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WHAT WAS THE FIRST LANGUAGE SPOKEN IN THE US?

Jamestown was taught to generations of school children in the US in a manner that many got the impression that it was the first European colony in what is now the United States. Perhaps at some point enlightened teachers mentioned that Saint Augustine in Florida was actually older, but it was hardly given much coverage. The impression that the first European language spoken in the US was English lingered. This has been used as an argument at times in US history to enforce policies that caused great distress in some population groups, a subject to discuss some other time. The historical fact is that the first European colony in the US was Spanish, and it was not Saint Augustine. The first European language spoken in the United States was Spanish.

Nearly a century before Jamestown, the Spanish lawyer and judge Lucas Vazquez Ayllón went up and down the Atlantic coast of what is now the US looking for a suitable place for a colony. Later, he and a group of Spaniards explored the area where, 82 years later, Jamestown was to exist, but did not start a colony there. Instead, in 1526, he and 600 Spaniards chose a site near present day Georgetown, South Carolina, to establish San Miguel de Gualdape. Some documents call it San Miguel de Guadalupe. This sizable colony was established 81 years before Jamestown, which had 104 colonists, and almost half a century before the failed attempt at Roanoke.

Just as it would happen much later at Jamestown, the Spanish settlers of San Miguel de Guadalpe endured much suffering. More died than survived the first winter, due to hunger, disease, infighting, Indian attacks and other disasters. Vazquez Ayllón himself fell ill and died. Just as the English survivors of Jamestown did much later, the surviving Spaniards of San Miguel de Gualdape abandoned the colony.

Another historical event amply taught in the US for generations has been that of the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth. Again, many students got the impression that it was the first European settlement that has survived till today. The first settlement in the US that has survived till today is Saint Augustine that was settled by Spaniards more than half a century before Plymouth, in 1565.

Who knows when schools in the US will teach that San Miguel de Gualdape was the first European settlement in the US, and that those colonists spoke Spanish, not English.

 

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