City's early history proven through digs
'First Colony' program explores St. Augustine's first days
Recent archaeological findings seem to prove that the St. Augustine founded by Don Pedro Menendez in 1565 initiated a struggle for the colony to survive hunger, mutiny, moving three times, hostile Timucuan Indians and the ever-present threat from the French.
“First Colony,” the second of the five-part series Discover First America!, featured two heavyweight Florida archaeologists — City Archaeologist Carl Halbirt and Kathleen Deagan of the Florida Museum of Natural History — to Flagler College Auditorium on Tuesday evening to describe their recent findings.
Halbirt praised Deagan, who’s excavated at the city’s Fountain of Youth National Archaeological Park for 40 years, as the scientist who established the city’s archaeological zones, setting the baseline for many important discoveries to follow.
“In all cases, we have learned something about St. Augustine,” he said. “But you can’t understand much without understanding the soil.”
Artifacts are vital, but the stains, marks, ashes, wells and footings of long-gone buildings create the context to understand what the artifacts mean and when and how they were used, Halbirt said.
“The archaeological record is not simple. It’s incredibly complex,” he said.
Some of his most important finds include the Gonzalez sherd, the first indigenous pottery fragment found with a European name etched inside it; ashes at a dig near the Art Association building dating to the 1586 raid by Sir Francis Drake that burned St. Augustine to the ground; and, most recently, finding what appears to be the post holes of an early fort that once stood where the Castillo de San Marcos parking lot is now.
“It was a quadrangle structure with a well,” Halbirt said. “What it represents we don’t know. (An early fort from around 1580) is our hypothesis right now,” he said. “We definitely have to do more work here.”
That may be impossible, because Halbirt’s map shows that much of the rest of that fort may be under busy Castillo Drive.
Two of his important finds were a full skeleton of a donkey near the castillo encampment where he believes Timucuans workers lived, and a Civil War-era cellar on the property where the Casa Monica is now.
In between Halbirt and Deagan, a solemn procession of re-enactors representing 16th-century Spanish soldiers approached several wary Timucuan Indians in what was a symbolic landing by Don Pedro Menendez and his 500 soldiers, 200 seamen and 100 others.
Menendez, played by the actor and historian Chad Light, scowled fiercely as if to challenge any resistance from the audience, the Timucuans or the “heretic French,” and with his men shouted a strong, “Viva Espana! Viva el rey! Viva San Augustin!” before they marched away.
Deagan said Menendez landed in April 1565, but by that October, only 200 of the 800 people he brought here remained.
“He sent some of them to several other forts,” she said.
Spanish artifacts have also been found at the Mission de Nombre de Dios and La Leche shrine, she said.
But she and her graduate students and volunteers focused their archaeological explorations on the Fountain of Youth, where she mapped out the remains of many structures used by Spanish troops.
One great building may have been a fortified storehouse 60 feet long and 40 feet wide, she said.
“This was the Menendez settlement,” Deagan said. “Archaeology is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle of 1,000 pieces, but without a picture.”
About the painting
St. Augustine painter Jeanne Troemel donated a full-length painting of His Excellency Don Pedro Menendez to the city, along with all rights and permission to use the likeness. Actor and historian Chad Light posed for the lifelike portrait.
She said, “I wanted the city to have a full portrait of our founder.”
Dana Ste. Claire, director of St. Augustine’s 450th Commemoration, called Troemel “a community treasure.”
- Discover First America: First Colony programThe successful and popular Discover First America! series returns to Flagler College Auditorium on J
- News of Henry Flagler's death rediscovered years laterMarie Smith left a lot of news behind in her West Augustine home when she died in 2010. Scrapbooks f
- Jewish settlers may have arrived in 1565St. Augustine can boast lots of firsts in its nearly 450 years of existence. Now a group of local re
- Nation's Oldest City: A tale of two hurricanesTwo hurricanes that formed six years apart were major forces in St. Augustine's claim to be the olde
- Article reveals: Not much has changed in 220 yearsSome things never change. Take this: Go downtown, stop for a drink or two, banter with passersby. Th
- Americans celebrated Independence Day 1781 under British 'parole' hereSt. Augustine may have been a stronghold of those loyal to the British crown, but not everyone was p