Today, the Florida State Quarter Coin remembers when Menendez came ashore at St. Augustine on September 8, 1565.
From The History and Antiquities of the City of St. Augustine, Florida, Founded A.D. 1565, by George R. Fairbanks, Vice-President of the Florida Historical Society, published in 1858:
Jealousy of the aggrandizement of the French in the New World, mortification for their own unsuccessful efforts in that quarter, and a still stronger motive of hatred to the faith of the Huguenot, induced the bigoted Philip II. of Spain, to dispatch Pedro Menendez de Aviles, a brave, bigoted, and remorseless soldier, to drive out the French colony, and take possession of the country for himself.
The compact made between the king and Menendez was, that he should furnish one galleon completely equipped, and provisions for a force of six hundred men; that he should conquer and settle the country.
He obligated himself to carry one hundred horses, two hundred horned cattle, four hundred hogs, four hundred sheep and some goats, and five hundred slaves, (for which he had a permission free of duties), the third part of which should be men, for his own service and that of those who went with him, to aid in cultivating the land and building.
That he should take twelve priests, and four fathers of the Jesuit order.
He was to build two or three towns of one hundred families, and in each town should build a fort according to the nature of the country.
He was to have the title of Adelantado of the country, as also to be entitled a Marquis and his heirs after him, to have a tract of land, receive a salary of 2000 ducats, a percentage of the royal duties, and have the freedom of all the other ports of New Spain.
His force consisted, at starting, of eleven sail of vessels with two thousand and six hundred men; but, owing to storms and accidents, not more than one half arrived.
He came upon the coast on the 28th August, 1565, shortly after the arrival of the fleet of Ribault.
On the 7th day of September Menendez cast anchor in the River of Dolphins, the harbor of St. Augustine.
He had previously discovered and given chase to some of the vessels of Ribault, off the mouth of the River May.
The Indian village of Selooe then stood upon the site of St. Augustine, and the landing of Menendez was upon the spot where the city of St. Augustine now stands.
Fray Francisco Lopez de Mendoza, the Chaplain of the Expedition, thus chronicles the disembarkation and attendant ceremonies: —
“On Saturday the 8th day of September, the day of the nativity of our Lady, the General disembarked, with numerous banners displayed, trumpets and other martial music resounding, and amid salvos of artillery.
“Carrying a cross, I proceeded at the head, chanting the hymn Te Deum Laudamus. The General marched straight up to the cross, together with all those who accompanied him; and, kneeling, they all kissed the cross. A great number of Indians looked upon these ceremonies, and imitated whatever they saw done.
“Thereupon the General took possession of the country in the name of his Majesty. All the officers then took an oath of allegiance to him, as their general and as adelantado of the whole country.”
The name of St. Augustine was given, in the usual manner of the early voyagers, because they had arrived upon the coast on the day dedicated in their calendar to that eminent saint of the primitive church, revered alike by the good of all ages for his learning and piety.
The first troops who landed, says Mendoza, were well received by the Indians, who gave them a large mansion belonging to the chief, situated near the banks of the river.
The engineer officers immediately erected an entrenchment of earth, and a ditch around this house, with a slope made of earth and fascines, these being the only means of defense which the country presents; for, says the father with surprise, “there is not a stone to be found in the whole country.”
They landed eighty cannon from the ships, of which the lightest weighed two thousand five hundred pounds.
But in the meantime Menendez had by no means forgotten the errand upon which he principally came; and by inquiries of the Indians he soon learned the position of the French fort and the condition of its- defenders.
Impelled by necessity, Laudonniere had been forced to seize from the Indians food to support his famished garrison, and had thus incurred their enmity, which was soon to produce its sad results.
The Spaniards numbered about six hundred combatants, and the French about the same; but arrangements had been made for further accessions to the Spanish force, to be drawn from St. Domingo and Havana, and these were daily expected.
It was the habit of those days, to devolve almost every event upon the ordering of a special providence; and each nation had come to look upon itself almost in the light of a peculiar people, led like the Israelites of old by signs and wonders; and as in their own view all their actions were directed by the design of advancing God’s glory as well as their own purposes, so the blessing of Heaven would surely accompany them in all their undertakings.
So believed the crusaders on the plains of Palestine; so believed the conquerors of Mexico and Peru; so believed the Puritan settlers of New England (alike in their Indian wars and their oppressive social polity); and so believed, also, the followers of Menendez and of Ribault; and in this simple and trusting faith, the worthy chaplain gives us the following account of the miraculous escape and deliverance of a portion of the Spanish fleet: —
“God and his Holy Mother have performed another great miracle in our favor. The day following the landing of the General in the fort, he said to us that he was very uneasy, because his galley and another vessel were at anchor, isolated and a league at sea, being unable to enter the port on account of the shallowness of the water, and that he feared that the French might come and capture or maltreat them.
“As soon as this idea came to him he departed, with fifty men, to go on board of his galleon. He gave orders to three shallops which were moored in the river to go out and take on board the provisions and troops which were on board the galleon.
“The next day, a shallop having gone out thither, they took on board as much of the provisions as they could, and more than a hundred men who were in the vessel, and returned towards the shore; but half a league before arriving at the bar they were overtaken by so complete a calm that they were unable to proceed further, and there upon cast anchor and passed the night in that place.
“The day following at break of day they raised anchor as ordered by the pilot, as the rising of the tide began to be felt. When it was fully light they saw astern of them at the poop of the vessel, two French ships which during the night had been in search of them.
“The enemy arrived with the intention of making an attack upon us. The French made all haste in their movements, for we had no arms on board, and had only embarked the provisions.
“When day appeared, and our people discovered the French, they addressed their prayers to our Lady of Bon Secours d’ Utrera, and supplicated her to grant them a little wind, for the French were already close up to them.
“They say that Our Lady descended, herself, upon the vessel; for the wind freshened and blew fair for the bar, so that the shallop could enter it.
“The French followed it; but as the bar has but little depth and their vessels were large, they were not able to go over it, so that our men and the provisions made a safe harbor.
“When it became still clearer they perceived besides the two vessels of the enemy, four others at a distance, being the same which we had seen in port the evening of our arrival.
“They were well furnished with both troops and artillery, and had directed themselves for our galleon and the other ship, which were alone at sea.
“In this circumstance God accorded us two favors: the first was, that the same evening after they had discharged the provisions and the troops I have spoken of, at midnight the galleon and other vessel put to sea without being perceived by the enemy; the one for Spain, and the other for Havana for the purpose of seeking the fleet which was there; and in this way neither was taken.
“The second favor, by which God rendered us a still greater service, was that, on the day following the one I have described, there arose a storm, and so great a tempest that certainly the greater part of the French vessels must have been lost at sea; for they were overtaken upon the most dangerous coast I have ever seen, and were very close to the shore; and if our vessels, that is, the galleon and its consort, are not shipwrecked, it is because they were already more than twelve leagues off the coast, which gave them the facility of running before the wind, and maneuvering as well as they could, relying upon the aid of God to preserve them.”
The Florida State Quarter Coin shows with an artist’s image of Pedro Menendez de Aviles.