Historical Books

history Turn the pages of the past.

Get the Local Weather Report
Previous Page Previous Page Next Page Next Page

Next the powder magazine in the gorge of San Carlos was completed and a ramp laid over it to give access to the rampart above. The three curtains rose to their full height of 20 feet. At the southeast corner the peons dumped hundreds of baskets of sand and rubble into the void formed by the walls of San Agustin bastion, and filled it to the 20-foot level.

Both carpenters and masons worked on the temporary buildings. A convenient little powder magazine was finished near the north curtain. A long, narrow, wooden structure, partitioned into guardhouse, lieutenant's quarters, armory and provision magazine, took shape along the west wall. Finally, a few of the guns from the old fort were mounted in San Carlos and San Agustin bastions and along the west front. After three years of work, the Castillo was a defense at last.

And now Governor Hita's first admiration for its design vanished. The Castillo, he said, was too massive. Surely no one would ever besiege it formally. Rather, the danger lay in a blockade of the harbor or occupation of Anastasia Island, actions that would cut the presidio lifeline. San Carlos bastion was too high for effective fire on the inlet or to sweep Anastasia. He argued that the Castillo should be held to a total height of only 20 feet (including the parapet), and supplemented by a 6-gun redoubt directly facing the inlet.

The royal officials strenuously opposed the governor's attempts to change Daza's plan. Naturally they wrote the crown of Hita's desire to tear finished walls down to the level he thought proper.

In Hita's view the west wall, though temporary, was adequate. Therefore he would defer the permanent wall and start instead on the permanent guardroom, quarters, ravelin and moat. Not so, his advisors pointed out. The west wall was nothing but half-rotten poles and a mound of earth faced with stone. The important thing was to complete all the walls as soon as possible.

In the hope that the crown would agree to lower the walls, Hita let the finished work lag on the two seaward bastions while he began the west wall and bastions. Construction continued in spite of trouble with the Choctaws, in spite of the worrisome impossibility of driving out the Carolina settlers, in spite of the pirate raid on the port of Apalache in the west and the ever-present fear of invasion. Lorenzo Lajones died (he was master of construction); still the work went on. Even after the viceroy's 10,000 pesos were spent, the job was kept going with money diverted from the troop payroll. As a last resort, people gave what they could out of their own poverty. When these gifts were gone, the scrape of the trowel ceased and the hammer and axe were laid aside. Castillo construction stopped on the last day 1677.

The supply vessel bringing desperately needed provisions and clothing sailed safely all the way from Nueva España, only to be lost on a sand bar right in St. Augustine harbor. It was a heartbreaking loss. Hita became disconsolate. The help he begged from Habana never came; and for four years his reports to the viceroy had been ignored. Old, discouraged, sick, Hita wrote the crown that he was "without human recourse" in this remote province. Perhaps the final blow to his pride was a terse order from the crown to stick strictly to Daza's plan for the Castillo.

Yet the old warrior did not give up. Eventually the viceroy released 5,000 more pesos and after 20 months of idleness construction resumed on August 29, 1679. As soon as Hita got up from his sickbed he was back at the fort, impatient with the snail's pace of progress under a new master of construction. The new man was Juan Marquez Molina of Habana, whose sharp-eyed inspections found stones missing from their courses and some of the walls too thin.

A sketch of Castillo de San Marcos once completed.

The royal officials, always on hand to make sure the governor followed the crown's directives to the letter, blamed these deficiencies on Hita, "who had trod this fort down without knowledge of the art of fortification." With another 5,000 pesos plus the masons due to arrive from Habana, said the old man in rebuttal, "I promise to leave the work in very good condition." Before he could make good on that promise, Sergeant Major Don Juan Marquez Cabrera arrived at the end of November 1680 to take over the reins of government.

So, half apologizing for his own little knowledge of "architecture and geometry, " Hita left the trials and tribulations of this frontier province to his more youthful successor.

Actually, Hita had done a great deal. Within six weeks after his arrival he had made the Castillo defensible against any but an overwhelming force. During the rest of his 5 1/2-year term, over one obstacle after another, he had brought the walls up to where they were ready for the parapet builders. In fact, the parapet on San Carlos bastion was almost complete, with embrasures for the artillery and firing steps for the musketeers. The only low part of the work was the San Pablo bastion, where the level had been miscalculated. The sally port had its drawbridge and iron-bound portal, and another heavy door closed the postern in the east curtain. Permanent rooms that would go along the curtain walls were still only plans, but in a temporary building centered in the courtyard were a guardroom and storeroom, and a little chapel stood near the postern in the shadow of the east curtain.

The new man, Major Juan Marquez Cabrera, formerly governor of Honduras, checked the Castillo work carefully with the construction master. Those long years without an engineer had left them a heritage of mistakes-skimpy foundations, levels miscalculated-which had to be set right. From Habana came a military engineer, Ensign Don Juan de Ciscara. During his brief stay he gave valuable guidance for continuing the work, built the ramp to San Pablo bastion, and laid foundations for the ravelin and its moat wall.

The 1680's were turbulent years. In 1682, the year the ravelin was finished, a dozen or so pirate craft in the Bahama Channel seized numerous Spanish prizes, including the Florida frigate on its way to Veracruz. They raided Mosquito Inlet, only 60 miles south of St. Augustine. In the west, pirates struck Fort San Marcos de Apalache and even went up the San Martin (Suwanee) River to rob cattle ranches in Timucua.

Sketch showing drawbridge mechanism.

Nor did the Castillo building go smoothly. Apprehensive of invasion and hoping to speed up construction, Governor Marquez asked the curate for permission to work his men on holy days. There was ample precedent for this concession, but Marquez had never got on well with the religious, and they refused. As a result, the peons could not bring in materials. Construction fell far behind schedule. Marquez appealed the decision to higher church authorities. Eventually they gave permission to work Sundays and holidays, but only during emergencies, and then solely on the fort itself. The dispensation such as it was, arrived too late; the expected invasion came first.

On March 30, 1683, English corsairs landed a few leagues south of the Centinela de Matanzas, the watchtower at Matanzas Inlet near the south end of Anastasia Island and about 14 miles from St. Augustine. Under cover of darkness, a few of the raiders came up behind the tower and surprised the sentries, who were either asleep or not on the alert.

The march on St. Augustine began the next day. Fortunately a soldier from St. Augustine happened by Matanzas and saw the motley band. Posthaste he warned the governor, who sent Captain Antonio de Arguelles with 30 musketeers to meet them on Anastasia.

A mile from the presidio the pirates walked into the captain's ambush-straight into a withering fire. After a few exchange shots-one of which lodged in Arguelles' leg-they beat a hasty retreat back down the island to their boats. Then they sailed to St. Augustine and anchored at the inlet in plain sight of the unfinished Castillo.

Marquez, his soldiers, the men, and even the women of the town were working day and night to strengthen the Castillo. Missing parapets and firing steps were improvised from dry stone. Expecting the worst, everybody crowded into the fort. But the corsairs, looking at the stone fort and nursing their wounds, decided to sail on.

After the excitement, the Castillo crew worked with renewed zeal. By mid-1683 they had completed the San Agustin and San Pablo bastions. Governor Marquez sent the crown a wooden model to show what had been done.

This was progress made in the face of privation-hunger that made the people demand of Marquez that he buy supplies from a stray Dutch trader from New York. It was unlawful, but the people had to eat. Imagine the joy in the presidio soon afterward when two subsidy payments came at one time! Marquez gave the soldiers two years' back pay and had enough provisions on hand for 14 months. The 27 guns of the presidio from the little iron 2-pounder to the heavy 40-pounder bronze, all had their gunner's ladle, rammer, sponge, and wormer, along with plenty of powder and shot. And now there was also an alarm bell in San Carlos bastion.


 
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 - 2022 by VisitStAugustine.com || Privacy Policy || Site Map · Please send feedback to the Webmaster.

Website by St. Augustine Web Design