Historical Books

history Turn the pages of the past.

Visit Black Raven Adventures's Website
Previous Page Previous Page Next Page Next Page

But there was real reason for concern: work on the vaults had to stop as the war dried up construction funds. The fort was left in a strangely irregular shape. The east side, including San Carlos bastion, was at the new height, but all others were several feet lower. Old rooms still lined three sides of the courtyard.

On June 13, 1740 (by the Spanish calendar), seven British warships dropped anchor outside the inlet. The long-expected siege of St. Augustine was here. Montiano hastily sent the news to Habana and with it a plea for help. He had 750 soldiers and the 120 or more sailors who manned the galliots, but rations would be gone by the end of June.

The attackers numbered almost 1,400, including sailors and the Indian allies. While the warships blockaded the harbor on the east, William Palmer came in from the north with a company of Highlanders and occupied the deserted outpost called Fort Mose. Oglethorpe landed his men and guns on each side of the inlet and began building batteries across the bay from the Castillo.

Montiano saw at once that all English positions were separated from each other by water, and could not speedily reinforce one another. Fort Mose, at the village of the black runaways a couple of miles north of the Castillo, was easily the weakest. At dawn on June 26 a sortie from St. Augustine hit Fort Mose, and in the bloodiest action of the siege scattered the Highlanders and burned the palisaded fortification. Colonel Palmer, that veteran of Florida campaigns, was among the dead.

English crest and flag.

As if in revenge, the siege guns at the inlet opened fire. Round shot whistled low over the bay and crashed into fort and town. Bombs from the mortars soared high-deadly dots against the bright summer sky-and fell swiftly to burst with terrific concussion. The townspeople fled, 2,000 of them, some to the woods, others to the covered way where Castillo walls screened them from the shelling.

For 27 nerve-shattering days the British batteries thundered. At the Castillo, newly laid stones in the east parapet scattered under the hits, but the weathered old walls held strong. As one Englishman observed, the native rock "will not splinter but will give way to cannon ball as though you would stick a knife into cheese." One of the balls shot away a gunner's leg, but only two men in the Castillo were killed in the bombardment.

The heavy guns of San Marcos and the long 9-pounders of the fast little galliots in the harbor kept the British back. Despite the bluster of the cannonades, the siege had stalemated. Astride the inlet, Oglethorpe and his men battled insects and shifting sand on barren, sun-baked shores, while Spanish soldiers in San Marcos, down to half rations themselves, saw their families and friends starving. On July 6 Montiano wrote, "My greatest anxiety is provisions. If these do not come, there is not doubt that we shall die in the hands of hunger."

The very next day came news that supplies had reached a harbor down the coast south of Matanzas. Shallow-draft Spanish vessels went down the waterway behind Anastasia Island, fought their way out of Matanzas Inlet and, hugging the coast, went to fetch the provisions. Coming back into Matanzas that same night, they found the British blockader gone and reached St. Augustine unopposed.

Meanwhile, regardless of the low morale of his men, Oglethorpe made ready to assault the Castillo. His naval commander, however, was nervous over the approach of the hurricane season and refused to cooperate. Without support from the warships, Oglethorpe was beaten. Daybreak on the 38th day of the siege revealed-to Montiano's wondering relief-that the redcoats were gone.

This was why the Castillo had been built-to resist the high tide of aggression, to stand firm through the darkest hour. It was the climax, the culmination of years of dogged labor and lean hunger. It was also the closing of an era, for the end was in sight. The clumsy Spanish reprisal in 1742, Oglethorpe's foolish return to St. Augustine the year following-these were the joustings of provincials uncertain of their destiny. Still, to the embattled actors on the scene, one thing seemed clear: the Castillo must be completed.

Despite the need to get back to work on the vaults, other projects were even more urgent. First came repair of the bombardment damage. After that, the defenses around fort and town were strengthened and a strong new earth wall called the hornwork was thrown up across the land approach, half a mile north of town. And for a year or more a sizable crew was busy at Matanzas building a permanent tower and battery, since 1740 had again shown the vital importance of this inlet.

Thus several years slipped by and at the Castillo itself-the heart of the defense system-nothing was done. Termites and rot were in the old rafters and in 1749 part of the roof collapsed.

The governor's appeal to the crown eventually brought action. Engineer Pedro de Brozas y Garay came from Ceuta (Africa) to replace Ruiz, who was returning to Spain. And, having erected the rest of the fort rooms, it was Brozas who, with Governor Alonso Fernandez de Heredia, stood under the royal coat of arms at the sally port as the masons set in the inscription giving credit to the governor and himself for completion of the Castillo in 1756. The ceremony was a politic gesture, carried out on the name day of King Fernando VI; but in truth there was still a great deal to do.

The new bombproof vaults had raised Castillo walls by five feet. Where once they had measured about 25 feet from foundation to crown of parapet, now they were above 30. The little ravelin of 1683 could no longer shield the main gate, and as yet the covered way screened only the base of the high new walls. The glacis existed only in plan.

Overhead view of St. Augustine 'East Florida's Capital'

So, having finished the vaults, the builders moved outside and worked until money ran out in the spring of 1758. The break lasted until 1762, by which time Britain and Spain were again at war. Spain, as an ally of France, got into the fracas just at the time when Britain had eliminated France as a factor in the control of North America, and was quite ready to take on Spain. And this time the British would capture the pearl of the Antilles-Habana itself.

Habana was well fortified and the board of general officers sitting there, not being prescient, were perhaps more worried over St. Augustine than Habana. They released 10,000 pesos for strengthening of Florida fortifications and sent Engineer Pablo Castello to assist ailing Pedro Brozas. Castello had been teaching mathematics at the military college in Habana.

St. Augustine had only 25 convicts for labor, but as work began on July 27, 1762, many soldiers and townspeople sensed the urgency-Habana was already under siege-and volunteered to help. Since much of the project was a simple but manpower-consuming task of digging and moving a mountain of sand from borrow pit to earthwork, all hands with a strong back were welcome. The volunteers did, in fact, contribute labor worth more than 12,000 pesos. The only paid workers were the teamsters driving the 50 horses that hauled the fill. Each dray dumped 40 cubic feet of earth, and the hauling kept on until the covered way had been raised five more feet to its new height.

The masons soon finished a stone parapet, six feet high, for the new covered way. With this wall in place, the teamsters moved outside the covered way and began dumping fill for the glacis. This simple but important structure was a carefully designed slope from the field up to the parapet of the covered way. Not only would it screen the main walls and covered way, but its upward slope would lift attackers right into the sights of the fort cannon.

Meanwhile, to replace the 1682 ravelin, Castello began a new one with room for five cannon and a powder magazine. He realigned the moat wall to accommodate the larger work and pushed the job along so that as December of 1762 ended, the masons laid the final stone of the cordon for the ravelin. They never started its parapet. For also the close of the year brought the wrenching news that Spain would give Florida to Great Britain.


 
Previous Page Previous Page

[Return to Top of Page.]

Next Page Next Page
 

Vacation || History || Community || St. Augustine Map || Contact Us     RSS RSS  || StumbleUpon Toolbar  || Delicious social bookmarking service.  || Find Us on Facebook  || Watch Our YouTube Channel

Weather | Vacation Guide | Request Information | Calendar of Events

Copyright © 1998 - 2019 by VisitStAugustine.com || Privacy Policy || Site Map · Please send feedback to the Webmaster.

Website by St. Augustine Web Design