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Hurricanes: Science and Society
1565- San Mateo Hurricane

In September 1565, France and Spain were both trying to seize sole possession of Florida in an effort to oust the other from having a presence in the New World. The French were based in Fort Caroline, near present-day Jacksonville, and were led by the naval officer and navigator, Jean Ribault. Admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés led the Spanish, located at the newly established city of St. Augustine, some 65 km (40 mi) from Fort Caroline. On 20 September, Ribault and his troops set south by sea to attack the Spanish settlement at St. Augustine. Ribault’s top aide, René de Laudonnière, warned the French leader not to do so as he believed a powerful storm could be at sea and a Spanish attack on Fort Caroline might also occur. Ribault did not heed these warnings. A hurricane did make landfall across the area on 22 September, decimating the French fleet. A few hundred crewmen working the five ships survived and were tossed ashore somewhere between present-day Matanzas Inlet and Cape Canaveral, FL. Interestingly, at the same time that Ribault was at sea trying to get to St. Augustine, de Avilés and his troops were marching north towards Fort Caroline. The Spanish fleet killed most of the remaining Frenchmen at the unguarded fort and later destroyed Ribault and the remainder of his battalion when the two groups finally crossed paths some place near Matanzas Inlet, which is about 23 km (14 mi) south of St. Augustine. This defeat, accomplished in part with the help of the hurricane, eliminated French control in Florida.

Fast Facts:

  • The Spanish founded St. Augustine about a month before the hurricane. The establishment greatly strengthened Spanish influence in the New World, as this permanent settlement became a critical outpost that served to protect Spain’s control of the Americas.


Sandrik, Al. Chronological Listing of Tropical Cyclones Affecting North Florida and Coastal Georgia 1565-1899. NOAA. 2003. Web.

Emanuel, Kerry. 2005. France Gives up La Floride, 1565. Chapter 7 in: Divine Wind. Pp 38-39.

St. Augustine, Florida. Wikipedia. 2009

Jean Ribault. Wikipedia. 2009

Barnes, Jay. Florida’s Hurricane History. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 1998. Pp 43.