The Inevitability of Change: St. Augustine

On September 8, 1565, Spanish admiral and explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés arrived in Florida and began the founding of St. Augustine.  His journey took place many years before Jamestown or Plymouth Rock were established, making St. Augustine the oldest permanent European settlement in North America.  The government in control of the settlement changed over time. Spain controlled St. Augustine from 1565 to 1763. The Treaty of Paris (1763) gave the British control of the settlement until 1784, when Spain regained authority. In 1821, Spain ceded Florida and St. Augustine to the United States. As the ruling government in St. Augustine changed over time, so did the culture and appearance.

The top shows the St. Augustine city gates in 1808 when they were first built. The bottom shows the gates in 2013 and how the architecture has changed as the settlement has survived.

As more Europeans arrived in St. Augustine, the land that was originally inhabited by Native Americans, specifically the Timucua tribe, was altered.  Land had to be cleared for the construction of new buildings. The indigenous Native American culture that once dominated Florida became heavily influenced by the incoming European way of life. Disease and political conflicts diminished the Timucua culture. As the Spanish established their presence in Florida, they had trouble completely preserving their way of life. While degrading and changing the land in St. Augustine, they had to adapt to the new environment. The original goal of implementing all of Spanish culture in the new settlement was difficult because of unfamiliar environmental pressures.

A representation of what a Timucua village would have looked like before the Spanish arrived.

When pressures begin to affect a culture and the culture does not adapt, it will fail. This ability to be flexible is extremely important in the survival of any group of people. St. Augustine is a prime example of how any land that is subject to degradation by human actions will require cultural change over time. Most cultures are opposed to change, and will avoid cutting out certain activities that they value or find to be convenient. The Spanish way of life in Florida was not exactly the same as how it originally was in Spain. The same goes for the British rule. The cultures then evolved into the modern American way of life. The St. Augustine environment changed over time, so the cultures of the inhabitants did too. The arrival of more serious architecture and large-scale agriculture forced the cultures to adapt. Natural change combined with the consequences of human action require change, otherwise the affected group will collapse.

This concept is extremely relevant today. Cultural change has been happening for hundreds of years and has allowed certain groups to persist. The modern issue of climate change can be most effectively minimized when our present-day culture accepts the need to be flexible and give up certain privileges. For example, if humans today completely gave up electricity or agriculture, the impact of climate change would decrease. Even though people want to limit global warming, they will not give up these luxuries because the  change would be too extreme. St. Augustine proves that cultural change is not a negative thing, but a necessity in the survival of a society.




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2 thoughts on “The Inevitability of Change: St. Augustine

  1. St. Augustine was a Spanish colony. Colonialism was and is not inevitable, colonialism manifests in many different (often violent) ways. What is the Native narrative of what occurred here?

    • Colonialism is inevitable, just like cultural change. However, the Native population in St. Augustine was not pleased with the aggressive actions of the Spanish that led to cultural change at the site. The Native narrative associates the founding of St. Augustine with unfair treatment of the original inhabitants. Not only were the Native people subject to foreign diseases after the arrival of the Spanish, but they also were enslaved. In the 1700s, the Native population had greatly decreased, and the remaining Timucua tribe members were often forced into labor. If they resisted, the Europeans did not hesitate to kill them. It is important to keep this side of the story in mind. St. Augustine is an important site in terms of its changing culture, but the wrongful actions of the non-Natives must be acknowledged. The Native narrative further stresses how the culture of a given site is always going to evolve, even if its due to unjust or racist acts. To this day, there are still indigenous individuals and descendants that protest the European settlement of St. Augustine.

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