St. Augustine's Written History

  • The Seminole War

    Americans gradually began to encroach on the lands given to the Seminoles under the terms of the Treaty of Moultrie. In 1835, the Seminoles decided to fight against the continued incursion on their land, defeating a U.S. Army detachment of 110 men traveling between forts in the vicinity of present-day Tampa and Ocala. Within days, the Seminoles were burning farms and settlements throughout North Florida. One after another, the best generals in the U.S. Army came to Florida only to be frustrated by the demands of unconventional warfare. It took 20,000 troops seven years to kill or capture enough Seminoles to stop the fighting. Even then, some Seminoles withdrew into the Everglades where they continue to live on a reservation today. In October 1837, Seminole Chief Osceola and seventy of his warriors arrived for negotiations with U.S. officials, and were captured by General Hernandez without regard to their flag of truce. A month later, twenty of the Seminoles made a miraculous escape from their prison, but in December more Seminole leaders and 78 warriors were again captured under a white flag of truce. Although the 1,500 casualties suffered by U.S. forces in combat against the Seminoles was distressing, the $20 million spent to conduct the war was a boon to St. Augustine. As the headquarters for the campaign against the Seminoles, the city received numerous improvements courtesy of American taxpayers.

    Civil War

    Florida was admitted as a slave state, with help from St. Augustine resident, David Levy Yulee. He was elected as the territory's Congressional delegate and helped unite east and west Florida. Residents of central Florida, many with plantations, were convinced succession was necessary. On January 10, 1861 the delegates voted and overwhelming approved secession by a count of 62 in favor and 7 opposed. In compliance with Governor Perry’s orders, the Castillo was quietly taken over and put into the service of the Confederacy. The initial enthusiasm for the war began to fade when residents of St. Augustine realized their fledgling tourist industry had abruptly ended. To make matters worse, the Confederate Government soon imposed a steep tax on residents in order to finance the war effort.

    On the morning of March 11, 1862, federal gunboats anchored just outside the inlet. In anticipation of their arrival, the Confederate troops protecting the town abandoned their posts and marched off along with some of the town’s leading citizens into Florida’s interior. A rowboat brought U.S. Navy Commander Rodgers under a flag of truce to the town wharf where he met Acting Mayor Bravo. The city council quietly signed a surrender decree and turned St. Augustine over to northern forces, who remained in control throughout the remainder of the war. On January 1, 1863 Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was read to slaves within the city. Many of St. Augustine’s freed slaves enlisted in the U.S. Army serving in several regiments made up of African-Americans. Three black St. Augustinians also served in the Confederate Army. The city also contributed three generals to the conflict –William Wing Loring, Edmund Kirby-Smith, and Stephen Vincent Benet. Some 16,000 Floridians served in the Confederate forces and about 5,000 gave their lives during the war. The names of the 46 St. Augustinians who died in the defense of the South are inscribed on the Confederate War Dead monument in the Plaza.


    The end of the Civil War came during the city’s 300th birthday, but there was little cause for celebration. The war had devastated the fledgling tourism industry and created a new social system that was totally alien to most residents. St. Augustine was selected as headquarter for the U.S. Army's construction efforts.

    Fortunately, St. Augustine was spared much of the violence and hatred that Reconstruction brought to much of the South. The presence of Northerners, even Northern landowners, was nothing new to St. Augustine. The economic benefits of having Northerners visit or even purchase property in the community were well-known by most residents long before the War. As a result, the level of resentment toward “carpet baggers” and northern land speculators was not as severe in St. Augustine as in other parts of the South. The strong presence of the U.S. Army also helped discourage the types of violence associated with Southern Reconstruction.

    By 1869, tourists, land developers and Northerners who planned to take up permanent residence in the city began flooding into town. A new road leading northward from the city gate was built and paved with oyster shells. New arrivals bought lots along the road from developers and the suburb became known as North City. On the opposite end of town, freed slaves took up homesteads, building homes and churches in Lincolnville. To accommodate the surge of people coming to visit or stay, the massive Hotel St. Augustine was built. In 1883, access to St. Augustine improved dramatically when the Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Halifax River Railroad opened a line that carried visitors directly from a steamboat landing on Jacksonville’s south side to the oldest city.

    The Flagler Era

    One of the visitors to St. Augustine during the winter of 1884 was Henry M. Flagler, a co-founder of Standard Oil of New Jersey and one of the richest men in America. The following year, Flagler returned and this time he looked at St. Augustine as the setting for a business venture - the ultimate, American luxury resort. To turn his dream into reality, Flagler immediately hired O.D. Seavey, the manager of the San Marco Hotel, and construction company that built the hotel. He also enlisted Franklin Smith, a wealthy businessman. Smith had recently built a home called Zorayda Castle based on the design of the Alhambra Castle in Spain. Flagler noted the strength of his "poured concrete" home, and decided to use this building technique. He also recruited resident Dr. Andrew Anderson, architect Thomas Hasting, and his associate John Carrere.