In 1559 – well before the colonies in Plymouth, Massachusetts (1620), Jamestown, Virginia (1607) and St. Augustine, Florida (1565) – Tristán de Luna y Arellano landed on Pensacola’s shores with a fleet of 11 ships and more than 1,400 people. This crew of explorers established the earliest multi-year European settlement in the U.S. Just over a month after arriving, the colony was hit by a hurricane that sank five ships and killed hundreds. The survivors kept the settlement going as long as they could, but by 1561 they had scattered to Cuba, Mexico and beyond.
In 2015, 450 years after the colony was abandoned, archaeologists from the University of West Florida confirmed the exact location of the settlement. The historical site is located in an undisclosed neighborhood in Downtown Pensacola. Among the Spanish colonial and Native American artifacts recovered from the dig were mid-16th-century pottery shards, a lead fishing line weight, copper lacing aglet, wrought iron nail and Native American trading beads.