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St. Augustine Burned to the Ground in 1725
A more accurate date of the old buildings
The first occupants were from Spain, England, and France (Huguenots), and were Indians. They lived among one another in the village.
Today more world travelers visit St. Augustine, Florida than any other city. A visit to the old shops in the historical area is charming. It is clear that some of those buildings are ancient. The design of the Spanish seemed to be the cold, dismal appearance of concrete and mortar furnished by giant-size dressers and furnishings. The look of Spain is definitely different from the styles of other countries. Although the furnishings are large, heavy, and bulky, their beauty cannot be questioned.
Unknown to me until I read the book listed below, I, like so many other visitors, assumed that I was viewing the earliest construction dated somewhere in the 16th century. But the following evidence confirms that the first town was burned down twice, first by James Moore (sometimes referred to as Governor), an Irish Colonial Administrator of Carolina from 1700 to 1703, and second, by Colonel Palmer in 1725. That fact dates the buildings to after 1725.
Hostilities had broken out between England and Spain in 1702. There were always trade issues going on between these countries.
At that period of time, the English settlements in Carolina only numbered six or seven thousand people when Moore decided to invade St. Augustine. Charleston was the port city at the time, so most of those residents were probably situated around the rivers. His reasoning was to retaliate for old injuries and to prevent an attack on South Carolina. But the opponents of Moore related that the true purpose was to gain privately while acquiring a military reputation.
The plan of the expedition was to attack by land and sea. Moore engaged six hundred provincial militia. A portion of the militia were Indians, and they were to go by land under the command of Colonel Daniel while the main body proceeded with the governor by the sea in several merchant schooners that had been impressed into service.
The Spaniards knew that he was coming, and laid up provisions in the castle to withstand a long siege, which provisions included their most valuable effects.
The forces under Colonel Daniel arrived in advance of the naval fleet and immediately marched upon the town. As he approached, the inhabitants of the town retired with their most valuable effects within the spacious walls of the castle which was some distance from the town. Colonel Daniel entered and took possession of the town.
The quaint description of these events, given by Oldmixon, is as follows: —
“Col. Rob. Daniel, a very brave man, commanded a party who was to go up the river in piraguas, and come upon Augustino on the land side, while the Governour sailed thither, and attacked it by sea. They both set out in August 1702. Col. Daniel, in his way, took St. Johns, a small Spanish settlement; as also St. Mary’s, another little village belonging to the Spaniards; after which he proceeded to Augustino, came before the town, entered and took it, Col. Moor not being yet arrived with the fleet.
“The inhabitants having noticed the approach of the English had packed up their best effects and retired with them into the castle, which was surrounded by a very deep and broad moat.
“They had laid up provisions there for four months and resolved to defend themselves to the last extremity. However, Col. Daniel found a considerable booty in the town. The next day the Governor came ashore, and his troops following him, they entrenched, posted their guards in the church and blocked up the castle. The English held possession of the town a whole month; but finding they could do nothing for want of mortars and bombs, they despatched away a sloop for Jamaica; but the commander of the sloop, instead of going thither, came to Carolina out of fear of treachery. Finding others offered to go in his stead, he proceeded in the voyage himself, after he had lain some time at Charlestown.
“The Governor all this while lay before the castle of Augustine, in expectation of the return of the sloop, but when he heard nothing of it, he sent Colonel to Jamaica on the same errand.
“This gentleman, being hearty in the design, procured a supply of bombs, and returned towards Augustine. But in the meantime, two ships appeared in the offing, which are taken to be two very large men of war, the Governor tho’t fit to raise the siege and abandon his ships, with a great number of stores, ammunition, and provisions, to the enemy. Upon which the two men of war entered the port of Augustino, and took the Governor's ships. Some say he burnt them himself. Certain it is they were lost to the English, and that he returned to Charles-Town over land 300 miles from Augustino. The two men of war that were thought to be so large, proved to be two small frigates, one of 82, and the other of 16 guns.
“When Col. Daniel came back to St. Augustine, he was chased, but got away; and Col. Moor retreated with no great honor homewards. The piraguas lay at St. Johns, whither the Governour retired and so to Charles-Town, having lost but two men in the whole expedition.”
Arratomakaw, king of the Yamioseans who commanded the Indians, proceeded to retreat to the piraguas where he slept upon his oars with a great deal of bravery and unconcern. The governor’s soldiers, thinking the Spaniards were coming, did not like this slow pace of the Indian king in his flight, and to quicken him into it, bade him make haste. But Arratomakaw replied, “No; though your governor leaves you, I will not stir till I have seen all my men before me.”
According to Spanish accounts, the governor burned down the town. This statement was confirmed by a report made on 18 July 1740 by a committee of the House of Commons of the province of South Carolina when it stated: “Moore was obliged to retreat, but not without first burning the town.”
Apparently, the plunder carried off by Moore’s troops was considerable; as his enemies charged at the time that he sent off a sloop-load to Jamaica. An old colonial document of South Carolina revealed “that the late unfortunate, ill-contrived, and worst managed expedition against St. Augustine, was principally set on foot by the said late governor and his adherents; and that if any person in the said late assembly undertook to speak against it and to show how unfit and unable we were at that time for such an attempt, he was presently looked upon by them as an enemy and traitor to his country, and reviled and affronted in the said assembly; although the true design of the said expedition was no other than catching and making slaves of Indians for private advantage, and impoverishing the country and that the expedition was to enrich themselves will appear particularly, because whatsoever booty, as rich silks, a great quantity of church plate, with a great many other costly church ornaments and utensils taken by our soldiers at St. Augustine, are now detained in the possession of the said late governor and his officers, contrary to an act of assembly made for an equal division of the same amongst the soldiers.”
The Spanish accounts of this expedition are lacking in clarity. They designate Moore as the Governor of St. George, by which name they called the harbor of Charleston; and they also speak of the plunder of the town and the burning of the greater part of the houses. Don Joseph de Curriga was the then governor of the city, and had received just previous to the English attack, reinforcements from Havana, and had repaired and strengthened the fortifications.
The retreat of the English was celebrated with great rejoicing by the Spaniards, who had been confined within the castle for three months. They gladly repaired their ruined homes and made good the ravages of the English invasion.
An English account says that the two vessels which appeared off the bar and caused Moore’s precipitate retreat, contained but two hundred men, and that had he awaited Colonel Daniel’s return with the siege guns and ammunition, the castle would have fallen into their hands.
In the same year, the king of Spain, alarmed at the dangers which menaced his possessions in Florida, gave greater attention to strengthening the defenses of St. Augustine and forwarded considerable reinforcements to the garrison, as well as additional supplies of munitions.
The works were directed to be strengthened, including the sea wall.
Sixty years had elapsed since the Appalachian Indians had been conquered and compelled to labor upon the fortifications of St. Augustine; their chiefs now asked that they might be relieved from further compulsory labor; and after the usual number of references and reports and information, through the Spanish circumlocution offices, this was graciously granted in a suspensory form, until their services should be again required.
During the year 1712, a great scarcity of provisions, caused by the failure of the usual supply vessels, reduced the inhabitants of St. Augustine to the verge of starvation; and, for two or three months, they were obliged to live upon horses, cats, dogs, and other disgusting animals. It seems strange, that after a settlement of nearly one hundred and fifty years, the Spaniards in Florida should still be dependent upon the importation of provisions for their support. They had abundant resources from the fish, oysters, turtles, and clams of the sea, and the arrow-root and cabbage-tree palm of the land.
As the English settlements began to extend into the interior portions of South Carolina; the French renewed their efforts at settlement and colonization upon the rivers discharging into the Gulf of Mexico.
All three nations were competitors for the trade with the Indians and kept up an intriguing rivalship for this trade for more than a hundred years!
There seems to have been at this period a policy pursued by the Spanish authorities in Florida, of the most reprehensible character. The strongest efforts were made to attach all the Indian tribes to the Spanish interest, and these “Spanish Indians” were encouraged to carry on a system of plunder and annoyance upon the English settlements of Carolina.
In 1704, Governor Moore decided to make a sweeping and vigorous excursion against the Indian towns in Middle Florida, all of whom possessed Spanish missions.
In 1725, Col. Palmer determined, since no satisfaction could be obtained for the incursions of the Spanish Indians, and the loss of their slaves, to make a descent upon them; and with a party of three hundred men entered Florida, with an intention of visiting upon the province all the desolation of retributive warfare.
He went up to the very gates of St. Augustine and compelled the inhabitants to seek protection inside the castle. In his course he swept everything before him, destroying every house, field, and improvement within his reach; carrying off the livestock, and everything else of value. The Spanish Indians were slain in large numbers, and many were taken, as prisoners. Outside of the walls of St. Augustine, nothing was left undestroyed; and the Spanish authorities received a memorable lesson in the law of retribution.
Source: The Spaniards in Florida, Comprising the Notable Settlement of the Huguenots in 1564, and the History and Antiquities of St. Augustine by George R. Fairbanks, Vice President Florida Historical Society (1868)