Pensacola Discovery Complicates Title Of 'Oldest City'

Dec 17, 2015

The head of an ancient olive jar discovered in Pensacola.
Credit University of West Florida

St. Augustine, Florida may have new competition for the title of oldest city in America.  A new discovery out of the University of West Florida suggests that title could go to another Florida city: Pensacola.

Researchers at the University of West Florida say they’ve proved Spanish Explorer, Tristan de Luna established his Spanish colony of Pensacola in August of 1559. That’s six years before St. Augustine, which claims it’s the oldest because it’s been continuously occupied.

UWF isn’t revealing the exact location of the site in order to protect it, but according to the Pensacola News Journal, hints of the discovery surfaced earlier this year, when a house was demolished, and the tip of an ancient olive jar was spotted in the ground.

The only earlier European habitation site that’s been identified is in Tallahassee—which is claiming to be the site of the first Christmas in America. Hernando DeSoto camped in the city between 1539 and 1540. Other earlier attempts at settlements in Florida and South Georgia by other explorers were unsuccessful.

NPR Member station WUWF reports excavation at the site will be going on for years, and the school hopes it will eventually host exhibits of the find.

                                             European Colonization in the United States

Abbreviated Chronology of European Colonization in the Southeastern U.S.

  • 1492: Christopher Columbus
  • 1513: Juan Ponce de León
  • 1521: Juan Ponce de León
  • 1526: Lúcas Vázquez de Ayllón (San Miguel de Gualdape)
  • 1528: Pánfilo de Narváez
  • 1539-1543: Hernando de Soto-Tallahassee "First Christmas"
  • 1549: Luís Cancer

1559-1561: The Tristán de Luna y Arellano expedition establishes a colonial settlement at Pensacola Bay, originally in an effort to push inland to Coosa and finally to Santa Elena on the South Carolina Coast. The destruction of the fleet by a hurricane dooms the expedition, which finally withdraws two years later.

  • 1562-1565: Jean Ribault (Charlesfort)/René de Laudonnière (Fort Caroline)
  • 1565: Pedro Menéndez de Avilés (St. Augustine)
  • 1585-1587: Walter Raleigh (Roanoke)