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PBS Special . . . The Secrets of Spanish Florida

PBS Special . . .  The Secrets of Spanish Florida


This special broadcast of the “Secrets of the Dead” is outstanding.  It is the story of the founding of the Spanish Province of La Florida as told by the original Spanish archives and the archaeologists, who are currently working in St. Augustine and elsewhere in Florida.  It is being streamed online by PBS.  To watch it on your computer or multi-media device go to The Secrets of Florida.

Now! . . . there is still one secret that even the PBS producers missed . . . or else the Florida academicians don’t want the public to know.  San Augustin was originally founded on a peninsula between the Satilla and Little Satilla River IN GEORGIA.  For over 400 years scholars ignored the letters written to the King of Spain by Governor Pedro Menendez, which describe the initial founding of the colony and its relocation seven months later to St. Augustine, FL.  They have also conveniently ignored the fact that St. Augustine’s original indigenous neighbors were the Sati-le, a Georgia tribe, which relocated in the late 1500s to an area near Eufaula, Alabama and also to Northwest Georgia in what is now Gordon, Pickens and Cherokee Counties.   The sheer numbers, cultural sophistication and extreme hostility of the Sati-le toward the Spanish were the primary reasons that St. Augustine was moved southward to a region where the Natives were thinly populated and rather primitive.

The “top secret” secret letters of Pedro Menendez to the King of Spain place the French colony of Fort Carolina at the latitude of the mouth of the Altamaha River in Georgia.  They place the location of the First Thanksgiving Service in North America at the southern end of Amelia Island, FL.  They place the first location of St. Augustine on St. Andrews Sound, Georgia.   The giant flagship of Menendez had no trouble entering and leaving St. Andrews Sound, but found it impossible to enter St. Augustine Bay, Florida . . . even at high tide.

I have found numerous professional papers, websites and books by Florida academicians, which intentionally changed the latitudes in Pedro Menendez’s letters to the King of Spain to match the latitudes of Fort Carolina National Memorial in Jacksonville or the site of the second St. Augustine.  Some articles, geared to the general public, even put the correct Spanish of the original letters, but then intentionally mistranslated the numbers.  I presume that these academicians assumed that no one would bother to translate the 16th century Spanish.

All anthropology books and references such as Wikipedia, call this Georgia tribe, the Satiuriawa, or something similar to that.  This is because for the past 400 years none of the 5+ million people who got degrees in history or anthropology ever bothered to translate the word.  Sati-Uriwa means  “Colonists – King of” in the Panoan languages of Peru.  What they are calling the ethnic group was really just the king’s title. 

In case readers think that I am telling a tall tale,  here are Menendez’s letters to the King of Spain and their English translations:

  1. Yo partí de Puerto Rico a quince de agosto para la Habana con los navíos con que me hallaba, para me juntar allí con el Socorro de Santo Domingo para venir a estas provincias de la Florida, y viniendo navegando mi viaje pareciéndome el semblante del sol y de la luna, demostrar Buenos tiempos y que si acertase a llegar a estas partes, al Puerto donde los franceses estaban, antes que el Armada francesa llegase, traía bastante recaudo para le ganar y sustentar en el entretanto que el ayudo de Santo Domingo me venía y la gente que me faltaba, por causa que ellos tienen hecha su fuerza, cinco leguas por el río adentro y a la entrada del río, hay una isleta de una legua, que está dentro del Puerto, que de fuerza han De entrar al luengo de ella y quien ésta tuviere es señor de la mar y sustentarla con facilidad, y ningún navío podrá entrar ni salir en aquel Puerto sin licencia del alcalde que allí estuviere. “

“I left Puerto Rico the 15th of August for Havana with all the ships I had, to meet up with the Socorro of Santo Domingo [a ship] in order to go to the provinces of Florida, and navigating my voyage, it seemed to me that the appearance of the sun and the moon showed that the time was good and that I would, in fact, arrive in the port where the French were, and before the French ships arrived; I brought plenty of supplies for success and maintenance until the Socorro and the men I needed arrived, because they [the French] have gathered their forces five leagues up the river, and at the river entrance there is a little island, one league long, that lies within the port, and which must be entered by force going the length of the island; and whoever should possess this [island], is master of the river and may keep it easily, and no ship will be able to enter nor leave that port without permission of the mayor there.”

Discussion: Sapelo Island juts into the mouth of Altamaha Bay. It is exactly one Spanish league wide. A 16th century cannon on this island could reach any ship passing through the mouth of the Altamaha.  Five Spanish leagues = 13 miles.   Fort Caroline National Memorial in Jacksonville, FL is 6.5 miles from the mouth of the St. Johns River.  The site of Fort Caroline on the Altamaha River is 13 miles from the mouth of that river.


  1. Siete o ocho leguas de aquí, donde desembarqué a dos de septiembre a hablar a los indios que no dieron noticia que el puerto de los franceses estaba más al norte, hallamos grandes muestras de oro subido y bajo, que los indios traían consigo colgado de las orejas y labios y brazos. No consentí quitarles ninguno porque no entendiesen que eran nuestra codicia aquella, aunque a un soldado dieron un poquito de más de veintidós quilates. “

“Seven or eight leagues from here, where landing on September 2 to talk to the Indians, who did not notice that the port of the French was further north, we found large samples of up gold and amber which the Indians brought with them hanging from the lips and ears and arms. I agreed not to remove any because they understood that they were not our greed that, although a soldier got a little over twenty-two carats.”

  1. Puerto donde poder desembarcar junto a ellos, y a ocho leguas de su Puerto por mar, y a seis por tierra, encontré uno que había reconocido antes, día de San Agustín, que está en treinta grados y medio escaso y a los seis d’éste, desembarqué en él doscientos soldados, y a los siete, entraron tres navíos pequeños con otros trescientos y los casados con sus mujeres e hijos, y desembarqué la más de la artillería y municiones.”

“About eight leagues by sea, and six by land, I found a place that I had seen before, on the Feast Day of St. Augustine, and it is just short of 30 degrees and a half, and seven from there. Here I disembarked two hundred soldiers. And on the seventh [of September], three small vessels arrived with another three hundred, plus the husbands with their wives and children. And I also put ashore the greater part of the artillery and munitions that I brought, and the eighth [of September], being the Feast of Our Lady, having landed another one hundred people that I had to put ashore, along with sufficient cannon and gunpowder, the flagship and the admiral’s galleon from the French fleet arrived, standing off half a league from us, offering battle, and coming round on us as we were anchored. They gave indications that they were coming to board us, but at three o’clock in the afternoon, they took in sail and departed for their harbor. And I went ashore and claimed possession in the name of Your Majesty, and I was sworn into office by the captains and officials, as governor, captain general, and adelantado of this land and coast, according to the provisions of Your Majesty. “

Discussion: Thirty and one-half degrees matches the latitude of the southern end of Amelia Island, FL  The latitude number in this section of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés letter to the king were intentionally altered by the University of Florida History Department to 29 ½ degrees to match St. Augustine, when it created a public web site on the early history of Florida.

Six Spanish nautical leagues equal about 21 miles. This is the approximate distance of the probable location of Seloy to the probable site of Fort Caroline, where I-95 crosses the South Channel of the Altamaha River, south of Darien, GA.

  1. “The River San Mateo, running by the Fort we captured, goes seventy leagues inland and turns to the southeast emptying into the bay of Juan Ponce. On this river are three large Indian towns … This Port is 29 1/2 degrees, and the San Mateo (Fort Caroline) which we captured is 31 degrees.”

Discussion: Here Pedro Menéndez de Avilés clearly states that Fort Caroline was at a latitude in present day Georgia and that he was writing the letter from a location slightly north of Flagler Beach, FL. Nowhere do contemporary history texts discuss the Spanish carrying out military operations this far north during early autumn of 1565, but obviously they did.

At the time, some cartographers thought that the Suwannee River, which flows southwest, was an outlet for the Altamaha, Satilla and St. Marys Rivers. The reason was that the North Fork of the Satilla formerly was an outlet for the Altamaha, while its South Fork began in the Okefenokee Swamp. The Suwannee River begins in the Okefenokee Swamp also.  

The 1562 Niclaus Pareus Turrant Map shows Cape François to be immediately south of the juncture of two rivers. That description matches the appearance of the confluence of the Satilla and and Little Satilla Rivers in Saint Andrews Sound, which has a latitude of 31 degrees. Menéndez stated that Cape François had a latitude of 31 degrees. Although in this letter, he said that Fort Caroline was at 31 degrees, in another letter, he said that Fort Caroline was a little more than 31 degrees. The South Channel of the Altamaha River flows into the Intracoastal Waterway, which interconnects the Altamaha with St. Andrews Sound. This would explain the confusion on maps.

These letters by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés strongly suggest that Spain had spies on the first voyage of Jean Ribault to the South Atlantic Coast. His understanding of the geographical names and locations seem to be based on the Torront Map rather than from the De Laudonnière expedition. However, Menéndez openly admitted that members of the first and second expeditions that his men captured were with him when he sought out Fort Caroline.

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.

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