St. Augustine is a city in Northeast Florida and the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement and port in the continental United States. The county seat of St. Johns County, it is part of Florida's First Coast region and the Jacksonville metropolitan area. According to the 2010 census, the city population was 12,975.
San Agustín was founded in September 1565 by Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, and subsequently served as the capital of Spanish Florida for two hundred years. It remained the capital of East Florida as the territory changed hands between the Spanish and British, and remained the capital of the Florida Territory until it was moved to Tallahassee in 1824. Since the late 19th century, its historical character has made the city a major tourist attraction. It is the headquarters for the Florida National Guard.
Early exploration and attempts at settlement
The vicinity of St. Augustine was first explored in 1513 by Spanish explorer and governor of Puerto Rico, Juan Ponce de León, who claimed the region for the Spanish crown. Prior to the founding of St. Augustine in 1565, several earlier attempts at European colonization in what is now Florida were made by both Spain and France, but all failed.
The French exploration of the area began in 1562, under the Huguenot captain Jean Ribault. Ribault explored the St. Johns River to the north of St. Augustine before sailing north, ultimately founding the short-lived Charlesfort on what is now known as Parris Island, South Carolina. In 1564, Ribault's former lieutenant René Goulaine de Laudonnière headed a new colonization effort. Laudonnière explored St. Augustine Inlet and the Matanzas River, which the French named the River of Dolphins. There they made contact with the local Timucua chief, probably Seloy, a subject of the powerful Saturiwa chiefdom, before heading north to the St. Johns River. There they established Fort Caroline.
Later that year some mutineers from Fort Caroline fled the colony and turned pirate, attacking Spanish vessels in the Caribbean. The Spanish used this as a catalyst to locate and destroy Fort Caroline, fearing it would serve as a base for future piracy, and wanting to dissuade further French colonization. The Spanish quickly dispatched Pedro Menéndez de Avilés to go to Florida and establish a base from which to attack the French.
Founding of St. Augustine
Pedro Menéndez de Avilés sighted land on August 28, 1565. As this was the feast day of Augustine of Hippo, the territory was named San Agustín. The Spanish sailed through the St. Augustine Inlet into Matanzas Bay and disembarked near the Timucua town of Seloy on September 7. Menéndez's goal was to dig a quick fortification to protect his people and supplies as they were unloaded from the ships, and then to take a more proper survey of the area to determine the best location for the fort. The location of this early fort has been confirmed through archaeological excavations directed by Kathleen Deagan on the grounds of what is now the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. It is known that the Spanish occupied several structures in Seloy, the chief of which, known as Chief Seloy, was allied with the Saturiwa, Laudonnière's allies. It is possible, but undemonstrated, that Menéndez fortified one of the occupied Timucua structures as this first fort at Seloy. In the meantime, Jean Ribault, Laudonnière's old commander, arrived at Fort Caroline with more settlers for the colony, as well as soldiers and weapons to defend them. He also took over the governorship of the settlement. Despite Laudonnière's wishes, Ribault put most of these soldiers aboard his ships for an assault on St. Augustine. However, he was surprised at sea by a violent storm lasting several days. This gave Menéndez the opportunity to march his forces overland for surprise dawn attack on the Fort Caroline garrison, which then numbered several hundred people. Laudonnière and some survivors fled to the woods, and the Spanish killed almost everyone in the fort except for the women and children. With the French displaced, Menéndez rechristened the fort as San Mateo, and appropriated it for his own purposes. The Spanish then returned south and eventually encountered the survivors of Ribault's fleet near the inlet at the southern end of Anastasia Island. Menéndez executed most of the survivors, including Ribault; the inlet was thus named for the Spanish word for slaughters, matanzas.
The first slaves in the territory that we now regard as the United States were brought to St. Augustine on the day it was founded by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés on September 8, 1565. Menéndez’s contract with King Phillip afforded him three years to import 500 African slaves. In 1566, Martín de Argüelles was born in San Agustín, the first European child who was recorded as born in the continental United States. Argüelles was born in San Agustín 21 years before the English settlement at Roanoke Island in Virginia Colony, and 42 years before the successful settlements of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Jamestown, Virginia. Additionally, the first recorded birth of a black child in the continental United States is in the Cathedral Parish Archives. Augustin was recorded as born in the year 1606, thirteen years before enslaved Africans were first brought to the English colony at Jamestown in 1619. In territory under the jurisdiction of the United States, only Puerto Rico has continuously occupied European-established settlements older than St. Augustine.
St. Augustine was intended to be a base for further colonial ventures across what is now the Southeastern United States, but such efforts were hampered by apathy and hostility on the part of the Native Americans towards becoming Spanish subjects. The Saturiwa, one of the two principal chiefdoms in the area, remained openly hostile. In 1566 the Saturiwa burned down St. Augustine and the settlement had to be relocated. Traditionally it was thought to have been moved to its present location, though some documentary evidence suggests it was first moved to a location on Anastasia Island. At any rate, it was certainly in its present location by the end of the 16th century.
The settlement also faced attacks from European forces. In April 1568 the French soldier Dominique de Gourgues led an attack on Spanish holdings. With the aid of the Saturiwa, Tacatacuru, and other Timucua peoples who had been friendly with Laudonnière, de Gourgues attacked and burned Fort San Mateo, the former Fort Caroline. He executed his prisoners in revenge for the 1565 massacre, but he did not approach St. Augustine. Additional French expeditions were primarily raids and could not dislodge the Spanish from St. Augustine. The English believed Admiral Avilés and the Catholic Spanish had destroyed the English fishing settlements in America, which had been established by John Cabot. Following the failure of the Roanoke colony in Virginia, where no survivors were discovered by an overdue supply expedition, the English blamed St. Augustine. Consequently, on June 6, 1586, English privateer Sir Francis Drake raided St. Augustine, burning it and driving surviving Spanish settlers into the wilderness. However, lacking sufficient forces or authority to establish an English settlement, Drake left the area.
In 1668 English privateer Robert Searle attacked and plundered St. Augustine. In the aftermath of his raid, the Spanish began in 1672 to construct 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, with many later additions and modifications.
The Spanish did not import many slaves to Florida for labor, as it was basically a military outpost rather than a plantation economy like those of the English colonies. As the British planted settlements south along the Atlantic coast, the Spanish encouraged their slaves to escape for sanctuary in Florida. If the fugitives converted to Catholicism and swore allegiance to the king of Spain, they were given freedom, arms, and supplies. Moving down the coast, the English established Charleston in 1670 and Savannah in 1733. In response, Spanish Governor Manual de Montiano in 1738 established the first legally recognized free community of ex-slaves, known as Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, or Fort Mose, to the north of St. Augustine to serve as its defense.
In 1740 British forces unsuccessfully attacked St. Augustine from their colonies in the Carolinas and Georgia. The largest and most successful of these attacks was organized by Governor and General James Oglethorpe of Georgia; he split the Spanish-Seminole alliance when he gained the help of Ahaya the Cowkeeper, chief of the Alachua band of the Seminole tribe. The Seminole then occupied territory mostly in the north of Florida. Later they migrated into the center and south of the peninsula.
In the subsequent campaign in 1740, Oglethorpe commanded several thousand colonial militia and British regulars, along with Alachua band warriors, and invaded Spanish Florida. He conducted the Siege of St. Augustine as part of during the War of Jenkin's Ear (1739-1742). During this siege, the black community of St. Augustine was important in resisting the British forces. The leader of Fort Mose during the battle was the legendary Capt. Francisco Menendez: born in Africa, he twice escaped from slavery. In Florida, he played an important role in defending St. Augustine from British raids. The Fort Mose site (of which only ruins remain) is now owned and maintained by the Florida Park Service. It has been designated as a National Historic Landmark.
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 freedmen departed from St. Augustine for Cuba. Only a few remained to handle unsold property and settle affairs.
James Grant was appointed the first governor of East Florida. He served from 1764 until 1771, when he returned to Britain due to illness. He was replaced as governor by Patrick Tonyn. During this brief period, the British converted the monks' quarters of the former Franciscan monastery into military barracks, which were named St. Francis Barracks. They also built The King's Bakery, which is believed to be the only extant structure in the city built entirely during the British period.
The Lieutenant Governor of East Florida under Governor Grant was John Moultrie, who was born in South Carolina. He had served under Grant as a major in the Cherokee War and remained loyal to the British Crown. (His three brothers all later participated in the cause of independence of the Thirteen Colonies.)
Moultrie was granted large tracts of land in the St. Augustine vicinity, upon which he established the plantation of "Bella Vista." He owned another plantation in the Tomoka River basin named "Rosetta". While acting as the lieutenant governor, he lived in the Peck House on St. George Street.
During the British period, Andrew Turnbull, a friend of Grant, established the settlement of New Smyrna in 1768. Turnbull recruited indentured servants from the Mediterranean area, primarily the island of Minorca. The conditions at New Smyrna were so abysmal that the settlers rebelled en masse in 1777; they walked the to St. Augustine, where Grant gave them refuge. The Minorcans and their descendants stayed on in St. Augustine through the subsequent changes of flags. They were among its oldest families, and marked the community with language, culture, cuisine and customs.
Second Spanish period
The Treaty of Paris in 1783, gave the American colonies north of Florida their independence, and ceded Florida to Spain in recognition of Spanish efforts on behalf of the American colonies during the war.
On September 3, 1783, by Treaty of Paris, Britain also signed separate agreements with France and Spain. In the treaty with Spain, the colonies of West Florida, captured by the Spanish, and East Florida were given to Spain, as was the island of Minorca, while the Bahama Islands, Grenada and Montserrat, captured by the French and Spanish, were returned to Britain.
Florida was under Spanish control again from 1784 to 1821. There was no new settlement, only small detachments of soldiers, as the fortifications decayed. Spain itself was the scene of war between 1808 and 1814 and had little control over Florida. In 1821 the Adams–Onís Treaty peaceably turned the Spanish provinces in Florida and, with them, St. Augustine, over to the United States. There were only three Spanish soldiers stationed there in 1821.
A relic of this second period of Spanish rule is the Constitution Obelisk monument honoring the Spanish Constitution of 1812, one of the most liberal of its time. In 1814 King Ferdinand VII of Spain abolished that constitution and had monuments to it torn down; the one in Saint Augustine was the only one to survive.
Florida was ceded to the United States by Spain in the 1819 Adams–Onís Treaty, ratification of the treaty took place in 1821, and it officially became a U.S. possession as the Florida Territory in 1822. Andrew Jackson, a future president, was appointed as the military governor, succeeded by William Pope Duval as territorial governor in April 1822. Florida gained statehood in 1845.
After 1821, the United States renamed the Castillo de San Marcos (British, Fort St. Marks) as Fort Marion for Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox" of the American Revolution.
During the Second Seminole War of 1835–1842, the fort served as a prison for Seminole captives, including the famed leader Osceola; the black Seminole, John Cavallo (John Horse), as well as Coacoochee (Wildcat), who made a daring escape from the fort with 19 other Seminoles.
After the war, freedmen in St. Augustine established the community of Lincolnville in 1866, named after President Abraham Lincoln. Lincolnville, which had preserved the largest concentration of Victorian Era homes in St. Augustine, became a key setting for the Civil Rights Movement in St. Augustine a century later.
After the Civil War, Fort Marion was used twice, in the 1870s and then again in the 1880s, to house first Plains Indians, and then Apaches, who were captured by the US Army in the West. The daughter of Geronimo was born at Fort Marion, and was named Marion. She later changed her name. The fort was also used as a military prison during the Spanish-American War of 1898. It was removed from the Army's active duty rolls in 1900 after 205 years of service under five different flags. It is now run by the National Park Service, and is preserved as the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, a National Historic Landmark.
Henry Flagler, a partner with John D. Rockefeller in Standard Oil, arrived in St. Augustine in the 1880s. He was the driving force behind turning the city into a winter resort for the wealthy northern elite. Flagler bought a number of local railroads and incorporated them into the Florida East Coast Railway; it built its headquarters in St. Augustine.
Flagler commissioned the New York architectural firm of Carrère and Hastings to design a number of extravagant buildings in St. Augustine, among them the Ponce de Leon Hotel and the Alcazar Hotel. He built the latter partly on land purchased from his friend and associate Andrew Anderson and partly on the bed of Maria Sanchez Creek, which Flagler had filled with the archaeological remains of the original Fort Mose. Flagler built or contributed to several churches, including Grace Methodist, Ancient City Baptist, and, most ornate, the Venetian-style Memorial Presbyterian Church.
Flagler commissioned Albert Spalding to design a baseball park in St. Augustine. In the 1880s, the waiters at his hotels, under the leadership of Frank P. Thompson, formed one of America's pioneer professional Negro League baseball teams, the Ponce de Leon Giants. It later was renamed as the Cuban Giants. Frank Grant, one of the team members, in the late 20th century was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
In the 1880s, no public hospital was operated between Daytona Beach and Jacksonville. On May 22, 1888, Flagler invited the most influential women of St. Augustine to a meeting; he offered them a hospital if the community would commit to operate and maintain the facility. The Alicia Hospital opened March 1, 1890, as a not-for-profit institution; it was renamed Flagler Hospital in his honor in 1905.
The St. Augustine Alligator Farm, incorporated in 1908, in the 21st century is one of the oldest commercial tourist attractions in Florida, as is the Fountain of Youth, which dates from the same time period. The city is one terminus of the Old Spanish Trail, a promotional effort of the 1920s linking St. Augustine to San Diego, California, with of roadways.
The Florida Land Boom of the 1920s left its mark on St. Augustine with the residential development (though not completion) of Davis Shores, a landfill project on the marshy north end of Anastasia Island. It was promoted as "America's Foremost Watering Place". It was reached from downtown St. Augustine by the Bridge of Lions, billed as "The Most Beautiful Bridge in Dixie".
During World War II, St. Augustine hotels were used as sites for training Coast Guardsmen, including the celebrated artist Jacob Lawrence and actor Buddy Ebsen. It was a popular place for R&R for soldiers from nearby Camp Blanding, including Andy Rooney and Sloan Wilson. Wilson later wrote the novel The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, which became a classic of the 1950s.
Civil rights movement
St. Augustine was among the pivotal sites of the Civil Rights Movement in 1963–1964.
Nearly a decade after the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation of schools was unconstitutional, African Americans were still trying to get the city to integrate the public schools. They were also trying to integrate public accommodations, such as lunch counters, and were met with arrests and Ku Klux Klan violence. The police arrested non-violent protesters for participating in peaceful picket lines, sit-ins, and marches. Homes of blacks were firebombed, black leaders were assaulted and threatened with death, and others were fired from their jobs.
In the spring of 1964, St. Augustine civil rights leader Robert Hayling asked the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and its leader Martin Luther King, Jr. for assistance. From May until July 1964, they carried out marches, sit-ins, and other forms of peaceful protest in St. Augustine. Hundreds of black and white civil rights supporters were arrested, and the jails were filled to overflowing. At the request of Hayling and King, white civil rights supporters from the North, including students, clergy, and well-known public figures, came to St. Augustine and were arrested together with southern activists.
The KKK responded with violent attacks that were widely reported in national and international media. Popular revulsion against the Klan violence generated national sympathy for the black protesters and became a key factor in Congressional passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which were to provide federal enforcement of constitutional rights.
In 2010, at the invitation of Flagler College, Andrew Young, who was a civil rights activist and former US ambassador to the United Nations, premiered his movie, Crossing in St. Augustine, about the 1963–1964 struggles against Jim Crow segregation in the city.
The city is a popular travel destination for its Spanish colonial-era buildings as well as elite 19th-century architecture. The city's historic center is anchored by St. George Street, which is lined with historic houses from various periods. Most of these houses are reconstructions of buildings that had been burned or demolished over the years, though a few of them are original.
The city has a privately funded Freedom Trail of historic sites of the civil rights movement, and a museum at the Fort Mose site, the location of the 1738 free black community. Historic Excelsior School, built in 1925 as the first public high school for blacks in St. Augustine, has been adapted as the city's first museum of African-American history. In 2011, the St. Augustine Foot Soldiers Monument, a commemoration of participants in the civil rights movement, was dedicated in the downtown plaza a few feet from the former Slave Market. Robert Hayling, the leader of the St. Augustine movement, and Hank Thomas, who grew up in St. Augustine and was one of the original Freedom Riders, spoke at the dedication ceremony. Another corner of the plaza was designated "Andrew Young Crossing" in honor of the civil rights leader, who received his first beating in the movement in St. Augustine in 1964. Bronze replicas of Young's footsteps have been incorporated into the sidewalk that runs diagonally through the plaza, along with quotes expressing the importance of St. Augustine to the civil rights movement. That project was publicly funded. Some important landmarks of the civil rights movement, including the Monson Motel and the Ponce de Leon Motor Lodge, had been demolished in 2003 and 2004.
Local Societies and Associations
St. Augustine Historical Society
The St. Augustine Historical Society maintains a research library with collections that include:
Library hours 9:00 am to 4:30 pm Tuesday through Friday.
Menorcan Cultural Society
The Menorcan Cultural Society members trace their lineage to the failed New Smyrna colony founded by Andrew Turnbull in 1768. Many survivors of that colony found shelter in St. Augustine and their descendants live in the St. Augustine area today.
Fort Mose Historical Society
Fort Mose is the first settlement of free ex-slaves and was founded just north of St. Augustine in 1738. The Fort Mose Historical Society works to preserve the history of this settlement and its people.
St. Augustine Genealogical Society
The St. Augustine Genealogical Society meets monthly at the Southeast Branch of the St. Johns County Public Library located on US1 South. They have cataloged the local cemeteries as part of the RootsWeb Cemetery Records project.
As mentioned above, the St. Augustine Genealogical Society has cataloged the local cemeteries. These records can be found on the Society's Cemetery page. The Graveyard Rabbit of Moultrie Creek, a member of the Association of Graveyard Rabbits blog network, documents the history of local cemeteries and their inhabitants. Articles include documented sources for additional research help. A photo collection of St. Augustine Cemeteries is now available at Flickr. A Cemetery Map of St. Johns County is being built using Google Maps. Click on the cemetery icons to display additional information for that cemetery.
The Huguenot Cemetery is located on Avenida Menendez between the City Gate and the Visitors Center and was in operation from 1821 to 1884.
Tolomato Cemetery is located on Cordova Street just south of Orange Street. Originally the location of an Indian village and Franciscan mission, it became the Catholic cemetery in 1777 when the survivors of the failed New Smyrna colony - most of Minorcan ancestry - arrived in St. Augustine. It continued to serve the Catholic community until the city closed it in 1884.
Evergreen Cemetery opened in 1886 and is still active. The original plan was influenced by the Rural Cemetery Movement of the 19th century and the older sections reflect this. Family plots, beautiful monuments and impressive landscaping are highlights. The newer sections reflect a more stark appearance with few trees and simple grave markers. A map of Evergreen Cemetery including aerial photography shows the delineation between the old and new sections.
St. Augustine National Cemetery is located at 104 Marine Street just south of St. Francis Barracks, headquarters of the Florida National Guard. The first interment is recorded in 1828. Burials included casualties from the Seminole Wars and the Spanish American War. More information on this cemetery can be obtained at its Place page here or at the Veterans Administration and RootsWeb sites.
The Mission of Nombre de Dios is not a cemetery, but does contain a number of graves. There are some graves dating back to the 1850s, but most are dated between 1880 and 1900. All are indexed at the SAGS site mentioned above.
The Florida National Guard web site includes a Heritage Center section with a history of "Florida's Army".
Other useful military history resources include: