Pedro Menendez De Aviles, a Spanish admiral, colonizer of Florida, born at Aviles in 1519, died in Santander, Sept. 17, 1574. He cruised for many years against French corsairs, on his own account and under commission from Charles V., with great success. Philip II. appointed him captain general of the India fleets, and his counsellor. He conveyed Philip from Corunna to England to marry Queen Mary. Returning to Spain, he engaged some pirates on the way, took command of the India fleet, and, running across, returned with a valuable fleet long before he could have been expected. He next swept away the piratical vessels hovering on the coast of Spain; then with only four vessels he carried to the Low Countries money and reenforcements that enabled Philip to win the battle of St. Quentin. He was constantly employed during the war, and toward the close he crossed France in disguise, to lit out a fleet to convey Philip back to Spain. He landed the king and court with his usual celerity. He was next made general of the India fleet, and did not return to Spain till July, 1560. In 1565 he was appointed adelantado of Florida, with orders to plant a colony.
While preparations were on foot, tidings came that French Huguenots, under the auspices of Co-ligni, had settled in Florida. The desire of breaking up this colony led to increasing the force of Menendez. His fleet of 34 vessels carried 2,646 persons, including cultivators, mechanics, priests, and soldiers. He sailed from Cadiz June 29, 1565, and vessels for his colony sailed about the same time from other ports of Spain. On reaching Porto Rico in August, with a small part of his force, Menendez heard that Ribault had reenforced the French, and that a Spanish vessel had been captured. He ran into the St. John's river, and announced to the French his name and his purpose of exterminating them. He then returned to St. Augustine, which he discovered and named. Ribault followed and attempted to invest him; but he was driven off by a storm, and Menendez resolved to proceed overland and surprise the French fort, and carried out his plans amid great difficulties. Fort Caroline was captured, and nearly all the colonists of both sexes were put to the sword; some escaped with Laudonniere to the French ships, and about 70 were spared.
Menendez garrisoned the fort, called it San Mateo, and returned to St. Augustine. Meanwhile Ribault had been wrecked on the coast, and after much suffering from hunger he and his followers surrendered on promise of mercy from Menendez. With atrocious perfidy and cruelty they were nearly all put to death. (See Ribault.) Menendez then pushed on his works at St. Augustine, and established Fort Santa Lucia at Cape Carnaveral, and Santa Elena at Port Royal harbor, S. C. The next year San-cho de Arciniega brought out 1,500 more settlers with supplies. Menendez sent up to explore the coast as far as St. Mary's, now Chesapeake bay. He then returned to Spain to report what he had effected. During his absence Dominique de Gourgues, a French adventurer, captured San Mateo and avenged the massacre of the French. (See Gourgues.) In 1570 Menendez sent a vessel with a colony of Jesuits to begin a mission on the Rappahannock. An Indian chief, who had been in Mexico and Spain and become a Christian, was their guide, but he turned traitor, and the whole party were massacred. Menendez on his return from Spain in. 1572, hearing of the destruction of the colony, at once sailed up the Potomac and avenged the massacre.
He then explored the whole coast, and was devo ting himself to the increase of his colony when the kinir appointed him to command a fleet destined against the Low Countries. "While pushing forward the preparations he died.