First colony is reported found in Fla. Spaniards built their fort in 1565

July 27, 1993|By New York Times News Service

Archaeologists have found buried traces of a 16th century fort in St. Augustine, Fla., and are confident that this establishes for the first time the exact site where the Spanish planted the earliest permanent European settlement in what is now the United States.

Excavations this summer have exposed part of the moat and other artifacts of a structure that archaeologists say was almost certainly the first fort built by Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565. He arrived that year with 1,500 soldiers and settlers to found the Spanish colony he called St. Augustine, decades before the English established the Virginia Colony at Jamestown in 1607 and the Pilgrims on the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620.

Historians and archaeologists of early Spanish colonialism hailed the St. Augustine fort as an exciting discovery.

"This is the original landing site, sort of the Plymouth Rock of Spanish Florida," said Kathleen Deagan, an archaeologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville and director of the excavations.

Dr. Deagan said she was not sure if these were the remains of the first Menendez fort or of one built afterward. But she added, "We feel confident that we have now finally located the original settlement and associated fort complex of St. Augustine."

Researchers have been looking for the Menendez forts for more than 60 years. Historians examining colonial documents thought that the most likely site was slightly north of the Castillo, a 17th century Spanish fort that stands today on the St. Augustine waterfront. They thought it might be found near a Roman Catholic shrine.

And there on the grounds of the shrine of Nuestra Senora de la Leche, which honors motherhood and breast-feeding with a statue of Mary nursing the infant Jesus, is just where Dr. Deagan found the evidence for the 16th century fort.

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