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Bill Thayer

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Part 1

This webpage reproduces part of

Castillo de San Marcos
National Park Service
Historical Handbook Series, No. 149

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Part 3
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Castillo de San Marcos

 p13  Beginning the Castillo

To show her commitment to the proposed construction, the Queen Regent appointed Sgt. Maj. Don Manuel de Cendoya, a veteran of 22 years service, as successor to Governor Guerra.

In México City Cendoya followed Queen Mariana's orders and delivered his message to the viceroy, the Marquis de Mancera. Florida's defenses were to be strengthened at once with a main castillo at St. Augustine, a second fort to protect the harbor entrance, and a third to prevent troop landings. Initial estimates were that the project would cost 30,000 pesos. At this point came the news of the English settlement at Charleston, and Cendoya at once suggested a fourth fort at Santa Catalina.

The viceroy's finance council finally decided to allot 12,000 pesos to begin work on one fort. If suitable progress were made, they would consider sending 10,000 yearly until completion. The question of additional forts would be referred to the crown. Cendoya had to be satisfied with this arrangement and a levy of 17 soldiers. He left for Florida, making a stop at Havana where he sought skilled workers. There he also found an engineer, Ignacio Daza.

On August 8, 1671, a month after Cendoya's arrival in St. Augustine, the first worker began to draw pay. By the time the mosquitoes were sluggish in the cooler fall weather, the quarrymen had opened coquina pits on Anastasia Island, and the lime burners were building two big kilns just north of the old fort. The carpenters put up a palm-thatched shelter at the quarry, built a dozen rafts for ferrying stone, firewood, and oyster shells for the limekilns across the water. They built boxes, handbarrows, and carretas — the long, narrow, hauling wagons — as well. The blacksmith hammered out axes, picks, stonecutters' hatchets, crowbars, shovels, spades, hoes, wedges, and nails for the carpenters. The grindstone screeched as the cutting edge went on the tools.

Indians at the quarry chopped out the dense  p14 thickets of scrub oak and palmetto, driving out the rattlesnakes and clearing the ground for the shovelmen to uncover the top layer of coquina. Day after day Diego Díaz Mejia, the overseer, kept the picks and axes going, cutting deep groves into the soft yellow stone, while with wedge and bar the workers broke loose and pried up the blocks — small pieces that a single man could shoulder, and tremendously heavy cubes two feet thick and twice as long that six strong men could hardly lift.

Díaz watched his workers heave the finest stone on the wagons. He sent the oxen plodding to the wharf at the head of a marshy creek, where the load of rough stone was carefully balanced on the rafts for ferrying to the building site. And on the opposite shore of the bay, next to the old fort, the cache of unhewn stone grew larger daily, and the stonecutters shaped the soft coquina for the masons.

In the limekilns, oyster shells glowed white-hot and changed into fine quality, quicksetting lime. By spring of 1672, there were 4,000 fanegas (about 7,000 bushels) of lime in the two storehouses and great quantities of hewn and rough stone.

Although the real construction had not even started, great obstacles had already been overcome. Maintaining an adequate work force and skilled workers was a continual problem. When there should have been 150 men to keep the 15 artisans working at top speed — 50 in the quarries and hauling stone, 50 for gathering oyster shells and helping at the kilns, and another 50 for digging foundation trenches, toting the excavation baskets, and mixing mortar — it was hard to get as many as 100 laborers on the job.

Indians from three nations, the Guale (coastal Georgia), Timucua (Florida east of the Aucilla River), and Apalache (between the Aucilla and the Apalachicola), were employed. True, they were paid labor, but some had to travel more than 200 miles to reach the presidio, and many served unwillingly. In theory each complement of Indian labor served only a certain length of time; in practice it was not uncommon for the men to be held long past their assigned time, either through necessity or carelessness.

Indians were used as unskilled laborers and paid the lowest wages — one real (about 20 cents) per day plus corn rations. Most labored at the monotonous, back-straining work in the quarries. A few were trained  p15 as carpenters and received correspondingly greater wages but never the equal of what the Europeans earned. One Indian was trained as a stonecutter and worked on the Castillo for 16 years.

Besides Indian labor, there were a few Spanish workers paid 4 reales per day, and a number of convicts, either local or from Caribbean ports. Beginning in 1679 there were seven blacks and mulattoes among the convicts. Eighteen black slaves belonging to the crown joined the labor gang in 1687. Convicts and slaves received rations but no wage. A typical convict might have been a Spaniard caught smuggling English goods into the colony, who was condemned to six years' labor on the fortifications. If he tried to escape, the term was doubled and he faced the grim prospect of being sent to a fever-infested African presidio to work.

The military engineer, Ignacio Daza, was paid the top wage of 3 pesos (about $4.75) per day. Daza died seven months after coming to Florida, so the crown paid only the surprisingly small sum of 546 pesos (about $862) for engineering services in starting the greatest of Spanish Florida fortifications.

Of the artisans, there were Lorenzo Lajones, master of construction, and two master masons, each of whom received the master workman's wage of 20 reales (about $4). Seven masons and eight stonecutters at 12 reales, and 12 carpenters whose pay ranged from 6 to 12 reales, completed the ranks of the skilled workers. Later, some of these wages were reduced: Lajones' successor as master of construction was paid only 17 reales, the master mason 13, and the stonecutters from 3 to 11 reales, with half of them at the 3‑ and 4‑real level.

These were few men for the job at hand, and to speed the work along Governor Cendoya used any prisoner including neighboring Carolinians who fell into Spanish hands. In 1670, a vessel bound for Charleston, mistakenly put in at Santa Catalina Mission, the Spanish post near the Savannah River, and William Carr and John Rivers were taken. A rescue sloop sent from Charleston protested the Spaniards' actions, with Joseph Bailey and John Collins carrying the message from the English. For their trouble, they were dispatched with Rivers and Carr to St. Augustine to labor on the fort.

Three of the prisoners were masons, and their  p16 Spanish names — Bernardo Patricio (for Bernard Fitzpatrick), and Juan Calens (for John Collins), and Guillermo Car (for William Carr) — were duly written on the payrolls. Some of these British subjects became permanent residents. Carr, for instance, embraced first the Catholic faith and then Juana de Contreras, by whom he fathered eight children. His father-in‑law was a corporal, a circumstance that may have helped Carr enlist as a gunner while also working as a highly paid stonecutter.

The Spaniards were understandably cautious in relying on the loyalty of foreigners, but actually the new subjects served well. John Collins especially pleased the officials. He could burn more lime in a week than others could in twice the time. And as a prisoner he had to be paid only 8 reales instead of the 20 due a master workman. Like Carr, Collins seemed to like St. Augustine. He rose steadily in the crown's employ from master of the kilns to quarrymaster, with dugouts, provisions, and convicts all in his charge. When pirates landed on Anastasia in 1683 and marched on the city, Carr made sure that all crown property in the quarry was moved to safety. Royal recognition honored his loyalty and years of service.

A few years later 11 Englishmen were captured several miles north of St. Augustine. All were committed to the labor gang — except Andrew Ransom. He was to be garroted. On the appointed day Ransom ascended the scaffold. The executioner put the rope collar about his neck. The screw was turned 6 times — and the rope broke! Ransom breathed again.

While the onlookers marveled, the friars took the incident as an act of God and led Ransom to sanctuary in the parish church. Word reached the governor that this man was an ingenious fellow, an artillerist, a carpenter, and what was most remarkable, a maker of "artificial fires" — fire bombs. Ransom was offered his life if he would put his talents to use at the Castillo. He agreed and, like Collins, was exceedingly helpful. Twelve years later, church authorities finally agreed that the sanctuary granted by the parish pastor was valid. At last Ransom was free of the garrote.

All told, between 100 and 150 workers on the construction crew labored in those first days of feverish preparations. They, along with some 500 others —  p17 including about 100 soldiers in the garrison, a few Franciscan friars, a dozen mariners, and the townspeople —had to be fed. When supplies from México did not come, getting food was even harder than finding workers, especially since the coastal soil at St. Augustine yielded poorly to 17th‑century agricultural methods.

Of the crops grown at St. Augustine, Indian corn was the staple. Most of the planting, cultivating, and harvesting of extensive fields near the town was done by Indians. At times as many as 300 Indians, including those working on the fortification, served the crown at the presidio. To make the food, whether grown locally or shipped in from México, go as far as possible, it was rationed: 3 pounds daily until 1679, then 2½ pounds until 1684, then 2 pounds until 1687, and finally 2½ again. Convicts also got corn if flour was not on hand, and they also received a meat ration. Fresh meat was rather scarce, but the waters teemed with fish and shellfish. A paid fisherman kept the men supplied.

Garden vegetables were few. Squash grew well in the sandy soil, as did beans and sweet potatoes, citron, pomegranates, figs, and oranges. And of course there were onions and garlic. But St. Augustine was never self-supporting. After a century of existence, it still depended for its very life upon supplies from México.

As the long, hot days of the second summer shortened into fall, Governor Cendoya saw that after a year of gathering men and materials, he was ready to start building.

Daza and the governor decided to construct the Castillo on the west shore of the bay just north of the old fort. It was a site that would take advantage of every natural feature for the best possible defensive position. The new fort, they decided, would be similar, though somewhat larger. In line with the more recent ideas, Daza recommended a slight lengthening of the bastions. All around the Castillo they planned a broad, deep moat and beyond the moat, a high palisade on the three land sides.

It was a simple and unpretentious plan, but a good one. Daza, schooled in the Italian-Spanish principles of fortification that grew out of the 16th-century designs of Francesco de Marchi, was clearly a practical man. His plan called for a "regular" fort — that is,  p19 a symmetrical structure. Basically it was a square with a bastion at each corner. Equally strong on all sides, this design was ideal for Florida's low, flat terrain.

About four o'clock Sunday afternoon, October 2, 1672, Governor Cendoya walked to a likely looking spot between the strings marking out the lines of the new fortification and thrust a spade into the earth, as Juan Moreno y Segovia, reported the ground breaking ceremonies for Queen Mariana.

Little more than a month later on Wednesday, November 9, Cendoya laid the first stone of the foundation. The people of St. Augustine must have wept for joy. All were glad and proud, the aged soldiers who had given a lifetime of service to the crown, the four orphans whose father had died in the pirate raid a few years earlier, the widows and their children, the craftsmen, the workers, and the royal officials. But none could have been more pleased or proud than Don Manuel de Cendoya. He of all the Florida governors had the honor to begin the first permanent Florida fortification.

Laying the foundations was not easy, for the soil was sandy and low and as winter came the Indians were struck by El Contagio — a smallpox epidemic. The laboring force dwindled to nothing. The governor asked the crown to have Havana send 30 slaves. Meanwhile, Cendoya himself and his soldiers took to the shovels. As they dug a trench some 17 feet wide and 5 feet deep, the masons came in and laid two courses of heavy stones directly on the hard-packed sand bottom for the foundation. The work was slow, for high tide flooded the trenches.

About 1½ feet inside the toe of this broad 2‑foot-high foundation, the masons stretched a line marking the scarp or curtain, a wall that would gradually taper upward from a 13‑foot base to about 9 feet at its top, 20 feet above the foundation. In the 12 months that followed, the north, south, and east walls rose steadily. By midsummer of 1673 the east side was 12 feet high, and the presidio was jubilant over the news that the viceroy was sending even more money.

This good news was tempered by the viceroy's assertion that he would release no more money for the work without a direct order from the crown. Cendoya had already asked the queen to raise the allowance to 16,000 pesos a year so the construction  p20 could be finished in four years. For, as he put it, the English menace at Charleston brooked no delay. The English were said to be outfitting ships for an invasion.

Gradually, however, construction slowed. In 1673 Cendoya and Daza died within a few days of one another. The governor's mantle fell upon Major Ponce, in whom the local Spaniards had little confidence.

Trouble beset Ponce on every side. The viceroy was reluctant to part with money for this project despite evidence that English strength and influence was increasing daily, especially among the Indians. Shortly after Ponce took control, a terrific storm hit the city. High tides undermined houses, flooded fields and gardens, and polluted the wells. Sickness took its toll. The old wooden fort was totally ruined. Waves washed out a bastion, causing it to collapse under the weight of its guns. The other seaward bastion and the palisade were also breached in several places.

Then in the spring of 1675 when another provision ship was lost, Ponce had to lead a group of workers on a long march into Timucua to fetch provisions from the Indians. Only a few masons were left to carry on the work at the Castillo.

Despite all these problems, Ponce made progress. The north curtain was completed and the east and south were well underway. But looking west the soldiers could see only open country.

On May 3, 1675, the long-awaited supply ship from México safely arrived. Among its few passengers was a new governor for Florida, Sgt. Maj. Don Pablo de Hita Salazar, a hard-bitten veteran of campaigns in Europe, and most recently governor of Veracruz. Surely it was because of his reputation as a soldier that he was assigned to Florida. Besides continuing the work on the fort he was ordered to "dislocate" the Charleston settlement. Led to believe the viceroy would help in the difficult task ahead, Hita, in fact, found that official singularly reluctant.

At St. Augustine, the work had been dragging, but Hita made some positive points in writing the crown: "Although I have seen many castillos of consequence and reputation in the form of its plan, this one is not surpassed by any of those of greater character." Furthermore, he endorsed the statement of the royal officials, who were eager to point out the brighter side of the picture: "If it had to be built in another  p21 place than St. Augustine it would cost a double amount because there will not be the advantage of having the laborers, at a real of wages each day, with such meagre sustenance as three pounds of maize, nor will the overseers and artisans work in other places with such little salaries . . . nor will the stone, lime, and other materials be found so close at hand and with the convenience there is in this presidio."

So much money — 34,298 pesos — had been spent on the fort, and it was not yet finished, so it was important to tell the authorities the positive benefits of this project, for at this point the old stockade was a ruin and the new one was unusable. Reports from English deserters told them that Charleston, less than 215 miles to the north, was well defended by a stockade and 20 cannon.

Using characteristic realism, energy, and enthusiasm that would have done credit to a much younger man, Don Pablo set about making his own fortification defensible. The bastion of San Carlos — at the northeast corner of the Castillo — was the nearest to completion. Hita ordered it finished so that cannon could be mounted on its rampart.

While the masons were busy at that work, he took his soldiers and razed the old fort. The best of its wood went into a barrier across the open west side of the Castillo. In 15 days they built a 12‑foot-high earthwork with two half-bastions, faced with a veneer of stone and fronted by a moat 14 feet wide and 10 feet deep. At last the garrison had four walls for protection.

Next the powder magazine in the gorge of San Carlos was completed and a ramp laid over it to give access to the rampart above. The three curtains rose to their full height of 20 feet. At the southeast corner the workers dumped hundreds of baskets of sand and rubble into the void formed by the walls of San Agustin bastion and filled it to the 20‑foot level.

Both carpenters and masons worked on the temporary buildings and finished a little powder magazine near the north curtain. A timber-framed coquina structure, partitioned into guardhouse, lieutenant's quarters, armory, and provision magazine, took shape along the west wall. Finally, a few of the guns from the old fort were mounted in San Carlos and San Agustin bastions and along the west front. After three years of work, the Castillo was a defense at last.

 p24  And now Governor Hita's first admiration for its design vanished. The Castillo, he said, was too massive. Surely no one would ever besiege it formally. Rather, the danger lay in a blockade of the harbor or occupation of Anastasia Island, actions that would cut the presidio's lifeline. The San Carlos bastion was too high for effective fire on the inlet or to sweep Anastasia. He argued that the Castillo, including the parapet, should be held to a total height of only 20 feet and supplemented by a 6‑gun redoubt directly facing the inlet.

Royal officials strenuously opposed the governor's attempts to change Daza's plan. They wrote the crown of Hita's desire to tear finished walls down to the level he thought proper.

In Hita's view the west wall, though temporary, was adequate. Therefore he would defer the permanent wall and start instead on the permanent guardroom, quarters, ravelin, and moat. Royal officials insisted, however, that since the west wall was nothing but a half-rotten fence and a mound of earth faced with stone, all the walls must be completed as soon as possible.

In the hope that the crown would agree to lower the walls, Hita let the work lag on the two seaward bastions while he began the west wall and bastions. Construction continued despite trouble with the Choctaws, despite the worrisome impossibility of driving out the Carolina settlers, despite the pirate raid on the port of Apalache in the west, and the ever-present fear of invasion. Lorenzo Lajones, the master of construction, died, but still the work went on. Even after the viceroy's 10,000 pesos were spent, work continued with money diverted from the troop payroll. As a last resort, people gave what they could out of their own poverty. When these gifts were gone, the scrape of the trowel ceased and the hammer and axe were laid aside. Construction stopped on the last day of 1677.

At the same time, the supply vessel bringing desperately needed provisions and clothing from México arrived, only to be lost on a sand bar right in St. Augustine harbor. It was a heartbreaking loss. Hita became disconsolate. The help he begged from Havana never came, and for four years his reports to the viceroy were ignored. Old, discouraged, and sick, Hita wrote the crown that he was "without  p25 human recourse" in this remote province. Perhaps the final blow to his pride was a terse order from the crown to stick strictly to Daza's plan for the Castillo.

Yet the old warrior did not give up. Eventually the viceroy released 5,000 more pesos, and after 20 months of idleness construction resumed on August 29, 1679. As soon as Hita left his sickbed he was back at the fort, impatient with the snail's pace of progress under a new master of construction, Juan Márquez Molina from Havana, whose sharp-eyed inspections found stones missing from their courses and some of the walls too thin.

The royal officials, always on hand to make sure the governor followed the crown's directives to the letter, blamed the deficiencies on Hita, "who has trod this fort down without knowledge of the art of fortification." With another 5,000 pesos plus the masons due to arrive from Havana, said the old man in rebuttal, "I promise to leave the work in very good condition." Before he could make good on that promise, Sgt. Maj. Don Juan Márquez Cabrera arrived at the end of November 1680 to take over the reins of government.

So, half apologizing for his own little knowledge of "architecture and geometry," Hita left the trials and tribulations of this frontier province to his more youthful successor.

Actually, Hita had done a great deal. Within six weeks after his arrival he had made the Castillo defensible against any but an overwhelming force. During the rest of his 5%-year term he brought the walls up to where they were ready for the parapet builders, despite one obstacle after another. In fact, the parapet on San Carlos bastion was almost complete, with embrasures for the artillery and firing steps for the musketeers. The only low part of the work was the San Pablo bastion, where the level had been miscalculated. The sally port had its drawbridge and iron-bound portal, and another heavy door closed the postern in the north curtain. Permanent rooms that would go along the curtain walls were still only plans, but in a temporary building centered in the courtyard were a guardroom and storeroom, and a little chapel stood near the postern in the shadow of the north curtain.

The new man, Major Juan Márquez Cabrera, formerly governor of Honduras, checked the Castillo  p28 work carefully with the construction master. Those long years without an engineer had left them a heritage of mistakes — skimpy foundations, levels miscalculated — that had to be set right. From Havana came a military engineer, Ensign Don Juan de Ciscara. During his brief stay he gave valuable guidance for continuing the work, built the ramp to San Pablo bastion, and laid foundations for the ravelin and its moat wall.

The 1680s were turbulent years. In 1682, the year the ravelin was finished, a dozen or so pirate craft in the Straits of Florida seized numerous Spanish prizes, including the Florida frigate on its way to Veracruz. They raided Mosquito Inlet, only 60 miles south of St. Augustine. In the west, pirates struck Fort San Marcos de Apalache and even went up the San Martin (Suwanee) River to rob cattle ranches in Timucua.

Work on the Castillo fell further and further behind schedule. Márquez appealed to the curate for dispensation to work on Sundays and holy days. Because of a history of bad relations with Márquez, the request was refused. Márquez appealed to higher authorities. When approval came, however, it was too late, for invasion came first.

On March 30, 1683, English corsairs landed a short way south of the Centinela de Matanzas, the watchtower, at Matanzas Inlet near the south end of Anastasia Island and about 14 miles from St. Augustine. Under cover of darkness, a few of the raiders came up behind the tower and surprised the sentries.

The march on St. Augustine began the next day. Fortunately a soldier from St. Augustine happened by Matanzas and saw the motley band. Posthaste he warned the governor, who sent Capt. Antonio de Argüelles with 30 musketeers to meet them on Anastasia. A mile from the presidio the pirates walked into the captain's ambush. After exchanging a few shots — one of which lodged in Argüelles' leg — the Englishmen beat a hasty retreat down the island to their boats. They sailed to St. Augustine and anchored at the inlet in plain sight of the unfinished Castillo.

Márquez, his soldiers, and the townspeople worked day and night to strengthen the Castillo. Missing parapets and a firing step were improvised from dry stone. Expecting the worst, everybody crowded into  p29 the fort. But the corsairs, looking at the stone fort and nursing their wounds, decided to sail on.

After this scare, the Castillo crew worked with renewed zeal. By mid‑1683 they had completed the San Agustin and San Pablo bastions. Governor Márquez sent the crown a wooden model to show what had been done.

This was progress made in the face of privation — hunger that made the people demand of Márquez that he buy supplies from a stray Dutch trader from New York. It was unlawful, but the people had to eat. Imagine the joy in the presidio soon afterward when two subsidy payments came at one time! Márquez gave the soldiers two years' back pay and had enough provisions on hand for 14 months. The 27 guns of the presidio, from the iron 2‑pounder to the 40‑pounder bronze, all had their gunner's ladle, rammer, sponge, and wormer, along with plenty of powder and shot. There was also an alarm bell in San Carlos bastion.

By August 1684 Governor Márquez started on the fort rooms and finished them the next spring. Courtyard walls paralleled the four curtains, and foot-square beams spanned the distance between them. Laid over these great beams were 3‑inch planks, supporting a slab roof of tabby masonry. On the north were the powder magazine and two big storerooms. Quarters were along the west curtain, guardroom and chapel on the south, and rooms on the east included a latrine and prison. Altogether there were more than 20 rooms.

The only major work yet to do was beyond the walls. The surrounding moat, 40 feet wide, needed to be deepened, for only part of the moat wall was up to its full 8‑foot depth. In fact, of the outworks only the ravelin was finished.

With the fortification this far along, Governor Márquez could give more attention to other business, such as Lord Cardross' Scottish colony at Port Royal, South Carolina. This was, in the Spanish view, a new and obnoxious settlement that encouraged heathen Indians to raid mission Indians. Furthermore, it was in land recognized as Spanish even by the English monarch.

So in September 1686, Márquez sent Captain Alejandro Tomás de Léon, with orders to destroy the colony, which he did. He then sacked and burned Governor Joseph Morton's plantation on Edisto Island.

 p32  Next they set course for Charleston but again, as had happened in 1670, a storm blew them away from the hated English colony. Léon's vessel, the Rosario, was lost, and he along with it. Another ship was driven aground, and the last of the little armada limped back to St. Augustine.

Actually the real contest for the southeast was in the backcountry where English traders operated. Governor Márquez sent soldiers and missionaries from St. Augustine to the Apalachecola nation in western Georgia. For the Spaniards, however, it was a losing fight — an exciting, exasperating struggle of diplomacy and intrigue, trade and cupidity, war and religion, slavery and death.

Captain of cuirassiers Diego de Quiroga y Losada assumed the governor­ship on August 21, 1687, after Márquez fled to Cuba in April. That same day he stopped work on the Castillo because there was no way to feed the workers. These troubles and the certainty of reprisals from the Carolinians sent Capt. Juan de Ayala Escobar directly to Spain for help. He came back with 80 soldiers, the money for maintaining them, and even a Negro slave to help in the fields. The black man, one of a dozen Ayala had hoped to deliver, was a much-needed addition to the colony, and Captain Ayala was welcomed back to St. Augustine with rejoicing "for his good diligence."

Soon there was more black labor for both fields and fortifications. From the Carolina plantations, an occasional slave would slip away and move southward along the waterways. In 1687 a small boat loaded with nine runaways made its way to St. Augustine. The men found work to do and the governor took the two women into his household as servants. It was a fairly happy arrangement: the slaves worked well and soon asked for Catholic baptism.

A few months later, William Dunlop came from Charleston in search of them. Governor Quiroga, reluctant to surrender converted slaves, offered to buy them for the Spanish crown. Dunlop agreed to the sale, even though the governor was as usual short of cash and had given him a promissory note. To seal the bargain, Dunlop gave one of the slaves, a baby girl, her freedom. Later the crown liberated the others.

This incident resulted in a knotty problem. First,  p33 commerce with Carolina, as an English colony, was illegal. Secondly, the crown could not buy freedom for every runaway that came to Florida, as more and more Carolina blacks left their English masters, seeking refuge. The slave issue made any hope of amicable relations between the Spanish and English colonists impossible. Eventually the Spaniards decreed freedom for all Carolina slaves coming to Florida, and the governor established a fortified village — Gracia Real de Mose — for them hardly more than a cannon shot from the Castillo.

Construction work on the Castillo resumed in the spring of 1688, after a shipment of corn came from Apalache. In Havana Governor Quiroga bought for 137 pesos a stone bearing the royal arms to be set into the wall over the gate. At this time, too, the little town entered its "stone age," for as surplus materials from the crown quarries became available, masonry buildings gradually took the place of the board-and‑thatch housing that had been traditional here since the founding.

Until the outworks could be finished, the Castillo was vulnerable to siege guns and scaling ladders. Nevertheless it was impossible to push the heavy work of quarrying, lumbering, and hauling at this crucial time. There were too many other pressures. Belatedly trying to counteract English gains and strengthen their own ties with the Indians, the Spaniards built a fort in the Apalachecola country. Unfortunately the soldiers had to be pulled back to St. Augustine when Spain declared war on France in 1689.

This time Spain and England were allies. Yet Governor Quiroga wondered at the presence of English vessels off both northern and southern coasts. As a bit of insurance he wrote a letter telling of a strength far beyond what he had, in the hope that if an English ship would capture the letter they would not know of St. Augustine's weakness. For again the supply situation was critical, and swarms of French corsairs infested the waters between Florida and Havana. Two provision vessels were lost in the Keys and a third fell into French hands. Until food eventually came in from Havana and Campeche, the soldiers had to live on handouts from the townspeople.

To lessen the chances of famine in the future, Florida officials resolved to plant great fields of corn  p35 nearby. And where was better than the broad clearings around the fort? Acres of waving corn soon covered the land almost up to the moat. When the crown heard of these plantings, back to Florida came a royal order banning corn fields within a musket shot of the Castillo. A whole army could hide in the tall corn without being seen by the sentries!

A new governor, Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala, arrived in 1693. At the outset he had to deal with hostilities between St. Augustine and Charleston — hostilities that mocked the Spanish-English alliance in Europe.

More importantly, however, to Governor Torres belongs the credit for completing Castillo de San Marcos. Torres saw the last stones go into place for the water battery — bright yellow coquina that was in contrast to weathered masonry almost a quarter of a century old. In August 1695 the workmen finally moved out of the Castillo to another job: a seawall that would keep storm tides out of the city.

The pile of stone on which Cendoya had planned to spend some 70,000 pesos and which Hita had estimated would cost a good 80,000 if built elsewhere, ended up costing at least 138,375 pesos, a tremendous sum impossible to translate into today's money. But more than the money, it was the blood, sweat, and hardship of the Florida soldier that paid the cost. For the funds came out of money never paid. Let the Castillo be his monument!

And what did completion of this citadel mean? Only a year later, soldiers gaunt with hunger slipped into the church and left an unsigned warning for the governor: If the enemy came, they intended to surrender, for they were starving.


Billions of sea creatures produced the coquina that provided the building blocks of the Castillo. Because of the high water table, the layers of rock were damp when quarried. Once trimmed and shaped, the rock dried and hardened. During the British bombardment of 1740, the walls absorbed the impact of the cannon balls and very little damage was done.

Stone masons were the most skilled and highly paid laborers who worked on the Castillo.

Great numbers of local Indians carried out the many heavy-duty tasks that kept this labor-intensive project continually moving forward.

Spanish silver coins were used throughout the Caribbean and the British colonies. Often they were cut in two, or quartered, or even cut into eight pieces, giving rise to our expression, "two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar, "bit meaning the number of pieces of one coin needed to make a dollar. The coins shown here are a 2‑real, a 1‑real, and another 2‑real piece. On the one 2‑real coin, note the Chinese characters indicating that the coin had been used in trade in the Orient. The profile is that of Charles III, who had died in J 788, though the inscription says that it is of Charles IV. The diemaker simply changed the date and added another "I" rather than using the more conventional "IV" roman numeral designation for 4.

This document is the official report to government officials in Madrid that ground had been broken for the Castillo. "Today, Sunday, about four in the afternoon, the second of October 1672 . . . Don Manuel de Cendoya, Governor and Captain General of these provinces for Her Majesty . . . with spade in hand . . . began the foundation trenches for construction of the Castillo," the document states.

Pages 22‑23: Practically every phase of construction is shown here: ferrying the newly-quarried stones across from Anastasia Island, hauling them to the site, cutting and shaping the stones, mixing mortar, using oxen to hoist a load of stones to the work area, and setting the stones in place. Overseeing all this and reviewing the plans are the engineer and master mason.

Archeology, in one of its functions, provides us with glimpses into the life of days gone by The three bone buttons were found in and around the Castillo. The light-colored, smooth button with one hole was found in a sentry box. Perhaps a coat caught on the entry way and the button tore off, never to be found by the owner? The brass button is from a 19th‑century Spanish uniform.

These bottles, dating from the 19th‑century American presence in St. Augustine, attest to the continuity of life. The shells on the stoneware flask indicate that it has been in saltwater for some time. The gold and tan bottle originally held ginger beer, a popular drink in the mid‑1800s. The green bottle is stamped "Rumford Chemical Works" of Rumford, Rhode Island, on the shoulder.

The map, based on the surveys of Juan de Solis, was drawn in 1764, a year after the British took control of Florida. English names have already been given to the town's features. Somehow Fort St. Mark, a translation of Castillo de San Marcos, does not have the same ring.

The Oldest House Museum

View in St. George Street

This cannon tube is typical of most 18th‑century guns and bears the cipher of Carlos III, showing it to be Spanish.

In the royal arms of Spain, the lions stand for the province of Léon and the castles for the province of Castile. The shield is surrounded by the chain of the Order of the Golden Fleece, a knightly order founded in 1430, of which the Spanish monarch was grand master. The story of the Golden Fleece recalls the courageous exploits in the ancient Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts.

The drawing at left is of the inner workings of the Castillo drawbridge shown in the photograph above.

The Drawbridge Pulling up the drawbridge was like locking the door. Once it was pulled up flush against the walls and the portcullis — the heavy grating made of solid yellow pine — rolled shut, no one could get into the fort. To raise the bridge, trapdoors were removed so that the counterweights could descend into the pit. A windlass also lay beneath this trapdoor. Soldiers inserted bars into holes bored into the windlass and rotated it, causing the lifting drums to revolve. The chains, attached to the far end of the bridge, pulled the bridge up as the chains turned on the lifting drums. The counterweights helped neutralize the weight of the bridge so that three soldiers were able to lift its great weight — approximately 1,900 pounds. When the bridge was in the upright position, the soldiers then rolled the portcullis shut behind them, and secured it. This was done every night or in time of danger.

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Page updated: 23 Jun 14