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St. Augustine: Tour and HistoryHighways and Byways of Florida
As the earliest permanent settlement made by Europeans in the United States, St. Augustine will always have exceptional interest. Its beginnings are interwoven in a story of barbaric warfare between the French and Spanish. Captain Jean Ribaut with a small French fleet visited the coast in 1562, and named the harbor of St. Augustine the "River of Dolphins" because of the many porpoises he saw there. Thence he went on northward and entered the mouth of the St. Johns. Somewhere beside its waters he planted a stone cross on which was carved the fleur-de-lis of France. After more exploration along the coast he sailed back across the Atlantic.
Two years later another fleet came with a colony of French Protestants to make a permanent settlement of the country. The colonists were welcomed by the Indians, who had carefully preserved Ribaut's cross with its mystic symbols, and had even sacrificed to it. These French got to know the savages very well, and found among them some who claimed to be two and a half centuries old and expected to live thirty or forty years more.
A spot was selected a few miles up the St. Johns, on the south side, and with pine logs and sand a fort was constructed and called Fort Caroline. This was on what is now known as St. Johns Bluff. The leader of the French said that on top of the hill grew "cedars, palms, and bay trees of so sovereign odor that balm smelleth not more sweetly," and in conclusion asserted, "The place is so pleasant that those which are melancholic would be inforced to change their humor." From the summit of the bluff the sea was in plain sight to the east, and in the other direction meadows and islets.
Presently queer doings began in Fort Caroline. A soldier who professed to have some expertness in magic stirred up disaffection. Those who came under his influence seized the leader of the colony while he was sick, shut him up, and then went off with a couple of vessels on a piratical cruise. They were not very successful as freebooters. Most of them perished. The remnant returned to Fort Caroline, where the commandant took four of the ringleaders into custody and shot them. Afterward he hung them on gibbets as a warning to others who might be tempted to mutiny.
Before long the garrison got into great straits for lack of food. But when their resources were well-nigh exhausted Sir John Hawkins with an English fleet visited Fort Caroline and gave them a generous allowance of provisions. One of the English wrote, ."The ground doth yield victuals sufficient, if they would have taken pains to get the same; but they, being soldiers, desired to live by the sweat of other men's brows."
This same chronicler said of the use of tobacco among the Florida Indians that "When they travel, they have a kind of herb dried, and a cane with an earthern cup in the end. They put together fire and the dried herb, and do suck through the cane the smoke, and therewith they live four or five days without meat or drink; and this all the Frenchmen used for this purpose, yet do they hold that it causeth them to reject from their stomachs and spit out water and phlegm."
The Spanish sovereign, who considered Florida his property by right of discovery, learned of the French colony, and promptly dispatched Pedro Menendez in eleven vessels with twenty-six hundred men to exterminate it. When Menendez with several of his ships approached the mouth of the St. Johns on the afternoon of September 4, 1565, he descried four French vessels anchored there outside the bar. These were part of a fleet with which jean Ribaut had again come to America. Menendez prepared for battle, while the French assailed him with scoffs and insults, but cut their cables, left their anchors, and in all haste got their sails up and fled. The Spanish chaplain wrote, "These devils are such adroit sailors and maneuvered so well that we did not catch one of them." Pursuers and pursued ran out to sea firing useless volleys at each other.
By and by Menendez turned back, and voyaged along the coast southward till he came to an inlet which he entered, and there debarked troops, guns, and stores to establish a colony. He had arrived on St. Augustine's Day, and conferred the saint's name on his settlement. Here was an Indian village. The dwelling of the chief was a huge barn-like structure, strongly framed of entire trunks of trees, and thatched with palmetto leaves. This was taken possession of by the Spaniards, and around it gangs of workers toiled throwing up intrenchments. On the 8th of the month Menendez took formal possession of his domain. He landed in state at the head of his officers, while cannon were fired, trumpets sounded, and banners were displayed. The chaplain, crucifix in hand, came chanting a hymn to meet Menendez, who, with all his company knelt and kissed the crucifix. Roundabout were gathered the Indians gazing in silent wonder.
Ribaut learned of the landing of Menendez, and put to sea to make a surprise attack on the enemy. The next day the crew of one of the smaller Spanish vessels that lay outside the bar at St. Augustine with Menendez himself on board saw through the twilight of early dawn two of Ribaut's ships close at hand. Not a breath of air was stirring, and escape seemed impossible. The Spaniards fell on their knees and prayed for a little wind. Their prayer was granted, and they found refuge behind the bar. Soon the increasing light revealed to their astonished eyes nearly all of Ribaut's ships, hovering off the entrance to the port, their decks black with men. But the breeze which Heaven had sent now freshened to a gale, and then rose to a storm more violent than any that the Indians had ever known before. It lashed the ocean into fury, and Menendez saw the French fleet beat seaward through the rack and mist, and go on beyond sight, forced southerly by the tempest. Then he decided to march overland and attack Fort Caroline during Ribaut's absence. Natives guided him and a force of five hundred men across the intervening forty miles of forest with its vines and palmetto thickets, and of inundated lowlands with their brambles, bulrushes, and mud.
Of Ribaut's followers left at the fort, only nine or ten had weapons. Four of them were boys who kept Ribaut's dogs, and another was his cook. Besides the few who had weapons, he left a brewer, an old crossbowmaker, two shoemakers, a player on the spinet, four valets, an elderly carpenter, a crowd of women and children, and eighty-six camp-followers. In addition there were the men who had been at the fort before Ribaut arrived , but only seventeen of these were able to bear arms.
The force, such as it was , stood guard in two watches, each watch in charge of an officer who had a lantern for going the rounds, and an hour-glass for keeping track of the time. When day dawned on the 20th of September, floods of rain were drenching the sentries on the ramparts, and the officer took pity on them and on himself, and they all went to their quarters. At that very moment the Spaniards were in the neighboring thickets. Soon they made a rush on the fort, which had been allowed to fall into disrepair and had several breaches in its defenses. A trumpeter saw them and blew an alarm which brought a few half naked soldiers running wildly out of the barracks. They could make no effective resistance, the fort was captured, and in a short time most of its inmates had been slaughtered., But "after the rage of the assault was spent, Menendez ordered that women, infants, and boys under fifteen should be spared." A few of the other defendants escaped to the woods, and with great difficulty made their way to the mouth of the river, where were two vessels in which they sailed away to France.
Menendez caused his men prisoners to be hung on the near by- trees and left with them an inscription, "I do this not as to Frenchmen, but to Lutherans." Before departing, the pious butcher mustered his followers, and wept with emotion as here counted the many ways in which Heaven had helped their enterprise.
When he returned to St. Augustine, on the 24th, accompanied by fifty of his men, he was met by the chaplain bearing a crucifix, "whereupon he, like a gentleman and a good Christian, kneeled with all his followers, and gave the Lord a thousand thanks for the great favors he had received from Him. Then the triumphant victors entered St. Augustine in solemn procession preceded by four chanting priests.
Ribaut's fleet was wrecked on the Florida coast by the storm, but most of the voyagers got to the shoreone party of about three hundred and fifty with Ribaut well down toward Cape Canaveral, and another party of two hundred farther north. Both parties began to make their way toward Fort Caroline. The only serious obstacle in their way was Matanzas Inlet, twenty miles south of St. Augustine. The lesser party arrived there first and camped, unable to cross. Indians brought word of their plight one midday to Menendez, who promptly set out with three boats to reconnoiter. About twenty men went in each boat. They rowed along the channel between Anastasia Island and the main shore, but when they neared the inlet left their boats and walked to the other side of the island. There they bivouacked after nightfall on the sands within sight of the campfires of the shipwrecked French. Before daybreak the next morning they went to the borders of the inlet and hid in a bushy hollow. As it grew light they could discern the enemy, many of whom were searching along the sands and shallows for shellfish to relieve their hunger.
Menendez went part way across the inlet in a boat and parleyed with a Frenchman who swam out to meet him. As a result five of the wrecked party were brought over to the island for a further parley, but the Spanish leader's only response to their appeals for aid and mercy was, " If you will give up your weapons, I will do to you as the grace of God shall direct." More over, he said in conclusion: " I have but few men, and you are so many that you could easily overpower us. Therefore it is necessary that you should march with your hands tied."
The starving French had no recourse except to let him have his way. So first the boat conveyed across their banners, guns, swords, and helmets. Then the men were brought over ten at a time. As each boatload arrived, the ten men were taken about two bowshots from the shore behind a hillock of sand in a thicket of bushes, and tied. The transporting consumed the entire day. Twelve of the French who professed themselves to be Catholics, and four carpenters and calkers, of whom Menendez said he was in great need, were sent to St. Augustine by water. The rest were ordered to march thither by land. They were escorted by a vanguard and rearguard whom Menendez had ordered to destroy all these prisoners at a certain lonely spot not far distant, deep among the bush-covered sandhills; and this was done accordingly.
Somewhat more than a week later, word was brought to Menendez that the larger French party was on the south side of the inlet, and he went to deal with it. He parleyed much as before, but only one hundred and fifty of the French were persuaded to come across. Of these he spared two young gentlemen of about eighteen years of age, and also a fifer, a drummer, and a trumpeter. The others, including Ribaut, were butchered. The tragic fate that they and their predecessors met here is commemorated by the name borne by the inlet - Matanzas - the place of slaughter. It is said that human bones are often found in the sand of the vicinity, and that the spot is haunted by unquiet ghosts, who at midnight shriek and moan and expostulate earnestly in some foreign language.
The remaining two hundred of Ribaut's men went down the coast and started to build a vessel from fragments of the wreck, but a Spanish force was sent to deal with them. Some were captured, and the rest fled to the Indian towns. Thus was ended for the time being French colonization in Florida.
The winter that followed was a trying one to the St. Augustine garrison. The naturally friendly Indians had been estranged by the cruel treatment of the Spaniards, and none of the whites could go outside the fort to hunt or fish without danger from an ever-vig ilant and crafty foe. It is said that the lurking savages slew more than one hundred and twenty of the garrison by surprising them singly or in small parties. Provisions were scarce, and a considerable part of the colonists returned to Cuba, Mexico, and Spain.
Meanwhile Menendez had replaced his first rude fortification with a more pretentious one that he called Fort St. John of the Pines. It was an octagonal structure that had walls of logs set upright in the ground, and it mounted fourteen brass cannon. After finishing this fort and erecting dwellings and a house of worship, Menendez sailed away to Spain.
In April, 1568, an avenging expedition of two hundred and fifty men from France arrived on the Florida coast. They communicated with the Indians, whom they found hostile to the Spaniards, gathered a large force of them, and without much trouble captured what had been Fort Caroline. Such prisoners as were taken were led to the same spot where Menendez had hung his victims. The French leader harangued them, then swung them up on the trees that had served as gallows before. Afterward he replaced the Menendez tablet with a pine board on which was seared the statement that he hung the men, not because they were Spaniards, but because they were "traitors, thieves, and murderers." The French went away satisfied, yet they had not exterminated the enemy, and St. Augustine continued to exist.
Menendez returned the next year and turned his attention to converting the Indians to his religion. They did not, however, seem to appreciate its sublimity. In one place four priests succeeded in baptizing seven people in a year; but three of the converts were dying, and the other four were children. The Indians were quicker to accept the practice than the precepts of Menendez, and the Spaniards suffered much from their depredations.
In 1586 the famous English sea rover, Sir Francis Drake, who had been commissioned by Queen Elizabeth to capture or destroy as much Spanish property as possible, was sailing along the coast of Florida with his fleet when he discovered a lookout on Anastasia Island. An armed party was sent ashore to investigate, and it soon returned and reported that the Spaniards had a fort and a settlement over on the mainland. Drake then landed a cannon near the head of the island, and two shots were fired at the fort just at nightfall. The first passed through the royal standard of Spain waving above the ramparts, and the second struck the log walls.
Morning dawned, and Drake says, "Forthwith came a Frenchman, being a phipher, in a little boat, playing on his phiph a familiar English tune." He proved to be one of the men whom Menendez had spared at the time of the Matanzas massacre. Drake learned from him that everybody had been scared away from the fort. Boats were at once manned, and the English soon entered the town. The garrison, in the haste of their flight, had left behind them at the fort the treasure chest containing two thousand pounds, and this fell into Drake's hands. He plundered and burned both the fort and town.
After his departure the people, with some assistance from Havana, began the task of rebuilding. Two Indian villages had been established close by-one right on the northern borders of the town and the other somewhat farther north. In both villages missionaries labored for the salvation of the savages; but in 1598 a young Indian chief, dissatisfied with the restrictions and reproaches of the priests, incited a general conspiracy against them. One evening he and his followers killed Father Corpa in the chapel of the nearer village. Then they went to the other village to serve Father Rodriguez in the same manner. He begged that he might say mass before he died, and this favor was granted. His assailants stood by listening till he finished, then killed him, and the altar was spattered with his blood. Later they went to the several other missions up and down the coast, and very nearly exterminated the missionaries. Of course vengeance was taken by the Spaniards. Many of the marauders were slain, and their villages and granaries were burned.
There was another Indian outbreak in 1638, and a large number of prisoners were brought to St. Augustine and set to work on the fortifications. They and their descendants were kept at this task for sixty years.
In 1665 John Davis, a famous pirate, sailed into the harbor of St. Augustine with seven vessels. Citizens and soldiers fled to the woods, and the town was plundered and its wooden portion burned.
The next serious experience of the place was in 1702, at a time when England and Spain were at war. An expedition from South Carolina consisting of six hundred militia and an equal number of Indians attacked St. Augustine by land and by sea. The stone fort of San Marco was nearing completion, and while the town was easily captured a month's siege failed to reduce the fort into which the town-folk had retired, taking with them their valuables. Presently two Spanish vessels appeared before the harbor, and the besiegers hastened to burn the town and escape, abandoning their transports and a considerable amount of munitions and stores. This expedition cost South Carolina six thousand pounds, which for a young and struggling colony of not much more than five thousand people was such a burden that it led to the issue of the first paper money ever circulated in America.
The feeling of enmity between the English and Spanish settlements long continued, and at length Governor Oglethorpe of Georgia undertook to capture St. Augustine. He began to bombarb it June 24, 1740, with three batteries located on Anastasia Island. The entire population of the town, about three thousand, took refuge in the fort. Little damage was done, for the cannon balls simply embedded themselves in the spongy coquina stone with which the walls were constructed. After about a month of this unsatisfactory battering, the Georgians gave up their attempt and went back home.
Inroads such as these, and repeated Indian outbreaks, discouraged all attempts to cultivate the soil, and St. Augustine remained little more than a garrison town until Florida was ceded to England in 176z. Then the Spanish inhabitants nearly all left for Cuba. Such was their temper that the outgoing governor uprooted and destroyed the fine garden of the official residence, and it was with difficulty that many others were restrained from demolishing their houses. Roads were now opened, new settlements made, commerce began to develop, and for the first time something like representative government was established. But in 1783 Florida was ceded back to Spain. It was then the turn of the English inhabitants to leave. Some went to Carolina and Georgia, and others to the British West India Islands, and St. Augustine fell back into its old sleepy condition of a garrison town. This was perhaps the most idyllic period of the city's history. The world went on fighting as usual, but St. Augustine had ceased to be a bone of contention. During the genial winter months there was music and dancing, and civil and ecclesiastical feasts, and all the light amusements dear to the Latin heart. A traveler writing of the place then says: "The women are deservedly celebrated for their charms. Much attention is paid to the arrangement of their hair, their complexion is a clear brunette, and their lovely black eyes have a vast deal of expression." The town's narrow paved streets were lined with cool gray coquina-walled houses, and it was a veritable bower of tropical vegetation. Within the gates no hoof of horse ever sounded. Those who could afford to ride went about in palanquins.
After the "Louisiana Purchase" had been negotiated, the acquisition of Florida by the United States became a matter of prime importance. Its geographical situation gave it command over the marine highway between the old and new sections of the United States, and in alien hands it was a menace to the nation's commerce. While it belonged to a weak country like Spain, it was an asylum for restless Indians, fugitive slaves, pirates, and other outlaws, who waged a vindictive warfare on the republic.
On the 10th of July, 1821, the guns of the fort thundered their parting salute to the Spanish flag as the garrison marched out across the drawbridge. Then the same guns roared forth a rousing welcome to the stars and stripes which had been run up in place of the Spanish banner. Florida had been bought by the United States.
Indian warfare continued to be a disturbing factor until 1842. Afterward population increased rapidly, and St. Augustine, which hitherto had been the leading town, was outdistanced by other places. But a new era began for St. Augustine when the Civil War ended. The excellent health enjoyed by the Northern garrison which occupied the place during the last three years of the war proved a telling 'advertisement for the salubrity of the climate, and no sooner were hostilities over than inquiries began to arrive as to hotel accommodations for the coming winter. New hotels were built, unfamiliar Paris fashions appeared on the streets with the approach of cooler weather, and the ancient Spanish city entered on a career of prosperity which surpassed her wildest dreams.
The city stands near the southern end of a peninsula formed by the Matanzas and San Sebastian Rivers. The land is for the most part level, and, where not cultivated, is covered with beach scrub. Farther back are monotonous miles of flat woods and prairie. The gray and time-worn old fortress of San Marco (St. Mark), with its gloomy portals and dark chambers, is the most fascinating feature of the place. Its first stone was laid in 1592, the last in 1756, and it covers five acres beside the sea. It is a complete medieval fortress, and is one of the best preserved specimens in the world of the military architecture of its time. No other fortification on the western continent can rival it in age. The name bestowed on it by the Spaniards was San Marco. When it fell into the hands of the English they changed the name to St. John. Finally the United States adopted the present name in honor of a patriot general of the Revolution.
It was built by the labor of Indian captives, negro slaves, and of convicts brought from Mexico and Spain. The material used was coquina rock from the far side of Anastasia Island opposite the town. The blocks of quarried stone were carried on cross-bars resting on the shoulders of the laborers, over a long causeway to a landing where they were loaded on barges. The walls are nine feet thick at the bottom and half as thick at the top. They rise twenty-five feet above the present level of the moat which surrounds the fort. This moat is forty feet wide. It could be flooded by means of automatic gates which opened when the tide came in, and closed when the tide went out. The moat now has sand in it to a depth of several feet.
A fortified gate protected the entrance, and all who came into the fort had to pass over a drawbridge that spanned the moat, and under a heavy portcullis. Above the entrance was a hole through which melted lead could be poured on invaders. The broad level at the top of the ramparts had mountings for sixty-four guns, and these guns could be trundled down to the lower level, or from there up to the ramparts, by an incline, which has latterly been converted into a flight of steps.
Along the sea front numerous scars and indentations can be seen in the masonry. Some of these were made by British guns during Oglethorpe's siege. Others have been inflicted by modern riflemen, who at times used the moat as a shooting-gallery. There is also a courtyard wall pitted with holes where prisoners formerly stood to be shot, and the grass is said to grow thicker on that spot than elsewhere even yet because so much blood was spilled there on the ground.
A small brick building in the eastern moat is a furnace built in 1844 to make hot shot for the water battery to discharge at approaching enemy vessels.
Directly opposite the entrance, inside the fort, was a chapel, without which no Spanish fort of the period was complete. It was used for religious services as late as 1860, and at a later time served as a schoolroom for some Indian prisoners.
One dungeon was used to punish offenders by chaining them to the wall so that they could neither sit nor lie down, but were compelled to maintain an upright position. In another, which had been sealed up and its existence unsuspected until the roof caved in, were found two cages, one containing the skeleton of a man, and the other that of a woman.
After the capture of Charleston by the British during the American Revolution, more than fifty of the most distinguished South Carolinians were seized and sent to St. Augustine, where they were held for several months. One of their number was imprisoned nearly a year in the old fort because he refused to accept the conditions on which the rest were allowed the range of the city streets.
In a casemate near the southwest bastion was confined Coacoochee, a celebrated chief in the Seminole War. He was captured in October, 1837. The whites had invited Osceola to a conference which was held under a tree a few miles from St. Augustine. Thither he came bearing a flag of truce and accompanied by eighty warriors. They were all unarmed. During the conference the mounted troops closed in. Osceola was knocked down with the butt of a musket, and he and Coacoochee and various other chiefs, and Talmus Hadjo, the medicine man, and the rest, were taken to Fort Marion. The only excuse offered by the whites for this cowardly betrayal was that "The end justifies the means; the Indians have made fools of us too often."
Coacoochee and Talmus Hadjo, who occupied a room together, contrived to get away from their prison a few months later, and here is the former's account of how they did it: "We had been growing sickly, and so resolved to make our escape or die in the attempt. We were in a room eighteen or twenty feet square. All the light admitted was through a hole about eighteen feet from the floor. Through this we must effect our escape. A sentinel was constantly posted at the door. To reach the hole we from time to time cut up the foragebags allowed us to sleep on, and made them into ropes. For some weeks we watched the moon, in order that the night of our attempt should be as dark as possible. The keeper of the prison, on the night determined on, annoyed us by frequently coming into the room, and talking and singing. 'At first we thought of tying him, and putting his head in a bag so that, should he call for assistance, he could not be heard. We first, however, tried the experiment of pretending to be asleep. This accomplished our object. He came in, and went immediately out; and we could hear him snore in the vicinity of the door. I then took the rope, which we had secreted under our bed, and mounting on the shoulder of my comrade worked a knife into a crevice of the stonework as far up as I could reach. On this I raised myself to the opening. Here I made fast the rope that my friend might follow me. I then passed a sufficient length of it through the hole to reach about twenty-five feet to the ground in the ditch outside. With much difficulty I succeeded in getting through, for the sharp stones took the skin off my breast and back. I was obliged to go down head foremost until my feet were through, fearing every moment the rope would break.
"At last, safe on the ground, I awaited with anxiety the arrival of my comrade. Two men passed near me, talking earnestly, and I could see them distinctly. Soon I heard the struggling of my companion far above me. He had succeeded in getting his head through, but his body would come no farther. In the lowest tone of voice I urged him to throw out his breath, and then try. Afterward he came tumbling down the whole distance. For a few moments I thought him dead. I dragged him to some water close by, which restored him, but his leg was so lame he was unable to walk. I took him on my shoulder to a thicket near the town. Daylight was just breaking. It was evident we must move rapidly. I caught a mule in an adjoining field, and making a bridle out of my sash, helped my companion mount, and started for the St. Johns River. The mule was used one day, but fearing the whites would track us, we felt more secure on foot, though moving very slow. Thus we continued our journey five days, subsisting on roots and berries, when I joined my band, then assembled on the headwaters of the Tomoka River."
The possibility of making such an escape from the old fort has sometimes been questioned. A wealthy tourist once wagered that the Indian captives could have not gotten out through that high window and down to the ground. A United States sergeant accepted the wager and himself Performed the feat to the great delight of the spectators.
During the year, 1875 to 1878 a cons e St. Augustine of Texas Indians were imprisoned in the fortress. Some were known to be guilty of atrocious crimes. Others were simply leading men of their tribes against whom there was no particular charge, but who were confined on m the principle that prevention is better than cure.* Among them were individuals with such names as Medicine Water) Hailstone, Sharp Bully, Come See Him, and Lean Bear. During the day they were allowed to move about the fort, and were sometimes taken out in squads to bathe. At night they were locked up.
In 1886 seventy-sever, Apache Indians were brought to the fort, where they were kept about a year. One of them was Nanna, their nationŐs greatest war chief, and a person who probably had more scars on his body than any other man in the country.
The fort was in the hands of the Confederates at the time of the Civil War until March, 1862, when a Union gunboat came across the bar, and the fort displayed a a white flag. The small garrison and about one-forth of the inhabitants had fled the night before, and a number of women had cut down the flagstaff in front of the barracks in order to delay the hoisting of the national colors.
Shortly afterward a detail of Federal troops from the fort, acting as guards for a party of wood-cutters, was attacked by a squadron of Confederate cavalry. The attacking party made a dash for the teams of the wood-cutters, but was driven off after a sharp skirmish. Three of the Federals were killed) and their commander was mortally wounded.
In the center of the old section of the city is the plaza, an attractive stretch of greensward, paths, shrubs, and shade trees. Probably the square was originally designed for a parade ground. We know that the British soldiers drilled and performed their evolutions there, and that it was used in the same way by the Union troops in the Civil War. It has always been the scene of public meetings, and on it the menat-arms gathered when the alarm gun was fired in the old days of strife with red foes and white. While Florida was a part of the British empire the American Revolution was fought. The sentiment of St. Augustine was intensely loyal, and when the news of the Declaration of Independence was received Adams and Hancock were burned in effigy on the plaza.
Among the trees is a low open-sided pillared structure in which the tourists find shelter from the sun, and drink sulphur water. This is known as the old slave market. It stands on the site of a frame building which the Spanish used as a general market, but in which slaves are said to have been sometimes sold.
At the north end of the plaza is the post office with its long two-story veranda front. It is without doubt the oldest post office in the United States. During the Spanish rule it was the governor's palace. The little park around it was walled in and was the governor's private garden.
Near by, fronting on the plaza, is the old cathedral, finished in 1797, the first Roman Catholic church in the United States. Its Moorish belfry contains a chime of four bells, the smallest of which bears the date of 1682.
The buildings in the older parts of the town generally date back to the final period of Spanish occupancy, between 1784 and 1821. On some of the narrow ancient streets many of the houses have balconies that project toward each other from the second story in a very sociable way. Particularly interesting are the buildings that have walls of coquina. Many of the quaint old dwellings have high-walled gardens full of tropical trees and flowers.
Treasury Street, which used to be famed as the narrowest street in the United States, has been effaced by fire. It was six feet and one inch wide, and a goodsized man could reach across it with outstretched arms.
St. George's Street, nineteen feet wide has been the main business thoroughfare of the place for three centuries. Here, near the city gates, is seen a rude little story and a half house which is the oldest frame house in our country. It was formerly a schoolhouse.
Scarcely less interesting is the "House of History" fronting on the bay. It was erected by Spanish officials before 16gi, and one of its rooms served for the first city jail. Here the more desperate prisoners were shackled with heavy chains to the floor.
St. Augustine's situation on the peninsula is such that only from the north was there serious danger of land attack. Three lines of defense were constructed there extending from river to river. The inner line contained the city gates, which have survived to the present time flanked by a few yards of coquina wall, with the stone sentry boxes in the buttresses. The rest of the wall was a palisade of logs. On the outer side of the wall was a water-filled moat, and the approach to the gates was by a drawbridge which was pulled up at night. Substantial earthworks paralled the wall farther north, and the exterior slope of their parapet was covered with a dense growth of Spanish bayonet, through which it was well-nigh impossible to force a passage. The gates were strongly guarded, and repeatedly saved the town from sudden enemy onslaughts.
Because the ocean was making encroachments on the city, a sea wall was built in 16gi. The present sea wall, three-fourths of a mile long, was completed by the United States government in 1842. It rises ten feet above low tide, and has a granite coping three feet broad which is much used as a promenade. In the early days easterly storms with their accompanying high tides often drove the water up into the streets, and even now the spray at times flies over the coping.
There used to be a tattered old darky who loitered along the sea wall near the ancient fort, watching with wary eyes till a tourist came into his vicinity. Then he would say: "Hyar yo' are, suh! Hyar's yo' lucky beans. Take a han'ful, suh, an' be lucky all de res' ob yo' born days. I give dem to yuh. I aint charge yo' nuffin' kase yo' is de ve'y image ob my ol' massa. Yaas yo' is, suh! Monst'ous fine lookin' man he was, yaas, suh. De ladies jes' nachully foller my ol' massa roun' kase he such a fine man. Yank yo' kindly, suh. Yo' sho is like ol' massa!"
Whether the man he accosted was tall or short, fat or lean, made no difference. If he addressed a lady, she was the image of his " ol' missus " who was the best dressed and handsomest woman in the state.
When he was asked on a frosty morning what made the weather so cold, he replied: "It's dese Northern people. We never had nuffin' like dis ontwell dey begun to come down hyar so much. 'Pears like dey brung it in der clo'es."
Customs that were relics of the Spanish days prevailed in the city to the time of the Civil War. Just before Lent, carnival was observed, with masquerades and idle and frivolous street sport by night, and processions of vagrant men and boys disguised in masks and grotesque array by daylight. A ridiculous burlesque, exhibited in honor of St. Peter, the fisherman of Galilee, was the closing show of the feast. "As I passed along one of the narrow streets," says an eyewitness, "my attention was arrested by various exclamations and boisterous cries of a motley crowd of black and white, who thronged the street, occasionally surging to the right hand and left. On a nearer approach I perceived two men heading the rabble with faces masked and their persons attired in a coarse shabby fisher's dress. Over the shoulder of each was flung a net. Whenever a boy, black or white, came within range of a cast, the net was suddenly thrown ever him. Thus the streets were beset till the end of the carnival brought an end to this solemn farce illustrating the call of St. Peter to become a fisher of men."
Another odd celebration was the "shivaree." On an evening after a marriage the welkin was made to ring with a most discordant concert of voices, horns, tin pans, and other boisterous sounds. The whole city was disturbed by the ill-mannered riot and confusion. In any orderly community it would have consigned the perpetrators to a guard-house. The residence of the newly-wedded pair was beset by the rabble in some cases till the noise-makers were bought off with money or whisky.
In December, 1840, there appeared a "Notice to Travelers" informing them that a carriage had begun to make the trip twice a week between St. Augustine and Picolata, not quite a score of miles west on the St. Johns. The notice goes on to say: "Those who patronize this undertaking are assured that the horses are strong and sound, the carriage commodious and comfortable, that none but careful and sober drivers will be employed, also every attention will be paid to their convenience. Fare each way five dollars. A military escort will accompany the stage going and returning."
The Indians were on the warpath at the time, and there were many tragedies in the vicinity. One of these occurred in May of that year. Three members of a theatrical company were attacked while coming toward the town over the Picolata road. One was killed. Another hid in a swamp pond, entirely under water except his face, and that was covered by a large leaf of a water plant. When a party of white searchers arrived he revealed himself to them by lifting the leaf, greatly to their surprise. The third man escaped to St. Augustine, which he is said to have entered with his hair standing perfectly erect on his head, and in twentyfour hours his hair had turned entirely white. The Indians rifled the baggage wagon and carried off a considerable portion of the stage dresses and other paraphenalia. Neither this loss nor the death of one of their number prevented the troupe from filling their engagement in St. Augustine.
The city was not connected by railroad with Jacksonville until after 1870. For some time previous daily steamers plying on the St. Johns between Jacksonville and Pilatka left passengers for St. Augustine at Tecoi, which consisted of a shed and a sandbank , and a little shanty where refreshments were served. A railroad went thence across country to the coast. It had wooden rails, and the primitive cars were drawn by horses. Two hours ordinarily sufficed for the journey, but in the height of the season, when the cars were crowded, four hours were consumed in going the fifteen miles. Yet, in spite of slow locomotion and rough accommodations, constant throngs of the rank and fashion of the winter pleasure seekers passed over this railroad, and to some at least the leisurely ride was a source of never-ceasing interest and pleasure. Long reaches of green moist land formed perfect flower-gardens. The woods hung full of beautiful climbing plants. Through openings here and there could be seen groves of wild orange trees. Palmettos raised their scaly trunks and gigantic green fans. Not only did the cars move leisurely, but there were many pauses which enabled the passengers to gather specimens of the floral beauties.
St. Augustine is separated from the ocean by a water channel a half mile broad, and Anastasia Island, which has here a width of somewhat over a mile. A long bridge connects the city with the island. Sand dunes, partially overgrown with scrub pine and palmetto, are the predominant feature of the island, and so white is the sand and so fine its texture that it resembles the drifting snows of the far north.
The Spaniards early found it necessary to maintain a lookout on the island to watch for approaching vessels. They at first posted a man in a "crow's-nest a platform at the top of some tall tree-trunks. Subsequently a coquina tower was erected. In 1769 the English added sixty feet to its height with framework on which they mounted a cannon. Whenever a vessel was sighted coming, the cannon was fired and a flag was hoisted. There were two flagstaffs, one on the north side and one on the south side, and the flag was run up on the side whence the vessel was approaching. After the United States came into possession of Florida the old tower was converted into a lighthouse whose warning rays were first displayed in 1823- It was originally a half mile from the beach, but the sea gradually ate away the land till 188o, when a violent storm undermined the walls. The vicinity is still strewn with the ruins. The present light tower is painted with black and white spiral bands so that it can be readily distinguished from any other landmark on the coast.
A mile and a half south of the lighthouse are the coquina quarries. Coquina is a Spanish word which means shellfish, and this indicates the material of which the rock is composed. It is a natural concrete of tiny shells with here and there a larger shell embedded in it. These shells are the accumulation of ages. Before exposure to the air the rock is comparatively soft and can be readily carved for building purposes into any shape required. It is enduring and attractive. Vast quantities of the loose shells strew the neighboring beaches.
South Beach, on Anastasia Island, boasts of an alligator farm, where you can see the alligators in all stages of growth from those just out of the shells to the mature monsters. The beaches of the vicinity are noted for their bathing and fishing and for their automobile courses.
Down at Matanzas Inlet are the ruins of an old Spanish fort that guarded this approach to the town. Three and a half miles northeast of the inlet a great spring wells up through the sea water, which has there a general depth of fifty feet. When directly over or to the leeward of it a sulphurous odor may be perceived.
Excerpt From "Highways and Byways of Florida" by Cliffton Johnson. Published 1918 by the Macmillan Company, New York.
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