It may be a bit surprising for two people who have lived in Florida and traveled through the state for decades, but we have never visited Saint Augustine. Today, we change that.
Saint Augustine REALLY emphasizes that they are the “oldest continuously-inhabited European-established settlement in what is now the contiguous United States”. A bit of a long bragging point if you ask me. It is frequently shortened to "First Settlement" which is not even close to correct.
If you are not a fan of history, you may want to go to the next blog post.
This is long but I found it interesting. You may be surprised. I was.
Saint Augustine is not the first, second, or even third settlement in what would be the contiguous United States. The distinguishing difference is that every time it was destroyed, and it was many times, it was not abandoned.
I want to give you a timeline.
1559 Santa María de Ochuse (later named Pensacola)
Tristán de Luna comes into the bay to settle what would become Pensacola in early 1559. He lands at what is now East Pensacola Heights and names the settlement Santa María de Ochuse. His fleet consisted of 11 ships loaded with 1500 sailors, colonists with families and supplies. This was selected due to the near perfect access for sailing ships because of the entrance to the bays and the size and depth of the bays.
Sadly, the colony was decimated by a hurricane on September 19, 1559, which killed an unknown number of sailors and colonists, sank six ships, grounded a seventh, and ruined supplies. The survivors struggled to survive, most moving inland on a river in what is now Alabama for several months before returning to the coast.
1560 Parris Island
Fifty people stayed in Pensacola while the rest of the survivors moved to what we now call Paris Island, South Carolina to attempt to establish a settlement. That was also destroyed by a hurricane and those survivors made their way to Cuba and finally returned to Pensacola, where the remaining fifty colonists in Pensacola were picked up. In 1561, the effort to establish Pensacola was abandoned. The area was not settled again for 137 years.
Jean Ribault was sent to North America to settle a colony for France. Three ships with 150 French Huguenots, landed in Florida around present-day Jacksonville establishing the third European settlement.
1562 Port Royal
Ribault continued sailing north and established Charlesfort and the settlement of Port Royal in present day South Carolina. Ribault returned to France after establishing the outpost, however he was unable to return with supplies. The settlement was abandoned by 1564.
1565 Saint Augustine. (Not that impressed.)
The king of Spain sent Pedro Menendez de Aviles to Florida with 10 ships and 1500 men to eliminate the new settlement near Jacksonville and establish Saint Augustine. When the fleet arrived, they immediately attacked the already established Huguenot settlement massacring all men and taking the women and children. The settlement was destroyed leaving a message that they were killed because they were Lutherans. French ships were also captured near Saint Augustine and the crew was given the choice of becoming Catholic or die. All who refused were massacred and dumped into the river. Later the rest received the same fate because the Spanish were short of provisions. Even today the river is the Spanish word for massacre, Matanzas.
If it were not for a massacre due to religious bigotry the Huguenot settlement likely would have been the oldest. So, Saint Augustine is the oldest because of a slaughter. Wow, is that something to be proud of?
On being, continuously inhabited, the settlement was burned to the ground several times over the years. The residents fled into the fort during attacks and if it were not for that fort, it is likely that the settlement would have failed leaving their claim to fame to someone else. I guess I am not very impressed with the history of the city.
Back to Pensacola with a far less disturbing history. While doing the research I found a lot of history about Pensacola I did not know or maybe remember.
In 1698 Pensacola is re-established because the French were exploring the lower Mississippi River with the intention of colonizing the region. Spain needed to re-establish a settlement to defend the claim to the area. First, a fortified settlement was built and called Presidio Santa Maria de Galve which included Fort San Carlos de Austria (just east of where Fort Barrancas is today) and a village with church and continued until 1791.
In 1722 a new garrisoned settlement was started called Presidio Isla de Santa Rosa on western Santa Rosa Island near the site of present Fort Pickens, but hurricanes battered the island in 1741 and 1752 and the garrison and village was moved back to the mainland. That village survived for 30 years.
In 1754 Presidio San Miguel de Panzacola was built about 6 miles northeast of the first presidio at the present-day historic district of downtown Pensacola, the village around the fort was called "Panzacola" taken from the native name for the bay and later the name's spelling changed the Z with an S.
Pensacola quickly became the busiest port on the Gulf of Mexico loading 100's of ships each year and had the deepest natural harbor along the entire Gulf of Mexico. This continued until the end of the sailing ship era.
End the history lesson.
Both cities have a long history and have changed flags many times.
Saint Augustine of today is nice and has a long history. The city puts a lot of effort into being a tourist destination and it works. That is the reason we stopped to visit. It does have some very disturbing history and even the modern revival of the city by Flagler has its own problems. Flagler was a truly brutal businessman.
We are a couple who have started on a new adventure...