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From Contemporary Narratives and Letters
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Castillo de San Marcos
(Castillo de San Marcos In 1677)
The key to this old plan reads as follows: "Description of what has been constructed in the R[oya]l fort that by order of His Maj[est]y is being built in this Presidio of S. Augustine of Florida under the Care and Supervision of the Sergeant m[ajo]r D[on] Pablo de hita Salazar his Governr. and Capn. g[enera]l of said Prov[inc]es from 2 of July of 1675—to 14 of Decer. of 677. A. The Bastion is made its height of 20 thirds [of a vara] and it does not have the cordon, parapet, and Banquette between 4 and 5.—B. The Doorway is in the main part of the wall, taken out on each side, with doors that correspond—C. The Bastion is raised 20 thirds to the cordon—D. The Curtain is raised 20 thirds.—E. The Curtain is raised 20 thirds. F. The Curtain is raised the same.—G. The Bastion is raised the same—H. The Curtain is raised 19 thirds. I. The Bastion raised 19 thirds—K. Powder Magazine Arch finished.—L. The ramp, made and in it two small rooms on the sides and one below the ramp and another at the foot.—M Guard room.—N. Magazine made of stone and wood—O. The principal Bridge is made.—P. The one for Succors begun—The Three Bastions are terrepleined, less the angles that are left with intention of making some changes for Service of said fort."
Scale of 70 Varas [vara= approx. 33.3 inches].


It took 15 years to build the main part of the castillo, and the years of construction were anxious years. To the north the English threat grew more serious by the day, while on the coasts both north and south, lawless freebooters were an ever present menace as was clearly pointed out by their bold seizure of Matanzas watchtower and the march on the unfinished castillo.

The Spanish archives contain more dramatic accounts of the 1683 pirate invasion than that here quoted, but none shows more emphatically the democratic privilege enjoyed by Spanish citizens of criticizing their leaders. Such criticism was more than a privilege: it was an obligation imposed upon his subjects by the Crown. In the case presented here against Gov. Juan Cabrera, much of the fault-finding derives from friction between the Governor and the religious. The document is unsigned, but appears to be the work of a faction which included the Franciscan friars and had as its nominal head Pablo de Hita Salazar, aged veteran of the Flanders wars, who was replaced in the governorship of Florida by Cabrera in 1680. The faction requested the appointment of a more "pious" Governor. But apparently the Crown was satisfied with Cabrera's ability, which...was considerable, for he was not relieved until 1687.

Account of what happened when the French and English pirates [invaded] the Provinces of Florida this year of one thousand six hundred and eighty-three.

[The pirates landed and] * * * marched some days along the beach from shore to shore with two piraguas to the bar of Matanças, which they reached before daybreak on the twenty-ninth of March. Without being seen, and exercising the stealth and caution the matter called for, they came at full tide, approaching by land to the bank opposite the watchtower. Then they crossed over the bar and from the rear by land they surprised and seized five men who were in the watchtower, unaware of the danger from that sector (which ought to be reinforced).

And * * * it chanced that a corporal went from the new watchtower to give an order of the governor to the corporal of Matanças. He recognized the men, who had to cross the strange river past him, as enemies. Thereupon he withdrew with full caution and found a man on horseback whom he told to give the alarm, a message by which this presidio was delivered from invasion and robbery.

At the fort [in St. Augustine] all the families gathered on the thirtieth of March with great confusion. There was no shelter in the fort, since the quarters, ovens, wells, and mills are yet to be built. Stores of biscuit and salted meat and a herd of cattle for the moat [were lacking]. All deficiencies and the conveniences necessary in the place of arms in such cases were being provided. The flat roof [of the fort], where space is designated for the defenders, may be used for them to assemble if attack should occur with the usual means and devices.

On the thirtieth of March the enemy marched along the island of the Quarry, which runs five leagues from Matanças to this river, which is in front of this fort and presidio. The enemy sent his two piraguas with a small crew by the Matanzas river with one of the prisoners named Pedro de Texeda, who, being a loyal vassal and filled with zeal for his country, led them into the creek of San Julian, where they found themselves in difficulties.

This day the governor had news that about forty enemies were seen on the said island. Thereupon he determined to send captain Antonio de Argüelles with thirty men. * * * This party went with the idea that the enemy numbered only forty, but they discovered and saw and found them to be more than two hundred and thirty. And having fired volleys as the occasion demanded, the captain determined to retreat and he did it as a soldier of valor and experience. He conferred with his men, who responded to their duties, withdrawing, fighting and wounding the enemies as was shown by the spilled blood and spoils they brought in the next day in order to substantiate their account [of the skirmish].

And the enemy fled and on this occasion the governor should have ordered a night attack on the enemy, with two troops—one by land and the other with three or four piraguas by river, so that he might have succeeded in capturing the enemy piraguas. Finding themselves attacked by land with a second force, it should have terrorized them so much that, with the piraguas gone and being themselves surrounded, they would have had to surrender. The governor would have gained so fortunate a success that these and other [pirates] will find themselves taught by painful experience not to undertake these enterprises and pillagings.

But all was done contrariwise * * * The enemy had opportunity to save his piraguas. * * *

And one place was guarded by the sergeant major and twenty-five men with whom he had to defend the ford between the island and the city. According to the advice given by the officer Pedro de Texeda (who remained steadfast in his zeal, escaping in the skirmish), the place that the sergeant major occupied was the point where the enemy intended to cross. And Pedro de Texeda gave an account of the force and design of the enemy and the place where the piraguas were, and the attack referred to should have been led by him.

But the governor ordered a retreat, leaving the city abandoned, except for some sentries who could give the alarm if the enemy tried to cross to the city. Since the withdrawal [to the fort] was so short and secure, if it were attempted with [the proper] force of men, the governor should have taken precautions to defend the city so that the enemy might not burn it and the shrines, because their construction is all of wood, and the enemy might carry away the bells of the said shrines. * * *

Having escaped, the enemy used one of the strategems which, as soldiers, they knew, embarking at Matanças and sailing in the vessels to the mouth of this bar [of St. Augustine]. That caused concern, along with the fear that the enemy intended to attack this presidio by land and sea. From his maneuver it was not known until the next day that he left and did not appear again, thus gaining protection by the ruse whereby they in this presidio were confounded. As it came to pass, at nightfall he was on this bar and at dawn on the bar of San Juan, first island of the Province of Guale [Georgia]. * * *

Until today, Wednesday, the twenty-eighth of April, the governor and many families have remained in the castillo, except for those who returned to their homes the day after the enemy left the island of the Quarry. These numbered six, the most important of whom were the religious of St. Francis, and the beneficiary curate and vicar, who came from his church bringing the depository vessels, which with all zeal, time and care he secured in the chapel of the castillo, together with all the goods and meads of his church and the hospital, they having been jeopardized and exposed, because the enemy would carry away the goods of said churches as his first plunder. The rest stay until today and come and go to their homes and at night to the castillo, where the governor has stayed and is staying. The castillo remains open until eleven and twelve at night (a procedure subject to great objection since it is against all reason, military style and orders of your majesty). The families referred to are recognized [by the guard] without suspicion, which is not good military practice. And as a soldier should, the governor ought to have built some walls in the entrances, streets and places capable of defense. * * *

At the castillo, where the governor was, he attended to work on the parapet with innumerable curses and horrible oaths which, with great scurrility and evil example, with numberless infamous outrages, frightened without exception every person—even the priest and ecclesiastical judges. And because the words were so perfidious, scandalous and vile, not having courage to pronounce them, we leave them out. Had not the licentiate don Joseph de la Mota, chaplain of this force, curate and vicar, ecclesiastical judge and commissary of the crusade, used his great prudence and understanding which served him that night, a great turmoil might have ensued, and it would have been difficult to pacify the offended ones, who included everybody. * * *

Account of the Pirate Attack on Matanzas and St. Augustine, 1683.


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