St. Augustine, Florida: The History Behind the Name

Did you know that St. Augustine, Florida was officially established by a Spanish admiral, Don Pedro Menéndez on August 28, 1565? 

Or did you realize that this beautiful oceanside city has changed hands four times in its history, never taken by force, most notably handed over to the British in 1742?

You may not have known these facts as you walked the old streets of St. Augustine, passing by museums, land markers, and other historical sites that preserve this important history. It would take years to fully grasp the historical timeline of the city, but we think you’ll be fascinated by learning just a little before your next big trip to St. Augustine.

The Arrival of the Spanish

In the early 1500s, there were many failed attempts by the Spanish to colonize Florida. When neighboring rival, France, successfully established Fort Caroline in present-day Jacksonville, King Phillip II was outraged and commissioned Don Pedro Menéndez to expel the French. 

On August 28, 1565, Menéndez and his Spanish fleet sighted land in Florida. The day of the sighting was also the Feast Day of St. Augustine, a religious holiday to celebrate and honor the patron saint. So, they named the place St. Augustine. 

As planned, the Spanish quickly laid claim to the land and effectively eliminated the French from the area. Matanzas Inlet, which translates to “slaughter” in Spanish,” was named after the massacre of French on the inlet that still holds this name to this day. 

For 200 years, the Spanish developed the St. Augustine area as a trading port and military outpost. In the 1670s, they constructed the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest standing fort in the United States. In 1763, the Spanish ceded Florida to the British and thus marked the first official change of control for the coastal city.  

Who was St. Augustine?

St. Augustine was born in 354 in present-day Algeria. As a young boy, he struggled with morality and the weighty prospect of living up to Christian ideals, so he experimented with other religions and atheism. He was an intelligent scholar and eventually moved to Milan to continue his teaching. In Milan, he had a divine encounter with God, feeling profoundly moved to seek redemption and pursue a life of Christian study. 

St. Augustine believed that a true philosopher must be a “lover of wisdom” and he exemplified that belief by writing a wealth of books, letters, and other written works. He had well-defined beliefs regarding freedom, knowledge, and the role of grace and salvation in Christian thought. One of his most popular works, “Confessions,” is written in the format of a dialogue with God and attempts to make sense of his own uncertainties and doubts about God. 

St. Augustine is a controversial figure in the church to this day. Yet despite the caution of some, the Feast of St. Augustine is still recognized widely to this day and his work has greatly influenced doctrine and theology in the church. 

History Lives On

Just from touching on the founding history of St. Augustine, we have identified several major people, settlements, and moments in time that define the city of St. Augustine, Florida. Many of these significant sites can still be visited today, such as the Castillo de San Marcos. We hope your curiosity will lead you to discover more stories and to visit St. Augustine to experience them for yourself!   

#visitstaugustine #historylovers #historicalplace #explore