Built in 1566, Fort San Felipe was the first fort that Spaniards constructed in the town of Santa Elena on present-day Parris Island, South Carolina. Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, the settlement’s founder, placed his fort on the remains of Charlesfort, built by the French in 1562. The choice of the Charlesfort site allowed the Spaniards to raise their structure quickly in an excellent location for the defense of Port Royal Sound. Beyond the site’s practical advantages, construction of Fort San Felipe over the French fort had symbolic significance: a fortification bearing the name of the Spanish king Philip II would stand where one named for France’s Charles IX had been. Through these and other actions, Spain defied French claims to the Atlantic coast of North America.
The Spaniards constructed Fort San Felipe from sandy soil and other materials of the land. In its early days the fort had a triangular shape with walls made of wood and earth mounded over bundles of sticks piled high. Platforms, or cavaliers, stood at each corner of the fort, and a moat surrounded it. Through repairs and improvements, the structure of Fort San Felipe evolved over time. In 1571 a fire in the munitions house caused the Spaniards to move the fort to another Parris Island location. Fort San Felipe stood at this new site until 1576, when the Guale, Orista, and Escamazu native tribes destroyed it with flaming arrows in an attack on the Santa Elena settlement.
South, Stanley, and Chester B. DePratter. Discovery at Santa Elena: Block Excavation, 1993. Columbia: South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of South Carolina, 1996.