I would have, then, our ordinary dwelling-houses built to last,
and built to be lovely; as rich and full of pleasantness as may
be...with such differences as might suit and express each man's
character and occupation, and partly his history.
John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture
More than mere shelter, a house speaks to the time of its beginning and the
years since passed; of the people who built and lived within its walls, of their
families and their times. Houses tell the story not of great men and great deeds,
but of ordinary people and the shape of their lives.
You have seen the deMesa-Sanchez House as it might have looked in the 1830's,
a frozen tableau of an era. Now we invite you to learn of its longer story the
history of its owners and the town as they progressed through time.
Throughout the remainder of the 19th century and up to the present the
use of the deMesa-Sanchez House continued to evolve in reflection of the neigh-
borhood and the community at large. It served as a boarding house, barber
shop, music store, curio shop, and even a restaurant, all indicative of the
growing commercial aspect of north St. George Street.
Renewed interest in St. Augustine's Spanish heritage led to the conversion
of the house in the 1950's into a museum known as the Old Spanish Inn. The Old
Spanish Inn was conceived more as a theatrical tourist attraction, however, than
an historic image of St. Augustine's past.
In its restored condition today, the deMesa-Sanchez House expresses both
constancy and change. Its story is a capsule of an important era in St.
Augustine's history and, we hope, a memorable summary of your visit to San
...the inhabitants are beginning to repair most of the
old dwellings, and to erect new and elegant buildings.
John Lee Williams 1837
The Seminole War produced an economic boom in St. Augustine. With the
large influx of soldiers and refugees from the Florida interior, housing was
in particularly short supply, which spawned a flurry of renovation and new
It was during this boom, 1835 1837, that James Lisk, a carpenter from
upstate New York, evidently enlarged this house to its present size. Lisk,
suffering from tuberculosis, perhaps envisioned moving to the city, but his
death in 1837 prevented his resettlement. He did manage to enclose the detached
kitchen and to add this large room in which you are standing, but it is doubtful
he ever lived here.
The most significant event in Florida in the Territorial Period was the
Seminole War. Its origin lay in the Second Spanish Period, when white immi-
grants from Georgia and South Carolina began to settle the interior of Florida.
There they came into direct conflict with the Seminoles, who were themselves
originally Creek Indians enticed to Florida by the Spanish.
Anxious to relocate the Indians after it acquired Florida, the American
government preferred a series of questionable treaties, which the Indians
eventually resisted with force. The war, consisting largely of skirmishes and
raids, lasted from 1835 1842.
The high point of the war in St. Augustine was early in the campaign.
Tensions ran high as the Indians raided nearby farms and even a traveling
theatrical troupe. When the leader of the Seminoles, Osceola, was captured
(some might say, betrayed) by General Thomas Jesup, the town breathed a sigh
of relief. Osceola became a "curiosity" a sort of tourist attraction while
he was being held in Fort Marion (the Castillo de San Marcos).
In 1821 Spain ceded Florida to the United States, thus ending its second
occupation of St. Augustine. With this change in political allegiance came a
growing influx of Americans, drawn by the city's salubrious climate or prospects
of land and money.
Touted in various publications for its healthful climate, St. Augustine
became a seasonal retreat for many Northern invalids. Once here, however, these
"strangers" (as they were called) often found life in St. Augustine tedious.
One visitor during the winter of 1827 was Ralph Waldo Emerson, who offered the
following amusing but caustic view of the ancient city:
It is a queer place, this City of St. Augustine...What
is done here? Nothing. It was reported one morning
that a man was at work in the public square & all our
family turned out to see him. What is grown here?
Oranges on which no cultivation seems to be
bestowed...Here then in Turkey I enact turkey too. I
stroll on the sea beach, & drive a green orange over the
sand with a stick...
To the honour of the Spanish character in this and in all
other of their colonies, their treatment of the negroes
presents a striking contrast to the...selfishness of the
possessors of this unfortunate race in other countries...
Slavery was a fact of life in St. Augustine's early history, including the
Spanish Periods. Juan Sanchez himself owned nine black slaves. They probably
tended his large fruit grove behind the house, served as crew members on his
schooner, and worked as domestic servants. It is not known whether any of the
slaves actually lived in the house.
Unlike the Southern towns in the new American Republic, St. Augustine in
the Second Spanish Period was a more open society. A large portion of the
black population was free, and even slaves enjoyed relatively greater economic
and social opportunities. Slaves and free Blacks served as trained artisans.
Intermarriage among Blacks, Indians and Spaniards was not uncommon.
The bar of this harbour is a perpetual obstruction to
St. Augustine's becoming a place of any great trade...
Bernard Romans 1775
In going up to town, the Schooner unluckily grounded on
the edge of a large Sand bank...was therefore obliged to
spend a very disagreeable night there with very little
Sleep, among Sheep, Hoggs and Poultry...
Josiah Smith 1780
In addition to holding the position of Master Caulker at the Royal Works,
Juan Sanchez briefly engaged in the import trade, having purchased a part-
ownership in a goleta, or schooner. Between 1787 and 1789 he and his partner
brought foodstuffs and dry goods from Charleston and Havana to St. Augustine.
Although we have no reason to conclude that Sanchez abandoned his business
venture because of the hazards of shipping, it is true that the sand bars and
currents off St. Augustine's inlet left many vessels stranded or sunk. Until
the advent of the steamship, negotiating St. Augustine's harbor remained, at
best, a "disagreeable" proposition.
A good dwelling house with convenient offices...
Appraisal of deMesa House 1784
One result of England's defeat in the American Revolution was the return
of Florida to Spain in 1784. During this Second Spanish Period (1784 1821),
the house was owned by the family of Juan Sanchez. Sanchez, a native of
Andalusia, Spain, bought this "good dwelling house" at auction after it was
abandoned by Joseph Stout when he left Florida.
Sanchez added a second floor to the existing structure and a one-story wing
and loggia (porch) to the east. He also rebuilt the kitchen. These changes
are shown on the Rocque Map of 1788.
Sometime before his death in 1803, Sanchez had completed a second floor
over the east wing. A few years later his family enclosed the loggia in order
to create more interior space.
Stout and other British planters found indigo to be one of the few good
cash crops in East Florida. Indigo was a principal source of textile dye in
the 18th century, and its cultivation was encouraged throughout the British
colonies. This early coverlet was hand-dyed with indigo.
South of St. Augustine at New Smyrna, Dr. Andrew Turnbull established a
colony of Minorcans, Greeks and Italians, with the idea of raising Mediterranean
agricultural products. Although they managed a respectable export of indigo for
awhile, poor planning for housing and food, and opposition from the British
authorities to this non-British colony in their midst, led to the tragic failure
of the New Smyrna plantation.
The Minorcans and the other settlers migrated to St. Augustine, where they
eventually formed the backbone of the town's skilled trades masons, carpenters,
farmers, shoemakers and tavern keepers.
One writer commented upon the Minorcans:
They are honest, simple, and laborious in their occupations as
fishermen and farmers. They forcibly brought before me the
scenes and sounds of sunny Italy...
St. Augustine was a virtual melting pot in the late 18th century. Besides
the Minorcans, the population included, from time to time, Italians, Greeks,
Germans, French, Irish, English, Indians, Spaniards, Americans and Blacks (both
free and slave).
~-~-P-~BLI~- ~w~rwar~ I ------------ -- I ill mm~c
Many Gentlemen of worth and Substance...are in terms
to Settle in this Province, and intend to plant Indigo,
Rice and Cotton, all which, it is presumed must answer
Lord Adam Gordon 1764
The fortunes of the British planter Joseph Stout, owner of the house from
1771 1784, were part of a great agricultural experiment in East Florida.
Stout came here from Philadelphia in 1767 under the sponsorship of the botanist
Dr. William Stork to manage a huge plantation on the St. Johns River. In 1771
Stout acquired his own plantation twenty miles south of St. Augustine, while he
purchased this building for use as his "town house." His modifications to the
house included extending it to the south and creating a central hall with two
flanking rooms. This symmetrical plan was typical of the changes the British
made to many of the original Spanish houses.
A sizable network of roads and other improvements were made in order to
link the scattered plantations with St. Augustine.
In 1783 Stout's wife Mary wrote, "We have been at a great expense for
repairing and raising a new roof to the house in town."
The Walton Company has provided this presidio with abundant
and excellent goods...
Governor Fernando de Palacio 1758
Immediately following the transfer of the city to England, the deMesa
House was deeded to William Walton, a wealthy merchant of New York. Walton had
supplied St. Augustine almost exclusively between 1754 1764. (His English
goods were actually preferred by the Spanish because of their quality and price.)
The enormous debts that accrued to the company forced the departing Spanish
officials to assign most of the private property in town to Walton and his
local representative Jesse Fish. Walton apparently never visited St. Augustine,
however, nor did he make any changes to this structure.
The year 1763 brought an abrupt change to deMesa's life and to the entire
Spanish community of St. Augustine. Under the terms of the Treaty of Paris,
which ended the Seven Years' War in Europe and North America, Spain ceded Florida
Evacuation of the colony began immediately. Between the spring of 1763 and
January, 1764, over three thousand Spaniards set sail from St. Augustine to
Cuba. Antonio deMesa, along with the Governor and other officials, embarked on
the last ship to Havana.
1__1 I~___~ I __ _r _~_I
We can gain a better sense of the deMesa family's adaptation to the Florida
environment, as well as their ties to the outside world, by looking at some
typical items they could have used to store and cook their food.
The earthenware fragments (San Marcos ware) were excavated at the deHita \ V
site on St. George Street. This vessel, made locally by the Guale Indians, -- 1 ,-
served as the family's everyday cooking pot. The Mexican olive jar was utilized \ r
for storing dry goods, oils or water, while the glass bottle would have contained
wine or other spirits shipped from England or her colonies.
The citizenry maintain themselves most of the year with salted
meat, fish which is abundant in the river, and some vegetables.
Juan Joseph Solana 1758
The inhabitants of Spanish St. Augustine relied to a great extent upon local
sources for food, especially if the supply ships arrived late or with spoiled
The family of Antonio de Mesa would have kept a garden for pumpkins, beans,
tomatoes, onions, red peppers and garlic. They occasionally slaughtered one of
the domestic animals cows, pigs, chickens which roamed freely in the town. --
In the surrounding fields they killed scavenging deer and raccoons; in the
nearby rivers they fished for mullet, drum and catfish. Oysters and clams
filled the shallow marshes, and citrus trees covered the backyards of the town.
Although we do not know the exact date of the house's construction, its
first documented owner was Antonio deMesa, a Criollo (Spaniard born in the New
World) from Veracruz, Mexico.
DeMesa held the post of guard de riviera (shore guard) and was responsible
for inspecting non-Cuban ships for contraband goods. Only those goods officially
contracted by the Spanish government could be legally unloaded in St. Augustine,
but the shore guards could be persuaded by bribes or political pressure to some-
times disregard the smugglers.
In a letter to the King of Spain regarding affairs in St. Augustine, Juan
Joseph Solana reported in 1758: "Since last year the English enter by land as by
sea from the immediate colonies with frequency...and often the same day that the
unloading begins the Shore Guard and the soldiers are ordered to withdraw."
The best houses are generally built of hewn shell stone...
John Bartram 1766
The story of the deMesa-Sanchez House begins at the close of St. Augustine's
First Spanish Period, a long era of occupation lasting from 1565 1763. The
Puente Map, drawn at the time the city was transferred to England in 1764, offers
the earliest known historical evidence for the existence of this one small "stone
house" on St. George Street.
Through archaeological research we know the size of the original one-room
coquina structure. The area to the rear of the house contained an open courtyard
and a detached kitchen.