The Second Spanish Occupation: 1577 - 1587

A French Intrusion

Only a few months after the Spanish settlement of Santa Elena was abandoned in the summer of 1576, a French ship, Le Prince, wrecked in Port Royal Sound. This ship carried a large contingent of Frenchmen who may have been intent on resettling Port Royal Sound. The survivors of the wreck built a fort on high ground, and soon they were viciously attacked by Indians who thought they were Spaniards. Once the Frenchmen were able to establish their identity, the Indians befriended them and took them to their villages.

Second Spanish Occupation at Santa Elena (1577-1587)

In October, 1577, Santa Elena was reoccupied by a military force commanded by Pedro Menéndez Marqués, who had been appointed Governor of Santa Elena to replace Hernando de Miranda. Miranda was in Spain facing charges resulting from his abandonment of Santa Elena. Menéndez Marqués anticipated that the Indians might attack any force that tried to return to Santa Elena, so he took with him from St. Augustine a prefabricated fort that he and his 53 men were able to erect in only six day. At this point, Santa Elena was only a military outpost, and St. Augustine retained its new-found position as Florida's capital. Gutierre de Miranda, brother of former Governor Hernando de Miranda, was appointed to serve as Governor and Captain of the new fort which was called San Marcos. Menéndez Marqúes soon found other duties for Miranda, however, and Captain Tomás Bernaldo de Quirós was appointed interim governor at Santa Elena in August, 1578. Between 1577 and 1580, Santa Elena's Governor Miranda and interim governor, Captain Bernaldo de Quirós, in conjunction with Florida Governor Menéndez Marqués, attacked and subdued the several Indian groups who had been involved in the destruction of the first town of Santa Elena.

In Fall, 1578, Captain Alvaro Flores de Valdés made two visits to Santa Elena on an inspection tour. His written accounts provide an excellent description of Fort San Marcos, its armaments, and its garrison. A plan of that fort presented here depicts it precisely as it was described by Flores; authorship of that plan is not known, but it may well have been drawn by Flores.

Once the Indians had been subdued, settlers returned to Santa Elena. Bernaldo de Quirós rebuilt the town during his tenure, and when he departed in November, 1580, the town contained more than thirty houses. By 1580, the population of Santa Elena had grown to about 400 people; there were no settlers at St. Augustine at this time.

Gutierre de Miranda resumed his command at Santa Elena in November, 1580, and he built a sizable estate nearby. Following the defeat of local Indian populations, existence in Santa Elena was relatively peaceful, and it is easy to imagine that the people residing there must have had great optimism concerning their future in this new land.

This optimism may have been shaken by word of an English settlement to the north. In 1584, the English made their first effort to claim part of Spanish Florida by settling a colony at Roanoke on the North Carolina coast.

Two years after that first attempted settlement at Roanoke, word arrived in Florida that Francis Drake and a large expeditionary force had attacked several major Spanish settlements in the Caribbean, and that he might be intent on an attack against Florida. As a result of this warning, an effort was made to strengthen fortifications at both St. Augustine and Santa Elena. Gutierre de Miranda undertook the work at Santa Elena, and soon Fort San Marcos was surrounded by a newly excavated moat, reinforced curtain walls, and new casemates and gun platforms. A contemporary diagram detailing the work accomplished by Miranda at Fort San Marcos. In June, 1586, an English fleet commanded by Francis Drake attacked and destroyed the town of St. Augustine. Santa Elena was not subjected to attack by Drake. The destruction of St. Augustine forced the Spaniards to consolidate their limited supplies and personnel in a single Florida outpost, and St. Augustine was chosen due to its proximity to Cuba. Santa Elena was abandoned in the summer of 1587; the town and fort were dismantled, and materials not worthy of salvage were burned.

Following this second abandonment, Santa Elena was never reoccupied. In the subsequent decades, the Spanish maintained a series of missions extending along the Georgia coast with priests occasionally visiting the Indians in the vicinity of Santa Elena, but the town of Santa Elena was never reestablished.

Early History of Santa Elena

This page maintained by Chester B. DePratter. Questions or comments may be directed to:

The Charlesfort/Santa Elena Project