4. THE PIRATES OF 1668
The increasing importance of St. Augustine as a
guardian of Spanish commerce was a natural result of the growing
maritime strength of Spain's rivals. Withal, however, the colony
remained little more than a military outpost, dependent for existence
upon money and supplies from New Spain (Mexico).
The reluctance of the Viceroys of New Spain to
furnish this subsidy accounted for much of the weakness and poverty of
early St. Augustine. It took another successful pirate raid to awaken
Spanish officials to the realization that St. Augustine was near being
lost to the Empire of Spain.
More than any single event, the 1668 raid decided
Spain upon construction of an impregnable fort of stone, for it
spectacularly showed the vulnerability of Florida defenses. And it was
made clear to the Spanish that the incident had far more significance
than the chance visit of an unnamed corsair. The English adventurers
carefully surveyed the harbor, promising a return in force to seize the
place for a base of operations against the "Vessels of the Indies
The raid had its beginning in an argument between
Governor Francisco de la Guerra and a French surgeon in the presidio of
St. Augustine. When the pirates captured the outbound ship carrying the
disgruntled doctor to Havana, he took his revenge upon the Governor by
revealing to the pirates the most likely chinks in the Spanish armor.
The outcome is graphically related in Guerra's letter to the Viceroy of
MOST EXCELLENT SEÑOR:
On the twenty-ninth of May, just past twelve or one
o'clock at night, an English pirate invaded this place with no trouble.
He arrived off the bar of this port the day before, in a small vessel
that we have been expecting from the Viceroyalty [of New Spain] with a
supply of flour sent by the sergeant major Salvador de Zigarroa, who
dwells on that coast to collect the subsidies for this presidio. They
had seized the vessel off the coast of Havana.
A launch went out with the bar pilot to recognize it,
as is the custom. And the pirates having hidden, the Spaniards were
tricked, because the pirates forced the captain and seamen of said
vessel (whom they held as prisoners) to show themselves, so the pirates
captured the launch and accidentally they fired two shots, which was the
signal I had arranged in case it was the said supply of flour.
And so, being secure for the present and on account
of the condition of the bar, the pirates waited to make the invasion
until the hour reported. Then they landed in launches and piraguas,
which they brought for the purpose. Not being seen, they caught
everybody asleep in their houses and when the people came jubilantly
outside, some of both sexes were killed and others were wounded, and the
families with greatest difficulty withdrew to the woods, but many were
I, with the ordinary guard, followed by the pirates,
went to the fort where other persons also came, all in the face of great
peril, and many were wounded in the pursuit. There we were attacked with
much force. We repulsed the enemy with the loss of some of his men,
besides the wounded which were many.
And having realized that they could not prevail nor
succeed in taking the said fort, they embarked the same day after dark,
after a sally that some infantry made against them. They had sacked the
houses and churches, a disaster it was not possible to prevent, for
[meanwhile] a warship that they had left behind, arrived and entered the
bar and joined with the said captured supply vessel. Both sailed from
the port without damage from the said fort guns, on account of the
distance. On the beach they left the prisoners of the said vessel and
the others whom they seized in the presidio. * * *
San Agustin, July seventh of one thousand six hundred
I kiss the hands of your excellency. Your
DON FRANCISCO DE LA GUERRA Y DE LA VEGA.
Letter of Governor Guerra to the Viceroy of New
Spain, July 7, 1668.