A Painting by Christopher M. Still
Oil on Linen 48 x 126 in
uan Ponce de León of Spain raises his cup to celebrate the 1513 discovery of a new land he named “La Florida”. Other conquistadors such as Narváez and Hernando de Soto followed, searching for fabled wealth like that found in Mexico, Central and South America. They and their soldiers came across no treasure, but learned about the land, its climate and people, through tremendous hardships which often took their lives.
These first explorers treated the native residents with cruelty and violence, making future relationships between the two cultures exceedingly difficult. In their wake, the explorers also left ravaging diseases which eventually all but exterminated the native populace.
With no riches found, and with the quick failure of a settlement founded in 1559 by Tristán de Luna at Pensacola Bay, Spanish interest waned. It was passionately renewed once the Spanish learned that French Huguenots had established the colony of Fort Caroline in 1564 on what is now the St. John’s River.
Pedro Menéndez de Avilés was quickly dispatched to begin a new colony and remove the French from Florida. He established St. Augustine—the first permanent European settlement in the country—on September 8, 1565, over fifty years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth. Menéndez achieved his second goal through the massacre of most of the Ft. Caroline colonists, including Ribault’s surrendered forces. He spared only a small number of professed Catholics.
Thus began Florida’s “first Spanish period” (1565-1763). Although the territory’s boundaries went far beyond those of today’s state, Spain reaped no great benefits here. Her primary success was the development of an extensive system of Franciscan missions. The friars taught cattle raising, farming methods, European crafts, and reading and writing to the Indians, while working to convert them to Christianity. These missions came to a tragic end, destroyed by English raids in the early 1700s.
The English had long had interest in La Florida. Sir Francis Drake sacked and burned St. Augustine in 1586. As the British colonized in the north, conflicts with the Spanish and French increased, culminating in the French and Indian War (1754-63). As part of the peace settlement, Spain relinquished Florida to England for the return of Cuba.
The British ruled Florida for twenty years, dividing it into east and west parts and further developing its land and resources. During the American Revolution the population increased as British loyalists poured into the area. Spain entered the war as a French ally and recaptured all of West Florida by 1781. Two years later the treaty ending the Revolution returned East Florida to Spain as well. Florida’s “second Spanish period” had begun, but change was again on the horizon.
More detailed information on the murals can be found at the artist's website: http://www.christopherstill.com
Copyright © 2002-2004. All Rights Reserved. Christopher M. Still.