Spanish Exploration

The Age of Exploration in the 1500s led many European countries to launch ships and sail to look for new lands, riches, and shorter ways to get to Asia for trade.

Spain and Portugal were the most powerful of these countries with many more ships and explorers than any of the others. They were also both devoutly Roman Catholic and looked to these voyages as a way to expand the religion by imposing it on any people that they found.

The Spanish land in Florida

In 1513, famed Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León landed in what is today’s State of Florida in the United States. He named the area “Pascua Florida” in honor of the Feast of Flowers/Easter.

The place that he landed is today’s St. Augustine, Florida, considered today to be the oldest city in the U.S. Although he couldn’t keep a permanent settlement in St. Augustine, he did set up an outpost to fight the English and French privateer that was trying to use Florida as a base for the attack.

The City of St. Augustine was the center of many European outposts and the remnants of each of the takeovers remain in evidence today.

In 1562 a group of colonists led an uprising against the Spanish in an area north of St. Augustine and with royal authorization, Spanish Nobleman Pedro Menéndez attacked them, killing most of the colonists. This was an example of the heated rivalry between the European countries for the claim of land as well as the conflicts between the two religious factions of Protestants and Catholics.

It was Menéndez that founded St. Augustine and built The Castillo de San Marcos (Castle of St Mark) that is still in the area today. However, Menéndez held little respect for the Native Timucua Indians that lived in the area, and the tribe was destroyed when the Spanish brought disease. Those that remained were forced to be converted to Catholicism.

In their attempt to expand the empire, the Spanish also sent explorers to areas such as Mexico. Heading north to areas where the Pueblo Indians lived. They continued to explore the American Southwest until the late 1590s. Explorer Juan de Oñate was looking for gold and silver for Spain but came up empty-handed.

Southwestern America

The Spanish explorers founded many settlements in Southwestern America, converting the local inhabitants to Catholicism. New Mexico became one of the larger settlements and Santa Fe was the capital of what they called the Kingdom of New Mexico.

This area became an outpost for many Spanish inhabitants and a base for the Franciscan missionaries to expand outward to convert the local natives.

When drought hit the areas in the 1670s, the Apache and Navajo blamed the Spanish and they held an uprising that pushed the Spanish out. The Spanish returned in 1692 to retake control of the area.

The influence of the Spanish invasion remains today as many of the cities and towns in the Southwestern states have retained the names given to them when they were small settlements.

The Spanish language has become the native language for those that live in Mexico and the descendants of the natives that live up and down the Southwestern United States.

What did you learn?

What is the name of the Spanish explorer that landed and named modern-day Florida?
Juan Ponce de León

What is the name of the oldest city in the United States that was founded by the Spanish?
St. Augustine

Why did Spanish explorers want to find new lands?
Wealth and to convert inhabitants to Catholics

What area of the Southwest United States did the Spanish establish as a “kingdom.”
New Mexico

What city in the Southwest United States did Catholic missionaries use as a base?
Santa Fe

What are the two European countries that led the way to exploration in the 1500s?
Spain and Portugal