First city started at the Fountain of Youth
By: Raphael Cosme
During the 1940’s, archaeologists performed excavations at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park in St Augustine; but Dr. Kathleen Deagan reports that prior efforts “left holes” in the complete story of the historical significance of the site.
Kathleen A. Deagan, is Distinguished Research Curator of Archaeology and Adjunct Professor of Anthropology at the University of Florida’s, “Florida Museum of Natural History”. She received her Ph.D. in 1974 from the University of Florida, and after teaching at Florida State University Anthropology Department for eight years, she joined the University of Florida faculty in 1982.
“It is time to unify the pieces of the Menendez first settlement,” Deagan said. “There are three aspects of historical importance that can be taken from the research at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park site.”
First, this particular property was home to a large Timucuan village — a thousand years before Ponce de Leon or Pedro Menendez arrived.
Secondly, it was the first encampment of Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565 when the first ships came with colonists and settled — making this the first settlement in North America to survive.
The third item of importance is the Mission of Nombre de Dios — where the Menendez settlement was relocated after the first year.
The Spaniards adapted very quickly to the Indian diet and the use of their potteries. Dr. Deagan says she and her crew also found layers of Spanish pottery, ball muskets, glass, and chevron beads, dating to the mid-16th century.
“We are very confident that this site was the Menendez encampment in 1565,” Deagan said. “Objects that were not made here, and were probably brought with settlers from Europe, the Dominican Republic, or Puerto Rico, were located and identified.”
Deagan points to the discovery of “undisturbed features” like barrel wells and trash pits dating from the mid-1500’s; saying that there is no other explanation for those things to be found on the grounds of the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, other than their use by the Menendez settlement — because there were no other settlements or buildings in this particular location at that time.
“We do not know for sure that Menendez built a traditional Spanish fort,” Deagan continued, “they were only here for nine months.” Documents researched by Deagan reveal that the town was once called “Fuerte de San Agustin”.
A defense wall at the north side of the settlement, measuring about 220-feet long, was discovered during Deagan’s research. She believes the wall’s purpose was to protect the settlers from enemy attack. Everything found on the north side of the wall is Native American, south of the wall Deagan uncovered Spanish artifacts.
Degan says that she is trying to understand “as much as we can” about the first settlement on the grounds of the Fountain of Youth — before 2015, when the city will celebrate the 450th birthday.
The Florida Museum of Natural History of the University of Florida is preparing a video that includes a replica of the site, to become part of the exhibit that will open in October of this year at the Governor’s House in St Augustine.
Last year Dr. Deagan discovered a portion of the Menendez fort wall and this one could be a great archaeological hit in the search for the first defense fort built on US soil.