Castillo de San Marcos, St Augustine, FL
Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort (1695) in the continental United States; only Castillo San Felipe del Morro in San Juan, Puerto Rico is older.
Both fortresses stand as monuments from the age of conquistadors, which flowed from the Spanish re-conquest of the Iberian peninsula over Islamic forces.
After the Moors were defeated, Portugal and Spain commissioned young men to seek out & conquer the New World.
Conquistador Pedro Menendez-de Aviles: St. Augustine’s founder in 1565
Pedro Menéndez de Avilés had commanded the galleons of the great Armada de la Carrera (Treasure Fleet), on their voyages from the Caribbean and Mexico to Spain.
In 1565, the Spanish decided to destroy the French outpost of Fort Caroline, located in what is present-day Jacksonville.
The crown approached Menéndez to outfit an expedition to Florida, and settle the region for Spain.
The settlement of St. Augustine was founded by Pedro Menéndez in September of 1565, in the former Timucua Indian village of Seloy.
The location of the settlement was chosen for its defensibility and proximity to a fresh water artesian spring.
St. Augustine remains the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the continental United States.
The Timucua were American Indians who lived in north Florida and southeast Georgia.
They were the largest indigenous group in that area, probably numbering between 200,000 and 300,000.
Contact of indigenous North American tribes with European peoples began some time around 1502, as there exists a Portuguese map of the coast of Florida dating from this time.
Initial contacts were always violent and tragic; as the Portuguese were looking for slaves to work in their sugar plantations of the Caribbean and Brazil.
Earliest European map of Florida & Brazil (1502)
Old World microbes effectively depopulated huge areas of the New World, as Native Americans of this time had no resistance to communicable diseases beyond the common cold.
Measles, mumps, smallpox, typhoid, typhus, diphtheria, etc… carried off millions of Native American lives.
This began in the Caribbean in October of 1492, when Christopher Columbus under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain; sailed to the Bahamas (San Salvador), and massacred the peaceful & friendly Lucayan Indians.
Christopher Columbus journal entry, 12/13 October 1492:
Many of the men I have seen have scars on their bodies, and when I made signs to them to find out how this happened, they indicated that people from other nearby islands come to San Salvador to capture them; they defend themselves the best they can. I believe that people from the mainland come here to take them as slaves. They ought to make good and skilled servants, for they repeat very quickly whatever we say to them. I think they can very easily be made Christians, for they seem to have no religion. If it pleases our Lord, I will take six of them to Your Highnesses when I depart, in order that they may learn our language…I could conquer the whole of them with 50 men, and govern them as I pleased.
Columbus then sailed to Cuba & Hispaniola, where he encountered Taino/Arawak Indians, who met a similar fate.
Spanish colonization of the New World relied on slaughtering & enslaving Native American men, while taking their women as concubines.
Thus the Timucua, Lucaya, Arawak/ Taino Indians (among many others) were absorbed into Spanish mestizo culture.
Today, these civilizations are considered extinct.
Conquistador Juan Ponce de León hoped for something to find…
Juan Ponce de León landed near St. Augustine in 1513.
…but he could see no place to unwind
Located on the shore of Matanzas Bay, Castillo de San Marcos was designed by the Spanish engineer Ignacio Daza.
Matanzas Bay, looking out from Castillo de San Marcos
Slaves were imported from Havana, Cuba to build it; construction began in 1672, and was completed in 1695.
Castillo de San Marcos is a masonry star fort, made of coquina; a porous and versatile limestone consisting of seashells which have been pulverized by the ocean and become cemented together.
Coquina: ubiquitous in St. Augustine, FL
Castillo de San Marcos has been improved, renovated, and renamed many times over its centuries of existence.
It has transferred sovereign flags seven times in its history, all peacefully; despite repeated attempts to take it by force.
The British Navy twice unsuccessfully laid siege to Spanish St. Augustine.
The first time was in 1702, a two-month duel that ended when the Spanish fleet arrived from Havana.
St. Augustine the town, was destroyed as collateral damage from the siege.
A second English siege occurred in 1740, but was abandoned after a month– due to low supplies & failing morale.
Both times, the approximately 1,500 St. Augustine residents and soldiers packed into the fort.
Castillo de San Marcos’ coquina walls are notable for their strength and durability; withstanding centuries of weather & enemy cannon fire.
Cannon loaded at Castillo de San Marcos
Cannon balls from attacking ships were simply absorbed into the thick coquina walls, much like a BB into a dense mass of natural styrofoam.
Holes were easily refilled with fresh coquina, making the fortress impregnable to the artillery of that era.
Never taken by force, it has been truly claimed that Castillo de San Marcos has balls of steel.
Castillo de San Marcos’ coquina blocks close-up
From the water at sunset
Under US sovereignty, Castillo de San Marcos was renamed Fort Marion.
It functioned mostly as a military prison for Native Americans– until it was decommissioned in 1900.
Castillo de San Marcos was designated a US national monument in 1924.
The Seminole Wars were the US-initiated conflicts in Florida, between the Seminole Indians and the US Army between 1816-1858.
They were the bloodiest US conflicts between the War of 1812 and the American Civil War (1861-65).
A US military victory in the Creek War (1813-1814), made Colonel Andrew Jackson a national hero.
In 1816, General Andrew Jackson attacked the Seminoles, and the Spanish at Pensacola.
Jackson was ultimately victorious again, as Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1821.
Andrew Jackson later became the 7th President of the United States (1829–1837).
The Seminoles were ultimately defeated, removed, and imprisoned.
Creek braves were recruited and paid as mercenaries/scouts to assist the US military, in rooting out the resourceful & courageous Seminole Indians.
Seminole chief Osceola was taken prisoner during the Second Seminole War (1835-42), while attending a peace conference near St. Augustine, under a flag of truce.
He was imprisoned at Fort Marion, and soon after died of disease– as did many of his followers.
Chief Osceola Statue in Silver Springs, FL_ photo by NeilEvans
In January 1861, Florida joined the Confederacy, seceding from the United States.
Union troops had already withdrawn from the fort, leaving only one caretaker.
When Confederate troops marched on its walls, the solitary Union soldier refused to surrender– until he was given a receipt from the Confederacy.
A receipt was produced, and Fort Marion was taken by the Confederacy without a shot fired.
Most of the artillery was stripped and sent to other Confederate forts, leaving only five cannons in the water battery.
The Saint Augustine Blues were a militia unit enrolled into the Confederate Army at Ft. Marion in 1861.
Fort Marion, along with the rest of the city of St. Augustine was reoccupied by Union troops on March 11, 1862.
Confederate forces left St. Augustine the previous evening, in anticipation of the arrival of the Union fleet.
Saint Augustine Blues– Confederate militia flag (1861)
After the inevitable Union victory, Manifest Destiny was fulfilled.
Capitalist industrialization developed breech‐loading rifles and machine guns; dooming Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, and Comanche civilizations.
Numerous Native Americans of these tribes (and many others) were held prisoner & died in Castillo de San Marcos; as a result of the Plains Indian Wars (1854–90).
Tolomato Cemetery is a private Catholic graveyard located on Cordova Street in St. Augustine, Florida.
Its wood structures were scrapped for firewood in the 19th century, leaving only the original coquina bell tower intact today.
Members of the Saint Augustine Blues are buried in a row [front left] at Tolomato Cemetery.
Tolomato Cemetery in St. Augustine
Another historically significant burial at Tolomato is that of Georges Biassou, a leader of the Saint-Domingue slave uprising in 1791.
Biassou became a Spanish general, supplied with guns & matériel to fight the French, until slavery was abolished in Hispaniola in 1793.
France maintained its control of Hispaniola until 1802, when a renewed rebellion began.
Napoléon Bonaparte ordered Hispaniola (along with the rest of New World) to be abandoned in 1803; the territory declared its independence from France, establishing the Republic of Haiti in 1804.
Biassou was ordered to St. Augustine in 1796, as Spain’s monarchy feared his leadership of the black rebels, more than the French military.
Renamed Jorge Biassou, he remained in Florida until his death in 1801.
He is buried in an unmarked grave.
This is St. Augustine, FL in 2015:
St. Augustine after 450 years