January, 2014. St. Augustine, Florida. It’s Nice to be Wanted, But…

Posted on January 25, 2014


It’s nice to be wanted, to be sought after, to have people appreciate your value. However, I think the early European inhabitants of the St. Augustine area must have become tired of being fought over, and just wanted to be left alone.

aas1714Having been claimed by Spain in 1513, ‘La Florida’ was for many years the northernmost outpost of the Spanish Empire.

The area was originally intended to be a base for further colonial ventures across what is now the Southeastern United States, but such efforts were put off by the need to continually protect themselves from the armies of both France and England, who wanted Florida for themselves. Reoccurring raids from marauding pirate fleets also kept the Spanish from thinking about anything  other than plain survival.

Spain’s initial interest in La Florida was its location relative to the country’s vast overseas empire – the Caribbean, the main lands of Mexico, Central America, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru. Products of these territories – dyes, tobacco, chocolate, precious metals and pearls – brought high prices on the continent, hence the interest on the part of both France and England.

The best route home was past the shores of Florida, so Spain built the necessary forts to protect its coastal waters from pirates and others who would interrupt its trade routes, eventually founding the settlement of St. Augustine in 1565.

Almost immediately, France launched expeditions to try to take St. Augustine, the English soon followed with a similar raid, and finally, in 1568, English Privateer Robert Searle attacked and plundered the city.

DSCN0222Apparently that was the last straw. In 1672, the Spanish began construction on a more secure fortification, the Castillo de San Marcos. It stands today as the oldest fort in the United States. Its construction took a quarter of a century to complete, with many later additions and modifications.

Castillo de San Marcos

Castillo de San Marcos

The English continued to harass the colony, and in 1740 Gov. James Oglethorpe blockaded the St. Augustine inlet with troops from the British colony of Georgia in an attempt to interrupt the city’s supply shipments from Cuba. However, as soon as hurricane season arrived, Oglethorpe scampered for home.

Fort Matanzas

Fort Matanzas

As soon as the British troops were gone, work began on a second fort, on the inlet, named Fort Matanzas. In 1742, Oglethorpe returned to the inlet to find a fort armed with cannon protecting the back door to St. Augustine. His scouting boats were soon driven off, and the British went back to Georgia.

In 1763, the Treaty of Paris ended the Seven Years War. Spain ceded Florida and St. Augustine to the British, in exchange for their relinquishing control of occupied Havana. With the change of government, most of the Spanish Floridians and many free Blacks departed from St. Augustine for Cuba. Only a few remained to handle unsold property and settle affairs.

After the American Revolution, a second Treaty of Paris in 1783 returned Florida to Spain. By 1819, Spain probably decided the United States was here to stay, and abandoned all hopes of further inroads into the North American continent. They transferred Florida to the United States, who took possession in 1821.

Florida became a state in 1845.

Posted in: Travel - Florida