Native Americans focus of 444th birthday events


Historic City News has learned that on September 3-5, St. Augustine, the Nation’s oldest city, will celebrate its 444th birthday with three full days of special events and activities.

This year’s birthday events will focus attention on the Native Americans who lived here before, during and after the arrival of the Spanish settlers.

As always, the reenactment of Pedro Menendez’s landing in 1565 will be followed by a celebration of Mass and demonstrations of culture and lifestyles of natives who were already here when Menendez arrived.

St. Augustine has set a remarkable record for endurance that is unmatched in American history. Despite hurricanes, wars, plagues and countless pirate raids, the city has survived and flourished continuously since September 8, 1565 when its birth was proclaimed by Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles.

Celebrating Those Who Were Already Here
Of course, the Spaniards were not the first to think of the St. Augustine area as “home.” When the Menendez expedition arrived, Native Americans known as the Timucua had been living there for at least 500 years. In fact, from the first moments of their arrival, the Spaniards encountered the residents of Seloy, a large Timucuan village located at the present site of the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park.

From 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on both Thursday and Friday, September 3-4, the park will feature exhibits and living history presentations highlighting the culture of the Timucuas, as well as the Seminoles and other U.S. Indian tribes that have been part of Florida’s history.

In addition, from 6-9 p.m. on Thursday, an Indian Pow Wow honoring Native American traditions that are part of the city’s history will be held at the park. Admission is free to all of these events. The Fountain of Youth Archeological Park is located at 11 Magnolia Avenue, just off San Marco Avenue (A1A) in St. Augustine.

Free Birthday Cake for Everyone!
A traditional part of the commemoration of the founding of St. Augustine is the ceremonial cutting and serving of the community birthday cake. This year, the cake cutting will be held on Thursday, September 3 just before the 7 p.m. weekly Concert in the Plaza.

Before the band Gatorbone takes the stage in the Plaza de la Constitucion, city officials and members of the St. Augustine Royal Family will cut the cake and slices will be served to everyone in attendance by members of the St. Augustine Sister Cities Association and the Historic St. Augustine Area Council of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce

Landing Reenactment & Celebration of Mass
A full day of birthday activities begins on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at the Mission of Nombre de Dios when authentically-clad Spanish soldiers gather along the shoreline to greet the city’s founder, Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, who will arrive shortly aboard an authentic re-creation of a 16th century ship’s boat.

To the sound of cannon firing and cheers, Menendez will step ashore in the area where the Spanish colonists landed in 1565. In an accurate portrayal of the founding of the place he had earlier named San Agustin, Menendez will kneel and kiss the cross brought forward by Father Lopez, the fleet’s chaplain, and proclaim possession of the land in the name of the King of Spain.

Following the landing, Mayor Joe Boles will read a proclamation from the City of St. Augustine and there will be a presentation by Dr. Susan Parker, Executive Director, St. Augustine Historical Society.

Next, just as it was 444 years ago, a celebration of Mass will take place at an outdoor wooden altar by the water’s edge. Father Thomas Walsh, Pastor of San Sebastian Catholic Church, will celebrate Mass at the location where Father Lopez performed the first Mass in what is now the United States. Today, a 208 foot stainless steel cross erected to celebrate the city’s 400th birthday in 1965 towers above the Mission Nombre de Dios, located at 27 Ocean Avenue just off San Marco Avenue.

16th Century Cooking Contest
Fifty-five years before the Pilgrims sat down for a Thanksgiving feast, the good people of St. Augustine had already established the same tradition with their neighbors the Timucuas. In honor of that truly first Thanksgiving, the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park will host a cooking contest featuring meals created from 16th century recipes.

On Saturday, from 6-9 p.m., the prepared food will be judged and there will be plenty of sampling of the Spanish flavors along with demonstrations of the traditions that have influenced the culinary culture of St. Augustine. Authentic 16th Century dinners will be available for purchase and period music and dancing will be performed throughout the evening. For information on entering the contest, call 904.669.1485.

Admission is free to all of the activities related to the celebration of St. Augustine’s 444th birthday.

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