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From Contemporary Narratives and Letters
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Gen. James E. Oglethorpe
Gen. James E. Oglethorpe, founder of the colony of Georgia, was the leader of the British forces during the climax of the Anglo-Spanish struggle for possession of the southeast. He was twice repulsed before the walls of Castillo de San Marcos.


Anglo-Spanish relations in the Southeast rapidly approached a climax after the establishment of the Georgia colony in 1733. Gen. James Oglethorpe, founder of the colony, pushed the northern boundary of Florida to the St. Johns River, only 35 miles from St. Augustine. To stem the rising tide of British aggression, Don Manuel de Montiano was sent to Florida as Governor, and Don Antonio de Arredondo, royal engineer and frontier diplomat, surveyed the Florida defenses with an eye to their improvement. These capable men saw clearly the gathering war clouds and with foresight and energy strengthened the fortifications: the old rooms at the castle were replaced by shellproof arches, a stone tower (Fort Matanzas) was built at Matanzas Inlet, and other important work was done.

The War of Jenkins' Ear (1739) precipitated Oglethorpe's invasion of Florida. When the first English warship appeared off the bar, Montiano hastily sent word to Havana. It was the long-expected siege of St. Augustine. Then the British blockade tightened to include Matanzas.

Montiano had received reinforcements that brought his garrison up to 750 men against Oglethorpe's force of about 900 soldiers, sailors, and Indians. But when the British shells began to burst over the town, the inhabitants, almost 2,000 of them, fled to the shelter of the fort. "It is impossible," wrote Montiano to the Governor of Cuba, "to express the confusion of this place * * * though nothing gives me anxiety but the want of provisions, and if Your Excellency * * * cannot send relief, we must all indubitably perish." ["Letters of Montiano," p. 56.]

The bloodiest action of the siege took place at dawn, June 26, 1740, when a sortie from the castle surprised the Highlanders who had occupied Fort Mosa, an outpost about 2 miles north of the castillo. Meanwhile, English guns were ineffective against the massive walls of San Marcos. Matanzas—the back door to the city—was the deciding factor. Had the British taken the Matanzas fortification, all avenues of succor would have been cut off; but when Havana provisions arrived within reach of the beleaguered castle, Oglethorpe decided to raise the siege, for his troops were discouraged and the storm season was approaching. In this buoyant letter, Governor Montiano reports the end of the siege—the postponement of British dominion in Florida.

* * * [On the night of July 7, 1740,] Louis Gomez arrived at this place, with intelligence that he left within the bar of Mosquitoes [Ponce de Leon Inlet], three sloop, one small sloop, and two schooners, with provisions sent by Your Excellency, in charge of Juan de Oxeda, and addressed to the Captain Don Manuel de Villasante. The pleasure with which I received this news is indescribable; but the joy subsisted but a short time in my heart; for I was also informed, that when Pedro Chepuz, and the French sloop in which he came as pilot, arrived off this bar, he was seen and chased by an English ship, and packet, which did no harm, but got notice of our provisions, and of their whereabouts. At the same time came a deserter from the enemy's camp, who said that on some night, during spring tides, it was the intention of General Oglethorpe, to make an attack on this place by sea and land. On this I suspended the execution of the plan I had fixed on for bringing the provisions, little by little, and applied myself entirely to the purpose of resisting whatever attempts his pride and arrogance might undertake; but the days of opportunity, passed, without his executing his idea, and I turned my eyes upon our relief vessels, which were manifestly in danger. Using only the launches and the boat, we carried on the work of unloading and transporting to this place; for although I also sent with them a pirogue of considerable capacity for the same purpose, it so happened that on making that bar, four boats and launches, one frigate and a despatch boat crossed their path, separating them and attacking the small ones. But our people defended themselves stoutly, from four of the afternoon until nightfall, suffering only the loss of our pirogue, which splintered itself against the launches; the crew having shifted over, they continued their journey, and returned happily loaded with flour, and continued their task until it was no longer necessary, for on the 20th, the enemy having raised his camp, and taken to hasty and shameful flight, I promptly ordered our bilanders after making the most careful inspection to see if the pass was open and the coast clear, to resume their voyage and come in by Matanzas, if they had at least a moral certainty of safety. This they accordingly did on the 25th; and to-day the sloop from Campeche and the two schooners have completely discharged their cargo. And I have consequently directed Palomarez, Captain of one of them, to prepare to take this news to Your Excellency.

I assure Your Excellency, that I cannot arrive at a comprehension of the conduct, or rules of this General; for I am informed by at least twelve deserters from him present here, that his camp was composed of 370 men of his regiment, 600 militia of Carolina, 130 Indians, and 200 sailors armed, and encamped on the Island of Santa Anastacia, and as many more sailors for the management of the sloops, schooners, and launches. My wonder is inexpressible that this gentleman should make his retreat with such precipitation, as to leave abandoned, four 6-pounders on the battery on the point of San Mateo [north shore of St. Augustine Inlet], one schooner, two kegs of gunpowder, several muskets and escopettes, and to set fire to a quantity of provisions, such as boxes of bacon, cheese, lard, dried beef, rice and beans, to a schooner, and to an excellent mortar carriage; besides many things that have profited the Indians, and galley slaves who have had the fortune to pick up several barrels of lard and flour, and some pork. Notwithstanding all this, I can assure Your Excellency that all the deserters, and two squaws of ours, prisoners of theirs that escaped, agree in saying that Don Diego [James] Oglethorpe is going to reorganize his forces, and make a great effort to stir up the Indians. And although I appraise this rumor as something to placate and leave in doubt his people, moderating the fire that may be burning among them, and especially the Carolinians and Scotchmen as having been the hardest hit, yet I believe there would be no harm in taking precautions, and in Your Excellency sending me such reenforcements as may be suitable, and the munitions and stores as set forth in memorandum herewith. I shall send a post at once to the Uchises [Uchee Indians], to draw them, in view of all this news, from their allegiance to the English, and I shall offer to treat them handsomely if it will please them to come see me.

The formal siege has continued 38 days, counting from the 13th of June, to the 20th of July, and the fire of the batteries and bombardment 27 days, from the 24th of June, to the said 20th of July. The batteries were three; one in the pool [pozo] on the Island of Santa Anastacia, of four 18-pounders and one 9-pounder; another on the point of the hammock on said island, of two 18-pounders, and the other on the coast of the interior part of the point San Mateo, of seven 6-pounders, five of iron, and two of brass. The mortars, and small mortars were thirty-four, two mortars throwing shell of half a quintal, and two others of about a quintal [100 lbs.]. The thirty small mortars, which the deserters call cow horns [cohorns], were, some small hand grenades, and others for those of ten or twelve pounds.

The loss we have suffered is reduced to two men killed, and wounded. Those (wounded) by gun fire who died were [* * *] artilleryman and the convict, son of Ordonez, whom with the other one named Contreras I received in the first launch-loads from Mosquito. Of the other two wounded by shellfire, to wit, a soldier and a negro, the negro is perfectly well, and the other has a good chance of pulling through, though with one leg fewer.

The constancy, valor and glory of the officers here are beyond all praise; the patriotism, courage and steadiness of the troops, militia, free negroes, and convicts, have been great. These last I may say to Your Excellency, have borne themselves like veteran soldiers. I especially commend their humble devotion, for without ceasing work by day, they have persevered by night with the care and vigilance of old soldiers.

Even among the slaves a particular steadiness has been noticed, and a desire not to await the enemy within the place but to go out to meet him. In short, I have been thoroughly satisfied with all during the siege, and especially with the circumstance that during the entire siege no one has deserted. And lastly, Your Excellency may believe that the galliots have been of great service to me: for if the siege had caught me without them, the English would have given me much work to do, as the launches could have been used for nothing but the guard of this port, to say nothing of the necessity of taking other indispensable measures, at great cost. And so I renew my thanks to Your Excellency for having sent them to my relief, even against the common opinion of the entire torrent of members of the Junta held by you to decide whether or no they should be sent.

On the return of the boats under the charge of Don Juan de Ojeda I shall write at length to Your Excellency: to-day I can do no more than send this great news by the ship-master Palomares.

Saint Augustine, in Florida, July 28, 1740.

Letter of Governor Montiano to the Governor of Cuba, July 28, 1740.


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