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A CHILD IN ST. AUGUSTINE IN 1740
by Susan R..Parker
St. Augustine was a Spanish town for
almost 250 years. It was a military, post
for Spain. It was founded in 1565. About forty
years later, when the boys and girls who had
helped to found St. Augustine had themsel-
ves become grandparents, England started
its first colony in Virginia in 1607.
People in the past did not write much
about what children did or thought, but
we can tell you some things about children in
this town at the edge of the ocean, where the
threat of attack by a foreign country was an
everyday concern. Let's see what it was like
in 1740, the year the soldiers from Georgia
tried to take over St. Augustine for their
Girls and boys who lived in St. Augustine
in 1740 spoke Spanish. Almost all of
them were born in St. Augustine and baptized
within a week of their birth. Aunts, uncles, or
favorite neighbors became the godparents of
the infant. The parents named the girls: Ana,
Leocadia, Victoriana, Sebastiana, and, of
course, Maria. They called their boys Jose,
Francisco, Bartolome, Pedro, and Antonio.
Their mothers also had been born in St.
Augustine. In fact, their families had
come to the city more than 150 years before.
Their fathers might have been born here, but
many fathers had left other parts of the
Spanish empire--Spain, Cuba, Mexico--to
come to St. Augustine to be soldiers at the
town's fortress-Castillo de San Marcos.
These men met and married women from St.
Many children lived with a step-mother or
a step-father, not because of divorce,
but because one of their parents had died.
Women frequently died in childbirth. Before
reaching adulthood, many children had
several step-parents or might live with rela-
tives because both parents were dead. Con-
tagious [CON-TAGE-US] diseases killed
many people at this time, before the invention
of immunizations [E-MUNE-NI-ZA-SHUNS].
Thus cousins and very young aunts or uncles
also resided in the household as well as
grandparents and all sorts of other relatives.
Because most houses had only one or two
rooms, the family members all slept near each
other, not in separate rooms. "Lodgers" who
were not relatives, perhaps an unmarried sol-
dier or someone without a family in St. Augus-
tine, might also live in the house, helping with
household expenses or duties.
The Spanish in St. Augustine built their
houses of wood boards placed vertically
[up and down to the ground] or of tabby. To
make tabby [tapia in Spanish], the residents
gathered empty oyster shells, burned and
pounded them to a powder, then mixed in
water and sand to create a sort of concrete.
They roofed their houses with palm fronds.
For the grander homes, men quarried [dug
up out of the ground] a shellstone called
coquina [CO-KEE-NA] on a barrier island
across the bay from the castillo. The workers
loaded the cut stone onto rafts and floated it
to the mainland. The castillo's walls are made
The residents built the walls of their
houses right at the streetline with a high
fence enclosing the property. Entry doors
were on the side of the house, not on the
street. Meals were often cooked outside over
wood fires. A pan of charcoal placed on its
own special stand called a brasero [BRA-
SER-O] provided heat for the house in cold
St. Augustine had central square called
a plaza [PLA-ZA]. The town's streets
were narrow and straight. An earthen wall
supported by palm logs surrounded and
protected the town against invaders. Sharp
cacti or Spanish bayonets topped the wall.
This wall slowed down attackers, and from
behind the wall, soldiers could fire at the
enemy. The wall needed constant repair. Cat-
tle, grazing freely without fences, caused a lot
of damage to the wall with their hooves.
St. Augustine was a military outpost of the
Spanish empire; fathers were usually
soldiers. There was always a group of sol-
diers on guard duty at the fort--day and night.
If a soldier-father was assigned to one of the
lookout posts that were many miles outside
of town, he would be away for a month. Then
the children would have to assist with addi-
tional chores that the father usually did when
he was home. Children hoed and weeded
gardens, fed chickens and goats in the back-
yard, fished and gathered oysters.
Everyone in town was a Roman Catholic.
It was the official religion of the Spanish
empire.. Most of the holidays and festivals
were religious holidays. On these days
parades began at the church and wound their
way through the city's street. On the day of
Corpus Christi, [Latin for the body of Christ]
celebrated seven weeks after Easter, the
townspeople strewed the path of the proces-
sion with palm fronds and fragrant herbs.
Sometimes the governor ordered cannons to
be fired for celebrations. When a new king of
Spain was crowned, the people of St. Augus-
tine celebrated that event, as did all the
people in Spain's colonies. When a king or
queen died, there was a solemn memorial
service throughout the empire.
Three days a week priests taught the
boys of upstanding families. At the St.
Augustine school, the students learned Latin
and songs for church services. Two or three
hundred years ago education was not avail-
able to all children as it is today. This was true
almost everywhere, not just in St. Augustine,
and parents who could afford it hired tutors to
teach their children at home. Many parents
themselves could not read. Out of every 100
soldiers in St. Augustine, 78 did not know how
to read or write; 12 of the 100 knew only how
to sign their names; and only 8 were literate
[LIT-ER-RIT]. For each 100 women, even
fewer could read and write.
Many boys in St. Augustine became sol-
diers. A few went to sea as cabin boys
at about age 12. Black boys, who in 1740
were usually slaves, could be drummers for
the troops. From the steps of the Govern-
ment House, they beat their drums to notify
the townspeople of special events, such as
public sales. Indian boys became harbor
pilots, cattleherders, and scouts for the
government if they did not choose to be sol-
Some Indian families lived in houses in
town, while others lived in villages just
outside the town's protective wall. The
Spanish in Florida and the British in Georgia
had been enemies for more than a hundred
years. Wars and raids had disrupted the
indians' lives. Some Indians sided with the
English, others with the Spanish. St.
Augustine's "town" Indians had moved near
or into the town for protection. These Indians
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were Christians, and priests held religious
services in their villages.
In 1740, the British from Georgia tried to
capture St. Augustine. The town's resi-
dents worried that they would all have to go
into the Castillo for protection from the attack.
Forty years earlier, 1500 townspeople spent
six weeks inside the fort while English attack-
ers from Carolina camped in their yards. This
time, the civilians did not have to retreat to the
safety of the castle. For weeks, however, the
people of St. Augustine heard the cannons
that the Spanish and British fired at each
What really worried the Spanish governor
and the people was not the cannons,
but the food supply. Much of the town's food
arrived on boats from Cuba and Mexico.
Other'food came into the city from English
ships headed for Europe with goods, which
Spanish privateers captured. When the
British cannon-fire began in 1740, the city had
only a six weeks supply of food on hand.
Enemy ships blocked the harbor, and British
soldiers camped on the outskirts of the town.
Hunting and fishing were not easy. Fortunate-
ly, warships from Cuba arrived in St. Augus-
tine before the supply of food ran out, and the
British fled back to Georgia.
What do you think about life in the 18th
century city of St. Augustine?
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