Pedro Menendez


Pedro Menendez de Aviles y Alonso de la Campa has the recognition in St. Augustine of being this city’s founder.

The explorer, born in Aviles, Spain, in 1519, grew up in a foster home after his father died an early death.

At a young age he became the commander of a small fleet of ships and fought against French Corsairs and pirates on the Mediterranean Sea.

By the time Menendez had reached his mid-30s, he had the reputation of a capable, though somewhat irresponsible, commander of Spanish fleets. And by the time he was 40 years old he was the General of the Armada of the Spanish Crown.

At this time, approximately 1559, Menendez was in command of a fleet that was commissioned to command the Fleet of the Indies, which brought goods and treasure back to Spain from the Americas.

In 1563, Menendez was jailed by the board of commissioners that oversaw the Indies project for disobeying commands at sea. Menendez spent nearly two years in prison. After paying a fine of 1,000 ducats, Menendez was set free and was reinstated by King Philip as the Captain General of Fleet of the Indies.

Philip, upon reinstating Menendez, commissioned him to chart the Florida coastline, since many ships were being lost in the currents of the Gulf Stream. And although Ponce de Leon had claimed Florida for the Spanish crown nearly 50 years earlier, Philip felt the time had come to colonize.

Under contract with the crown of Spain, Menendez was named Adelantado, and set out to establish Spanish rule in the land of Florida.

At this same time, approximately 1564, the French had established a small settlement at Fort Caroline, which is near present-day Jacksonville. The commander of that settlement, Jean Ribault, received orders not to retreat from an attack by Menendez.

However, the French were outnumbered, and at Matanzas, south of St. Augustine, Menendez had nearly 200 French prisoners killed following the French loss at Fort Caroline.

On September 9, 1565, Pedro Menendez came to shore at what was to become the first permanently occupied territory in the United States of America. This landing took place at what is now Mission of Nombre de Dios and the 208-foot cross.

The cross not only marks where Menendez landed, it also marks the place where the first Catholic mass occurred in the new world.