This text comes from our book, Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America.
On August 27, 1565, sailors and passengers of a fleet sailing off the eastern coast of Florida saw “a miracle from heaven.” “About nine o’clock in the evening,” wrote one eyewitness, Fray Francisco López de Mendoza Grajales, “a comet appeared, which showed itself directly above us, a little eastward, giving so much light that it might have been taken for the sun.” The comet traveled westward toward the coast of Florida, where the fleet was bound. The next day, August 28, the feast of St. Augustine of Hippo, the sailors sighted land. Sailing further north, the captain, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, found a small bay and named it San Agustín in honor of the saint on whose feast he first saw the coast.
When he had learned that French Protestants called Huguenots had settled on the eastern coast of Florida, King Felipe II (Carlos I’s son) sent Menéndez de Avilés to establish a settlement in Florida and to drive out the Huguenots. Menéndez founded a settlement on the small bay he had discovered, naming it also San Agustín (now Saint Augustine). As for driving out the Huguenots—if it had not been for another “miracle,” the Spaniards and not the French might have been the ones driven from La Florida.
It did not take long for the French at Fort Caroline, north of San Agustín, to learn of the Spanish settlement. Hoping to destroy San Agustín before the Spanish perfected its fortifications, Jean Ribault, a French naval officer, directed his fleet south on September 10, 1565. The French fleet would have made short work of the Spanish settlement, which was less than a fortnight old, had not a hurricane suddenly struck the Florida coast and driven Ribault’s fleet onto the beaches south of San Agustín.
Meanwhile, learning of Ribault’s foray that drew most of the men of arms from the French settlement, Menéndez surprised Fort Caroline and overwhelmed it. Then, Menéndez went after Ribault and, discovering the French force at a place called Slaughter Inlet, captured both captain and men. Unable to keep prisoners at so fledgling a settlement as San Agustín, Menéndez executed them all, sparing only the Catholics among them and some 50 women and children.
Music in the Year of the Founding
In 1565, the year of Florida's founding, the composer Diego Ortiz was serving as maestro di capella for the Chapel Royal in Naples under the viceroy of Naples, himself the representative of Felipe II's power in southern Italy. The same year, Ortiz published his Ad Vesperas in omnibus festivitatibus Beatae Mariae ("For Vespers in all the feasts of Blessed Mary"). Here is a performance of the Vespers performed by Canto Lontano, under the direction of Marco Mencoboni.