Florida National Guard to commemorate first muster

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (Aug. 23, 2011) – The Florida National Guard and the Florida Department of Military Affairs will commemorate the beginnings of Florida’s militia and National Guard traditions this year during a special annual ceremony at its headquarters in the nation’s oldest city.

The Guard will host the day-long event at the historic St. Francis Barracks in St. Augustine, Fla., on Sept. 16, marking the 446th anniversary of the “first muster” of Pedro Menendez de Aviles’ citizen-soldiers in St. Augustine in 1565. The event will feature an open house of the Barracks’ museum and a military retreat with historical re-enactors.

The event, according to Florida National Guard Historian Greg Moore, will recognize the first known muster of citizen-soldiers in – what would later evolve into – the continental United States.

Moore explained that this is a unique opportunity for the public to join the Guard in celebrating the First Muster – what many consider the ‘roots’ of the National Guard tradition in northeast Florida.

While the English militia tradition in the Massachusetts Bay Colony is credited with giving the modern National Guard its earliest organized regiments, it is a fact of history that the Spanish first brought the European tradition – men available for short terms of military service in time of war or domestic turmoil – to the New World.

Historians believe similar “musters” took place first in Cuba and Puerto Rico, and then moved to the continent at St. Augustine.

The First Muster took place on Sept. 16, 1565, when Pedro Menendez de Aviles gathered around him the soldiers of his small Spanish army, as well as the civilian settlers that had accompanied him to the newly established presidio town of St. Augustine. He was preparing to march north to the French settlement of Fort Caroline near the mouth of the St. Johns River, with the purpose of driving out the “usurpers of Spanish land.”

Because his plan called for the use of the majority of his regular soldiers, Menendez drew upon Spanish laws governing the militia, or milicia, in an imperial province. As both the civil governor and commander-in-chief of the military establishment he had the authority to call all free male settlers in the presidio province to active service. That first muster in St. Augustine consisted of approximately 50 men.

The exact location of that first muster is unknown, however local historians and archeologists believe it lies a few miles north of the present site of the Florida National Guard headquarters.

The First Muster Commemoration will begin with the museum open house from 9 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., and conclude with the military retreat at 3 p.m. Re-enactors in costumes typical of early Spanish settlers will be present throughout the day, and provide musket and weapons demonstrations during the retreat. The public is invited to the events.

This event is part of a five-year program to educate the public about Florida National Guard history, culminating in 2015 with the 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine.