Upon learning of these attempted French settlements in a land long considered by the Spanish Crown to be Spanish territory, Philip II dispatched Pedro Menéndez de Avilés to Florida to deal with this French intrusion. Menéndez arrived in Florida in September, 1565, and within weeks he had killed or captured nearly all of the few hundred Frenchmen then residing in Fort Caroline.
Upon his arrival, Menéndez had established a small outpost at St. Augustine on the Atlantic coast of Florida to serve as a base for operations against the French. Following his defeat of the Frenchmen, Menéndez strengthened the defenses at St. Augustine against counter attack; he then established several other military outposts on both sides of the Florida peninsula and up the Georgia coast.
First Spanish Occupation at Santa Elena (1566-1576)
Menéndez' outpost at Santa Elena consisted of a small fort, Fort San Salvador (the location of this fort is currently unknown), with a garrison of about 80 men. In late summer, 1566, Captain Juan Pardo arrived at Santa Elena with an additional force of 250 men, necessitating construction of a larger fort, Fort San Felipe. In December, 1566, Captain Pardo and 125 of his men were sent inland on an expedition intended to establish friendly relations with interior Indians and ultimately to find an overland route to Mexico. This was to be the first of two Pardo expeditions inland in 1566-1568; neither of Pardo's expeditions reached beyond the Appalachian Mountains.
Jesuit missionaries worked to convert the Indians around Santa Elena to Catholicism beginning in 1569. These missionaries, including Juan Rogel who had previously served in southwest Florida among the Calusa, soon encountered difficulties in their task because the Indians near Santa Elena were mobile and refused to settle in permanent towns.
Disease epidemics plagued the Santa Elena colonists during their first years, with major outbreaks occurring in 1570 and 1571. Supply ships arrived at irregular intervals, and there were times when both settlers and soldiers suffered greatly as a result. Short supplies caused the residents of Santa Elena to turn to local Indians for help, and before long the Indians were in revolt due to ever increasing demands for food by the Spanish. Part of the garrison of Fort San Felipe was withdrawn by Menéndez in 1570, but it was subsequently reinforced to full strength.
While Menéndez' first settlement was at St. Augustine, he soon made Santa Elena his capital in Florida. When his wife and her attendants arrived in July 1571, they settled at Santa Elena. Santa Elena was a small, struggling community with a total population of 179 settlers and 76 soldiers in August, 1572. Settlers were primarily farmers, who by this time were growing a variety of crops including corn, squash, melons, barley, and grapes; livestock, including hogs and cattle, as well as chickens, had been introduced and were being raised with limited success.
Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, Adelantado of Florida, died in 1574 while on a mission to Spain. During Menéndez' absence, Don Diego de Velasco, one of Pedro Menéndez' two sons-in-law and Lieutenant Governor, served as interim governor; he continued in that position following Menéndez' death. Menéndez' daughter, Catalina, inherited the title of Adelantado of Florida, and ultimately her husband, Hernando de Miranda, was appointed Governor. Miranda, however, did not actually arrive at Santa Elena until February, 1576. During the years that Velasco served as interim governor, he had several run-ins with settlers, and he mistreated the Indians residing in the vicinity of Santa Elena. This poor relationship with the Indians led to a series of attacks on Santa Elena. The loss of thirty soldiers in these attacks ultimately forced the temporary abandonment of both the fort and town at Santa Elena in late summer, 1576. As the soldiers and settlers waited to cross the bar in departing Port Royal Sound, they were able to see the town and fort being burned by Indians.