Group Title: Historic St. Augustine: De Mesa Sanchez House, Block 7 Lot 6
Title: De Mesa site, revisited
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 Material Information
Title: De Mesa site, revisited
Series Title: Historic St. Augustine: De Mesa Sanchez House, Block 7 Lot 6
Physical Description: Report
Language: English
Creator: Smith, James M.
Publication Date: 1981
Subject: Saint Augustine (Fla.)
43 Saint George Street (Saint Augustine, Fla.)
de Mesa-Sanchez House (Saint Augustine, Fla.)
Spatial Coverage: North America -- United States of America -- Florida -- Saint Johns -- Saint Augustine -- 43 Saint George Street
Coordinates: 29.896429 x -81.313225
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00091263
Volume ID: VID00069
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution.
Resource Identifier: B7-L6

Full Text


James M. Smith

Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board


I. Introduction

For over a year's time, from the spring of 1977 to the spring of 1978, the

deMesa-Sanchez House became the focus of two archaeological projects, the first

undertaken by Kathy Deagan and the 1977 edition of the Florida State University

field school (1978), and the second under the aegis of the Historic St. Augustine

Preservation Board and John Bostwick (1978). The stated objectives for both

excavations centered on the following three considerations:

"1. The determination of the evolution of the deMesa-Sanchez
House architecture, including the sequence and dating of
floor plans and construction features.

2. The determination of lot element patterning through time.

3. The determination of the dietary and material patterning
associated with a lower-middle income criollo household"
(Deagan 1978:3).

Though an eye was cast toward each of these objectives during the fieldwork,

only the first was fully realized. In both Deagan's-and Bostwick's reports, a

large portion of the data is bound up in the evolution of the deMesa-Sanchez

House, which simply means that much of the time during fieldwork was spent

chasing after foundations and floor levels and then determining their relative

chronological dates. To achieve this end, a variety of trenches were placed

within the interior of the present day structure and an intermixture of trenches

and test squares across the remainder of the deMesa lot (fig. 1).

Deagan established a set of different factors to date the various architec-

tural features. These include: 1) similar above sea level elevations, 2) similar

methods of construction, 3) definable relationships between floors and wall foot-

ings, and 4) terminus post quem provided by artifacts in the fill beneath the


Ei Excavated Areas

Fig. 1 -deMesa Site
SA 7-6
10 0 5 10

floors (1978:11). The primary dating techniques used in the two reports are

essentially confined to the third and fourth criteria. Within the deMesa-Sanchez

House a series of tabby floors were laid down one above the other through time.

Between each of these earth fill was used to make a fairly level base and to

provide a continuous bed. Both organic and cultural material occurred in large

quantity in the fill levels, strongly suggesting that the various builders simply

took earth from somewhere on the deMesa lot, shoveled it onto the tabby floor

being replaced, and poured a new floor directly above it. The intervening fill

and its cultural material thus provide a basis to date the overlying floor by the

artifacts' terminus post quem, particularly the ceramics. This in turn allows

the individual floors to function as a dating tool by their relationship with the

various wall footings. If a floor was poured over a wall base, the floor must

postdate the wall; if a floor was laid directly abutting a wall, the two elements

were in use at the same time; and finally if a wall cut through a floor, the wall

must postdate the floor. (See fig. 2).

S t.p.q. 1813 Tabby floor
... ..... ... Wall base ... .
st n -p c. i1800 a- - o- Fi- s o Fill
...._ ^.: !:.:;' :-. ;:.. t.p.q. 1800 .
. ::. :C.c1760 : :

t.p.q. 1760

L Fl" g. 2

Beyond the two site reports, the excavations also spawned a small number of

student papers. These include analyses of a First Spanish Period well (Huston

1977), the glass material culture (Wirth.1977), 3 Gaule Indian burials (Gest

1977), the faunal remains (Reitz 1977), and the European-Chinese ceramics

(Letchworth 1977).

II. The Archaeology of the deMesa-Sanchez House

The Pre-1750 Period (fig. 3)

Very little cultural activity occurred on the site before Antonio

deMesa's arrival in the late 1740's. This "pre-deMesa era" is defined by a meager

group of three different features; a hard-packed clay floor, a short section of

oyster shell wall, and five individual burials. Both the clay floor and tabby

footing are poorly documented by the archaeological record; neither having any

associated material culture nor datable context. The information from the five

burials, all apparently Guale Indians, is a bit more enlightening. Gest (1977)

and Bostwick (1979) claim that the five individuals were all members of a single

extended or even nuclear family (based on common skeletal malformations) who died

on approximately the same dates from supposedly similar causes. Further, Gest

speculates that this "family" was conscripted to work on the Castillo by the

local Spanish government and in the process fell victim to one of the periodic

epidemics that swept through St. Augustine's Indian population during the late

17th century. This scenario rests on historical and not archaeological data.

But for its part, the archaeology has no better interpretation to offer.

Fig. 3
g. 3 deMesa Pre-1750
SA 7- 6
10 0 5 10

DeMesa House c. 1760

With Antonio de Mesa's ownership, the site gained its first clearly definable

buildings and features, arranged in a fairly standard late First Spanish Period

pattern. As shown in fig. 4, the excavations uncovered three integrated archi-

tectural elements; .a small single room house, a larger, partially enclosed

central courtyard, and a small, detached rear kitchen. Each of these components

was interconnected to provide an overall, single continuous architectural unit.

The house itself was a one room, 16.7 by 26.5 ft. coquina structure, built

at some time prior to 1760. The single room plan is predicated upon the absence

of any below ground interior division. Also, no flooring material (tabby or

packed earth) was found that dated to this period. A large, tabby floored court-

yard, 23.3 by 35.0 ft.,extended directly from the rear wall of the house eastward

to the edge of the kitchen. It was enclosed on three of its four sides with the

south and southwest exposures left open. At a distance of.about 8 ft. from the

kitchen wall a circular stain cut through the courtyard floor. Although not

fully excavated (the wall dividing rooms 106 and 108 sits directly above it), the

stain has all the earmarks of a well pit. In addition to this feature, Bostwick

(1978:12) mentions locating a post hole in the courtyard somewhere along the back

wall of the house. Its exact placement has unfortunately been lost along the

way, but the presence of a post in this general area does suggest the possibility

of a rear loggia with a shed roof arrangement. The final element of the deMesa

plan concerns the detached rear kitchen. For reasons unknown, only one of its

coquina walls was fully traced, indicating a north-south dimension of slightly

less than 12 ft. with an associated interior tabby floor.

Beyond this evidence relating to the deMesa occupation, Deagan and Bostwick

also uncovered a substantial portion of a larger structure known as the Escovedo

House. The exposed portions of its tabby wall foundations and floor partially

define a two-room structure, measuring 33 ft. in length with its short axis or

gable end (of unknown width) fronting St. George Street, directly south of the

original deMesa property. -Escovedo apparently was built and inhabited about the

same time as deMesa.

I i *

DE MESA c. 1760
Fig. 4 SA 7-6
---0 --2-4

jms 8-81

DeMesa House c. 1780 The British Period (fig. 5)

By 1780 the deMesa House had undergone a good bit of Anglicization. The

initial one room design was changed to a three room, tabby floored plan as the

house was expanded southward by nearly 12 ft. over the now demolished Escovedo

House. This expansion did not alter the integrity of the original structure, it

merely stuck another room onto the long axis, added a partition through the in-

terior, and provided a 6 ft. wide entry into the house directly from the street.

The only other modification to the central core occurred along the exterior side

of room 103's east wall, where a chimney base was built in the same location as!

the present doorway.

The central courtyard from the 1760 plan also underwent some alteration,

though in a more subtle than substantial manner. During the British Period this

section changed from its original large, open "room" function to a non-

architectural space used in part for trash disposal. Broken barrel tiles, English

ceramics, and packed earth overlaid much of what was once deMesa's courtyard

floor. Although the exact limits of the debris' scatter were never clearly

defined, it apparently extended from the rear of the house to approximately the

kitchen's western edge through the area roughly corresponding to rooms 105 and
107. Not only does this material suggest an English disposal pattern at work, it

also clearly denotes the use of barrel tiles at the site as a roofing material on

one or more of the original buildings. With the appearance of Stout or Walton

the tiles were stripped off and discarded onto the courtyard floor. Whether or

not, as Deagan suggests (1978:22) they also define a specific work space, is, for

now, only conjectural. As a final note on the courtyard area, a new section of

tabby floor was poured along the rear edge of the southern addition in what is

today room 104. Its purpose or function is to date unresolved.
The kitchen stayed in about the same location as its 1760 predecessor. But

now, instead of being built entirely of coquina, only the north wall remained

.,. . .. .... l w-. .,4 .-. . .*. ol. *, i <.; ,- .' * ( ~


stone while the original west and south walls were torn down and replaced by a

wood frame construction. As before, the east wall of the kitchen was not defined

during the excavations, though its tabby floor indicates at least a 7 ft. width.


DE MESA c. 1780

Fig. 5 SA 7-6
4 0 2 4

j7'V E33l
jm" 'q

DeMesa-Sanchez House 1785-1800 (fig. 6)

With the return of St. Augustine to Spanish control, the site followed suit

under Juan Sanchez's ownership and returned to a more Hispanic treatment of its

architectural space. At sometime during this 15 year span, the house lost its

Anglo three room plan with the removal of an interior wall (room 103), thus

fashioning an asymetrical two room core minus its street entry a design that

incidentally incorporated the original deMesa structure in its entirety. The

house also gained a two room east wing, giving it an overall "L" shaped configu-

ration, along with a new tabby floor throughout both its interior and exterior

limits. As for deMesa's original courtyard, it was now enclosed along its

northern portion by the two room addition while its remaining open area was con-

verted into a fairly large covered loggia with coquina piers supporting a

probable shed roof.

To the rear of the house the kitchen continued to be detached, but its place-

ment was shifted eastward by 14 ft. from its previous location. After a brief

stint as a frame structure, Sanchez rebuilt the kitchen entirely of coquina in a

much larger 14.2 by 17.8 ft. format, using bare earth as the flooring surface.

Pottery fragments imbedded in the floor indicate that it remained earthen until

sometime after 1820 (late hand-painted pearlware providing the terminus post


By 1800, the deMesa-Sanchez House had taken on the basic outline that it

displays today. All the elements were in place, and it simply became a matter of

enclosing and connecting together the various parts into a single architectural

element. '


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I i

*. *S S S

S* Kitchen '
. (earthen floor) .
* S *

* *

* . * .
* *

~rr t~

S -

DE MESA 1785-1800

SA 7- 6

4 0 2
anmarson y ")**i

.* .**f -I .-** .:.- =: : * .* :*:.*: **.*:: :. ::

' '. ; :. ::: *.* : Loggia *, : ... *.

* S .' : : : :

: :.* oO .o o .'. :. : : ' : .-
..* .* C **
. .:.: .. .::: *' : t f *

.* : S.' .. : *
. *. *.****.

* ** *: *
* : .* o S. t

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Fig. 6



DeMesa-Sanchez House c. 1820 (fig. 7)

Of all the various building phases that the deMesa-Sanchez House has undergone,

the 1820 plan is lhe least well documented archaeologically. The loggia of the
previous Sanchez .ra was now enclosed with coquina blocks laid between the exist-

ing piers at sometime before 1815. Bostwick (1978:16) suggests that this process

occurred in two stages; the present room 104 became enclosed between 1803 and

1813, based on the absence of ironstone in the fill beneath the new tabby floor
(a rather unreliable dating technique),and then room 107 underwent a similar
alteration at some point after 1813, based this time on the presence of ironstone.

Though Bostwick's scheme may indeed be correct, it would seem more likely that

the entire loggia was modified into an interior space during a single building
phase, instead of two, around the 1813 date. Also an exterior chimney was added
to room 101 along the south wall by the early 1820's. And for the first time, the
kitchen remained unchanged from its previous plan.

DE MESA c.1820
Fig. 7 SA 7-6
4 0 24

DeMesa-Sanchez House c. 1835 (fig. 8)

The last step in the development of the site (at least for our purposes)

occurred prior to 1835 when the once detached kitchen was now joined to the main

body of the house. In the course of losing its dependency status, the kitchen

gained nearly 8 ft, in width, a large interior hearth and chimney, a loggia along

its southern face, and a probable wooden floor. The only other observable change

took place in the original core of the house where the solid coquina wall in the

area of room 101 (the south wall of deMesa's house) was removed and two wooden

frame partitions added, producing a neoclassical symmetry within this section of

the ground floor plan.

DE MESA c.1835
Fig. 8 SA 7-6
4 0 24

III. Some Final Thoughts

Le Corbusier once observed that man is architecture's content (in Glassie

1975:117). Although the archaeology of the deMesa-Sanchez House has dealt pri-

marily with its below ground evolution, it still offers us a glimpse, however

brief, of the people.who built and inhabited it between the 1750's and the 1830's.

All houses, from the most modest to the most palatial, hold in common two inter-

related aspects. They express to the world passing by a type of bond linking

their occupants to the larger community at hand through a sharing of similar

design and style. Architecture, whether it be First Spanish, British, or

Victorian clearly states the membership of its builders-occupants into a com-

munity that has dimensions of both time and space. And secondly, houses serve as

mediators or an intermediate step between the people living in them and the

surrounding natural environment. The choice of building materials, be they wood,

stone, brick, or concrete, and their arrangement into architectural shapes reflect,

in no small part, the way in which a group perceives and exploits its natural


The initial plan of the deMesa House with its one-room design, open rear

courtyard, and detached kitchen delineated a communal living arrangement. Space

was viewed in terms of openness; the whole gamut of domestic activities sleeping,

eating, cooking, procreating, etc., all occurred in a common area. Within this

setting, personal privacy took a back seat to communal living. The Renaissance

of Europe and its cult of the individual had not yet bulled its way into

St. Augustine's isolated corner of the Spanish world. Space and its ordering into

a man-made environment was still being seen, at least by deMesa, through medieval


The effects of St. Augustine's shift into the British sphere was not lost on

the town's material culture, including its architecture. By 1780 the deMesa House

had undergone a radical transition in its spatial usage in a sense jumping out

r,~~~. r, ~~, ................................... .....-i ... ~ - z~i-

of its medieval mold and catching up to the 18th century. The original one room

scheme was now expanded to three. The once open, communal design became subdivided

into a more specialized, segregated, and symmetrical form as the increased desire

for privacy began to find expression through the architecture under Walton's

and Stout's control the separation of us from them (Glassie 1975:122). Not only

did the overall function of the house change, but the courtyard also underwent

revision in its use. It no longer operated as an "open" unenclosed extension of

the house; instead it provided a convenient place for dumping the domestic trash

without any concern for its former architectural role. But this Anglicization

didn't last for long.

As the English and Spanish continued to play musical chairs with St. Augustine's

colonial status, the house by 1785 mirrored the return once again to Spanish hands.

The symmetrical three room plan with its street entry was discarded by the new

owner Sanchez in favor of a two room central core along with the addition of a

two room wing and tabby floored loggia. By the early part of the Second Spanish

Period the house plan came to represent something of a compromise (on a larger

scale) between the earlier Spanish and British styles. On the one hand it reflected

an acceptance of space being allocated into smaller, less communal units; but on

the other it did not organize these units into any symmetrical format.

In its final two building stages, spanning the 1820 to 1835 period, the house

continued to express a seemingly relentless movement toward closure, segregation,

and symmetry that had been first set in motion during the Walton-Stout era. The

once open loggia became incorporated as an interior room; the previously detached

kitchen was added onto the rear of the house; and a formalized three-room, central

hall plan was adopted for the original section of the ground floor. In a 75 year

stretch, the initial three elements of the deMesa site, its one room house, rear

courtyard, and detached kitchen, had evolved into a single, unified architectural

form. Viewed against time, the house defined a growing desire for individual


and private space. The sense of community shown by the 1760 plan was by 1835

completely rejected in favor of a more personal and specialized architecture.




Bostwick, J.
1978 "Further Excavations in the deMesa-Sanchez House 1977-1978,"
MS on file Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board.

Deagan, K.
1978 "1977 Excavations of the deMesa-Sanchez House Interior,"
MS on file Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board.

Gest, T.R.
1977 ."Archaeology and Physical Anthropology of Three Burials at
the deMesa Site SA 7-6, St. Augustine, Florida," MS on file
Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board.

Glassie, H.
1975 Folk Housing in Middle Virginia: A Structural Analysis of
Historic Artifacts. University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.

Letchworth, W.
1977 "British, French, and Chinese Ceramics at SA-16-23, SA-7-6, and
SA-26-1," MS on file Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board.

Reitz, E.
1977 "Faunal Remains From the deMesa Site in St. Augustine," MS on
file Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board.

Wirth, P.
1977 "Glass at the deMesa Site, SA 7-6," MS on file Historic St.
Augustine Preservation Board.

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