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St. Augustine

the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States; seat of St. Johns County; population ~12,160

location of St. Augustine
location of St. Augustine


Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León first visited the area of St. Augustine in 1513, while searching for the fabled Fountain of Youth. Spain launched no fewer than six attempts to establish a settlement in Florida over the next half century, but all failed.

In 1564 French Huguenots (Protestants) succeeded in establishing a fort and colony near the mouth of the St. Johns River at what is today Jacksonville. This settlement posed a threat to the Spanish fleets that sailed the Gulf Stream beside the east coast of Florida, so King Philip II sent Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, Spain's most capable admiral, to remove the French. Menéndez landed in Florida on August 28, 1565 and established a settlement, which he named San Agustin because it was founded on the feast day of Augustine of Hippo. He then proceeded to carry out his mission of removing the French from Florida.

Saint Augustine was attacked and burned by English navigator Sir Francis Drake in 1586, and by pirates in 1668. In 1702 and 1740, it was unsuccessfully attacked by British forces from the Carolinas and Georgia.

The city came into British hands by virtue of the Treaty of Paris of 1763, which ended the French and Indian War and gave Florida to Britain.

Saint Augustine served as a Loyalist colony during the Revolutionary War. The Treaty of Paris of 1783, which ended the war, gave the colonies north of Florida their independence and ceded Florida (including Saint Augustine) back to Spain in recognition of Spanish successes during the war.

By the early 1800's Florida no longer held the importance for Spain it once had. In addition, Spain was having to defend itself and its colonies from invasions by Napoleon. So, in 1821, Spain ceded Florida to the United States.

On January 7, 1861, a few days before Florida seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy, state troops took over the fort at St. Augustine, but federal troops loyal to the Union recaptured the city on March 11; the city remained in Union hands throughout the duration of the Civil War.

In the late 19th century St. Augustine was developed as a resort for the very wealthy by financier Henry M. Flager, who went on to develop much of Florida's east coast.

the five flags that have flown over St. Augustine -- U.S., Confederate, Spanish, British, and Burgundy Cross (of Napoleon Bonaparte)
the five flags that have flown over St. Augustine


Tourism is by far the largest industry in St. Augustine. The city also serves as a distribution center for the surrounding agricultural region. Major manufactures include transportation equipment, clothing, and processed food. St. Augustine is also home to a nearby Coast Guard station.

Sites and Attractions

Many structures built during the Spanish Colonial era still stand in St. Augustine. These include the oldest residential structure in North America, the oldest school house in the United States, and the fortress Castillo de San Marcos.

Castillo de San Marcos
Castillo de San Marcos

Other points of interest include: Fort Matanzas, built between 1740 and 1742; the Cathedral of Saint Augustine, erected in the 1790's; San Agustin Antiguo, a reconstruction of several colonial buildings; the Lightner Museum, containing displays of 19th-century decorative arts; and the Fountain of Youth, located in an archaeological park commemorating the landing of Juan Ponce de León.

Marineland, the first water-theme park in the nation, opened just south of St. Augustine in 1938.

Official Websites

City of St. Augustine
St. Augustine, Ponte Verda & The Beaches, Florida
The St. Augustine Record

See Also

Juan Ponce de León
Sir Francis Drake
French and Indian War
Confederate States of America
Henry M. Flager
Napoleon Bonaparte

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The Robinson Library >> Florida >> Cities, Towns, Etc.

This page was last updated on August 28, 2018.