Enrique Primo de Rivera started his career in the Spanish military on November 18, 1639. Assuming he was 18 years old then, he would have been born in 1621. Although his age is uncertain, we do know his place of birth: Brussels, which is located in a region called Walloon and is now the capital city of Belgium. This region was part of the Spanish Netherlands from 1556 until 1714. During this time frame, the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) – which was also part of the Spanish 80 Years’ War – was being fought all over Europe. Enrique joined the army as a private in a Walloon company that served in Flanders under the regiment of Captain Guillaume Montertault. After six years of service, Enrique was promoted to sergeant in 1645.
The next several years he spent fighting against the French, which brought him promotions to an officer of the rank of an ensign in 1649 and captain in 1659, commanding a company of Walloon infantry. Unfortunately for his military career, the peace of the Pyrenees ended the Franco-Spanish War in 1660, and Enrique had to give up his command. Now, he was a reformado captain, meaning he technically kept the rank of a captain, but only with the pay roughly equal to when he was a private at the beginning of his career.
Seeking military employment further on, Enrique decided to set sail for Havana, Cuba, in 1662. The journey across the Atlantic would have taken him two to three months on a sailing ship, depending on wind and weather. The travelling routes went along the Gulf Stream, the “superhighway” of the Atlantic, that approximately doubled the speed of a sailing ship. From Cuba, Enrique moved on to St. Augustine, where he resigned from the military and lived as a private resident. In March of 1668 he married Manuela Benedit Horruytiner, daughter of Sergeant Major Pedro Benedit Horruytiner, former acting governor of Florida in St. Augustine; Enrique would have been around 47 years old by then. The couple had five children. Living in a military town, Enrique could not escape fighting even if he technically was a civilian. When English pirates attacked the city in 1668, Enrique helped to defend the wooden predecessor of the present-day fort.
On October 2, 1672, Enrique witnessed the groundbreaking for the masonry Castillo de San Marcos. After having applied for military positions unsuccessfully for a while, he was finally able to enlist as a reformado captain again, this time in the Florida garrison, after having been out of service for six years. By May 8, 1676 – at the estimated age of 55 – Enrique had been promoted by the governor to captain of the garrison’s artillery detachment. As he had in Europe, Enrique traveled around America in the military service; he was tasked in 1678 to build the first fort San Marcos de Apalache, near modern day Tallahassee.
But also like before, his career suffered some setbacks, and he was again demoted from artillery captain to reformado captain, which meant a great decrease in wage. He returned to St. Augustine after the completion of San Marcos de Apalache, and in 1683, he was second in command of the forces which fought off pirates that had captured the watchtower at Matanzas inlet and were marching on the town. Enrique was then given command of 30 men and ordered north to the present-day Jacksonville area to fight against the defeated pirates if they headed that direction. Upon his arrival, he discovered the pirates had already sacked two indigenous villages, one of them being Santa María on Amelia Island. Six years later, he was sent to present-day Alabama to build another fort in the Apalachicola province.
On May 23, 1692, at the presumed age of 71, Enrique reached the top of his career ladder when he was appointed Sergeant major by the governor of St. Augustine. Ten years later, due to his advanced age and declining health, the Spanish crown ordered him to retire. He was given full pay as his pension, his well-earned reward for 62 years of service. As orders took months to get from the king in Spain to St. Augustine, Enrique was still in service during the 1702 English siege on the city and took an active role in the defense of his home. Feeling restless in retirement, he petitioned the crown in October of 1706 asking to be put in charge of the fort in Matanzas, Cuba. Enrique Primo de Rivera did not live to receive an answer, as he passed away on February 5, 1707.
Marrying Into the Military
Another family’s story that begins right around the time the masonry Castillo was finished is that of the Averos, a family with many daughters who married military personnel to gain social status. The Avero family case study shows that it was desirable for a woman in Spanish colonial St. Augustine to marry a military man who was also a peninsular (born in Spain to Spanish parents), like Enrique. Peninsulares had the best opportunities and the most power, and military men had high social rank in St. Augustine. They didn’t come to the colonies regularly, but there was a group arriving in 1762 when 36 Spanish families from the province of Catalonia came to St. Augustine to increase the population. The women of the Avero family married men from Spain, the Canary Islands, St. Augustine, other Spanish colonies like Cuba and Colombia, and even other areas of Europe like Sicily, which was under Spanish rule for a time. This one family alone shows how international the population was in the 18th century. When the Spanish left St. Augustine after Florida was transferred to the British in 1763, there were even six German families listed on the roster of evacuees to Cuba. As long as you were Catholic, you had the opportunity to find acceptance in Spanish territories and society.
Sources of Soldiers
In addition to Spaniards, Canary Islanders, and Germans, Irishmen could also be found in St. Augustine, as Catholic priests in the early days and later also as soldiers. During Florida’s first Spanish period (1565 – 1763), only Spanish men served in the garrison, although not all of them were born in Spain. Peninsulares came to St. Augustine from time to time, but they did not form 100% of the military force stationed in the city. Between 1680 and 1702, St. Augustine received only small supplements of soldiers from the Canary Islands, Havana, the city of Cádiz in Spain, and the Spanish province of Galicia. Those making the transatlantic journey usually departed from the port of Cádiz.
When the St. Augustine garrison was short on peninsulares, criollos (men born in the New World to Spanish parents) were enlisted in the military, even if that was technically against the law; the rules were bent to satisfy the need for soldiers. By 1676, there were 131 criollos enlisted in the military service, which was almost half of the total number of soldiers stationed in St. Augustine. This practice continued as long as Florida was held by Spain, as there were never enough soldiers coming from the peninsula to keep the garrison even close to full force.
Another source of soldiers for 17th century St. Augustine was Nueva España, modern-day Mexico. These men were conscripted or levied troops primarily of mixed Native American and African heritage. These soldiers would travel from the port city of Veracruz to Havana and on to St. Augustine. Both the Spanish peninsulares and their American-born criollo descendants looked down upon these levied troops, describing them as belligerent and totally unfit for military service.
The Spanish were not the only ones to employ an international military force. During Florida’s British period, there were multiple nationalities working with and under the British military. Several German princes were selling their armies to European powers to get money and gain importance on the political map. It was politically valuable to demonstrate military strength, to “be seen” and respected by larger states rather than overrun when trying to stay neutral. To achieve this goal, sometimes they spent more money on the military than was actually available. Renting troops to more powerful states was beneficial not only for the income; the German state Hesse-Cassel rented troops to Great Britain and in return received diplomatic support in acquiring territories they were trying to get in an inheritance dispute.
The German public opinion was not against the principle of subsidy soldiers, but some people were against sending them overseas, which made a safe return to their home and families less likely. Moreover, many soldiers were conscripted and did not have a choice in where and when they were going to fight. The wages for Hessian soldiers serving for the British in America were up to five times higher than what they would earn back home, so they were able to save some money and support their families – if they stayed alive.
During the American War of Independence, Great Britain did not have enough of their own men in the military, so they bought troops from German princes like the Duke of Brunswick, the landgrave (similar to a Duke) of Hesse-Cassel, and others. A small detachment from a regiment of Hessians, as the troops from Hesse-Cassel were commonly called, was stationed in St. Augustine for two months in 1781, leaving the main part of the regiment in Savannah. There was the fear of a Spanish attack on British St. Augustine in April 1781 that led British and German soldiers to reinforce the troops. The Hessian Colonel Friedrich von Porbeck was the commander of the Knoblauch Regiment at the time; whether or not he liked the garlic his regiment was named after is not known. He wrote to landgrave Friedrich II of Hesse-Cassel about the troop movement and also noted that it “is the third year that the battalion has been in this very hot climate, bad foul water and evil-smelling camp fog” and that there were frequent fever attacks in the group. He did not want to go 180 miles further south from Savannah to St. Augustine in a climate that “is 2 degrees warmer.” According to his letters, the Hessians brought 85 men, including a surgeon, to St. Augustine.
Today, we have telephones, internet, and airplanes to connect us to the rest of the world. Without such technology, you might think that people of the colonial era were very isolated. While that may have been true for many people, military service offered an opportunity to see the world, as it often does today. For example, let’s look at a British regiment that was stationed in St. Augustine in the British period (1763-1784).
Imagine you were the son of a blacksmith in Norfolk, England, and enlisted in 1754 at the age of 18. You were part of the 9th Regiment of Foot from Norfolk, which took part in a battle in France in 1761 and sailed to the New World one year later to take part in the siege of Havana, Cuba. After the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, your regiment was posted to St. Augustine. By that time, around 1/3 of the number of soldiers who left Britain the year before had died, mostly of malaria and yellow fever. Only a few were killed in battle. You were housed in the Castillo de San Marcos, or Fort St. Mark, as you would have called it, for 6 years until 1769. Then, your regiment went to Ireland, and returned to the New World again. By the time you were 35 years old, you would have seen France and Cuba and crossed the Atlantic Ocean twice!
More than Military
While the military offered the best opportunity for seeing the world, soldiers and sailors were not the only ones who traveled far from their homes. During Florida’s British period, Dr. Andrew Turnbull recruited fishermen & -women from the Spanish island of Menorca as well as Corsica, Sicily, and a number of Greek and other Mediterranean islands. Turnbull gathered these indentured servants on Menorca point before their voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to Florida, and so the entire group became known as Menorcans (also spelled Minorcans).
Turnbull’s goal was to use these people as indigo farmers in New Smyrna, a settlement south of St. Augustine named for the home of Turnbull’s wife, who was from the Greek city of Smyrna, (now Izmir in present- day Turkey). He assumed that people from the Mediterranean region would adapt well to the climate in Florida, since he thought they were located along the same latitude; they are not. Furthermore, the people were not familiar with farming since they were primarily getting their food from fishing. The Menorcans were lured to Florida by the promise of a better life and the gift of land when they finished their time working for Turnbull. None of it came true; they were forced to work longer than intended, and their living and working conditions were very poor. Indigo production is very labor intensive, and the process creates foul-smelling and toxic vapors that can damage the lungs.
After 10 years of enduring these dangerous conditions, the surviving Menorcans (roughly half of the original group) fled for St. Augustine, petitioning the governor for sanctuary. Governor Tonyn granted their request, and they settled in a place where they were once again able to make their living by fishing. When the British left and St. Augustine briefly became Spanish again, the Menorcans stayed and were said to be a “large part of the population and garrison” in town. Many of today's old St. Augustine families trace their heritage back to the Menorcans.
A Lasting Legacy
The impact of St. Augustine's international population can still be seen today in the city's cultural landscape. The Castillo de San Marcos stands as one of only two Spanish colonial fortifications in the continental United States. Many of the the city streets -- Charlotte, St. George, Orange -- retain the names given to them by the British inhabitants. Most seafood restaurants in St. Augustine have Minorcan clam chowder on their menus. And people from all over the world come to visit and sometimes even to stay after being charmed by the Ancient City. No matter the era, St. Augustine has been a melting pot where people of many nationalities and cultures have combined to create a truly unique place.
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Arnade, Charles W. “The Avero Story: An Early Saint Augustine Family with Many Daughters and Many Houses.” The Florida Historical Quarterly vol. 40, no. 1 (1961): 1-34.
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Project by Dorina Henninger, Flagler College Public History intern, April 2022.