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It was Mariana, Queen Regent of Spain, who gave permanent aid to St. Augustine in three decrees addressed to the viceroy. On March 11, 1669, she ordered him to pay the Florida funds on time and add a proper amount for building the fortification proposed by the governor. Next, on April 10 she commanded him to support a full 300-man garrison in Florida (instead of the customary 257 soldiers and 43 missionaries). Finally, on October 30 she enjoined him to hear the views of the newly appointed Florida governor about an adequate fortification, and provide for its construction.

If the fear that pirates might return had finally convinced the crown that St. Augustine must have a strong fort in order to stay Spanish, and English settlement planted on Florida soil in April 1670 drove the point home. The English called it Charleston and said the land was Carolina. But the Floridians recognized the danger and saw the need to uproot the new colony before it waxed strong.

A trio of vessels sailed northward from St. Augustine. Then the winds blew stormy as they had for the French fleet before St. Augustine in 1565, the little Spanish fleet was scattered, and the fledgling English colony was saved. Mariana's treaty with England soon afterward recognized "established" settlements, so with the English only two days' sail away, St. Augustine could do nothing except prepare against invasion that was sure to come. The tiny garrison at Santa Catalina Mission (on St. Catherine's Island), in the coastal country south of Charleston, became the northern outpost. And construction of a citadel, built of imperishable stone, was soon to begin.

Beginning the Castillo

To succeed Governor Guerra, Mariana appointed Sergeant Major Don Manuel de Cendoya, a veteran of 22 years' service in Flanders, Italy, and Extremadura. Major Cendoya left Cadiz in July 1670 with his wife and their two infants.

In México City Cendoya followed Queen Mariana's orders and presented his views to the Viceroy, the Marquis de Mancera. Florida should be fortified at once with a main castillo at St. Augustine, a second fort to control the harbor mouth, and a third one to prevent troop landings. Thirty thousand pesos would be needed. Precisely at this point came the news of the Charleston settlement, and Cendoya at once suggested a fourth fort at Santa Catalina.

The viceroy's finance council finally decided to allot 12,000 pesos to begin work on one fort. If suitable progress were made, they would consider sending 10,000 yearly until completion. The question of additional forts would be referred to the crown. With this and a levy of 17 soldiers for the Florida service, Cendoya had to be satisfied. He left for Florida, making a stop at Habana where he sought skilled workmen-masons and lime burners. There he also found an engineer, Ignacio Daza.

It was on August 8, 1671, a month after Cendoya's arrival in St. Augustine, that the first workman began to draw his pay. By the time the mosquitoes were sluggish in the cooler fall weather, the quarrymen had opened the coquina pits on Anastasia Island, and the lime burners were building two big kilns just north of the old fort. The carpenters put up a palm-thatched shelter at the quarry; they built a dozen clumsy, square-end dugouts and laid decks over them for rafting the stone, the firewood and oyster shells for the limekilns; and they built boxes, handbarrows, and carretas-the long, narrow, hauling wagons. At his anvil, the blacksmith made a great noise, hammering out axes, picks, and stonecutters' hatchets, and putting on their steel edges; drawing iron into crowbars, or shovels, spades, hoes, and wedges; and for lighter work, making nails of all kinds and sizes for the carpenters. The grindstone screeched as the cutting edge went on the tools.

1675 sketch of fort plan
An early plan of the coquina fort in St. Augustine. Included with the report of Governor Salazar, May 1675. Original manuscript in Archives of the Indies, Seville, Spain.

Indian peons at the quarry chopped out the dense thickets of scrub oak and palmetto, driving out the rattlesnakes and clearing the ground for the shovelmen to uncover the top layer of coquina. Day after day Diego Diaz Mejia, the overseer, kept the picks and axes going, cutting deep grooves into the soft yellow stone, while with wedge and bar the peons broke loose and pried up the rough blocks-small pieces that a single man could shoulder, and tremendously heavy, waterlogged cubes two feet thick and twice as long that six strong men could hardly lift from the bed of sandy shell. As a layer of stone was removed, again the shovelmen came in, taking off the newly exposed bed of loose shell and uncovering yet another and deeper stratum of rock. Down and down the quarrymen went until their pits reached water and they could go no farther.

Diaz watched his peons heave the finest stone on the wagons. He sent the oxen plodding to the wharf at the head of a marshy creek, where the load of rough stone was carefully balanced on the rafts for ferrying across the tide to the building site. And on the opposite shore of the bay, next to the old fort, the cache of unhewn stone daily grew larger, while the stonecutters piled their squares and chopped unceasingly to shape the soft coquina for the masons.

In the limekilns, oyster shells glowed white-hot and changed into fine quality, quick-setting lime. By spring of 1672, there were 4,000 fanegas (some 7,000 bushels) of lime in the two storehouses, and the great quantities of both hewn and rough stone were a welcome sight to people of St. Augustine.

Conquina Quarry, Anastasia Island.
Coquina Quarry located on Anastasia Island.

Although the real construction was not even started, great obstacles had already been overcome. Very little masonry had ever been done in the presidio and, with the exception of the imported artisans, the workmen had to be trained. Even the imported ones had much to learn about coquina, the natural shellstone peculiar to this part of Florida. Coquina consists of broken sea shells cemented together by their own lime. Where a shelly stratum was under great geological pressure, the stone is solid and relatively hard; where conditions were less favorable, it is coarse and easily crumbled. The men had to become expert in grading the stone, for only the best of it could go into the walls.

There was also a shortage of common labor. When there should have been 150 men to keep the 15 artisans working at top speed-50 in the quarries and hauling stone, 50 for gathering oyster shells and helping at the kilns, and another 50 for digging the foundation trenches, toting the excavation baskets, and mixing mortar-it was hard to get as many as 100 laborers on the job.

Indians from three nations, the Guale (coastal Georgia), Timucua (Florida east of the Aucilla River) and Apalache (between the Aucilla and the Apalachicola), were tapped for manpower. True, they were paid labor, but some had to travel 80 leagues to reach the presidio, and many served unwillingly. The Spanish levies for labor caused serious domestic problems, for the draftees had either to bring their families along or else leave them in the home villages to eke out their own living. In theory each complement of Indian labor served only a certain length of time; in practice it was not uncommon for the men to be held long past their assigned time, either through necessity or carelessness. In some cases, not even the chiefs were exempt from the draft.


 
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