Group Title: Historic St. Augustine: Block 24, Lot 1
Title: [Puente Site]
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 Material Information
Title: Puente Site
Series Title: Historic St. Augustine: Block 24, Lot 1
Physical Description: Research notes
Language: English
Physical Location:
Box: 7
Divider: Block 24 Lot 1
Folder: Block 24 Lot 1
Subject: Saint Augustine (Fla.)
Spatial Coverage: North America -- United States of America -- Florida -- Saint Johns -- Saint Augustine
Coordinates: 29.891277 x -81.310926
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00094824
Volume ID: VID00003
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: B24-L1

Full Text

Juan Jose Eligio de la Puente has been described by one
historian as the most important Spanish Floridian of the
18th century. His activities, his accomplishments, his
*.. wealth, and the public offices he held all lend
credibility to this statement. Juan Jose Eligio de la
Puente y Regidor was truly a native son of St. Augustine.
He was bo n in the city July 1, 1724, the third of eight
children. His parents were Don Antonio Nicolas Eligio de
la Puente, a native of Havana, Cuba, and Agustina Regidor4
whose mother's family had long resided in St. Augustine.

His close association with St. Augustine continued
throughout his childhood and adulthood. There, on
February 5, 1747 he married Maria Sanchez, another St.
Augustinian, with whom he fathered at least six children
w.ho were born In the city. Maria Sanchez de Eligio de la
Puente, among others, has been suggested as the source of
the name of the local landmark, Maria Sanchez Creek.

In references to his life previously published, Eliglo de
la Puente is best known as the agent charged with selling
the real estate of the Spanish Floridians departing the
province at the conclusion of the first Spanish period.
The years 1763 and 1764 form the most detailed period of
his life yet documented. His activities as a land agent
were, however, but part of a long career as a Spanish
royal servant and an individual who influenced and
participated in many of the events which shaped6the
history of his native land during his lifetime.

Documentation about the life of Eliglo de la Puente prior
to 1763 is limited. According to several sources, he
enjoyed a close relationship with the Lower Creek or
Uchise Indians throughout his adulthood. As early as
1747, when only twenty-three, he concluded negotiations
with the Uchises which resulted in an enduring peace
between them and the Spanish. Later, in 1762 while
traveling to Havana, he and his party were attacked by
Uchises at Key West. Merely by identifying himself he was
able to end the attack. Using similar tactics, he ended
anoth r confrontation near St. Augustine later that

Although much has been written about the Florida Indians
from 1566-1702, during the period when Jesuit and
Franciscan missionaries were active, less is known about
them during the autumn years of the first Spanish
occupation of Florida. Based on the activities of Juan
Eligio de la Puente, It is reasonable to assume that


Eligio de la Puente maintained his contacts among the
Florida Indians throughout the British occupation of the
province. Members of the Uchise or Lower Creek Indians
were frequent visitors to Cuba during the period. They
were generally transported to Cuba by Cuban fisherman who
frequented the Gulf Coast waters of Florida, particularly
Charlotte Harbor and Tampa Bay. The reasons for their
visits were multiple. They Included an interest in
maintaining commercial ties with the Spanish, the Spanish
desire for intelligence about the British, and the
hospitality afforded the Indians while in Cuba. The
Governors of Cuba chose Eliglo de la Puente to receive the
Indians. He was credited with being an arbitrator of
their dispute and had an Indian name, indicating a mutual
fami I iarity.

Through his contacts among the Indians and his knowledge
of the province, Ellgio de la Puente conspired to maintain
Spanish influence in Florida. He supported trade with the
Indians and proposed placing a Spaniard in the Apalache
region to serve as a commercial agent and interpreter.
Although the plan was tentatively approved by the Minister
of the Indies, Count Jose de Galvez, it was subsequently
denied by the Council of the Indies, the1chief
administrative body for Spanish America.

Following the initiation of the American Revolution, the
Spanish sought to establish an intelligence network in the
colonies, working principally through Cuban officials.
Juan Eligio de la Puente played a key role in its
development. In a memorandum to the Governor of Cuba
dated November 10, 1777, he recommended Don Juan de
f'iralles, a Havana merchant, as representatives to the
colonists and his brother, Jose, as representative to the
loyalists. His recommendations were immediately accepted
by the governor3and forwarded to Count de Galvez, who
approved them.

Juan de Miralles performed his assignments well. He
departed Havana on December 31, 1777 for Charleston. He
proceeded northward by land, stopping in Williamsburg to
meet with Patrick Henry. Their discussions focused on a
strategy for capturing British Florida, a subject about
which Miralles further elaborated in a letter to the Count
de Galvez in August, 1778. From Williamsburg, Miralles
proceeded to Philadelphia where he soon became friends
with many patri officials and assumed the position of
Spanish charge.


An important component of the Spanish strategy for
capturing Florida was the influence of Juan Jose Eligio de
la Puente with the Uchise Indians. Miralles maintained
that through the Influence of Eligio de la Puente the
Uchises could be incorporated into a force to take St.
Augustine. He suggested that the Florida campaign should
be undertaken by Spanish arms alone, thus avoiding any
territorial claims from allies. His recommendations
formed the substance of Spanish policy for the reconquest
of Florida.

After Spain entered the revolutionary war on the side of
the colonies, Miralles was promised the position of
ministerr to the United States. He formed close
relationships with many of the patriots, including George
'.'ashington. Unfortunately, he contracted pneumonia while
visiting !ashington's camp at Migristown, New Jersey where
he succumbed on April 28, 1780.

The activities of Jose Eligio de la Puente in British
Florida were less noteworthy than those of Mliralles. He
left Havana for St. Augustine December 15, 1777. Unable
to contact loyalist forces in Georgia, he remiiained
isolated in St. Augustine largely out of contact with his
superiors in Havana and some distance from any significant
military or political activity. By the spring of 1779, he
was back in Havana, his mission largely unfulfilled. He
cid, however, probably contributed to the detailed plan
which the banish prepared for the retaking of St.

Juan Eligio de la Puente continued to be a strong advocate
of the retaking of the Florida provinces as the American
revolution progressed. His principal concern was that
regardless of the outco..e Spanish Louisiana would be
threatened by either an American or British occupation of
the provinces. He expressed his views in several letters
to his superiors, including one describing the geography
and history of Florida, which was accompanied by a map.
Although his influence on Spanish policy toward Florida is
difficult to measure, his point-of-view prevailed.
Undoubtedly, much to his satisfaction, Spain declared war
on the British during the summer of 1779. Under the
leadership of Don Bernardo de Galvez, the Governor of
Spanish Louisiana, the Spanish succeeded In capturing all
British posts along the Mississippi River in September,
1779,1 obile on [March 14, 1780, and Pensacole on May 10,
17 '; 1 .


during the latter period certain Spanish Floridians
continued close relations with many Indians, commanded
their respect and exerted influence over them. Eliglo de
la Puente, a Florida criole was certainly prominent among
these individuals and perhaps foremost among them.

Beyond his relationship with the Indians, Eligio de la
Puente was a man of considerable ambition and apparent
talent. From a modest beginning, he eventually became an
important royal treasury official and exerted considerable
influence over Spain's policy toward Great Britain and its
colonies on the North American continent. His service to
the crown began around 1739 when he entered the military
as an infantry cadet. He later became a clerk to the real
accountant and on January 2, 1753 was named chief clerk, a
position which he apparently retained during the period
prior to the evacuation of Florida. Based on records of
property sales at the time of the transfer of Florida to
the British, he was a man of considerable wealth. His
home on Marine Street was one of the most massive private
residences constructed in colonial St. Augustine. Given
his royal office, his prestige, his knowledge of the
cor.~unity, and his financial resources, he was a logical
choice to represent the owners of real property among the
Spanish emigres who left Florida during 1763 and 1764.
After a brief stay in Havana, he returned to St. Augustine
May 7, 1764. When his efforts failed, he transferred
private and church held property to John Gordon and Jesse
Fish, two British subjects who were Catholic. One of his
principal contributions to our understanding of .St.
Augustine is the detailed property map that he prepared,
showing the location of the buildings within the city as
they stood in 1763.

Following his departure from Florida, Eligio de la Puente
became a valued counselor to the Governors of Cuba and
their superiors. Because of his background, knowledge and
judgment, he was often consulted by them on issues
concerning Florida and North America. His service to the
Spanish crown was rewarded In 1770 when he was appointed
royal auditor of the Treasuries of Yucatan and Campeche in
Mexico. Prior to accepting this post, however, it was
decided that he would better serve crown interests in
Cuba, where he was subsequently appointed Chief Auditor of
the Royal Treasury of the island. His area of authority
was later extended to the Windward Islands and the
Province of Louisiana. He also served as Judge of Appeals
for the Royal Treasury of Cuba.


*w- **

Although never executed, the Spanish developed plans for a
similar conquest of East Florida with St. Augustine as the
focal point. They refined their plans into a single
document which was completed in March, 1779. The map
incorporated into the plan was based on Juan Jose Eligio
de la Puente's 1769 map of St. Augustine. Although the
plan was never executed, it was considered continuously
until 1781 when the fall of Pensacola, among Wher
reasons, made its implementation unneccesary.

When Spain declared war on Great Britain, it began active
recruitment of the Uchize Indians as allies. Don Juan
Eligio de la Puente once again played a key role in this
activity. When the Governor of Cuba, Diego Jose Navarro,
cecided to send an agent to the Apalache region, Eligio de
la Puente's friendship with the Indians was used as a
means of gaining access to them. At meetings at St. Marks
curing August, 1779, the Indians indicated an interest in
once again becoming Spanish subjects, but preferred
neutrality in the Revolutionary War. A second meeting In
January, 1780, resulted In an offer of active support from
the Uchize for the Spanish recognuest of Florida, although
the offer was never acted upon.

When the Spanish agent Francisco Ruiz del Canto met with
the Uchize he explained Juan Eligio de la Puente's absence
for health reasons. In view of the death of Eligio de la
Puente the following year, this explanation was probably
true. On August 28, 1781 he died in Havana. On the
following day his remains, dressed in the habit of the
Franciscan order were Interred in the Capilla de la
venerable orden tercera de Servita. His death preceded by
only two years the retrocession of Florida to Spain, a
cause to wich he dedicated much of the latter years of
his life.

Based on the documented aspects of his life, Juan Eligio
de la Puente was among.the elite of St. Augustine's 18th
century criole community. He was a man of considerable
wealth, particularly within the context of St. Augustine,
became an important royal treasury official in Cuba, and
influenced Spanish foreign policy in North America. He
and his family subsequently became prominent in Cuba. His
sons included a military officer, royal accountant and
priest. One of them, Juan Esteban, an army lieutenant,
married Maria del Rosario Morales, the daughter of a minor
nobleman and the mayor of the city of Havana. His
descendants remained prominent In Havana well into the
twentieth century.


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