My First Coast

Pe­dro Menén­dez de Avilés

Where First Coast - - CONTENTS -

We ask the founder of St. Augustine and Florida’s first gover­nor (chan­neled through re-en­ac­tor Chad Light), how he would spend a per­fect day in St. Augustine to­day.

Born in 1519 in Avilés, Spain as the youngest of 20, Pe­dro Menén­dez went on to be­come the founder of St. Augustine and Florida’s first gover­nor. Here, he re­calls some de­tails of our coun­try’s found­ing that may just sur­prise you.

Tell us about your early ca­reer in the Navy.

At 14, I sold some of my birth rites to one of my broth­ers and had just enough money to build a ship. I talked some of my fam­ily mem­bers into be­ing my crew, and I went to serve King Car­los V. For the next 15 years, we won many bat­tles; I was un­de­feated. This got me into the good graces of the king. I was given mis­sion af­ter mis­sion, in­clud­ing pro­tect­ing his son, Prince Philip. So when the prince be­came king, he ap­pointed me cap­tain gen­eral of the trea­sure fleet, the most pow­er­ful ad­mi­ral in the Span­ish Ar­mada.

What trea­sures did you bring the king?

Ev­ery year I brought gold and sil­ver from the New World and porce­lain and silk from China to the king. We picked up sil­ver and gold in Colom­bia and Panama, took it to the Philip­pines and traded that for items you couldn’t get in Europe. This global econ­omy, the first in the world, was built on the Span­ish sil­ver trade, and Spain was the most pow­er­ful in the world.

What was the rea­son for found­ing St. Augustine?

I orig­i­nally wanted to look for my son who was lost at sea some­where be­tween Florida and the Ba­hamas. While I was pre­par­ing to go, King Philip dis­cov­ered the French Protes­tants had set­tled at the St. Johns River at Fort Caro­line. So what turned into a small trip to look for my son be­came a mis­sion to ex­pel the French and es­tab­lish a se­ries of Span­ish set­tle­ments in Florida.

You founded many set­tle­ments up the East Coast, many of which failed. Why did St. Augustine last?

The penin­sula that St. Augustine sits on and its iso­lated lo­ca­tion make it very de­fend­able. There’s plenty of fresh wa­ter there, and we kept cat­tle on Anas­ta­sia Is­land. And no small part was keep­ing friendly re­la­tions with the In­di­ans. That, and plain old luck.

Re- en­ac­tor Chad Light (right) as Pe­dro Me­nen­dez

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