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A Spanish ‘Fort’ at Jupiter Inlet? Yes!

Updated: Mar 3, 2021

Our claim to bragging rights.

Most folks don’t know of this mini mystery debated among historians, but it involves the whereabouts of a rather flimsy fort that some 250 starving, desperate Spanish solders threw up in February 1566. They’d been marching – actually straggling - down the beach from the Sebastian Inlet area after being booted out by Indian villagers for ravaging their winter food supplies. Some of the Spanish officers had left in a shallow sailboat to requisition food from their base in Havana. Meanwhile, angry Indians were pursuing their weary quarry just a few miles back. The ragged band suddenly came to a dead-end on the shore of a wide inlet with a current too swift to cross. They were stranded, except…

Just then their south-bound ship coincidentally met up with another Spanish sailboat heading north to the new town of St. Augustine. The two scouted their way south until they spotted a more friendly inlet. One ship continued south while the other ferried the stranded troops to the safe inlet.

There they chopped down trees to make a rickety stockade, promising the nervous local Jeaga Indians that they’d soon bring them goodies from Havana and would depart quickly thereafter. Since it was the Catholic feast day of St. Lucie, they named their new fledgling fort Santa Lucia.

And in the process kindled a debate. Due to that name, some historians put the fort’s location somewhere around the later-named St. Lucie River. For the few like me who care about such things today, it’s more a case of a bragging rights tussle between Jupiter and Stuart-Hobe Sound.

But it’s clear to me from the records that Jupiter wins. Letters of the survivors put the distance from the expedition’s starting point at Sebastian at around eighteen leagues. A league is 3.45 miles, which is the distance to Jupiter Inlet.

Also wading in is Prof. Eugene Lyon, who headed the Center for Historical Research at Flagler College. In his authoritative The Enterprise of Florida, he writes that the two small ships sailed south together along the coast and found “a promising harbor at Jupiter Inlet, where the elevation commanded a good view of land and sea. There, on December 13, 1566, St. Lucie’s Day, they built Fort Santa Lucia.”

While acknowledging the counterclaims of other scholars, Lyon cites the writings of a Spanish captain who called his new neighbors “Xega” (the Jupiter locals). He adds:

“I believe the beginning point of the… journey was not far south of the Sebastian River inlet. Their course, estimated at twelve to fifteen leagues in length, would have brought them to the north side of the wide St. Lucie River. From there it is about eighteen miles, or six leagues to the Jupiter Inlet.”

Okay. So precisely where was the fort? I would put it about a quarter mile south of the straight (artificial) cut made by engineers in 1947. When developers built the huge Ocean Trails condo complex in the seventies, my guess is that they covered up the original inlet opening and any remains of a 500-year-old wood-walled fort that withstood an angry Jeaga siege for just two months until the starving survivors were rescued.

One scanty reminder? Alden Dubois grew up on the shore of the old inlet (now a creek running through Dubois Park). As a teenager on a swim, he found a Spanish sword on the sandy bottom. So far, that’s about it.

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