A reflective yet self-justifying “Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles” took the stage Monday at Flagler College Auditorium and recounted details of his founding of St. Augustine in September 1565, his successful attack against Fort Caroline and his massacre of 150 shipwrecked French sailors.
Television actor Chaz Mena portrayed Menendez as passionate, noble, ambitious, callous and devout.
“I am not a conquistador,” he told the packed 800-seat auditorium. “I want to be your founding father.”
The presentation was the second of seven in the Discover First America: Legacies of Florida series.
Just before “Menendez” spoke, Kathleen Deagan, the University of Florida’s distinguished research curator of Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, described the search for archaeological evidence found in scores of digs at the Fountain of Youth and the Mission of Nombre de Dios.
She said he arrived here in five ships of 11 he started with in Spain.
However, the location of his first fort has not been determined, she said.Two accounts contradict one another. The first says the Spanish soldiers dug a trench quickly to act as protection against the Timucuan. The second says Menendez was offered a large house in the Timucuan village of Seloy.
He arrived with 800 people — 300 soldiers, 200 sailors and several hundred “useless” people, he reported. But by November of that year, the colony was down to 200 people
“It was a hard beginning,” Deagan said. “There was hunger and the Indians were becoming hostile.”
In 1566, Menendez moved the city to Anastasia Island for seven years, she said.“No trace of that settlement has ever been found,” she said, adding that high tides, storms, seasonal floods and soil erosion may be the reason both sites have not been located.
She did show photographs of the very few Timucuan artifacts uncovered by her digs.
In 1572, Menendez moved the city back to the mainland, to where it is today.When he first arrived, Menendez held the first Thanksgiving in the New World.
“There wasn’t turkey, but garbanzo beans, ham, olives and fish and small game,” she said. “There were very few deer.”
“We are fairly certain that the first fort was somewhere near the area of Hospital Creek,” she said.
The energetic Mena acts in movies, such as “Miami Rhapsody” with Sarah Jessica Parker, plays a judge on Law & Order and performs in off-Broadway plays.
His research and performance were so thorough that one might think Menendez had been channeled.
“There is an old Asturian saying, ‘Once you have a reputation, especially a bad one, go to sleep, you cannot change it.’” he said.
He had been a merchant with his own ships when Phillip II, king of Spain, asked him to go to the New World to counter the French, who were already there, he said. He had been with his wife for only four of his 20 years of marriage, he said.He called the Gulf Stream “a river given to the Spanish people by God.”
Trying to explain his sometime cruelty, he said, “I was reared in violence and governments depend on people like me.”Discover First AmericaThe Discover First America series celebrates the city’s 450th commemoration, 2013-2015. All programs are free and are held in the Flagler College Auditorium beginning at 7 p.m. The series continues with the following programs:
* Dec. 9 — “Pirates! Fact and Fiction,” with Pat Croce, Pirate Soul museum curator, author and entrepreneur; and Brendan Burke, Lighthouse Archeological Maritime Program.
* Jan. 7 — “The British are Coming!,” presenting Bill Barker as Thomas Jefferson (through the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation), John Stavely as Jesse Fish and the British Night Watch.* Feb. 5 — “The Great Southern Cracker Roadshow,” with Janis Owens, author and storyteller; Dana Ste. Claire, author and Cracker historian; and bluegrass musicians.* Tuesday, April 13 — “Palaces in Paradise: Flagler’s Age of Opulence,” with Tom Graham, professor emeritus of history, Flagler College; John Blades, executive director of Flagler Museum; and a special “Conversation with Henry Flagler,” with Flagler played by Tom Rahner and Mayor Joe Boles as himself.* Tuesday, May 18 — “Road to Freedom: African-Americans in Florida,” by Derek Hankerson and James Bullock, both actors and creative directors.
Chaz holds an MFA in Drama from Carnegie-Mellon University and a BA in English Literature from Barry University in South Florida. He has trained at Moscow Arts Theatre (Russia); Wynn Handeman in New York City; Robert Lowery; Liz Orion; Robert Taylor; Gretchen Cryer; Yuri Yeriomin; Oleg Tabakov.