The First Spanish Period -- 1565-1763

Spanish Colonial Flag, 1500s to 1785
Spanish Colonial Flag, 1500s to 1785

The flag which flies over Fort Matanzas and the Castillo de San Marcos is described in heraldry as a red saltire raguly on a white field. A saltire is an X figure; raguly refers to the jagged edges of the cross. The X-shaped cross is commonly called "St. Andrew's cross" because tradition says that Andrew the Disciple was crucified on a cross shaped like an X.

Read the Story of the Spanish Flag.

Spanish Soldiers
Spanish Soldiers Relax in the Barracks


The Spanish Soldier
When we look at the soldiers of Spanish St. Augustine, we see a group of extraordinary men who were diverse members of a compact society. They were locally born, and Europeans who served in many different capacities and were highly skilled and trained troops of the New World who ultimately protected St. Augustine from foreign encroachment through the course of two major sieges and many other conflicts. What would life be like in Spanish St. Augustine, a fairly bustling town of approximately 1700 during mid eighteenth century? What would be the experience of its residents?

Artist's conception of one of the early, wooden watchtowers as described in a 1671 document.
One of the early, wooden watchtowers as described in a 1671 document.

Drawing by Albert Manucy

Early Watchtowers

As early as 1569 the Spanish recognized the vulnerability of the Matanzas Inlet and built a wooden watchtower and a thatched hut to house six soldiers who took turns scanning the horizon. If a ship was sighted, a runner or small boat set out to warn St. Augustine. Watching and warning were the tower's tasks for it lacked any armament.

At least twice the watchtower kept pirates from coming in this "backdoor". In 1683 English outlaws captured the watchtower, but word made it to St. Augustine, and ships and soldiers came and drove them off. In 1686 French pirates attempted to come into the inlet, but again word was sent to St. Augustine, and these pirates, too, were repulsed.

In Florida's warm, wet climate, these wooden watchtowers often had to be rebuilt or replaced. No sign of any of the towers remain, but archaeological evidence suggests that they may have been on Anastasia Island in the vicinity of the park's visitor center.

Re-enactors portray British soldiers at the Castillo de San Marcos
Re-enactors Portray British Soldiers at the Castillo de San Marcos

NPS Photograph

The British Threat

After the French, the British became the main threat. Beginning with Sir Francis Drake's raid on St. Augustine in 1586, during which he burned the town, England repeatedly harassed the Spanish colony. Charles Towne (Charleston) in the Carolina Colony was established by the English in 1670. The English colony of Georgia was founded in 1733 by General James Oglethorpe. Both of these colonies were on land claimed by Spain. Hostilities were inevitable, and the British leaders were looking for an excuse for attacking St. Augustine. Wars in Europe gave them the excuse to carry the hostilities to the new world.

Read More . . .

1700s view of the star-shaped design of the Castillo de San Marcos
Overhead view showing the design of the Castillo and its outerworks.

The Building of the Castillo

"Today, Sunday, about four in the afternoon, the second of October 1672 . . Manuel de Cendoya, Governor and Captain General of these provinces for Her Majesty. . . with spade in hand. . . began the foundation trenches for the construction of the Castillo." Thus did the government notary attest the official ground breaking for the Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine's most enduring legacy of the First Spanish Period and a tribute to the craftsmanship and skill of the engineers, artisans and labourers who built it.

Read more . . .

Fort Mose
Artist representation of Fort Mosé in the late 1730s
Fort Mosé

By the late 1600s, black slaves had learned that they could escape their British masters and seek freedom and asylum in Spanish Florida if they embraced Catholicism and pledged to serve the Spanish Crown.


Last updated: April 13, 2020

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