Álvaro Armada Barcaiztegui struggled for words to describe his visit to the site of Santa Elena this week. Emotions overwhelmed him as he set foot where ancestor Pedro Menèndez de Avilès established the first colonial capital of America in 1569.
"(I could) see the image, the soul of Pedro Menèndez over the place," Barcaiztegui said Wednesday. "I kept imagining, how did they arrive, what problems did they find?"
A member of the Santa Elena Foundation board of directors, Barcaiztegui is a grande de españa -- the top tier of Spanish royalty -- and the count of Güemes and of Revilla-Gigedo.
He is visiting Beaufort this week as part of the foundation's attempt to establish a center to highlight the history of the colonization of North America and Santa Elena.
The visit included a stop Monday at the Santa Elena site on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. Barcaiztegui placed a bouquet of yellow roses where Menèndez's home is believed to have been, in homage to his ancestor.
He said Wednesday he would like the foundation to make a similar tribute once a year.
Barcaiztegui also met with local officials, foundation board members, community representatives and school children. On Wednesday, he challenged a classroom of teenagers at the University of South Carolina Beaufort to consider what it means for them that Santa Elena was founded before the more familiar Jamestown and Plymouth Rock.
"How does this affect you as students, as young people?" he asked.
Barcaiztegui said he intends to share -- in ways to be determined -- some of his extensive family archives that include letters between Menèndez and King Phillip II and detailed logs of Menèndez's settlement of America.
The documents tell a story that has never been told, he said, and has been largely ignored in both Spain and the United States.
"How can a nation ... be missing one century of its history?" Barcaiztegui said. "... There are so many people missing the story and missing the truth, missing the heritage."
Foundation executive director Andy Beall said the next step is to determine whether Beaufort County will approve a lease for exhibit and office space in the old federal courthouse in Beaufort.
Arrangements are being made to borrow two exhibits from other museums once the foundation finds a temporary home.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.
- Santa Elena Foundation eyes old federal courthouse for exhibits, office, Oct. 16, 2014
- Spanish count, descendent of Santa Elena founder joins foundation, July 30, 2014
- Santa Elena Foundation hires first director, July 14, 2014
- Santa Elena Foundation heads to Spain for research, May 9, 2014