The history of St. Augustine is as interesting and diverse as the people who live there today. As one of the first sites of colonization, and the oldest continuously occupied European settlement, in what would become the United States, St. Augustine has also played an important role in the history of the country. From the days of early settlement to the present, St. Augustine’s history sheds light on dynamics that continue to shape the region to this day.
Whether you are from the St. Augustine area or whether you would like to visit the city and greater Florida one day, learning more about the history of this region is important. Learning more about the history of this city helps to put historical events into context. It will give you a better understanding of how the region came to be and what challenges its inhabitants faced. Knowing more about each of these themes will help you to understand the people of St. Augustine and provide you with an appreciation for the region’s unique culture.
Let’s get started by looking at some of the most important events in the timeline of St. Augustine’s history.
St. Augustine As A Spanish Settlement
In 1565, St. Augustine (or San Agustin) was founded by the Spanish conquistador, Pedro Menendez. Along with a group of settlers and explorers that accompanied him, Menendez had first spotted the Florida coastline on the feast day of St. Augustine. The significance of the Catholic Church at the time is evident here.
The Spanish were interested in settling in the area, as French Huguenot colonists were also starting to establish settlements there. Fort Caroline was an important French colony at the time. The desire to secure the area was an important motivation for Menendez, and Fort Caroline was viewed as a threat.
The animosity between French and Spanish settlements was increased by religious differences. The Catholic Church was the predominant religious authority in both Spain and France at the time. The Huguenots were viewed as heretics. Indeed, many of them had fled France in order to escape increasing persecution at home.
In 1565, and using St. Augustine as a base of operations, Menendez launched an attack on Fort Caroline and killed most of its inhabitants. Jean Ribault, a notable French Huguenot explorer of the era, was also executed after being captured along with the rest of his crew.
The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine
Almost as soon as the settlement of St. Augustine had been established, work was started on the Cathedral Basilica (also known as the Catedral Basilica de San Agustin in Spanish). This cathedral was part of the early foundations of the Catholic Church in what would become the United States. Throughout the years, it served as a central landmark for the inhabitants of St. Augustine.
The building itself was destroyed several times throughout its history. It was intentionally burned to the ground in 1586, and accidentally destroyed by fire again in 1599, and again in 1702! The most modern version of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine was constructed in 1793.
Today, the Cathedral is still open and holds a congregation. It has been entered into the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, as well.
British Influences On St. Augustine
Under Spanish control, St. Augustine was attacked several times by pirates and English/British troops. The city survived but was eventually ceded to the British following the Seven Years’ War in 1763. At this time, much of the population of the city left for Cuba, which was still controlled by the Spanish. Under British occupation, the plantation economy of the region began to expand, and the commercial life of St. Augustine was enhanced.
St. Augustine was briefly transferred back to the Spanish in 1784, though this period was short-lived. The United States considered Florida as key to its security, and thus St. Augustine eventually fell under the control of the Americans in 1821. After this time, St. Augustine experienced a dramatic influx of settlers from the other states and territories of the United States. This exacerbated tensions with the existing inhabitants of the region; namely, the many Indigenous groups in Florida. Further conflicts in the nineteenth century, including the Seminole Wars and the American Civil War, would dramatically reshape the culture and demographics of Florida, and St. Augustine.
Learning More About The History Of St. Augustine
These are only a few of the most important elements of St. Augustine’s history. If you are interested in learning more about how the city has changed throughout the years, then be sure to explore more books and visit some of the city’s historic sites. The Cathedral Basilica, for example, is well worth a visit. And, with a better understanding of the history of St. Augustine, you will truly be able to appreciate the culture and contemporary life of this great city.