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Pedro Menéndez de Avilés
Spanish seaman, founded St. Augustine
1519 - 1574

Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, Spanish seaman, founder of St. Augustine, Florida, was born at Avilés in Asturias on February 15, 1519. At the age of 14 years he ran away to sea, and was engaged in piracy till he was thirty.

In 1549 he was commissioned by the emperor Charles V to clear the north coast of Spain and the Canaries of French pirates. In 1554 he was appointed captain-general of the "flota" or convoy which carried trade between Spain and America. The appointment was made by the emperor over the head and against the will of Casa de Contratacion, or governing board of the American trade. His steady refusal to receive bribes, as the reward for permitting breaches of the regulations, made him unpopular with the merchants, while his high-handed ways offended the Casa de Contratacion.

Re-appointed commander in 1557, and knowing the hostility of the Casa, he applied for service elsewhere. Until the close of 1559 ample occupation was found for Avilés in bringing money and recruits from Spain to Flanders.

In 1560 he was again appointed to command the flota, and made a most successful voyage to America and back in that and the following year. His relations with the Casa de Contratacion were, however, as strained as ever. On his return from another voyage in 1563 he was arrested by order of the Casa, and imprisoned for twenty months.

On his release he prepared to sail to the Bermudas to seek his son Juan who had been shipwrecked. At that time the French Huguenots were endeavoring to plant a colony in Florida. The Spaniards claimed the country as theirs, and its position on the track of the home-coming trade of Mexico rendered its possession by any other power highly dangerous.

Philip II made an "asiento" or contract (March 20, 1565) with Avilés, by which he advanced 15,000 ducats and constituted him proprietor of any colony which he could establish in Florida, on condition that the money was repaid. Avilés sailed on July 28 of the same year with one vessel of 600 tons, ten sloops, and 1,500 men.

On August 28 he entered and named the Bay of St. Augustine and began a fort there. He took the French post of Fort Caroline (September 20, 1565) and in October exterminated a body of Frenchmen who, under the Huguenot Jean Ribault, had arrived on the coast of Florida. The Spanish commander, after slaying nearly all his prisoners, hung their bodies on trees, with the inscription, "Not as Frenchmen but as Lutherans."

A French sea-captain named Dominique de Gourgues revenged the massacre by capturing in 1568 Fort San Mateo (as the Spanish had re-named Fort Caroline), and hanging the garrison, with the inscription, "Not as Spaniards but as murderers." Till 1567 Avilés remained in Florida, busy with his colony. In that year he returned to Spain. He made one more voyage to Florida, and died on September 17, 1574.


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