Menéndez de Avilés, Pedro (pāˈħrō mānānˈdĕth dā ävēlāsˈ) [key], 1519–74, Spanish naval officer and colonizer, founder of Saint Augustine, Fla. He went to sea as a youth and so distinguished himself that by the time he was 35 he held the captain generalcy of the Indies fleet, which convoyed treasure ships from the New World to Spain. In 1565, Philip II of Spain charged him with driving the French Huguenots from Fort Caroline and establishing a Spanish colony in Florida.
Menéndez's expedition of 11 ships and 500 colonists sailed from Spain and on Aug. 28 entered the harbor he named for St. Augustine. At the mouth of the St. Johns River on Sept. 4 he encountered a French fleet under Jean Ribaut, which he was unable to bring to combat. Menéndez then returned to St. Augustine, where he began to build a fort. Ribaut, hoping to take the Spanish by surprise, sailed to attack them, but his fleet was wrecked in a storm. With Fort Caroline virtually defenseless, Menéndez marched overland and on Sept. 21 killed most of the French there. Ribaut and his men, driven ashore S of St. Augustine, were captured as they tried to reach Fort Caroline by land, and all but a few were slain. The massacres, which aroused France, were later (1568) avenged by Dominique de Gourgues.
Part of his mission accomplished, Menéndez went to Cuba for supplies and then explored the Gulf Coast, where he made friendly contacts with the indigenous peoples. Before he returned to Spain (1567) there were Spanish posts in the Sea Islands (S.C.) and on Chesapeake Bay in addition to St. Augustine and San Mateo (Fort Caroline). Although he remained governor of Florida until his death, Menéndez returned only for a brief stay in 1571. The establishment of the Florida colony was due almost wholly to his energy and ability.
An early account is Gonzalo Solís de Merás, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés (tr. and ed. by J. T. Connor, 1923, repr. 1964). See also W. Lowery, The Spanish Settlements (1905, repr. 1959); study by A. C. Manucy (1965).