Hurricanes, high tides and explosions — Florida State Quarter Coin

Today, the Florida State Quarter Coin remembers the early history of Pensacola and the Spanish capture of the British fort on May 9, 1781.

From the Handbook of Florida by Charles Ledyard Norton, published in 1892:


Probably the first European crew to sail into the magnificent harbor of Pensacola was that of Miruelo, a Spanish pilot, who found the natives friendly, traded off his cargo of trinkets for silver and gold, and returned peacefully to Cuba (1516).

Next some of Hernando de Soto’s men rediscovered the harbor about 1536, but no use was made of it, and in September, 1558, Guido de Labazares, after a thorough examination of the coast with a view to permanent colonization, decided in favor of Pensacola Bay, which he named Filipina, and reported accordingly to his chief, the Governor of Cuba.

A strong expedition was sent out under Tristan de Luna in 1559, with a view to permanent settlement at Pensacola, but he went instead to Ichuse (Santa Rosa Bay), where he lost everything in a hurricane.

Mirnelo named the bay after himself; Tristan called it Santa Maria in 1558, and in 1693 Don Andre de Pes added “de Galva,” in honor of the then Governor of Mexico.

The eastern part of the bay is still charted as St. Maria de Galvez, but this de Galvez is another man altogether, not born till nearly a century later.

The present name Pensacola is probably that of the Indian tribe inhabiting the vicinity.

It appears on Delisle’s map (1707), and was probably applied to the surrounding country by the Spaniards for many years before that time.

In 1696 Don Andre d’ Arriola took possession, and built Fort San Carlos, whose ruins may still be seen near Fort Barancas.

He made the beginnings of a permanent settlement, but everything was destroyed by the French in 1719, and during the better part of that year the place was a bone of contention, the Spanish in the end coming off second best, and leaving the French in possession till 1722, when diplomacy stepped in and confirmed the Spanish claim.

The town was soon rebuilt on Santa Rosa Island, near where Fort Pickens now stands.

A print made from a sketch taken in 1743, and published in Jeffries’ narrative, shows a stockaded fort, a government building, a church and thirty or more lesser structures.

In 1754 a hurricane, in conjunction with a high tide, proved the insecurity of the locality, and the present site was selected.

In 1763 Florida was ceded to the English, and nearly all the Spanish residents removed to Cuba.

France and Spain, however, made friends in 1781, and under Don Galvez, of Louisiana, and the Spanish Admiral Solano laid siege to the British garrison in Pensacola.

The place was strongly defended by two well manned forts, St. Michael and St. Bernard, but the accidental explosion of a magazine compelled surrender after twelve days of bombardment.

A very creditable Spanish engraving of 1783 commemorates this triumph over the English, and with free, artistic license represents the instant of the explosion.

The ruins of Fort St. Michael are still to be seen near the head of Palafox Street.

This surrender occurred May 9, 1781.

Two years afterward Spanish possession was confirmed by recession on the part of England, and Pensacola saw no more powder burned in earnest until 1814, when with Spanish consent the English under Colonel Nichols garrisoned the forts at Barancas and Santa Rosa and hoisted the British flag.

England being then at war with the United States, Nichols issued a proclamation urging the inhabitants of Louisiana and Kentucky to join his standard.

Indian massacres were incited along the border, and summary measures were necessary.

This was in August.

On November 6th General Andrew Jackson, with 5,000 Tennesseeans and a number of Indian allies, was before Pensacola.

Reconnoitering parties were fired upon from the forts, and Jackson prepared to storm the place.

By clever management he carried the outworks, and gained possession of the town with trifling loss on November 14th.

The Spanish governor promised the unconditional surrender of the forts in return for a promise of safety for the town, but during the succeeding night the British abandoned St. Michael and St. Bernard, blew up Barancas, and escaped to sea.

Jackson withdrew after occupying the place for two days, and marched eastward, where he subdued the Indians and remained in the vicinity to preserve the peace.

In 1818 he was again obliged to occupy Pensacola, to show the Spaniards that he was in earnest.

This and other proceedings of an energetic character on the part of Jackson opened the eyes of Spain to the American idea of ” manifest destiny,” and in 1819 negotiations wore begun which resulted in cession to the United States.


The Florida State Quarter Coin shows with artist Nicolas Ponce’s portrayal of the explosion at Pensacola, circa 1780s.

Florida State Quarter Coin