain.

He named it La Florida -- a "place of flowers."

St. Augustine's history is traced to 1565.

King Phillip of Spain heard that the French had made a settlement near the mouth of the St. Johns River in what he considered Spanish-claimed territory, he wanted them out immediately.

With 11 ships, Admiral Pedro Menendez set sail for so-called Spanish Florida. His main intention was to his find his son, but his mission would make history.

"Certainly he had a personal goal," said Susan Parker, executive director of the St. Augustine Historical Society. "There had been some report that his [Menendez's son] ship had been sighted along the coast of Florida."

Menendez also wanted to destroy the Protestant French, make money and spread Catholicism to Native Americans.

One Sept. 8, 1565 Menendez and his crew landed at an inlet in what would later become northeast Florida. Because Menendez sighted the spot on the feast of St. Augustine of Hippo, the patron saint of his hometown, he named the settlement St. Augustine.

"He actually lands south of here, near Cape Canaveral, and that is the feast day of St. Augustin," said Father Terry Morgan of the Basilica of St. Augustine.

Upon arrival, Menendez held a feast, he fed his crew and invited the Native Americans.

"From that we get the first thanksgiving on or about September 8, 1565 -- obviously 40 years ahead of the one in Plymouth," Parker said.

Menendez wiped out the French settlement at Ft. Caroline, securing La Florida for Spain. However, the French weren't the only ones looking to expand and strengthen its empire.

England's Sir Francis Drake also sought out for Spanish Florida.

"The English were latecomers to this colonial game, and if you want to be flip about it, he [Drake] was trying to play catch-up," said Parker.

Among the English and the French, pirates also had interest in Spanish land.

"There were pirates that raided here, there certainly were no pirates who stayed here," said Parker. "They came and attacked then left."

One pirate attack in 1668 convinced the Spanish government to build a better fort. Funds were allocated in 1669 by Queen Mariana of Spain, and fortress Castillo de San Marcos was built.

In 1740, James Oglethorpe attacked nearby Fort Mose, the only free black settlement in America.

"The blacks at Ft. Mose were really the first line of defense against any attack from north," said Parker.

Oglethorpe seized Ft. Mose during the early 1740s. The Spanish attacked a few years later and gained back their land.

"It is quite a bloody battle from the British Perspective, and they are the ones who named it bloody," said Parker.

St. Augustine saw its government change hands six different times; and each time a new flag would go over the city.

Interestingly enough, not counting the Civil War, every change of flags that flew over St. Augustine came through signing of treaties.

Florida officially became a state in 1845.


About the Authors:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.