Menéndez de Avilés, Pedro 1519–1574

Menndez de Avils, Pedro (1519 1574) Pedro Menndez de Avils was born in Asturia, Spain, in 1519, the same year in which Hernando Cortz began his conquest of the Aztecs in Mexico’s central valley. Menndez was a poor nobleman, which probably influenced his decision to leave Spain to seek wealth in the New World. Little is known of Menndez’s early career, but he served the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V admirably against the French in the Bay of Biscay. Menndez’s area of expertise was naval conflict, and he also earned membership in the prestigious Order of Santiago. After dealing with accusations of smuggling in 1563, Menndez was contracted by Philip II in 1565 to discover and settle North America in his name. Menndez would receive the titles of governor, captain general, and adelantado, and, if he fulfilled the terms of the contract (including the founding of two cities), he would receive land and the title of marquis. In theory, the area under the control of Menndez stretched from present-day Canada to Mexico, though in practice, it was much smaller. Because of their success in extracting wealth in Mexico and Peru, the Spanish did not focus their attention on colonizing in the present-day United States. Spain’s great treasure fleets did, however, attract the attention of English and French sea captains, and Menndez’s colony in Florida would protect shipping lanes. In addition, Menndez had the general authority to convert the region’s Native Americans and attack any Europeans who might encroach on the Spanish claim. The first European threats were the French forts Charlesfort (built on Port Royal Sound in 1562) and Caroline (established on the St. Johns River in 1564). It bears mentioning that both of these were Huguenot (French Protestant) enterprises. Traditionally, scholars have asserted that the Spanish came to North America to plunder, the French came to trade, and the English came to settle. In the case of Florida, as elsewhere, these distinctions are too simple, and they do not convey the reality of the colonial situation. Menndez had an expansive, visionary plan for Spanish Florida. It would include agriculture, livestock, fishing, naval stores, and shipbuilding industries. In the summer of 1565, Spanish and French fleets raced across the Atlantic to shore up their defenses in Florida. The French under Jean Ribaut reached Florida first, but their small colony provided little resistance against the larger Spanish undertaking. Menndez sailed from Cadiz with eleven ships and over 1,000 men. Though he was delayed, and the size of his fleet was diminished, by severe weather, he managed to reach St. Augustine in September. After a brief naval battle near Fort Caroline, Menndez sailed south, where he founded St. Augustine, the first permanent European settlement in what is now the United States. Local Timucuans, under the guidance of Seloy, provided materials and manpower to build a Spanish fort. The Spanish seaman Pedro Menndez de Avils was commissioned by King Philip II to establish a colony in Florida, where he landed in 1565 and founded the settlement of St. Augustine. (Brown Brothers, Sterling, Pennsylvania) When a storm weakened the French fleet, Menndez took the opportunity to attack Fort Caroline. The assault was a total surprise to the French, whose forces were divided and ill. Menndez captured the fort and renamed it San Mateo, executing most of its defenders. Between 150 and 300 Frenchmen had been shipwrecked away from Caroline, and Menndez caught them south of St. Augustine. The French offered to give up their weapons in exchange for their lives, to which Menndez replied that if they did so, I should deal with them as Our Lord should command me. The surrendering French troops were executed. Though this was not in keeping with the European code of warfare, Menndez viewed it as necessary to keep Native Americans and the French Protestants whom Menndez thought shared similarly satanic beliefs from allying against the Spanish. Pedro Menndez de Avils envisioned a transcontinental Spanish American empire. At the time of his death due to typhus in 1574, Spanish Florida was but a weak outpost that remained on the periphery of the Spanish Empire. In the years following, the English under Sir Francis Drake would destroy the town of St. Augustine, though not its fort, the massive, stonewalled Castillo San Marcos. Spanish Florida would continue to spark Native American uprisings and lose money for the Crown in the decades to come. Matthew Jennings See also: Military and Diplomatic Affairs (Chronology); Military and Diplomatic Affairs (Essay); New Spain; St. Augustine; Spanish Colonies on Mainland North America (Chronology); War. Bibliography Gannon, Michael, ed. The New History of Florida. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996. Tebeau, Charlton W. A History of Florida. Coral Gables, FL: University of Miami Press, 1971. Weber, David J. The Spanish Frontier in North America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.

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