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Title: St. Augustine, Florida's Colonial Capital

Author: J. T. Van Campen

Release date: May 11, 2019 [eBook #59484]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Stephen Hutcheson and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at


St. Augustine, Florida’s Colonial Capital

Florida’s Colonial Capital


Castillo de San Marcos

Third Printing 1971
C. F. Hamblen, Inc.
P. O. Box 1568
St. Augustine, Florida

Published By
Copyright 1959 by J. T. Van Campen



I Settlement 3
The Spanish Treasure Fleets 4
The Huguenots Occupy Florida 6
Don Pedro Menéndez 8
The Rival Fleets 10
The Turn of the Tide 12
Capture of Fort Caroline 12
The Victor Returns 14
Fate of the Shipwrecked French 14
Other Difficulties 16
Gunpowder Versus Arrows 16
Menéndez Goes to Spain 18
On the Brink of Failure 18
Death of Menéndez 19
II The Years Accumulate 20
First English Visit 20
Saving of Savage Souls 23
Another Crisis 26
Capital of La Florida 26
III The English Threat 29
A Midnight Raid 29
A Stone Fort at Last 30
Settlement of Pensacola 32
Border Conflict 32
The Shipwrecked Quakers 32
The Castle’s First Test 34
The Capital’s Defenses 35
Palmer’s Raid 36
Oglethorpe’s Siege 37
Further Hostilities 40
IV Under British Rule 43
British Rule Begins 44
The New Smyrna Colony 46
During the Revolution 49
Another Treaty 50
V Spanish Rule Returns 52
The North Florida Republic 55
A Bit of Spain 56
Ceded to the United States 57
VI Under the United States 58
Visitors Begin to Arrive 58
The Freeze of 1835 59
The Seminole War 61
A Peaceful Interlude 62
During the Civil War 64
Tourist Industry Resumed 65
Its Isolation Broken 66
The Flagler Influence 66
The Changing Scene 69
St. Augustine Today 71

Don Pedro Menéndez de Aviles, the great Spanish admiral, who founded St. Augustine and made Florida a Spanish province.



It all began at a little bay on the east coast of Florida during September of 1565. Two large galleons rode at anchor outside the harbor entrance, while three smaller craft with sails furled and pennants flying from each masthead were moored within. The ships were a part of the fleet of Don Pedro Menéndez. They brought an expedition from Spain to establish settlements in Florida and drive out the French Huguenots, who had a fort near the mouth of the St. Johns River in this Spanish-claimed territory. The French colony, named Fort Caroline, lay only some thirty-five miles up the coast from the point where the Spanish ships were anchored. There on this very same day Jean Ribault, who had just arrived from France with reinforcements, was preparing to attack the Spaniards before they could finish landing and fortify their position.

During the late forenoon, Menéndez and a group of his officers transferred from the larger of the two galleons offshore to a smaller boat alongside. Aided by a strong incoming tide, the boat entered the inlet and advanced across the bay toward the mainland, heading for a little creek that wound among the marshes to higher ground. As it neared this point, the roar of cannon and the blare of trumpets startled huge flocks of marsh birds into noisy flight.

On shore curious Indians looked out upon the scene with mingled fear and wonder. A Spanish detachment, which previously had disembarked, was drawn up along the bank to greet the landing party. From their ranks a robe-clad priest emerged holding aloft a cross and singing in a clear voice the Latin words of the Te Deum Laudamus.

“On Saturday, the 8th [of September],” relates the priest, Francisco López de Mendoza, Chaplain of the Spanish fleet, “the General landed with many banners spread, to the sound of trumpets and salutes of artillery. As I had gone ashore the evening before, I took the Cross and went to meet him, singing the hymn Te Deum Laudamus. The General, followed by all who accompanied him, marched up to the Cross, knelt and kissed it. A large number of Indians watched these proceedings and imitated all they saw done. The General then took formal possession of the country in the name of his Majesty, and all the captains took the oath of allegiance to him as their leader and Governor.”


Beneath the gnarled oaks festooned with moss the Spanish knelt before a rustic altar to celebrate the first parish Mass on Florida soil.

Menéndez had instructed his advance landing party to select a location suitable for an entrenchment and fort. For this purpose they had taken over the Indian village of Seloy and the “great house” of its cacique, which stood close to the river bank. Around it the Spaniards were hastily digging a trench and throwing up an embankment of earth. Some cannon were already mounted behind this breastwork. Menéndez was well pleased with what had been accomplished. After holding a council with his officers he returned to his ships to hasten the unloading of the rest of his company, artillery, and supplies before the French might descend upon them.

When he had first come upon this little bay and inlet, chosen for his base, he gave it the name St. Augustine in honor of the Saint’s day (August 28th), on which his ships first sighted the Florida coast.

The Spanish Treasure Fleets

At the time of St. Augustine’s founding Spain was the most powerful nation in Europe. Sailing under her banner, Christopher Columbus in 1492 had initiated the discovery of strange new lands across the sea. Other intrepid explorers followed—Spanish, French, English, Dutch, and Portuguese—searching for the coveted sea-route to the Indies. The vast extent and wealth of the New World began to unfold.

Thus far only Spain, and to a lesser extent Portugal, had taken advantage of their discoveries. Almost two hundred Spanish settlements had been established in portions of the West Indies, Mexico, Central and South America by the time St. Augustine came into being. Fleets of galleons laden with riches from these colonies began to sail slowly across the Atlantic to Spanish ports. They became known as the treasure fleets because they carried fortunes in gold and silver. Spain’s European rivals watched this flow of fabulous wealth with bitter envy, and pirates preyed increasingly upon it. Some were genuine outlaws; others were merely adventurers, whose piracy had the tacit approval of their sovereigns.

The vessels of the treasure fleets usually assembled at Havana, Cuba. From that point their route, taking advantage of the strong Gulf Stream current, lay up along the east coast of Florida and Carolina, thence east to Spain. This was an important lifeline in the then great and powerful Spanish Empire.

Back in 1513 Ponce de León, sailing northwestward from Puerto Rico in search of rumored wealth and, it was later said, youth-giving waters, discovered the Florida peninsula. Landing in the vicinity of St. Augustine, he claimed the territory for Spain and gave it the poetic name La Florida, because he first sighted its green shores during the Easter season, called by the Spaniards Pascua Florida.


Route of the Spanish Treasure Fleets

Treasure carried overland across Isthmus of Panama
St. Augustine

Although Florida occupied a strategic location along the route of the treasure fleets, it remained unsettled for fifty years following its discovery. Numerous Spanish expeditions, such as those of Narváez, De Soto, and Tristán de Luna set out to explore, conquer and colonize Florida, but instead of gold and silver the conquistadores found only suffering and death in its wild interior or along its beaches.

Indians worshipping one of the columns set up by Ribault, from a drawing by the French artist, Le Moyne.

During this period of exploration and colonization Europe was the scene of bitter religious conflict. Spain, which was solidly a Catholic country, endeavored to stamp out all deviations from its faith. While neighboring France was predominantly Catholic, there were a number of Protestants in the country. They were called Huguenots and included some Frenchmen of noble birth.

The Huguenots Occupy Florida

Admiral Gaspard Coligny, leader of the French Protestants, or Huguenots, dreamed of establishing colonies in the New World that might rival Spain’s in riches and importance. An attempted settlement in Brazil in 1555 was destroyed by the Portuguese. In 1562 he sent out a small expedition under an able Huguenot navigator, Jean Ribault. These Frenchmen, after exploring a portion of the north Florida and lower Carolina coast and setting up columns claiming the land for France, built a small fort near Port Royal, South Carolina, which was soon abandoned by the small garrison left there.


During the next two years fighting broke out in France between the Catholics and Huguenots, preventing further colonizing activity. When peace was restored Coligny sent out a second and larger expedition in 1564, consisting of three vessels, under René de Laudonnière, who had accompanied Ribault on the first voyage. These colonists chose as a site for their settlement a point near the mouth of the St. Johns River in present-day Florida. There they built a fort, named Fort Caroline in honor of their boy king, Charles IX.

René de Laudonnière.

After searching the area in vain for evidences of gold and silver, the Frenchmen ran short of provisions and were forced to subsist mainly on food bartered or seized from the Indians. Meanwhile, some of their number mutinied and sailed away to attack Spanish shipping in the Caribbean. The rest were on the point of returning to France when Sir John Hawkins, an English freebooter, happened by and sold them one of his ships and needed supplies. They were again about to embark for France, when sails appeared off the river’s mouth. They were the ships of Jean Ribault bringing strong reinforcements.

Admiral Gaspard de Coligny.

When Philip II of Spain and his advisors learned of these French Huguenot activities in Florida, they were greatly alarmed. The French fort, if allowed to remain so close to the route of the treasure fleets, would constantly expose them to attack. Manrique de Rojas was dispatched from Cuba to investigate. During May of 1564 he sailed up the Florida coast looking for signs of a French settlement, but found only one of the columns left by Ribault, the abandoned fort and a French boy at Port Royal. Laudonnière did not arrive on the coast until late June of that year.


Philip II, the King of Spain, who commissioned Menéndez to settle Florida, and later supervised the colony during its early years.

The sovereigns of Spain and France were at the time allied by marriage. The wife of Philip II of Spain was the daughter of the Queen Regent of France, the crafty Catherine de’ Medici. Philip protested to Catherine through his minister concerning the presence of her subjects in Florida, but received only evasive replies to the effect that they had merely gone to a land called Newe France, discovered many years before by French seamen. It became increasingly clear that to safeguard its claim to the territory, and protect the route of the treasure fleets, Spain would need to establish forts of its own in Florida and expel the French trespassers from its shores.

Don Pedro Menéndez

The man destined to establish the first permanent settlement in Florida and expel the French Huguenots was a Spaniard of noble lineage, Don Pedro Menéndez. Born in 1519 in the little seaport town of Avilés, on the northern coast of Spain, he was one of a large family and upon the death of his father was sent to be reared by relatives. Against their wishes he went to sea while still in his teens to fight the pirates, or corsairs, who lurked along the nearby French and Spanish coasts. Within a few years he learned to command and navigate a vessel of his own. The sea was in his blood.

His courage and expert seamanship caused him to rise rapidly in royal favor. He soon advanced to the most important naval post in Spain, that of Captain-General of the armada, or guard of heavily armed ships that accompanied 9 the treasure fleets on their long voyages to and from the New World through pirate-infested waters, receiving this appointment directly from the King. But his rise to prominence also created jealous enemies. Among these were officials of the Casa de Contratación, or Board of Trade, who formerly had appointed and controlled the armada’s commander, and deeply resented loss of this authority.

When Menéndez and his brother, Bartolomé, returned from a voyage to the New World with the treasure fleet in 1563, they were met by armed officers of the Casa, arrested and imprisoned on vague charges related to smuggling or accepting bribes. Soon after this occurred, Menéndez learned that his only son, Don Juan, had been shipwrecked on the coast of Florida, or vicinity of Bermuda, while returning with a portion of the fleet. He hoped and prayed that some day he might find his son alive, possibly held captive by the coastal Indians.

After over a year’s delay Menéndez was finally brought to trial and fined. Upon his release from prison, he immediately sought an audience with King Philip II to secure his permission for a voyage to Florida in search of his lost son, and to further explore its coast on which many Spanish ships were being wrecked. Philip II not only granted permission for his voyage, but welcomed this opportunity to commission him to undertake the settlement of Florida, and the task of dealing with the French Huguenots, who had gained a foothold there. Gratefully Menéndez knelt and kissed his monarch’s hand. Here was an opportunity to recoup his fallen fortunes.

As customary in such matters, a royal asiento, or contract, was executed. By it Menéndez was bound to establish three fortified posts in Florida at his own expense, and within a specified time. In return he was to receive a substantial share of any riches that might be found there, certain privileges of trade, and the title of Adelantado and Governor of the Province of Florida in perpetuity.

The contract also provided that Menéndez should make every effort to convert the natives of Florida to Christianity, and for that purpose several priests were assigned to the expedition and others were to be brought over later.

A Spanish galleon Florida-bound.


The Rival Fleets

With characteristic vigor Menéndez began collecting ships and recruiting followers for his Florida expedition. In the midst of his preparations, intelligence reached Spain that a strong French fleet under Jean Ribault was being readied to sail for Florida to reinforce Fort Caroline. More arms and soldiers would be needed. The royal arsenals were thrown open and the King agreed to furnish one vessel and three hundred soldiers at his own expense. By late June, Menéndez had assembled a formidable armada of some nineteen ships and 1,500 persons, most of it concentrated at the Spanish port of Cadiz. There were scenes of parting from loved ones, the last solemn Mass at the Cathedral. Anchors were weighed and on June 29, 1565, the expedition set sail, but was driven back by a storm and put to sea several days later.

Meanwhile, the rival French fleet under Jean Ribault had sailed a month earlier, leaving the port of Dieppe, France, on May 28th, but unfavorable winds delayed its progress. The Spanish fleet put in at the Canary Islands for wood and water, and to take a muster of its forces. After leaving the Canaries, it ran into a severe Atlantic storm, which damaged some of the vessels and drove others far off their course. As a result, Menéndez reached San Juan, Puerto Rico, on about August 10th with but one-third of his original force.

Fleet at sea.

A council of war was held. Should they go on or wait until the rest of the fleet might arrive? Menéndez convinced his officers that it would be best to press on before the French had time to further strengthen their position. Sailing northwestward, the 11 Spaniards sighted the shores of Florida on August 28th. It was St. Augustine’s day and Te Deums were sung. On the same day Ribault’s fleet reached the mouth of the St. Johns River.

Ignorant of the location of the French fort, the Spanish ships crept cautiously up the Florida coast, sailing by day and anchoring at night. On the fifth day Indians were sighted on shore. A party landed, followed by Menéndez himself, and learned from the Indians that the French fort lay thirty leagues (90 miles) to the north. Continuing on up the coast, the Spaniards paused at the inlet and harbor of St. Augustine, where Menéndez decided to establish his base. They sailed northward again the next day, and about three in the afternoon their lookouts sighted four ships on the horizon. A sudden thunder shower obscured them temporarily from view, followed by a calm that lasted until evening. Then a light breeze enabled the Spaniards to bring their ships within hailing distance.

About midnight Menéndez ordered trumpets sounded. “Whence comes this fleet,” he demanded, “and what is it doing here?”

“From France,” a French spokesman replied, “and it brings infantry, artillery, and supplies for a fort the King of France has in this land, and to equip many more.”

The French ships sighted.

Menéndez then informed them of his mission, stating that he had no choice but to carry out his King’s commands. The French Huguenots answered him with threats and jeers, and dared the Spaniards to come on. Angered by this, Menéndez prepared to board the French vessels, but instead of waiting to meet the attack the French put to sea. The Spaniards opened fire, raised anchor, and sailed in pursuit, but could not overtake them because the masts and rigging of their ships had been damaged in the Atlantic storm.

The following morning Menéndez returned to the mouth of the St. Johns River to reconnoiter the French position. Finding it too strong to assault, he sailed back down the coast to the inlet and harbor chosen for his base. There on September 8, 1565, as previously related, he landed with fitting pomp to take possession of Florida and found the fortified settlement of St. Augustine. A French vessel hovered a short distance out at sea to watch the Spaniards’ movements.


The Turn of the Tide

Menéndez next began the task of completing the unloading of his vessels. People, heavy artillery, arms, building implements, kegs of powder, boxes and hogsheads of supplies, casks of wine and olive oil, chests of clothing and personal effects all had to be transferred to smaller boats to be brought ashore. Two of his vessels, his Capitana or flagship, the San Pelayo, and another galleon proved too large to enter the shallow inlet. They were ordered to leave for Cuba to secure reinforcements as soon as most of their heavy cargo could be removed.

Before daybreak on the morning of September 11th, Menéndez watched the two galleons set sail. With a sloop and smaller craft, loaded with 150 soldiers and supplies, he waited outside the inlet for a favorable breeze and for the tide to turn. Out of the early morning mist the ghostly shapes of French ships loomed. Ribault had come to attack St. Augustine before it was barely three days old. Ordering the anchor cables of his boats cut, Menéndez managed to pilot them to safety across the dangerous bar, which the French vessels could not navigate until about flood tide.

On shore the Spaniards prepared desperately to meet the threatened attack. Then, seemingly, a miracle occurred. The weather, which up to this time had been relatively fair, abruptly changed. Strong northerly winds arose, preventing the French from entering the inlet or returning north to their fort on the St. Johns. One of those northeast storms, common to this section of the coast in the fall, whipped up high waves on the bay and sea. A driving rain fell and dark clouds raced overhead.

Capture of Fort Caroline

Menéndez knew that the French vessels would be driven helplessly before the raging storm. He also correctly surmised that Ribault had taken aboard most of the French fighting force, leaving Fort Caroline weakly garrisoned. He called a secret council of his officers to outline his next step. Since rough weather made it impossible to reach the French fort by sea, he proposed the daring course of marching overland to surprise Fort Caroline before Ribault could return to its assistance.

On the morning of September 16th Menéndez and 500 picked men attended Mass. Then through the wind and rain they plunged into the wilderness, guided by two Indians who had been at the French fort a few days before. Menéndez and a small party of axmen went ahead to clear a trail and blaze the trees so that the men following would not lose their way. At places they waded through swamps flooded waist-deep by the storm, at night seeking higher ground on which to camp and build a fire. Some became exhausted; others lost courage and turned back. On the evening of September 19th the Spaniards reached the vicinity of the enemy fort. They were drenched to the skin, their powder damp and useless. It was still raining 13 and the wind whistled weirdly through the pines.

Fort Caroline, as pictured by Le Moyne, consisted of a triangular stockade of earth and logs, within which barracks and other buildings were located.

With the first light of dawn a Spanish detachment, guided by a French deserter, advanced into the clearing that surrounded Fort Caroline. A few Frenchmen quartered outside the stockade fled in alarm. Hearing their cries, a soldier within opened the wicket, or little door, of the main gate to admit them. He was quickly killed by the advancing Spaniards, who broke into a run and poured into the enclosure, shouting “Santiago! Victory!”

The surprise was complete. Sleepy-eyed Frenchmen, some still in their night clothes, became the easy victims of Spanish arms. Laudonnière and some fifty of the garrison managed to escape to the surrounding swamps, and thence to French boats anchored in the river. Among them was the artist Le Moyne, whose drawings of Fort Caroline, and the early Florida Indians were later engraved and published by De Bry.

Leaving most of his force to garrison the captured fort, which he renamed San Mateo, Menéndez set out with a small detachment to return to St. Augustine.

Florida Coastline.
Atlantic Ocean
Fort Caroline
on St. Johns River
St. Augustine
Anastasia Island
Matanzas Inlet
where French were massacred
Ribault’s Ships wrecked somewhere along this shore
Cape Canaveral

The Victor Returns

At St. Augustine work continued on strengthening its defenses. A week passed without news of the attacking expedition. Only exhausted stragglers returned with terrifying reports of the swamps and other difficulties encountered. Gloom and despair settled over the camp until one afternoon a ragged Spaniard burst out of the woodland, shouting “Victory! Victory! the harbor of the French is ours!”

“Four priests who were there [at St. Augustine] immediately set out, holding aloft the Cross, followed by all the sea and land forces, the women and children in procession, singing the Te Deum Laudamus. They received the Adelantado with great rejoicing, everyone laughing and weeping for joy, praising God for so great a victory. And so they escorted the Adelantado in triumph to the encampment and settlement of San Agustín.”

Fate of the Shipwrecked French

No word had yet been received as to Ribault’s fleet, which had been caught in the storm off St. Augustine. His ships, driven aground many miles down the coast, were being pounded to pieces in the surf. Most of the men aboard had reached shore safely with their arms. Hungry and constantly harassed by Indians, they were endeavoring to make their way up the beaches back to their fort. How they longed to be back in their beloved France!

Four days after Menéndez returned from Fort Caroline, Indians made known by signs that a party of men were marooned on the shores of an inlet fifteen miles south of St. Augustine. He immediately set out with a small force of soldiers and, on reaching the inlet at dawn, saw two hundred Frenchmen gathered on the opposite shore. One of their number swam across the inlet and was told to inform his comrades of Fort Caroline’s fate. They at first refused to believe that the Spaniards could have taken it, but as proof were shown captured French 15 arms and clothing. Fruitless parleys followed. Faced with starvation or probable death at the hands of the Indians, the entire French band unconditionally surrendered.

A boat was sent over to bring back their weapons and standards. Then the French captives were ferried across the inlet ten at a time. As each group landed, their hands were bound behind them with matchcords, and they were led up the beach out of sight and hearing behind high dunes. As they reached a fatal line drawn by Menéndez in the sand, their captors slew them with swords and daggers, and then returned to the inlet to escort another group of ten to their doom. Only a few were spared.

About two weeks later another party of Frenchmen, who had been shipwrecked farther down the coast, arrived at the same inlet. Some eighty, including their brave leader, Jean Ribault, gave themselves up and were disposed of in the same manner as before. A number refused to place themselves at the Spaniards’ mercy and withdrew to the south. When Menéndez returned to St. Augustine his brother-in-law, Solis de Merás, observed that “some people considered him cruel, and others that he had acted as a very good captain should.”

The Spanish word Matanzas, meaning slaughters, became the name of the inlet near which the massacres occurred.

Fort Matanzas stands near the inlet, where the French were slain.


Other Difficulties

The French attempt to occupy Florida was thus effectively shattered. Other difficulties threatened the permanence of its settlement and remained to be overcome—the unyielding wilderness, the treacherous Indians, the colonists’ lust for gold, and hunger, that cause of so many early colonizing failures. Food supplies diminished with each passing day. The buildings at Fort Caroline, renamed San Mateo by the Spaniards, accidentally burned down with all their contents shortly after its capture. The other vessels of the Spanish fleet, scattered by the storm while crossing the Atlantic, failed to arrive with expected supplies and reinforcements. To relieve the situation Menéndez decided to go to Cuba for aid. On his way down the coast he picked up the remaining French survivors, who were too few to prove a threat and were kindly treated.

At Cuba jealousy and intrigue still dogged his footsteps. The officials of the Casa, by whom he had been imprisoned in Spain, seem to have succeeded in injuring his prestige and reputation. He was coolly received by the Governor of Cuba, García Osario, and refused aid. The belated arrival of several of his ships enabled him to send his Florida posts some relief. On his way back he visited the Indians of Carlos, or Caloosa Indians, who then occupied south Florida. They made a practice of enslaving shipwrecked Spaniards who fell into their hands, sacrificing some of these victims in their pagan rites. Menéndez found several Spanish survivors among them, but looked in vain for the familiar features of his son, Don Juan.

During his extended absence from St. Augustine dissension broke out among his followers. When a vessel arrived with supplies mutineers seized it and prepared to sail away. A similar situation developed at San Mateo. Many had joined the expedition only because they expected it might lead to easy riches. Failure to find any signs of gold and silver in Florida proved a bitter disappointment. Or, they had secretly planned to desert it at the first opportunity, and seek passage to other Spanish colonies from which fabulous wealth flowed to Spain. Now that the French had been defeated there was little glory to be gained in the hardships of fort building, and threatened starvation in this distant wilderness. A number of the mutineers eventually embarked for the Caribbean, and thence some went to Spain, where they circulated damaging reports of Menéndez and the Florida settlements.

Gunpowder Versus Arrows

The Indians meanwhile, though at first outwardly friendly, became an increasing threat to the new colony. Spanish mutineers at San Mateo inflamed their hatred by the unprovoked murder of three of their chiefs. They held a great council and declared their enmity.

Huddled within their stockades, the Spaniards could not venture out in search of food without fear of attack. 17 The savages lurked everywhere in the swamps and woodlands, and shot their arrows with such force as to penetrate a soldier’s coat of mail. The crude firearms of the day were not entirely suited to Indian warfare. When a Spaniard paused to reload his slow-firing arquebus, an operation requiring several minutes, Indians rose from their hiding to shower him with arrows. When they saw the flash of burning powder in the primer of his gun, they crawled through the tall grass and appeared in another place after it had been discharged. Over one hundred Spaniards were thus killed by the Indians during the first year of the colony’s existence.

A Le Moyne drawing, showing Florida Indians attacking a rival village with flaming arrows.

Indian attacks became so serious as to cause the removal of the settlement to another site. One night, when Menéndez was absent on an exploring trip, yelling savages broke through the Spanish lines at St. Augustine, and set fire to the storehouse with flaming arrows, destroying precious powder and supplies.

When Menéndez returned he called a council of his officers. “It was resolved that they should move from there and erect a fort at the entrance of the bar ... because there the Indians could not do them so much harm ... and there they could better defend themselves against the vessels of enemies that might want to enter the harbor.”

Working in shifts, the Spaniards rushed the construction of a stockade and fort at the new location.


During the summer of 1566, the lonely Florida settlers were heartened by the arrival of substantial reinforcements. A fleet of fourteen vessels under Sancho de Arciniega brought 1,500 persons and welcome supplies. Part of this force was assigned to bolster the Florida garrisons. Menéndez was ordered to employ the remainder against pirates, or corsairs, who were plundering Spanish shipping and colonies in the Caribbean.

By this time, in accordance with the terms of his contract. Menéndez had established three fortified posts in Florida—St. Augustine in about its present location, San Mateo near the mouth of the St. Johns River, and Santa Elena still farther north on the coast of Carolina. He had thoroughly explored the Florida coasts, and gone up the St. Johns River almost to its source. He had traveled among the Indians of South Florida, and of Guale, or southeastern Georgia, endeavoring to win their friendship and subject them to Spanish authority. One of his lieutenants, Juan Pardo, had penetrated inland with a few soldiers a distance of 450 miles to the mountains of western North Carolina. Possibly always in the back of his mind lurked the hope that he might come upon some news of his lost son and once more embrace him in his arms.

Menéndez Goes to Spain

In 1567 Menéndez deemed it necessary that he go back to Spain to render in person a report on the condition and needs of the Florida and West Indian colonies. The little garrison at St. Augustine continued to cling precariously to its narrow beach-head. In the spring of 1568 the settlement shuddered when a small French force under Dominique de Gourges, aided by Indians, wiped out the Spanish posts near the mouth of the St. Johns. Captured Spaniards were hanged from the limbs of the liveoaks in revenge for the Frenchmen killed at Fort Caroline and Matanzas three years before.

On the Brink of Failure

During Menéndez’ continued absence in Spain, the condition and morale of Florida posts grew steadily worse. Supplies were dangerously low, clothing was worn to shreds, and the shelters thus far constructed afforded little comfort. Efforts to grow corn and other grains in the sandy soil resulted in discouraging failure.

The summer of 1570 brought no relief. The blazing sun scorched the beaches and swamps. Mosquitos and other insects made life miserable. Estéban de las Alas, one of Menéndez’ trusted lieutenants in charge of the post at Santa Elena, sailed with 120 men for Spain, arguing that those remaining would have a better chance for survival on the limited supplies. The garrison at St. Augustine mutinied, burned its fort, and began building a crude boat in which to leave. The settlement of Florida hovered on the brink of failure.

At this crucial point Don Pedro Menéndez Marqués assumed command. He was a nephew of the founder and had served with him in the treasure 19 fleets. In a letter written from San Mateo, he pleaded with the mutineers at St. Augustine to remain at their post, promising to transport them to Cuba if supplies failed to arrive by a specified time. His arguments prevailed and St. Augustine lived on.

Death of Menéndez

Events in Europe continued to keep Menéndez occupied in Spain, or on voyages to the Caribbean, during which he again visited his Florida posts. The Low Countries, Holland and Belgium, which had long been under Spanish domination, were in revolt.

In 1574 Menéndez received the crowning honor of his career. He was chosen by Philip II of Spain to take command of a great armada of ships and men being assembled in the harbor of Santander, presumably for operation against the Low Countries, and possibly the English coast. On the day he assumed this important command he fell ill with a raging fever. The usual remedies of purging and blood-letting proved of no avail, and he died on September 17, 1574, at the age of 55.

The day before the beginning of his fatal illness he wrote a letter to his nephew, Marqués, expressing his desire to return to Florida, and stating that he hoped to do so in the spring, when he was confident the affair in Flanders would be settled.

“Then,” he wrote, “I shall be at liberty to go at once to Florida, never to leave it as long as I live, for that is my longing and my happiness.”

Storms prevented burial in his native Avilés, to which his remains were later removed. There an inscription on his tomb eulogizes him as “the illustrious Adelantado of the Province of Florida ... and Captain-General of the Oceanic Seas.”

His death was a blow to Spain. No outstanding naval figure arose to take his place, and the great armada he was to have commanded never sailed.

The outer case of Menéndez’ coffin is on display at St. Augustine’s Mission of Nombre de Dios.


The Years Accumulate

It was the following spring of 1575 before the news of Menéndez’ death reached Florida. St. Augustine, now ten years old, had lost not only its founder and a resourceful leader, but was left without his financial support. As he had spent his entire fortune in establishing the Florida posts, his heirs were in no position to assume the obligation of sustaining them.

Influential advisors in Spain urged that the settlement of Florida be abandoned, because the province produced no gold, silver, or other riches. King Philip II weighed the problem carefully. He decreed that the Florida posts should continue to be maintained, because of their value in protecting the vital trade route along the coast, and as a refuge for shipwrecked mariners and vessels in distress. Since the heirs of Menéndez could not finance them, they would be made crown colonies under the supervision of the King, and would be supported by an annual Situado or subsidy, which the Viceroy of New Spain (Mexico) was ordered to provide.

Hernando de Miranda, a son-in-law of Menéndez, became the next Adelantado and governor of Florida. In the face of Indian difficulties he abandoned the fort at Santa Elena and was removed from office. As his successor the king appointed Don Pedro Menéndez Marqués, who had saved St. Augustine from abandonment in 1570, and was a man of proven ability. He remained governor of Florida for the next twelve years, from 1577 to 1589.

Spain was at the peak of its wealth and power, but England under Queen Elizabeth was becoming bold and a growing menace on the seas.

First English Visit

The passing years rooted St. Augustine more firmly to its soil. The spring of 1586 brought fresh green to the grass and trees, a warmth and fragrance to the air. Mocking birds and bright red cardinals sang gaily from the branches. The settlement was twenty-one years old when a vessel arrived bearing news that Spain and England were at war, and that Sir Francis Drake, the dreaded English corsair, was raiding Spanish colonies in the Caribbean.

Governor Marqués took immediate steps to prepare St. Augustine’s defenses. Slaves and soldiers labored in cutting and hauling logs from the forest to complete the new fort then under construction. Detailed plans were made for the evacuation of the families and removal of supplies. Sentinels scanned 21 the horizon with more than usual care. The month of May wore on into June and it was hoped that the English fleet had sailed on by.

Map drawn by one of the participants in Drake’s attack on St. Augustine shows the English entering the town and their ships anchored outside the inlet.


On June 6th (Spanish calendar), the lookout stationed in the tall watch tower on Anastasia Island saw white specks appear on the horizon. They grew into sails and he signalled a warning to the settlement across the bay. Soldiers rushed to their battle stations. Housewives crossed themselves and whispered their Ave Marias with frightened children clinging to their skirts. Slaves began removing supplies, but in the confusion much was left behind.

The powerful English fleet of Sir Drake, heavy with plunder from the Caribbean, drew closer and came to anchor in the roadstead outside the inlet. The Spaniards counted over twenty large ships and their auxiliary craft. The estimated 2,000 men aboard hopelessly outnumbered St. Augustine’s little garrison of barely 150 defenders.


The Spanish lookout tower on Anastasia Island as described by a member of Drake’s expedition.

The English, having sighted the settlement’s lookout tower, decided to investigate what manner of place the Spanish King had here. A detachment soon landed on Anastasia Island and marched around the shore where, one of their number relates, “We might discerne on the other side of the river over against us a Fort which had been newly built by the Spaniards; and some mile or thereabouts above the Fort a little Towne or village without walles: built of wooden houses.”

Later the English landed cannon and about dusk of the second day opened fire. Governor Marqués and his garrison, according to his report, clung bravely to their fort until they saw boats put out from the opposite shore. After firing a few shots they retired barely in time to escape capture. During the night a Frenchman, held prisoner by the Spaniards, went over to the English camp and informed them of the garrison’s withdrawal. They occupied the fort, finding in it some fourteen large brass cannon and a chest of money intended for the pay of the soldiers.

In the morning the English advanced into the town. The English sergeant-major, a man of considerable rank and importance, mounted a deserted horse and rode hotly in pursuit of some fleeing Spaniards. He drove one of them to the edge of a swamp and wounded him with his lance. Mustering all his strength, the wounded Spaniard turned upon his assailant and killed him. The English version relates that the officer was shot from ambush, and on falling to the ground was stabbed to death by several Spaniards. Possibly due to this incident, Drake ordered the fort and town of St. Augustine burned to the ground. After remaining a few days in the vicinity to careen one of their ships, the English sailed away.

When the people of St. Augustine returned, smoke still curled from the ruins of their fort and homes. Even their fruit trees had been destroyed by the invader. Governor Marqués sent word of the disaster to Havana. St. Augustine gradually arose from its ashes, rebuilt and somewhat improved 23 with assistance from Spain and Cuba. The post at Santa Elena was at this time permanently abandoned in order to strengthen St. Augustine’s garrison.

Saving of Savage Souls

King Philip II of Spain, Menéndez and their successors burned with zeal to convert the natives of Florida to Catholicism, and regarded this as a sacred obligation. After Drake’s attack, a friary or monastery was erected at St. Augustine to shelter the Franciscan missionaries who were beginning to arrive from Spain to work among the Indians. The friary was located on what is now St. Francis Street on the site of the present State Arsenal.

Spanish missionary.

Other missionaries of the Jesuit Order had come before them, but in the face of the early antagonism of the Indians they were able to accomplish little. Jesuit missions had been established as far north as the Chesapeake Bay region of Virginia, in the vicinity of Tampa Bay, and at Tequesta, near the present site of Miami. In about 1570 the Jesuits were replaced by missionaries of the Order of St. Francis, or Franciscans.

The presence of Franciscans in Florida is recorded as early as 1573, but for a number of years they made only limited progress. The courageous friars endured many hardships and privations in attempting to carry the peaceful message of Christ deep into the Florida wilderness, where they lived alone far from civilized comforts and companionship. Some suffered torture and martyrdom at the hands of those they sought to save, but all went resolutely forth from St. Augustine eager to reap a glorious harvest of savage souls.

The first Franciscan missions were established along the coast north of St. Augustine, where they could be reached readily by boat. If the Indians proved tractable and friendly, a crude chapel was built and the peal of a mission bell went out over swamp and woodland calling them to prayer.

By 1595 the Franciscans claimed a total of 1,500 Indian converts. Two years later their success was interrupted by an Indian revolt incited by a young chief, who had been publicly censured for his desire to have more than one wife. Five Franciscans were clubbed or tomahawked to death.


Approximate location of the principal Franciscan Missions in about 1650.

The Glorious Harvest of Savage Souls

One of the highlights in the early religious annals of Florida was its first visitation by a Bishop in 1606. Bishop Altamirano arrived at St. Augustine from Cuba shortly before Easter. Impressive religious ceremonies followed with candles burning brightly on the flower-decked altars. On Easter Saturday the Bishop ordained twenty young men as clerics, some of them natives of the settlement. On Easter Sunday he celebrated Mass and confirmed 350 Spaniards. After a week’s rest, the Bishop made a leisurely tour of the outlying Franciscan missions, confirming a total of 2,000 Indian converts.

Each year this peaceful conquest of Florida continued to expand, and by the middle of 1600’s extended into north central Florida, a region known as Apalache, in the vicinity of present Tallahassee. This was a rich agricultural area and at times furnished St. Augustine with supplies, which were brought around the peninsula by boat, 25 or were carried overland on the backs of Indians to the capital. The missions also embraced a large section of Guale, or southeastern Georgia. When Bishop Calderon visited Florida in 1674-75, a remarkable total of 13,152 Indian converts were presented to him for confirmation.

Aside from its religious significance, the missionary movement had other far-reaching effects. Through the missions St. Augustine, with its relatively small garrison, was able to control a wide territory, holding the numerically strong Indian tribes in check. It was said that a lone Franciscan, with no weapons other than his Cross and Bible, could do more with the Indians than a hundred men at arms. The missions also served as outlying posts that could warn the capital of approaching strangers or enemies. When the abandonment of the settlement was again seriously considered in 1602, the existence of the missions proved a strong argument in favor of maintaining St. Augustine as their protective center.

While the Franciscan missions of Florida were more numerous and of earlier origin than those of California, they have received little emphasis, possibly because they were built of wood and no physical evidence of them remains.

Florida State Arsenal buildings occupy the site of the Old Franciscan friary.


Another Crisis

In 1598 death brought to an end the long reign of that remarkable sovereign of Spain, Philip II. He had initiated the settlement of Florida, and later as a crown colony it had come under his supervision. When news of his passing reached Florida in March of 1599, the Franciscans gathered at St. Augustine to hold the customary prayers for their departed patron. The same month the cry of “Fire” rang out in the quiet streets. Flames raced through the tinder-dry palm-thatched roofs of the town’s buildings, destroying many, including the Franciscan quarters. In the fall of the same year a storm did considerable damage. The wind-driven waters of the bay rose higher with each tide, flooding dwellings and washing away a portion of the fort.

Philip III, who ascended the throne of Spain in 1598, failed to share his father’s interest in this distant Florida post, from which no riches flowed into the royal coffers. From it came only constant pleas for more assistance.

The King ordered Pedro de Valdés, the Governor of Cuba, to make a thorough investigation of conditions in Florida. Valdés sent his son to St. Augustine in 1602 to hold hearings, in which missionaries and settlers of long residence testified. While many of these witnesses expressed the view that a more favorable location for a settlement might be found, the conclusion reached was that St. Augustine should continue to be maintained as a center for the expanding missions, and as a base to guard the vital trade route.

The passing years were being added slowly to its age. Deaths, births, marriages, Indian insurrections, the coming of new governors, and the arrival of an occasional ship made up the drama of its obscure existence. Isolated by a wilderness of land and sea, it had little contact with the outside world.

Capital of La Florida

About 1590 the older portion of St. Augustine was laid out in approximately its present form. The plan followed specifications contained in a cédula issued by the Spanish King in 1573, directing that all Spanish colonial towns should have a central Plaza with the principal streets leading from it. During about the same period an official governor’s residence was established on the site of the present post office.

Women were present in the colony from the beginning, a few having come with the original Menéndez expedition. Others arrived with the Arciniega reinforcements and later fleets. Some of the soldiers married Indian maidens, who had become Christians and been given Spanish names.

The governors complained of the problem of feeding the increasing number of children in the colony, and asked that the married soldiers be given extra pay. The yellowed pages of St. Augustine’s Cathedral Parish records, dating from 1594, indicate an average of twenty-five births per year during the early 1600’s. They also record the deaths and marriages.


The first buildings in St. Augustine were of wooden boards, with roofs of thatched palmetto leaves held down by stringers.

The principal officers of the colony consisted of the governor, who was its chief executive; the royal treasurer, who was custodian of the royal funds and their disbursement; and the factor, who distributed the supplies. A sergeant-major was in command of the infantry and succeeded the governor in case of the latter’s death or resignation. A minor but important official, from the standpoint of historians, was the Escribano (writer), who kept a record of meetings, handled correspondence, took the testimony of witnesses, and acted as a notary public.

The governors of Florida were appointed by the King in distant Spain from a list of candidates proposed by the Council of the Indies. They were usually men of previous military experience, and served generally for a term of six years. When a new governor arrived at St. Augustine to take office, Indian chiefs trooped in from the outlying districts to pledge their friendship and allegiance. They were entertained as elaborately as the resources of the settlement would permit, given trinkets and food for the long journey home. Although relatively small in size, St. Augustine was the capital and citadel of a vast area. La Florida then as claimed by Spain embraced not only the present peninsula, but the entire Atlantic coast as far north as Canada and as far inland as the continent was known to exist. For a time after the expulsion of the French Huguenots, no other European nation seriously challenged this claim, but the clouds of strife were beginning to appear.


A pamphlet, designed to attract English settlers, described Carolina as being “On the Coasts of Floreda”.

A Brief Description
The Province
On the Coasts of FLOREDA

More perticularly of a New-Plantation begun by the ENGLISH at Cape-Feare, on that River now by them called Charles-River, the 29th of May. 1664.

Wherein is set forth
The Healthfulness of the Air; the Fertility of the Earth, and Waters; and the great Pleasure and Profit will accrue to those that shall go thither to enjoy the same.

Directions and advice to such as shall go thither whether on their own accompts, or to serve under another.

Together with
A most accurate MAP of the whole PROVINCE.

London, Printed for Robert Horne in the first Court of Gresham-Colledge neer Bishopsgate street, 1666.


The English Threat

St. Augustine remained the sole European settlement in what is now the continental United States for a period of forty-two years. About the time of its attack by Drake in 1586 it received vague but disturbing reports of the presence of English settlers to the north in a region known to the Spaniards as Jacán, or the Chesapeake Bay region of Virginia. This was the ill-fated Roanoke colony. It was followed in 1607 by the founding of Jamestown, Virginia, by the English, which represented a further violation of territory claimed by Spain as a part of Florida. Three expeditions, one in 1588 and others in 1609 and 1611, set out from St. Augustine to reconnoiter these rival settlements.

The Virginia colony survived and others crept down the coast in defiance of Spain’s claims to the territory. The Spanish governors at St. Augustine repeatedly implored authorities in Spain to strengthen Florida’s garrison and defenses to meet this English threat. But the mother country, almost constantly involved in wars with European rivals, or vexed with internal problems, took no decisive action.

In 1665 St. Augustine became one hundred years of age. As if to celebrate its centennial, the English King Charles II, issued a second patent opening up the territory south of Virginia to English settlement. This patent not only disregarded Spanish claims to the area, but even included within its boundaries the very site of St. Augustine itself.

A Midnight Raid

In the spring of 1668, during the delightful month of May, the appearance of a vessel off St. Augustine’s inlet caused a ripple of excitement. The settlement was awaiting a shipment of flour from Veracruz, Mexico, and a payment on its subsidy then eight years in arrears. The harbor pilot put out to bring the vessel across the treacherous bar. Soon two cannon shot were heard, a prearranged signal identifying the vessel as the one expected. The people were elated and retired confidently for the night.

But the ship was not manned by friends as was assumed. It had been seized by an English pirate, Robert Searles (alias Davis), in the vicinity of Cuba. When the vessel arrived off St. Augustine the Spanish captain and crew were compelled upon threat of death to appear on deck as if nothing were amiss. The unsuspecting harbor pilot was tricked into firing the identifying signal and made prisoner before he could warn the settlement.


The boundaries of Florida grew smaller.

Around midnight, when the town was peacefully sleeping, the pirate band rowed stealthily ashore undetected, and scattered through the streets. The people emerged from their homes expecting to greet friends, but their joy soon turned to anguished cries of terror. Many were killed by the pirates in attempting to resist or flee half-clad to safety. In the darkness it was difficult to distinguish friend from foe. With shouting pirates at their heels, the governor and part of the garrison managed to reach their fort and beat off attempts to take it.

The next morning the pirates systematically looted the homes and churches, and a previously hidden pirate ship appeared in the bay. Unable to take the fort, the invaders left their captives on the beach and sailed away under the cover of darkness. St. Augustine’s residents returned to find sixty of their comrades dead in the blood-stained streets.

A Stone Fort at Last

The founding of Charleston, S. C., in 1670 brought the English threat still nearer. An expedition sailed from St. Augustine to attack the new settlement but ran into a severe storm and failed to reach its objective.

The success of the pirate raid on St. Augustine in 1668, combined with the growing English encroachment on Spanish territory to the north, finally convinced officials in Spain that something must be done to bolster Florida’s defenses. In the fall of 1669, Queen Regent Marianna of Spain issued a cédula directing the Viceroy of Mexico to provide funds for the construction of an impregnable stone fortress at St. Augustine, similar to the bastions guarding Spanish strongholds in the Caribbean. All previous forts in Florida had been of wood and soon rotted in the moist sea air. The new fort would be built of coquina, a shell-rock formation, found in abundance on Anastasia Island across the bay from the capital. Several earlier Florida governors had urged its use without success.

Florida’s next governor, Manuel Cendoya, went at once to Mexico to collect the funds appropriated to begin the new defense work. At Havana, Cuba, he engaged the services of a 31 competent military engineer, Ignazio Daza, to plan and supervise its initial stages.

Work on the new structure began during the fall of 1672. Stone masons and other skilled artisans were brought from Cuba. Quarries were opened on Anastasia Island. Gangs of Indian workmen and yokes of oxen dragged the heavy coquina blocks to the water’s edge, where they were loaded on rafts or barges, and ferried across the bay to the fort site.

The massive walls rose slowly. After an enthusiastic beginning progress lagged at times for want of funds, lack of vigorous prosecution, or when epidemics thinned the ranks of slaves and Indian workmen. In the spring of 1683 it was interrupted by a threatened attack, one of many to which St. Augustine was continually subjected. English pirates landed near Matanzas Inlet, burned the Spanish outpost there, and advanced toward the capital. Warned by alert sentinels, the governor sent out a detachment of musketeers, who waited in ambush and drove the raiders back to their ships.

By 1696 the great stone fort was about completed except for some of the outer work, added during later periods. Into its construction went twenty-four long years of sweat and toil beneath the Florida sun, and the lives of an untold number of slaves, Indian, and peon workmen. It was called by the Spaniards Castillo de San Marcos, or castle of St. Mark’s.

The grim walls of Castillo de San Marcos look much the same as when the stones were lifted laboriously into place.


Settlement of Pensacola

While the English were occupying the Atlantic Coast north of Florida, hardy French traders and explorers, including the Jesuit, La Salle, came down the Mississippi River building forts at strategic points. This threatened Florida on the west. To meet the French threat to the Gulf coast, the Spaniards under Andrés de Arriola established a fort and settlement at Pensacola in 1698, which later was to become the capital of West Florida. A previous Spanish attempt by Tristán de Luna to establish a settlement near this point in 1559 had failed.

Border Conflict

Strife between the Spaniards in Florida and their English neighbors to the north did not at first break out into open warfare. English agents and traders began to work quietly among the border Indians, weaning some of them away from Spanish control and influence. These they then armed and encouraged to raid the Spanish Indian towns. Christian Indians captured by the English and their Indian allies were sold into slavery. Florida’s Governor Cabrera (1680-1687) complained that they even seized the “mixed ones,” children of Spanish and Indian parentage. Small bands of Yamassee Indians, then allied with the English, hovered about St. Augustine, occasionally seizing a stray Spaniard, whom they carried back to Carolina. The Carolinians even offered the Indians a reward for captured Spaniards delivered to them upon the pretense that it was to save the victims from torture.

By 1686, with its Castillo about completed, St. Augustine felt ready to take the offensive. In the fall of that year its women waved farewell to soldier husbands and sweethearts. They sailed north in three ships, destroyed a Scottish settlement at Port Royal, plundered English coastal plantations, and advanced on San Jorge, as the Spaniards called it, or Charleston. Suddenly a hurricane came up driving two of their vessels hopelessly aground. The third limped sadly back to Matanzas Bay.

Soon after this expedition a boat-load of half-starved Negro slaves arrived at St. Augustine, and asked for the Holy Waters of Baptism. They had escaped from Carolina plantations. In response to demands for their return the Spanish governor offered to reimburse the English for their loss. Spanish agents and Indians secretly began to encourage slaves in Carolina to run away, making it known that St. Augustine offered them asylum. These refugees increased in number and were allowed to occupy lands two miles north of the settlement in the vicinity of Mose Creek.

The Shipwrecked Quakers

John Archdale, a Quaker, became governor of Carolina in 1695. He frowned upon the enslavement of Christian Indians and returned four to authorities at St. Augustine, who wrote him a letter of appreciation and agreed to reciprocate by according English subjects safe conduct through Spanish territory. This accounts for the kind treatment accorded a small company of Quakers enroute to Philadelphia, 33 who were wrecked on the coast of Florida in the vicinity of Hobe Sound in 1696. The Quakers reached shore safely only to suffer torturing hardship among the coastal Indians, who feared Spanish authority but were still savages in most respects.

Title page from one of the many editions of Dickinson’s book.

Protecting Providence,

Surest Help and Defence,

Times of Greatest Difficulty
and most Eminent Danger:

In the Remarkable Deliverance of Robert Barrow, with divers other Persons, from the Devouring Waves of the Sea; amongst which they Suffered

And also,
From the cruel Devouring Jaws of the Inhuman
Canibals of Florida.

Faithfully Related by one of the Persons concern’d therein,
Jonathan Dickenson.

After two months of harrowing captivity the Quakers were rescued by a Captain López and detail of soldiers from St. Augustine. They were brought to the settlement and later escorted safely to the English border. One of their number, Jonathan Dickinson, wrote and published a book of their adventures, which contains an interesting description of St. Augustine and Florida as these Quakers saw them so many years ago.

As the Quakers were brought up the coast they noted the chain of Spanish sentinel posts south of St. Augustine, which were located on high dunes overlooking the sea, beach and river. By means of smoke signals, or Indian runners, they could quickly warn the capital of danger.

The little Quaker band was hospitably received at the settlement and quartered among its inhabitants. “This place is a Garrison,” wrote Dickinson, “maintained one-half by the King of Spain and one-half by the Church of Rome. The male inhabitants are all soldiers, everyone receiving his pay according to his post. All of their supply of Bread, Clothing and Money comes from Havana and Porta Vella, and it was going on three years since they had a Vessel from any place whatsoever, which made their needs very great.

“The Towne we saw from one end to the other. It is about three-quarters of a mile in Length, not regularly built, nor the Houses very thick (close together), they having large orchards, in which grow plenty of oranges, lemons, pome citrons, limes, figs, and peaches. The Houses are most of them old buildings, and not half of them inhabited, the number of men being around three hundred.”

On their way north to Charleston the Quakers stopped overnight at several Spanish Indian towns, where Dickinson noted that “the Indians go as consistently to their devotion, at all times and at all seasons, as do the Spaniards.” He also observed that the Indian women modestly clothed themselves with the moss of trees (Spanish moss), 34 “making Gownes and Petticoats thereof, which at a distance or at night looks very neat.”

The Castle’s First Test

Castillo de San Marcos, completed in 1696, had not yet undergone an attack. It was soon to come. In Europe the War of Spanish Succession (1700-1713) involved England in a conflict with Spain and France that soon spread to their colonies, where it was known as Queen Anne’s War. Governor Moore of Carolina obtained the backing of its colonial assembly for an expedition against Spain’s citadel in Florida. He recruited a force of some 600 Carolina militia and a number of Indian allies. They advanced south in two detachments during the fall of 1702. Florida’s Governor Zúñiga learned of the impending attack in time to lay in adequate provisions and put his garrison on a 24-hour alert.

Colonel Daniel with one Carolina detachment came up the St. Johns River and thence overland. Moore with the other came down the coast in eight small vessels. Daniel arrived first and advanced upon St. Augustine by land. Governor Zúñiga had few experienced soldiers, and did not try to save the town. All of its inhabitants were ordered into the fort, which soon sheltered some 1,500 people.

Moore soon arrived by sea with a quantity of trench-digging tools and fifteen long ladders for scaling the fort’s walls. But the English had greatly underestimated the Castillo’s strength and found there was little hope of taking it with their few small calibre guns. Colonel Daniel was sent to Jamaica to secure siege guns and bombs.

During the siege the Spaniards made two sallies from the fort to destroy their own houses in its vicinity to prevent them being used as cover by the English. A total of 31 houses were thus destroyed as shown by claims later filed by their Spanish owners.

Almost two months of siege passed. Within the overcrowded Castillo inhabitants and garrison prayed for relief. The day after Christmas two heavily armed Spanish ships appeared off the inlet bringing aid. Fearing their retreat would be cut off, the Carolinians burned their transports, abandoned their heavy stores, set fire to the town, and withdrew overland to vessels awaiting them at the mouth of the St. Johns River.

The Castillo had triumphed in its first test, but the town of St. Augustine was virtually reduced to ashes. Spanish eyewitnesses testified that not a building was left standing except the Hermitage of Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, and some twenty houses of the meaner sort. These were probably scattered dwellings south of the Plaza.

Although disgraced by the failure of his expedition, Moore returned to Florida in 1704 with a large number of Indian allies. They overran the weakly garrisoned Indian towns of Apalache and the interior, taking 1,300 Indian prisoners back to Carolina. During this and subsequent invasions practically all of the outlying Franciscan 35 Missions were destroyed. Only those in the immediate vicinity of St. Augustine remained.

Two stout defense lines protected the capital on the north.

The Capital’s Defenses

Moore’s siege of St. Augustine in 1702 showed a serious weakness in the capital’s defenses. The enemy were able to occupy and burn the town despite its impregnable Castillo. This led to the gradual construction of a system of outer defenses to protect the town itself from future invasion.

First an inner defense line was built extending westward from the Castillo to the San Sebastian River along what is now Orange Street. It eventually consisted of a moat, some fifty or more feet wide and six feet deep. Material from the ditch was used to build a sturdy wall of earth and palm logs. St. Augustine’s City Gate is all that remains of this defense work.

Later a fortified line was constructed extending across the peninsula between the bay and the San Sebastian River, “about a cannon shot north of the fort.” It was called the Hornwork because a portion of it resembled in shape the horn of a steer. It consisted of a wide ditch and embankment of earth and sod, at one time further strengthened by a stockade of logs, and a fort at its eastern extremity.


Another defense line extended north and south along Maria Sanchez Creek in the vicinity of present Cordova Street, marking the western boundary of the original settlement. Other defense works protected it on the south. The lines were strengthened at intervals by redoubts and angular projections, in some of which cannon were mounted. Sentinels manned the defense lines day and night, once each hour passing the Alerto.

When escaped Negro slaves began to find refuge in St. Augustine, a small fort was built for their protection two miles north of the town. It was called Fort Mosa, or the Negro Fort, and served as an anchor for another defense line running east and west. Practically no evidence of this fort and defense work has survived.

Palmer’s Raid

The Yamassee Indians of Carolina, once allied with the English, turned against them and in 1715 were decisively defeated. The Spaniards in Florida were accused of fomenting this revolt. A remnant of the tribe took refuge in the St. Augustine area where, according to English reports, they were welcomed by the ringing of bells. For some reason the Yamassees were banished for a time south of the city. They were later recalled, given weapons, and encouraged to make raids on the Carolina border plantations, bringing back bloody scalps and an occasional prisoner.

A gun emplacement in the defense lines. The platform sloped forward to absorb the gun’s recoil.

To put an end to these raids a Colonel Palmer swept south from Carolina in 1728 with a small force of militia and Indians. They surprised 37 and butchered some of the Yamassees in their villages north of St. Augustine, but could not penetrate its now strong outer defense line. After destroying everything of value outside the city, and seizing many Spanish-owned cattle, Palmer returned to Carolina. Following his departure the Spanish governor ordered the destruction of the mission chapel of Nombre de Dios, which had afforded the English cover in their attack.

The settlement of Georgia in 1733 by General James Oglethorpe brought the English still closer. Spanish authorities sensed an impending crisis and sent Antonio Arredondo, a competent military engineer and diplomat, to St. Augustine to negotiate with Oglethorpe and survey Florida’s defenses. While Arredondo failed to persuade the English to withdraw from Georgia, under his able supervision St. Augustine’s fortifications were carefully strengthened. Rooms inside the Castillo were rebuilt with arched ceilings of thick masonry to make them bombproof. Backed by Arredondo’s recommendations, Florida’s Governor Montiano secured substantial reinforcements from Cuba, increasing the garrison to around 750 men.

Oglethorpe’s Siege

Spanish regulations allowed her colonies only limited trading privileges with rival England, which had become a great mercantile nation. To prevent the prevalent smuggling of illicit English goods into their ports, Spanish ships were ordered to stop and search English vessels off their coasts.

One of the English merchantmen overhauled off the coast of Florida or Cuba was commanded by a Robert Jenkins. He reported that the Spanish captain, Juan de León Fandiño, cut off his ear and handed it back to him saying, “Carry this to your king and tell him I would treat him in like manner.” Incidents such as this caused rising indignation in both countries. The severed ear, or a substitute, was later displayed by Jenkins before the English Parliament, and gave its name to the war that England declared against Spain in 1739, the War of Jenkins’ Ear.

General Oglethorpe of Georgia was ordered to harass the Spaniards in Florida, and proceeded to organize an expedition designed to capture St. Augustine. During the winter be probed Spanish defenses, seizing Fort Picolata on the St. Johns River west of the capital, and a companion fort across the river from it. In early May of 1740 he moved south with 400 of his Georgia regiment and took Fort Diego, a Spanish plantation post fifteen miles north of St. Augustine, in the vicinity of present Palm Valley. Leaving troops to hold it, he then retired back to the mouth of the St. Johns River to await the arrival of his other military contingents.

During early April six half galleys from Cuba slipped into St. Augustine’s Matanzas Bay in response to Governor Montiano’s frantic pleas for assistance. They were commanded by the same Juan de León Fandiño, who is reputed to have cut off Jenkins’ ear, and proved an important factor in saving the city.


Map showing disposition of Oglethorpe’s forces, and batteries shelling the town from what is now Davis Shores.

A View of the Town and Castle of St. Augustine, and the English Camp before it June 20.1740. by Thos Silver.


Oglethorpe’s other military units finally arrived and he moved south over the land route from the St. Johns River, and occupied Fort Mosa, two miles north of the capital. In addition to his Georgia regiment, he now had a detachment of Carolina militia, a company of Highlanders, some Indian allies, and the assistance of an English naval unit of four twenty-gun ships and two sloops, a total force of about 900.

His original plan of making a concerted attack on the city from its land approaches and waterfront was thwarted. The inlet proved too shallow for the English ships to enter and provide a covering fire for the landing of marines. The Spanish half galleys received from Cuba effectively controlled the bay. They were a small maneuverable type of boat, propelled by oars and sail, and mounted long brass nine-pounders.

To attack from the north, the English would be exposed to a murderous fire from the Castillo and Cubo Line. The only alternative was a siege that might starve St. Augustine into submission. Colonel Palmer, who had raided the city in 1728, was assigned to hold Fort Mosa with a hundred Highlanders and a few Indians, and prevent supplies from reaching St. Augustine from the north. Colonel Vanderdusen, with the Carolina detachment, was stationed on Point Quartel, north of the inlet. Guns were landed on Anastasia Island and dragged into position as near the fort and town as the swampy terrain would permit. The English naval unit tightly blockaded the coast and inlets to prevent aid from reaching St. Augustine by sea. General Oglethorpe then boldly called upon Governor Montiano to surrender. The latter replied that he would be glad to shake hands with his Excellency within the castle’s walls.

From their batteries across the bay, the English began an intermittent bombardment of the fort and town that continued for some twenty-seven days. The terrified inhabitants withdrew out of range, greeting each enemy shot with a chorus of Ave Marias.

On the night of June 26th, during a lull in the bombardment, Spanish and Negro troops crept out of the defense lines, and at dawn fell upon the English at Fort Mosa. Palmer and fifty of his men were killed, and some taken prisoner.

Within the city supplies were fast diminishing. Governor Montiano sent messengers to Cuba, stating that if aid was not sent all at St. Augustine would soon perish. On July 7th he received encouraging word that two vessels from Cuba had eluded the English blockade and slipped into Mosquito Inlet, eighty miles to the south. Pursued by the English patrol, they managed to reach Matanzas Inlet, and from that point supplies were brought up the inland waterway to relieve the beleaguered city.


The hot summer sun beat down on the English camps across the bay. Swarms of sandflies and mosquitoes tortured the besiegers. Due to brackish water from shallow wells and improper food, many were ill. Groups of the Carolina militia were daily deserting. The commander of the English naval unit informed Oglethorpe that he would soon be forced to withdraw his support, because of limited supplies and the danger of storms. Faced by these unfavorable circumstances, General Oglethorpe raised the siege, crossed over to the mainland, and began the long trek back to Georgia.

The people of St. Augustine returned jubilantly to their homes, which had suffered little or no damage in the bombardment. Chapels and churches rang with Te Deums of thanksgiving.

Further Hostilities

St. Augustine had successfully stemmed the English advance. Spain further strengthened its garrison and defenses. Spanish privateers, some of them based at St. Augustine, preyed upon English commerce and plantations along the coast to the north. During 1741 no less than thirty English prizes were brought into Matanzas Bay.

Oglethorpe momentarily expected the Spanish to launch a return attack upon Georgia. During June of 1742 a Georgia scout boat discovered fifteen sail in St. Augustine’s harbor. Soon more arrived, and a strong expedition composed of units from St. Augustine and Cuba set out for Georgia, with Florida’s Governor Montiano in command. The attack was directed toward Fort Frederica, which guarded the approaches to Savannah. Landing on St. Simon’s Island, this superior Spanish force was ambushed and defeated in the Battle of Bloody Marsh, and withdrew to its camp. Soon afterward a Frenchman deserted the English and went over to the Spaniards. Oglethorpe contrived to send the Frenchman a letter, in which he directed him to lead the Spaniards to believe that the English were weak, and to persuade them to attack. As expected, the letter fell into the hands of the Spanish commanders, who were at a loss as to how to interpret it. Much to Oglethorpe’s relief they decided to withdraw.

Encouraged by his success, Oglethorpe returned to Florida next year. Marching ninety-six miles in four days, he appeared before St. Augustine with a small detachment, keeping his main force hidden in ambush. His ruse might have succeeded, had he not captured in his advance a small company of Spaniards guarding some workmen. Their failure to return alerted the garrison. After a few days he withdrew, remarking that “the Spaniards are so meek there is no provoking them.”

Frederica, which Oglethorpe had established as a Georgia military stronghold against the Spaniards, gradually became a ghost town after peace was restored in 1748. In the meantime Oglethorpe returned to England and never threatened St. Augustine or Florida again. In England he became an intimate of the great literary figures of the day, and lived to the ripe old age of 96.


The next twenty years might be called St. Augustine’s Golden Age under Spain. Substantial coquina houses and tastefully decorated chapels lined its narrow streets. The inhabitants lived in relative ease and comfort. Social life was gay with colorful carnivals and religious celebrations rivaling those of Havana, Cuba. The capital was now a city of three thousand souls, and would soon be two centuries old. Florida seemed held firmly in the grip of Spain.

But English colonists to the north now numbered almost one million and one hundred thousand Frenchmen had settled in Canada. The struggle for power among European nations was to decide St. Augustine’s fate.

St. Augustine’s Spanish colonial origin is reflected in its architecture and narrow streets.


Photo courtesy National Galleries of Scotland; from portrait by Allan Ramsay, circa 1750, reproduced with permission of its owner, the Duke of Sutherland.

Colonel James Grant, St. Augustine’s first British governor, served from 1764 to 1771.


Under British Rule

While St. Augustine lived on in apparent security, ominous events were taking place in the world outside. England and France fought the Seven Years’ War, toward the end of which Spain allied itself with France. Far to the north French Quebec fell to English arms in 1759, and to the south Havana, Cuba, on which St. Augustine heavily depended, yielded to an English fleet in 1762. Ministers of the three nations gathered at Paris to decide the terms of peace.

On March 16, 1763, a lieutenant from the English sloop Bonetta came ashore at St. Augustine with important papers for the governor, who was astounded by what he read. Under the terms of the treaty just concluded, Spain ceded Florida to England in exchange for the return of Havana and other territorial concessions.

St. Augustine’s shocked residents soon gathered around the proclamation posted on the government house. It specified they would be given eighteen months in which to settle their affairs, dispose of their property, and evacuate Florida, unless they desired to become subjects of the British Crown. The very thought of remaining under English rule violated their deep devotion to King and Church. All prepared to leave; only eight being designated to remain in an official capacity.

Busy months followed. Homes were stripped for their furnishings. Linens, silver, clothing, and various personal articles were packed into chests and boxes. Tearful groups gathered at the landing place to bid farewell to friends and neighbors. Some residents were able to sell their property to the English, who were at first hard-pressed to find accommodations, but much remained unsold and was left in the custody of Spanish agents until more English buyers might appear. Some, including that of the Church, was deeded in trust to two friendly English traders, John Gordon and Jesse Fish.

On July 30, 1763, Major Francis Ogilvie arrived at St. Augustine with an English regiment. English soldiers in their bright red coats paraded brazenly on the Plaza green, while remaining Spaniards looked on in sullen resentment. Governor Feliú and the last of the Spanish families sailed on January 21, 1764. The departing Spaniards took with them all of their movable possessions including, it is said, the bones of their former governor and the remains of several of their Saints.


The British divided the territory into two provinces—East Florida, with St. Augustine as its capital, and West Florida, with Pensacola as its capital.

New Orleans
Mississippi River
Apalachicola River
★St. Augustine
New Smyrna

Records show that St. Augustine at the time of the Spanish evacuation had a population of 3,096—961 men, chiefly soldiers and officials; 798 women, and 1,337 children. The majority went to Cuba and the West Indies to find new homes. The English flag with its cross of St. George waved over the capital. The stout Castillo, the narrow streets, and the name St. Augustine remained.

British Rule Begins

St. Augustine became virtually deserted except for the presence of the English staff and garrison. Dust and cobwebs soon covered the Spanish shrines. Weeds and brush grew deep in the yards of the vacated homes. As time went on a few English families began to move in, and English gentlemen of wealth and standing arrived to look over this new province which their country had acquired.

On a hot August day of 1764 a salute of the fort’s guns greeted the arrival of Colonel James Grant, who came from London to serve as East Florida’s first English governor. He had earlier led an expedition against French-held Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh) and had served in the Cherokee Indian wars in Carolina.

Governor Grant brought to St. Augustine all the picturesque qualities of English colonial life. Handsomely attired gentlemen moved about the streets in their white stockings, silk or velvet knee-breeches, and rich embroidered coats with lace at the cuff. Grant’s distinguished Council included the aristocratic Moultries from South Carolina, Chief Justice William Drayton, and the Episcopal clergyman, John Forbes. Also across the scene moved Frederick George Mulcaster, reputed to be the natural brother of England’s King, George III.

Liberal grants of land were offered by the British to attract colonists to East Florida. Glowing accounts of its 45 agricultural possibilities were published and circulated. Titled English gentlemen and wealthy Carolina planters secured grants of land in the vicinity of the capital and along the St. Johns River. The eccentric Denys Rolle established a colony called Rollestown near the present site of East Palatka, where he planned to rehabilitate derelicts from the streets of London.

By 1768 Governor Grant was able to report encouraging progress: “This province, which was a desert when I came into it, although inhabited by the Spaniards two hundred years, will soon be a fruitful country. It fills faster with inhabitants than I could have well expected, and there are already a number of slaves at work on the different plantations.”

In contrast with conditions under Spanish rule, vessels began to sail from St. Augustine with cargoes of indigo, barrels of oranges, casks of orange juice, lumber and naval stores. Grant made various improvements to the governor’s residence, facing the Parade, or Plaza. The Franciscan Monastery was converted to serve as quarters for the garrison, and later large new barracks were erected along the bayfront south of it. One of the churches left by the Spaniards was taken over by the English, and later remodelled by Lieutenant-Governor Moultrie, with the addition of a handsome clock and steeple. It was called St. Peter’s.

A view of the Governor’s residence in St. Augustine from a drawing made in 1764.


Map showing location of Minorca.

The New Smyrna Colony

During Grant’s administration, a Doctor Andrew Turnbull and associates of London secured a large grant of land near Mosquito Inlet, some eighty miles south of St. Augustine. There they planned to establish a plantation colony for the production of indigo, for which the British government offered an attractive bounty. Turnbull named the place New Smyrna in honor of his wife’s native Smyrna, where he had also spent some time.

After visiting East Florida to inspect his landgrant, Turnbull returned to Europe to recruit colonists from the shores of the Mediterranean. He secured some 200 from Greece, 110 from Italy, and then went on to the Island of Minorca, where several years of drought had impoverished many of the inhabitants. This island, one of the Balearic group off the coast of Spain, was then an English possession. At its port of Mahón more people than expected flocked to join the projected colony, bringing the total to around 1,400.

In the spring of 1768 eight vessels brought these hopeful colonists to East Florida, saddened by the death of almost 150 during the long crowded voyage from the British base at Gibraltar. As customary in those days, these colonists bound themselves to work for a period of seven or eight years in return for their passage and sustenance, after which they were to receive parcels of land and freedom from further obligation.

After touching at St. Augustine the vessels proceeded to New Smyrna, where crude shelters were built. Clearing the land for cultivation, and in the meantime feeding and clothing such a large number of people proved more difficult and expensive than anticipated. Due in part to crude living conditions, three hundred died during the first winter. Soon after their arrival, some of the Greeks and Italians broke into the storehouse, fatally wounded an overseer, and were on the point of sailing for Cuba when intercepted by an armed vessel sent from St. Augustine to subdue them. The ringleaders were later captured, brought to the capital, tried, and three condemned to death. One was pardoned on agreeing to act as executioner for the other two.

Governor Grant, who fully supported Turnbull and wanted to see his New Smyrna colony thrive, returned to England in 1771. He was temporarily succeeded by Lieutenant-Governor Moultrie. In 1774 Patrick Tonyn, 47 an ardent and arbitrary Loyalist, arrived from England to take over the governorship of East Florida. Serious friction developed between these officials and a faction in East Florida that included Turnbull, Chief Justice Drayton, and others as to convening a representative assembly, such as Virginia and other English colonies in America enjoyed. The “inflamed faction,” as Tonyn termed them, questioned the power of the governor and his Council to rule arbitrarily in the absence of an elected legislative body. They became bitter personal and political rivals.

A view from the Governor’s window, looking toward Matanzas Bay, about where the Bridge of Lions stands today. From a drawing in the British archives made in 1764.

In 1776 Chief Justice Drayton and Turnbull sailed for London to seek redress and answer Tonyn’s charges. During Turnbull’s absence, the surviving New Smyrna colonists, who now numbered barely 600 out of the 1,400 who had left their Mediterranean homes, secretly sent a delegation to St. Augustine. They demanded release from their contracts and reported being cruelly treated by their overseers. Assured of Governor Tonyn’s sympathy and protection, all of the surviving colonists—men, women, and children—later marched in a body up the King’s Road to St. Augustine. Turnbull returned from London in the fall of 1777 to find himself and his New Smyrna colony ruined.

At St. Augustine the refugees were assigned lands north of the City Gates, where they built crude shelters and managed to eke out a living by fishing, hunting, and gardening. Time proved them a self-reliant, industrious people, who gradually attained more comfortable circumstances. They and their descendants became a distinctive part of St. Augustine, and continued to live in the city down to the present day.


His Excellency, Patrick Tonyn, Governor of East Florida for ten years, from 1774 to 1784. From a portrait in the Division of Prints and Engravings, British Museum.


During the Revolution

Soon after Tonyn became governor of East Florida reports began to reach St. Augustine of unrest in the English colonies to the north, followed by news of bloodshed at Lexington and Bunker Hill. Tonyn suspected some in East Florida of being in sympathy with the rebel cause, including his old enemies, Drayton and Turnbull. Most of the inhabitants, however, had arrived too recently from England or other loyal colonies to desire independence. St. Augustine remained as faithful to its English rulers as it had been to its Spanish Kings.

In 1775 two detachments of troops, comprising 160 men, were sent from St. Augustine to Williamsburg, Virginia, to support hard-pressed Governor Dunmore. During August of that year another incident brought the war home. The British brigantine Betsy lay off St. Augustine’s inlet with a cargo of gunpowder for the garrison. A rebel sloop from Charleston swooped down and captured it within sight of people on shore. When the news of the signing of the Declaration of Independence reached this East Florida capital, there was no rejoicing. Instead angry Loyalists gathered in the Plaza to cheer the burning of straw-stuffed dummies, representing Samuel Adams and John Hancock.

Expeditions left St. Augustine to attack the “traitorous neighbors” in Georgia and Carolina. They in turn organized forces to invade East Florida. These resulted in little more than border skirmishes. The East Florida Rangers, a militia organized by Tonyn, plundered the frontier of cattle, from the sale of which the governor is said to have profited. As the war progressed an increasing number of Loyalists fled from patriot wrath into East Florida.

Some of the prisoners of war taken by the British in various engagements were shipped to St. Augustine to be held until exchanged. In 1780 forty prominent American Patriots, captured at Charleston, were brought here. They included three signers of the Declaration of Independence—Edward Rutledge, Arthur Middleton, and Thomas Heyward, Jr.

The surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781, marked virtually the end of the conflict. The English evacuation of Savannah in 1782, followed by their withdrawal from Charleston, caused Loyalists to pour into East Florida and St. Augustine by the thousands. Housing was inadequate. Many of the unfortunate refugees lived in mere huts of thatched palmetto leaves. Plays were given in the statehouse for their benefit. One of the newcomers set up a print shop and began publishing Florida’s first newspaper, the East Florida Gazette. The population of East Florida soared to 17,000 including slaves.

In 1781 Governor Tonyn finally called East Florida’s first Legislative Assembly. It met in the statehouse at St. Augustine that year and again during the winter of 1782-83. But there was little left for it to do but pass laws governing the conduct of the many slaves, who had poured into East Florida with their Loyalist owners.


Another Treaty

Toward the end of the Revolutionary War in 1779 Spain declared war on England in alliance with France. A Spanish expedition captured English-held Mobile in 1780 and Pensacola in 1781. Spanish spies were active in St. Augustine, which braced itself for an attack on East Florida that was planned but never carried out.

Across the sea in Paris ministers of England, France, and Spain gathered again at the peace table, and another treaty was concluded. On April 21, 1783, Governor Tonyn announced what had already become generally known, that England had ceded the Floridas and Minorca back to Spain in exchange for the retention of Gibraltar and other territories. British subjects were given eighteen months in which to dispose of their property and evacuate Florida.

This trend of events was a crushing blow to East Florida’s numerous English residents. Many had just recently moved to the province, purchased or built new homes, and cleared land for cultivation. New towns had grown up, such as St. Johns Bluff, which contained 300 houses, two taverns, stores, and even a lodge of Freemasons. Appeals were addressed to the British Crown to retain possession of East Florida, but to no avail.

A period of confusion and disorder followed. Lawless elements, termed banditti, took advantage of the unsettled conditions to plunder plantations and travelers. The painful evacuation of the English continued through the year 1784 and the spring of 1785. Many took the wilderness trails to the west, others went to the Bahamas, some returned to England, or embarked for Nova Scotia, Jamaica, Dominica and elsewhere. They took with them all of their movable possessions. Even the bells and pews of their church, and a crude fire engine were loaded aboard ship for transfer to another colony in the Bahamas.

The Minorcans, who had moved to St. Augustine from New Smyrna in 1777, were not greatly disturbed by the impending change in sovereignty. They were Catholics and spoke a language similar to Spanish. They supported themselves by fishing, hunting, and by cultivating small groves and gardens. Some had become small shopkeepers. St. Augustine was their chosen home.

Many English still remained when Governor Zéspedes arrived off St. Augustine with thirteen vessels to take over the province of East Florida for Spain. The official transfer of the government took place on July 12, 1784. The Spanish flag was unfurled again over the capital to volleys from the Spanish infantry and a fourteen-gun salute from the artillery. “On the following day,” Governor Zéspedes wrote, “we rendered dutiful and solemn adoration to Christ the King, by attending the Te Deum.”

The curtain fell on twenty years of English occupation, and a second period under Spain began.


A page from Florida’s first newspaper, the East Florida Gazette, published at St. Augustine February 1, 1783 to March 22, 1784.

East-Florida GAZETTE.

Nullius Addictus Jurare In Verba Magistri. Hor.

From SATURDAY, May 10, to SATURDAY, May 17, 1783.

St. AUGUSTINE, May 17.

On Sunday last arrived off our Bar, after a tedious passage from New York, his Majesty’s ships Narcissus and Bellisarius, having under convoy four vessels laden with provisions for this province. Three other victuallers had sailed in company, also for this place, but separated by some accident on the passage.


By his Excellency Patrick Tonyn, Esquire, Captain General, Governour and Commander in chief in and over his Majesty’s Province of East-Florida, Chancellor and Vice Admiral of the fleet.


Whereas his Excellency Sir Guy Carleton, Commanding in chief his Majesty’s forces in North America, hath informed me that provisions to the 1st of October next, have been sent to this province, for the support of his Majesty’s good and faithful subjects, who have been under the necessity of leaving the provinces of South Carolina and Georgia: And whereas his Excellency the Hon. Robert Digby Esquire, commanding his Majesty’s naval forces in North America, from his tender and compassionate regard for the sufferings of his Majesty’s loyal subjects, and anxious to lighten their distresses by every means in his power, hath given me the strongest assurances of every assistance being afforded the inhabitants of this province for their removal; that the commanding officer of his Majesty’s ships of war on this station has his directions to consult the convenience of the inhabitants; and that transports may be had for such of them as wish to proceed to England or the West-Indies, or any other part of his Majesty’s dominions, previous to the evacuation of the said province, which probably will not be effected during the course of this summer, as there are no accounts of the definitive treaty of peace being signed. I have therefore thought fit by and with the advice of his Majesty’s Honourable Council, to notify and make publick, and I do hereby notify and make publick such information and assurances to all his Majesty’s good and faithful subjects of this his Majesty’s faithful province of East-Florida; and that such of the said inhabitants, who may not be employed in agriculture, and are desirous of taking the easiest opportunity of departing, do forthwith give in their names, numbers, and destination, to the Secretary’s Office, that they may be properly accomodated, hereby offering every assistance and support in my power; and I do earnestly recommend and require all his Majesty’s said subjects who may be employed in agriculture, to be attentive in raising their crops of provisions now in the ground for their future subsistence.


Given under my Hand, and the Great Seal of his Majesty’s said Province, in the Council Chamber, at St. Augustine, the twenty-ninth day of April, one thousand seven hundred and eighty three, and in the twenty-third year of his Majesty’s Reign.

God save the King!

By his Excellency’s command,

David Yeates, Secretary.

All persons who have any demands against the estate of the late John Reid deceased, are required to bring in their accounts properly attested, and all those any ways indebted to the said estate, are required to make payment immediately to



St. Augustine, April 12, 1783.

On TUESDAY Evening, the 10th of May,
A Tragedy,
To which will be added,
The Characters by Gentlemen, for the benefit of the distressed Refugees.

Doors to be opened at SIX o’Clock; Performance to commence at SEVEN; no money taken at the door, nor any person admitted behind the scenes.

Tickets to be had at Mr. Johnston’s store, formerly Mr. Payne’s.
PITT, 3s. 9d. GALLERY, 4s. 9d.

On THURSDAY next, the 22d inst.
At ELEVEN o’Clock,
(Without reserve)
At Major Manton’s quarters, new Barracks,

A MAHOGANY Bed-stead with elegant Furniture, and Window Curtains
A good eight-day Clock
A double Chest of Drawers
A Book Case
A Desk and other Drawers
Chairs and a Sopha
Pier, Chimney and dressing Glasses
Brass and other Doggs
Tea and Table China
Glasses and Glass
A well toned Guittar
Some Plate, &c. &c.

Any person having the following NEGROES, good property, which they wish to dispose of, may hear of a purchaser, who will pay down the cash, by applying to the Printer.

A good Carpenter, two Bricklayers, a Black-Smith and a good Gardener.


Stolen or strayed out of my yard, on the night of Tuesday last, a bright bay Horse, upwards of fourteen hands high, about eight years old, paces, trots, and canters; lately branded on the mounting shoulder, M.S. with a slit in his left ear. The above reward will be given to any person that will deliver the said Horse to the subscriber in St. Augustine, Captain Cameron in Pacalato, or to Mr. Sutherland at Hester’s Bluff. JAMES SEYMOUR.


For the conveniency of Captains of Vessels, Merchants and others,
That he keeps his Notary-Office

At his House the North end of Charlotte-street, near the house of Mr. Robert Mills, House Carpenter.

All sorts of LAW PRECEDENTS done with care and expedition.


Spanish Rule Returns

When they reoccupied Florida in 1784, the Spaniards had changed but little during their twenty-year absence from the scene. With their return St. Augustine reverted to its former status as an isolated military post, heavily dependent upon outside sources for its supplies and financial support.

Agriculture was neglected and brush soon covered the plantation fields, which the English and their slaves had cleared. Indians again roamed at will through the countryside. On the heels of the departing English they burned Bella Vista, the beautiful country estate of Lieutenant-Governor Moultrie, located a few miles south of St. Augustine in the community now bearing his name.

The population of the capital, which had overflowed into new districts just before the English left, shrank to a fraction of its former size. Only a few score English remained to take the required oath of allegiance to the Spanish Crown. A relatively small number of St. Augustine’s former Spanish residents, or Floridanos, uprooted in 1763, returned from Cuba to claim their former homes. The Minorcan group, including a few Greeks and Italians, made up the major portion of St. Augustine’s civilian inhabitants.

Vacant houses stared blankly along the narrow streets. Some with flat roofs and outside kitchens were relics of the first Spanish period. Others had been remodelled after the English taste with glass window panes, gabled roofs, and chimneys. St. Peter’s Church, in which the English had worshipped, remained unoccupied and soon became a ruin.

Although a Spanish possession, St. Augustine acquired from time to time interesting residents of other nationalities. Juan McQueen, a close friend of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Lafayette, came to the city in 1791 to escape embarrassing debts, and held official positions under the Spanish regime until death closed his colorful career in 1807. John Leslie, the famous English trader, also lived here after the Revolutionary War. The firm of Panton, Leslie and Company enjoyed a monopoly in trading with the Indians of Florida, and supplied St. Augustine with many of its needs on liberal credit.


Ruins of the Fish mansion on Anastasia, or Fish’s Island, from a pencil sketch made by the Rev. Henry J. Morton in 1867.

Philip Fatio, a Swiss, owned a large plantation on the St. Johns River in a section now known as Switzerland. He maintained a store and residence at St. Augustine, and had other extensive land holdings. Among the Minorcan group was an Estevan Benet, one of whose descendants was Stephen Vincent Benet, the noted writer.

Jesse Fish lived across the bay on what is now called Fish’s Island with his many slaves and famous orange grove, from which he shipped fruit and juice to England. He was sent to St. Augustine as a youth by a trading firm during the first Spanish period, won the confidence of the Spaniards, and remained as custodian of some of their property through the English regime. The old patriarch still occupied his coquina mansion across the bay when the Spaniards returned.

Father Pedro Camps, Padre of the Minorcan group, followed them to St. Augustine from New Smyrna in 1777, and continued as their beloved spiritual leader until his death in 1790. Also prominent in the city’s religious life was Father Michael O’Reilly, an Irish priest, who came with Governor Zéspedes in 1784 and remained active until removed by death in 1812.

Life in St. Augustine followed a distinctive pattern, due to its isolation and lack of frequent communication with other cities. It was Spanish in language, dress, customs, and for the most part in architecture and population. Some of its officials and planters owned slaves, fine horses, and lived comfortably if not elaborately. They enjoyed leisure time for gambling, cock fighting, and to lounge through the long summers in a cool patio or at a congenial tavern. The populace was characteristically lazy and did little more than necessary to keep body and soul together. As in other Spanish colonies, the siesta, or after-dinner nap, was routine. During the mid-day heat streets were deserted and nothing stirred as if under the spell of an enchanter’s wand.


Old print of Plaza showing Cathedral and Constitution monument.

One of the chief additions made to the city during its second Spanish period was the construction of a graceful new Parish Church. The building was begun in 1791, dedicated in 1797, and later consecrated as a Cathedral. Damaged by fire in 1887, it was restored the following year with the addition of the present clock tower. The Spaniards also commenced a new Treasury building, which was never completed due to lack of funds. Its mute walls remained standing until after the Civil War.

For a time the Spanish government offered grants of land in East Florida on liberal terms to attract settlers. Hardy pioneers from the adjacent South poured in, who secretly wanted to overthrow Spanish rule. Fearing this influence, Spain closed the territory to further settlement by Americans in 1804.

The story of East Florida and its capital from 1800 on is one of increasing difficulties, caused by the course of events in Europe and friction with neighboring southern states. Spain’s wealth and power were rapidly declining. One after another her American colonies sought and won their independence. In the southeastern United States sentiment for the possession of Florida was fanned by Indian raids and the loss of slaves across the border, which Spanish officials seemed to do little to control.

In 1812, to assuage popular clamor, the Spanish Cortés adopted a more liberal constitution, and decreed that monuments be erected to commemorate it. At St. Augustine a coquina shaft was raised that still graces its Plaza, but scarcely had it been dedicated when the constitution was revoked, and the monuments were ordered dismantled. Here only the tablets were removed and later replaced.


The North Florida Republic

When the war of 1812 broke out between England and the United States, it was feared that England, then allied with Spain, might seize the Floridas as a base for military operations. The Congress authorized President Madison to appoint two agents, who were to endeavor to secure the temporary cession of East and West Florida to the United States. In the event this failed, steps were to be taken to forcibly occupy the provinces, should England threaten to seize them.

President Madison appointed old General Matthews as his agent to East Florida. He was a Revolutionary War veteran and a former governor of Georgia. With promises of liberal grants of land, Matthews encouraged the planters along the northern borders of East Florida to set up an independent republic. The plan was to then turn over the territory it occupied to the United States. After seizing Fernandina these Patriots, as they were termed, advanced on St. Augustine with a small detachment of regular troops, occupied Fort Mosa on its northern outskirts, and called upon the Spanish governor to surrender. He sent a gunboat up the river to dislodge them, but they continued to camp in the vicinity for several months. St. Augustine was cut off from supplies and the surrounding country plundered by Indians and outlaws.

The unfinished Spanish Treasury on St. George Street, from a sketch made in 1867. Present Old Spanish Treasury, shown in the background, still stands.

Loud Spanish and English protests caused President Madison to recall his agents and repudiate their actions.


Streets such as this once were gay with costumed revelers.

A Bit of Spain

In a Narrative of a Voyage to the Spanish Main, published in 1819, an Englishman gives the following description of St. Augustine’s residents during this period:

“The women are deservedly celebrated for their charm, their lovely black eyes have a vast deal of expression, their complexions a clear brunette; much attention is paid to the arrangement of their hair; at Mass they are always well dressed in black silk basquinas with the little mantilla over their heads; the men in their military costumes.”

The same traveler later returned to St. Augustine by land, and found the city in a gay mood despite its difficulties.

“I had arrived at the season of general relaxation, on the eve of the Carnival, which is celebrated with much gaiety in all Catholic countries. Masks, dominoes, harlequins, punchinelloes, and a variety of grotesque disguises, on horseback, in carts, gigs, and on foot paraded the streets with guitars, violins, and other instruments; and in the evening the houses were opened to receive masks, and balls were given in every direction.”


Ceded to the United States

After the War of 1812 there was still friction between Spanish Florida and the United States. Bands of Indians and escaped slaves occupied choice lands of the Florida interior, fortified the navigable rivers, and made occasional raids across the border. The Spanish garrison was not large enough to control lawless elements. In 1817 Fernandina and Amelia Island were taken over by MacGregor, an English soldier of fortune, later occupied by the pirate Autry, and became a den of outlaws and smugglers. United States troops were sent to dislodge them and restore law and order. General Andrew Jackson led an expedition into north central and west Florida in 1818 to punish the Indians, and after destroying their strongholds occupied Pensacola.

England and Spain vehemently protested these violations of Spanish territory. Negotiations for the purchase of Florida were reopened. During February of 1819 a treaty was concluded whereby Spain finally ceded Florida to the United States, which appropriated up to five million dollars to pay the claims of Americans arising from the recent depredations. Spain ratified the treaty in 1820.

On July 10, 1821, Colonel Robert Butler and a small detachment of United States troops received possession of East Florida and Castillo de San Marcos from José Coppinger, the last of the Spanish governors. After the Spanish flag was lowered, leaving the stars and stripes flying over the fortress, Spanish troops marched out between lines of American soldiers and they mutually saluted. The Spaniards then boarded American transports waiting to convey them to Cuba, one of the few remaining possessions of Spain’s great colonial empire in America.

The Llambias House, a picturesque St. Augustine home dating back to the first Spanish period.


Under the United States

St. Augustine was at last a part of the United States. Most of its Spanish residents bid the narrow streets farewell. The Minorcans, now firmly domiciled here, made up the major portion of the town’s population. Many by this time had risen to positions of influence in its affairs.

Officials of the new regime found St. Augustine a rather dilapidated old town, devoid of progress and ambition. Due to the poverty that had marked the closing years of the second Spanish period, public and private buildings were badly run down, some almost in ruins. Soon after the change of flags, speculators and promoters flocked to the city, and were quartered in some of the deserted houses. In the fall of 1821 an epidemic of dreaded yellow fever carried off many of the newcomers. A new cemetery was opened up near the City Gates to receive the victims, a few of whom may have been of Huguenot descent. It became known as the Huguenot, or Protestant cemetery.

In spite of its unkempt condition, St. Augustine possessed a certain mellow charm. At times the scent of orange blossoms hung heavy in the air and could be noticed by passing ships at sea. Along the narrow streets latticed gates led into cool courtyards and secluded gardens. There was no industry or commerce to disturb the serenity of the scene. St. Augustine’s shallow inlet, which preserved it from its enemies, also prevented it from becoming a place of bustling trade.

Visitors Begin to Arrive

Although difficult to reach by sea because of its treacherous bar, and by land over a road that was little more than a trail, a few adventurous travelers began to visit this quaint old city, which the United States had recently acquired. They were chiefly invalids and tubercular victims, for whom the mild winter climate was considered beneficial. Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was later to become the noted New England poet and philosopher, visited St. Augustine in 1827, at the age of 23, suffering from what he termed a “stricture of the chest.” During his ten weeks’ stay he recorded in his journal and letters his impressions of the city as he then saw it.

“St. Augustine is the oldest town of Europeans in North America,” he observed, “full of ruins, chimneyless houses, lazy people, horse-keeping intolerably dear, and bad milk from swamp grass, as all their hay comes from the North.”


Napoleon Achille Murat, one of St. Augustine’s early visitors.

But it restored his health and later he was inspired to comment: “The air and sky of this ancient, fortified, dilapidated sandbank of a town are delicious. It is a queer place. There are eleven or twelve hundred people and these are invalids, public officials, and Spaniards, or rather Minorcans.”

While here Emerson met another distinguished visitor of the time, Prince Napoleon Achille Murat, son of the King of Naples, and nephew of the great Napoleon. Murat came to Florida in 1824, purchased an estate south of St. Augustine, and was a frequent visitor to the city, living here for a time during the Seminole War. He later settled on a plantation near Tallahassee. St. Augustine began to prosper in a small way from its increasing number of visitors and winter residents.

The Freeze of 1835

The growing of oranges was an important industry in St. Augustine and its vicinity at this time. Many of its residents derived their principal income from the sale of the golden fruit, which was shipped by sloop to northern cities. The town was described by visitors as being virtually bowered in groves, and on each side of the Plaza were two rows of handsome orange trees, planted by Governor Grant during the English occupation.

During February of 1835 a biting cold of extended duration swept down out of the northwest. At nearby Jacksonville the thermometer dropped to eight degrees, and ice formed on the St. Johns River. St. Augustine’s beautiful orange groves were killed to the ground, sweeping away the main source of livelihood for many of its people. Only the bare trunks and branches remained, making the city look bleak and desolate.

Some of the trees sprouted from their damaged roots; others were planted, and in a few decades St. Augustine’s orange groves were again the subject of admiring comment on the part of visitors. But during the winter of 1894-95 another freeze destroyed them. The citrus industry moved farther south and was not again revived on a commercial scale in St. Augustine or its immediate vicinity.


Osceola, colorful leader of the Seminoles. From a portrait by George Catlin, painted during the chief’s imprisonment at Fort Moultrie, S. C.


The Seminole War

The Seminole War followed closely on the heels of the disastrous freeze of 1835. Shortly after New Year’s day of 1836 St. Augustine learned of the massacre of Major Dade and his command of 110 men. They were ambushed by Seminoles while enroute from Fort Brooke (Tampa) to Fort King (Ocala). On the same day, December 28, 1835, General Wiley Thompson, the Indian agent at Fort King, and another officer were killed. Soon plantations in the vicinity of St. Augustine were attacked and burned, and refugees arrived with gory tales of Indian atrocities. The February 27, 1836, issue of Niles Register carried the following item:

“The whole country south of St. Augustine has been laid waste during the past week, and not a building of any value left standing. There is not a single house remaining between this city and Cape Florida, a distance of 250 miles.”

When this occurred the original Indian tribes of Florida encountered by the early Spaniards had completely disappeared. Some had been wiped out during the long period of border conflict with the English. Others had succumbed to epidemics of disease. By the early 1800’s the principal Indians found in Florida were called Seminoles, and were a combination of several tribal remnants from Georgia and Alabama.

Under United States rule the Seminoles were first restricted to a more limited area by the Treaty of Moultrie in 1823. But as settlers continued to pour in, a demand arose for their complete removal from Florida to reservations in the West, which the younger Seminole leaders were determined to resist. The effort to force their removal to western reservations resulted in conflict that dragged on for seven years, from 1835 to 1842.

Officer after officer was sent to Florida to take command of operations against the Indians, including General Winfield Scott of subsequent Mexican War fame; and General Zachary Taylor, later to become President of the United States. But roving bands of Seminoles continued to strike and vanish into the dense swamps and little known woodlands.

In 1837 two prominent Seminole leaders, Osceola and Coacoochee, with seventy of their warriors, were seized by General Hernandez under orders from General Jesup at a point a few miles south of St. Augustine. The Indians had come in under a white flag for a parley with United States officers. The captives were brought to St. Augustine and imprisoned in the Castillo, from which Coacoochee and twenty companions managed to escape. Osceola died soon after transfer to Fort Moultrie, Charleston.

During May of 1840 a party of actors enroute from Picolata to St. Augustine were attacked by Indians, and near the same point two St. Augustine residents were murdered.

“It is useless to complain,” stated a news item of the day. “The fact remains that we have been pent up in this 62 little city for the last four years and a half by a few worthless outlaws. Our friends and neighbors, one after another, have been hastened to the mansions of the dead, and he who is foolhardy enough to venture beyond the gates may be the next victim.”

But St. Augustine as usual managed to be gay. A young lieutenant, William Tecumseh Sherman of later Civil War fame, was stationed at Picolata and frequently rode into St. Augustine for diversion. In one of his letters home he wrote under date of February 15, 1842:

“The inhabitants (of St. Augustine) still preserve the old ceremonies and festivities of old Spain. Balls, masquerades, etc., are celebrated during the gay season of the Carnival (just over), and the most religious observance of Lent in public, whilst in private they can not refrain from dancing and merry making. Indeed, I never saw anything like it—dancing, dancing, and nothing but dancing, but not such as you see in the North. Such ease and grace as I never before beheld.”

Dr. Motte, a young military surgeon, made a similar observation in his journal: “The St. Augustine ladies certainly danced more gracefully, and kept better time, than any of my fair country women I ever saw in northern cities. It was really delightful to see the beautiful Minorcan girls moving through their intricate waltz to the music of violin and tambourine.”

Finally most of the Seminoles were killed or surrendered for transfer to reservations in the West. A few were allowed to remain deep in the Everglades. There were probably less than 5,000 Indians in Florida at the outset, yet the war involved the enlistment of 20,000 men, an estimated cost of thirty million dollars, and 1,500 United States casualties.

St. Augustine somewhat reluctantly saw the war come to an end. The presence of officers and troops had enlivened its social life, and poured government funds into the city.

A Peaceful Interlude

The end of the Seminole War made Florida safe again for travelers. William Cullen Bryant, the popular poet and author, paid St. Augustine a visit in 1843 and wrote articles about the city that were widely read. He noted that gabled roofs were rapidly replacing the flat roofs of the first Spanish period, and that some “modern” wooden buildings had been constructed. More than half the inhabitants still spoke the Minorcan, or Mahonese language.

Another visitor of 1843 was Henry B. Whipple, later a prominent Episcopal Bishop. He found masquerading still a popular pastime in the city. Masking began during the Christmas holidays and continued until Lent. Small groups of people dressed in various disguises spent the evenings going from house to house, acting out their parts and furnishing their own music with guitar and violin. Whipple 63 wrote that St. Augustine was still full of old ruins, and that “he liked to wander through the narrow streets and gaze upon these monitors of time, which whispered that the hands that built them were long since mouldering in the grave.”

St. George Street as it looked in the 1870’s.

In 1845 Florida became the twenty-seventh state admitted to the Union. Tallahassee had been selected as its territorial capital in 1824, being a compromise between St. Augustine and Pensacola, both of which were difficult to reach from most of the state.


General Edmund Kirby Smith.

During the Civil War

St. Augustine lived on, enlivened during the winter by an influx of visitors, and drowsing undisturbed through the long summers until aroused by another conflict—the Civil War.

Slaves played a relatively minor role in its economy, as compared with the rest of the state. Although a few plantations in the immediate vicinity employed slave labor, they were chiefly used as domestic servants and were generally well treated. There was considerable Union sentiment in the city due to its number of northern-born residents.

Edmund Kirby-Smith, who had played in St. Augustine’s streets as a boy, became one of the leading Confederate Generals. His father came to the city in 1822 as Judge of the Superior Court and died here in 1846. His mother continued to occupy their home on what is now Aviles Street. During January of 1861 she wrote her son: “Our hearts are steeped in sadness and anxiety. Forebodings of evil yet to come depress us. We are threatened with the greatest calamity that can befall a nation. Civil war stares us in the face.”

In the same letter she tells of how the news of Florida’s secession from the Union was received at St. Augustine: “Our state has seceded, and it was announced here by the firing of cannon and musketry, and much shooting. A large flag made by the ladies is waving on the square. By order of the Governor of this State, the Fort, Barracks, and Federal property were taken possession of. Cannon are mounted on the ramparts of the Fort to defend it if any attempt should be made to retake it.”

Soon the shouting ceased and war became a stark reality with its heartaches, poverty, and privation. Many young men from St. Augustine went into the Confederate armies. The majority of its northern-born residents returned to the North to live for the duration of the war. The flow of visitors to the city ceased.

During March of 1862 a Union blockading squadron appeared off the inlet, and an officer came ashore with a white flag to demand the city’s surrender. During the night its small Confederate garrison withdrew. Next morning St. Augustine was occupied by Union forces and held by them during the remainder of the conflict. 65 Before the Federal troops landed the women of the city cut down the flag pole in the Plaza so that the Union standard could not be raised where their Confederate banner had waved.

Travelers complained bitterly of the service on the Picolata stage line, here shown bogged down enroute to St. Augustine. From a sketch made in 1867.

Tourist Industry Resumed

When the Civil War came to an end in 1865, St. Augustine was three centuries old. As the effects of the war and the reconstruction period wore away, the entertainment of winter residents and visitors was resumed. The city was still exceptionally quaint and foreign in appearance.

{Mule-drawn streetcar}

A visitor of 1869 found the Florida House, one of the city’s three small hotels, crowded with guests and wrote: “The number of strangers here greatly exceeded our expectations, and thronged in every street and public place. The fashionable belle of Newport and Saratoga, the pale, thoughtful clergyman of New England, were at all points encountered.”

The city badly needed better hotels and travel facilities. Visitors then had to come up the St. Johns River by steamer to Picolata, and from there a horse-drawn stage jolted them for eighteen miles over a miserable road to the San Sebastian River, where a flatboat ferried the carriage across the river to the city’s outskirts.

By 1871 travelers could go up the St. Johns River by steamer to Tocoi Landing, and there take a mule-drawn car over a crude railroad that ran fifteen miles east through the wilderness 66 to St. Augustine. It was called the St. Johns Railway and a few years later installed two wood-burning locomotives.

The San Marco, St. Augustine’s first great resort hotel, was opened in 1886, and burned to the ground in 1897.

Its Isolation Broken

The bonds of isolation and inaccessibility, which had retarded St. Augustine’s growth yet preserved its Old World character, were gradually being removed. Some signs of this awakening were apparent. “Hammers are ringing on the walls of a new hotel,” a visitor noted, “in which northern tourists are to be lodged, a splendid coquina wall, which might have stood for another century, having been torn down to make room for this ephemeral box.”

The same observer lamented that because of these changes the city was losing some of it former charm: “The romance of the place is gradually departing now. The merry processions of the Carnival, with mask, violin and guitar, are no longer kept up with the old taste; the rotund Padri, the delicate form of the Spanish lady, clad in mantilla and basquina are gone.”

In 1883 the Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Halifax River Railway was completed, linking the city with South Jacksonville. A mammoth four-story wooden hotel, the San Marco, arose on a site just west of the Castillo. The tide of tourists swelled. Souvenir shops, museums, and showplaces sprang up.

The Flagler Influence

Among St. Augustine’s many visitors during the winter of 1883-84 was Henry M. Flagler, one of the co-founders 67 of the Standard Oil Company. Immensely wealthy, he came to rest but was impressed with St. Augustine’s charm and possibilities. Many well-to-do families were then wintering on the southern shores of France and Italy, a section known as the Riviera. Flagler believed they could be induced to come to Florida if proper facilities were provided for them. He decided to invest in the construction of luxurious hotels at St. Augustine that would make the Florida coast an “American Riviera.”

His first hotel, the Ponce de Leon was begun in 1885. Two others, the Alcazar and Casa Monica (later renamed Cordova), were soon underway nearby. These and other Flagler-financed structures were massively built of solid concrete in a style of architecture adapted from palaces in Spain.

The magnificent Ponce de Leon opened on January 10, 1888, the Alcazar and Cordova soon afterward. Wealth and fashion flocked to St. Augustine, which became termed the “Southern Newport.” Sailboats dotted the bay and fine carriages dashed about the streets.

When Flagler began the construction of his hotels, he also purchased the small railroads in the vicinity, improving their service and facilities as a means of making the area easier to reach. This marked the beginning of the Florida East Coast Railway, which he later extended down the coast, creating Palm Beach in 1894, and launching Miami upon its career of magic growth in 1896.

The building of the Hotel Ponce de Leon ushered in a new era.


A reconstructed portion of St. George Street near City Gateway.


The Changing Scene

Progress, like St. Augustine’s former invaders, had little respect for the past. The old and storied inevitably gave way to the new and so-called modern. Old houses and remaining sections of the defense lines were torn down to make room for new buildings of the prevailing period, and the changes were hailed as a great improvement.

Even before this took place many of the old landmarks had disappeared. When building material was needed, St. Augustine’s residents of former periods used the stone from some old dilapidated structure. It was much easier than cutting and transporting new blocks of coquina from the Anastasia Island quarries.

A visitor of 1870 reported: “Although the ruins of its former greatness are to be seen on every side, yet by one and another means the most venerable are passing out of sight. The Palace of the British Attorney General (located opposite the Cathedral), which it is said was of grand proportions, has been torn down so that the material could be used for other buildings.”

Fires also took their toll. The settlement was completely burned by Drake in 1586, and again burned by the Carolinians under Moore in 1702. In 1887 flames swept the Cathedral and portions of the block north of the Plaza. Again in 1914 a disastrous fire wiped out many of the buildings in the older section of the city between the City Gates and the Plaza.

The St. Augustine Historical Society’s Oldest House is a carefully preserved example of a Spanish colonial home.


As in all towns of Spanish colonial origin, a stately Cathedral looks down upon an ancient Plaza.


St. Augustine Today

In spite of the many changes made in its physical appearance down through the centuries, many evidences of St. Augustine’s historic past have managed to survive. Massive Castillo de San Marcos still frowns upon the bay as it did two centuries and a half ago. The City Gateway, remains as a mute reminder of the capital’s former defenses. The narrow streets of the original town have defied complete alteration, and still reflect their Old World origin and character.

The ancient Plaza, with its refreshing shade, is possibly more beautiful now than when worn by the tread of parading garrisons. Here also stood the residence of a long line of Spanish and English governors. Facing the Plaza on the north the Cathedral looks down in simple dignity, its clock and sundial marking the infinite procession of hours, days and years.

The city’s long period under Spain is reflected in some of its architecture, in many of its street names, and in the general plan of the older section, which was laid out as specified by the Spanish King. The name St. George Street, honoring England’s patron Saint, is a legacy from the English period, as is also Charlotte Street, named for the queen of George III.

The bayfront commands a view of waters where ships of many kinds and from many ports once rode at anchor. The original inlet through which they sailed has disappeared, and a man-made channel now cuts through the barrier islands. Davis Shores, a popular residential district across the bay, was once a marsh from which the English shelled the fort and town in 1740.

At the south end of the original settlement the State Arsenal occupies the site of the Franciscan Monastery, from which the heroic Friars went forth to Christianize the Florida Indians. Across from it the Oldest House, owned by the St. Augustine Historical Society, preserves some of the Spanish atmosphere of former periods. Its connecting museum and library contain many relics and records of the past.

The Old Spanish Treasury on St. George Street was once the residence of the Royal Treasurer, from which Treasury Street also derives its name. North of the City Gateway the Fountain of Youth perpetuates the memory of Ponce de Leon’s discovery of Florida and man’s longing for youth restored. Occupying high ground nearby the Mission of Nombre de Dios marks the probable landing place of Menéndez and the hallowed spot where the first Parish Mass was celebrated.

Few who visit St. Augustine can fail to feel the romantic spell of its antiquity. The memory of its eventful past still haunts its sandy shore.


New Library building of the St. Augustine Historical Society.

The voluminous historical records of St. Augustine and early Florida are preserved in the library of the St. Augustine Historical Society. Assembled over a period of more than fifty years, and spanning 400 years of history, these records include copies of literally thousands of documents from the archives of Spain, Mexico, England, and repositories in the United States. The collection also comprises hundreds of old maps, various forms of pictorial material, and some 7,500 books, many of them rare and out of print. To save space much of the material is in the form of microfilm.

Founded in 1883, the Society is dedicated to the preservation and accurate interpretation of St. Augustine’s rich historical heritage. It has been long active in protecting the historic landmarks of the city, and pioneered in restoring some of its older structures.



ST. AUGUSTINE’S HISTORICAL HERITAGE, Harris Pictures. An illustrated guide to the city’s principal points of historic and scenic interest, with fine photographs of streets and buildings. 40 pages, size 8½ x 11 inches. $1.00


COLOR BOOK OF HISTORIC FORTS, Fort Caroline—Fort Matanzas—Castillo De San Marcos. 36 pages, 8½ x 11 inches. 50¢

Mail orders filled at prices quoted plus 25¢ to cover mailing. Florida residents add 4% state sales tax. Address:

C. F. Hamblen Inc.
P. O. Box 1568
St. Augustine, Florida 32084

Old St. Augustine

Transcriber’s Notes