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The defenses they found at St. Augustine were far stronger than the ones that had stopped Oglethorpe in 1740. The renovated Castillo (which the new owners called Fort St. Mark) was the citadel of a defense-in-depth system which began with fortified towers at St. Augustine and Matanzas inlets and blockhouses at the St. Johns River crossings. Since St. Augustine was on a small peninsula with Matanzas Bay on one side and the San Sebastian River on the other, there was only one way to reach the city by land; and Fort Mose, rebuilt and enlarged after 1740, guarded this lone access. In 1762 Mose also became the anchor for a mile-long defense line across the peninsula to a strong redoubt on the San Sebastian. This earthwork, planted at its base with the spiny yucca so aptly named "Spanish bayonet," protected the essential farmlands behind it. Just north of the Castillo, the hornwork spanned the narrowest part of the peninsula. A third line stretched from the Castillo to the San Sebastian, and this one was intersected by a fourth line that enclosed the town on west and south. Along the eastern shore was the stone seawall. One by one, these defenses had evolved in the years following 1702.

Such defensive precautions seemed outmoded, now that all of eastern North America was under one sovereignty. Obviously the old enemies between Florida and the English colonies had departed with the Spaniards; Britain saw no need for concern about the fortifications. No need, that is, until the Thirteen Colonies showed disquieting signs of rebellion. And as rebellion flamed into revolution among the Thirteen, St. Augustine entered a new role as capital of King George's loyal province of East Florida. Perhaps the defenses might be needed after all!

Painting by John James Audobahn 'Greenshark'
When noted artist and wildlife enthusiast John James Audubon visited in 1832, his written impressions of the town were somewhat less than generous. Yet, he chose the Castillo as the backdrop for one of his famous bird paintings - "Greenshank".

In the summer of 1775, after Lexington and Concord, the Castillo began to show the marks of British concern. The gate was repaired and the well in the courtyard, which had become brackish, was re-dug. In several of the high-arched bombproofs, the carpenters doubled the capacity by building a second floor, for St. Augustine was regimental headquarters and many redcoated troops were quartered in Fort St. Mark.

By October 1776, the British had renovated two of the three lines constructed north of the city by the Spanish. In place of the old earthwork that hemmed in the town on the south and west, however, they depended on a pair of detached redoubts at the San Sebastian, one at the ford and the other at the ferry. Later they added five other redoubts in the same quadrant.

Across the covered way the engineers raised in 1779-80 several traverses-breastworks to stop enfilade fire from attackers; for better protection of the northwest bastion and the north curtain; they built an earthwork bonnet and a counterguard in the covered way; and on the east they strengthened the covered way salients by adding several feet to the thickness of the parapets. The glacis was also improved.

Picture showing in 1885 how the fort was used as a golf course.
In 1885 millionaire Henry Flagler drew up his plans for transforming St. Augustine into an exclusive winter getaway for America's wealthiest families. Another tourism entrepreneur eventually combined the past and the present when he created a popular golf course on the Castillo's grounds. It was the first golf course in Florida.

Within the safety of the thick walls were stored the arms that went to ranger, regular, and Indian ally alike for repeated use against the rebellious colonials to the north. And a goodly number of those colonials and their friends languished in the damp prison of the castle.

With the Castillo in English hands, yet armed against Georgia and Carolina (Spanish Florida's old foes), perhaps it would have been the final irony if the Spaniards had carried out their plan to capture St. Augustine. Indeed, the plan was complete down to the last detail: troops would come upriver from Matanzas, debark south of town, sweep northward through the city, and take the Castillo by surprise and escalade. If the assault failed, they would settle down to a siege. But the board of generals decided to strike Pensacola first. After all, the Castillo was no easy target-even in the hands of Englishmen!

Those were exciting times, but they were only an interlude. The British ensign was not the flag for the fort, and by the terms of the 1783 treaty, the Spanish came back on July 12, 1784.

Spanish Return 1783

They came back to an impossible situation. The border problems of earlier times were multiplied as runaway slaves from Georgia found welcome among the Seminole Indians, and ruffians from both land and sea made Florida their habitat.

Bedeviled by these perversities and distracted by revolutionary unrest in Latin America, Spain nevertheless did what had to be done at the Castillo: repairs to the bridges, a new pine stairway for San Carlos tower, a bench for the criminals in the prison. In 1785 Mariano de la Rocque designed an attractive entrance in the neoclassic style for the chapel doorway. It was built, only to crumble slowly away like the Spanish hold on Florida.

Defense concepts were changed somewhat from earlier times. The British had built a few redoubts to cover vulnerable approaches on the west and south. The Spaniards on their return adapted the British works but also greatly strengthened the long wall from the Castillo to the San Sebastian. They widened its moat to 40 feet, lined the entire length of the 9-foot-high earthwork with palm logs, and planted it with Spanish bayonet. Its three redoubts were armed with light cannon.

And in this log wall a new city gate was completed in 1808. Its twin towers of white masonry were trimmed with red plaster, and each roof was capped with a pomegranate, a symbol of fertility.

Even though San Marcos remained a bulwark that American advances during this troublous period never quite reached, Florida had lost its old importance to Spain. One by one her colonies had slipped away into independence. Perhaps Spanish officials signed the papers ceding Florida to the United States with a sigh of relief, glad to be rid of a province so burdensome and unprofitable for 300 years.


 
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