St. Augustine, Florida is a beautiful town with a great deal of history. St. Augustine appreciates the importance of heritage and celebrates it with a continued reverence for the past. Community members and visitors alike may explore the city in a horse drawn carriage or trolley, or participate in ghost tours. There is no doubt that history is alive in St. Augustine, and what a rich history it is. St. Augustine was founded by Pedro Menendez of Spain and was once invaded by Sir Francis Drake. With such famous figures walking upon its shores, who would not want to experience the same hallowed ground? The history of St. Augustine is truly fascinating.
Ponce de Leon
Florida was discovered by Ponce de Leon in 1513. Then French protestants, or Huguenots, settled in North Florida. Huguenot leader Rene Laudonniere built the famous Fort Caroline near present-day Jacksonville. The French and Spanish both claimed Florida. The pope said that Florida belonged to Spain, but the French had already settled it. Pedro Menendez and his fleet sailed from Spain to St. Augustine and then captured Fort Caroline, leaving the Spanish as the victors. He founded the city of St. Augustine to establish a Spanish presence in the territory.
Sir Frances Drake
In 1586, England was at war with Spain. The famous pirate Sir Frances Drake burned St. Augustine, but the members of the community fought back. When Spain heard of what had happened, they bestowed great honors on the survivors. The survivors built and rebuilt St. Augustine, and although their attempts were often thwarted by hurricanes and hunger, they pressed on.
The Castillo de San Marcos
In 1672, Governor Cendoya wanted to ensure St. Augustine’s survival, so he started the construction of a stone fort, the Castillo de San Marcos. This enormous fort employed hundreds of skilled craftsmen, engineers, laborers and slaves, and the city’s population grew. Castillo de San Marcos was completed in 1695. Today it is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States, having survived for over three hundred years.
Defense Against the British
In 1739 England declared war on Spain. In 1740 the English attacked St. Augustine for twenty-seven days, firing upon the city constantly. St. Augustine’s leader, Montiano, launched a surprise attack on the British. After their victory, Montiano not only held the city, but also took the offensive, defending his country and his people.
The Seven Years War
In 1756 the Seven Years War broke out. Spain joined forces with the French against the British and fought until 1763. When the Treaty of Paris was signed the residents of St. Augustine were forced to leave their city after building and rebuilding it for two hundred years, leaving the British in control of the city. However, after 20 years Florida was given back to Spain by treaty.
The American Civil War
The Spanish had control of St. Augustine until 1821, when it became an American territory and American soldiers took possession of the Castillo de San Marcos. In 1845 Florida became a state in the United States of America. When the American Civil War broke out, Florida was considered a slave state and fought in the Confederacy. Today the names of the forty-six residents of St. Augustine who died in the defense of the South are inscribed on the Confederate War monument in the town’s Plaza.
The Ponce de Leon Hotel
In the winter of 1884 Henry M. Flagler, one of the richest men in America, had a vision to turn St. Augustine into the ultimate American luxury resort. He built the Ponce de Leon Hotel, with 540 guest rooms. It opened in 1888. America’s wealthy elite rushed to the hotel and St. Augustine became a thriving tourist community.
St. Augustine’s vibrant history continued as a beautiful tourist destination. Its residents served in WWI and WWII, and they survived the Great Depression. The history of the City of St. Augustine is rooted in its great ability to survive against adversity. Whether starvation, plague, war, or pirates, St. Augustine stood strong. This powerful heritage lives within the streets of the city and inspires all who encounter it.
Melissa Green is a blogger, writer, and mother of two. In her spare time she loves hiking, traveling and sight-seeing.