Setting the Record Straight
Many of today’s schoolchildren can tell you about Christopher Columbus and the pilgrims, but few know that St. Augustine was actually the first permanent European settlement in the United States. With the city’s 450th anniversary, everyone from historians to local officials to shopkeepers and chefs are ready to set the record straight. “We’re home to the first settlement, the first free-black settlement, the first school system, the first library, the first port,” says Davis Walker, president of Florida Living History, which performs historical reenactments around the state. “Florida has the most unique, most interesting and the longest history in the nation, yet it’s also the least known. U.S. history has been consciously distorted. The country was settled from South to North and not from North to South.” In April 1513 explorer Ponce de León landed near St. Augustine, staking a claim for the Spanish crown. While he did not establish a settlement, he sent word back that Florida was an ideal place for a colony. Fifty-two years later, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés left Spain under the direction of the king to establish St. Augustine in 1565.