The Constitution Monument is St. Augustine's most
significant public monument. It is located in the Plaza area,
a central green with surrounding buildings on the bayfront.
The Plaza is the central feature of the Colonial City Historic
District, listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Plaza has been the setting for many of St. Augustine's most
prominent public monuments from colonial times to the present
and the focal point of public ceremonies, improvement drives,
and tree plantings. It has included many features over the
years, among them an alligator pond and an open bandstand
popular for music and political rallies. The original Plaza
area has been augmented by additional green spaces created
after World War I. The additional spaces consist of two small
parks east of the public market place and a third west of
government house. The Plaza has not only been a famous scenic
site for tourists, it is located at the center of the town's
commercial, religious, and governmental life.
The Constitution Monument is the oldest above surface
feature of the plaza. It is located at the west end of the
Plaza near St. George Street. Construction of the monument
occurred between 1812 and 1814. On August 14, 1812 a royal
decree was promulgated by the Spanish parliament naming all
plazas where the Spanish constitution was officially proclaimed
to be called Plazas de la Constitucion (Constitution Squares).
On January 4, 1813, the town council met to discuss the royal
order. Specifically, the order instructed all towns in the
kingdom where the promulgation of the constitution had been
celebrated to erect a tablet recognizing the constitution and
naming the plaza, Plaza of the Constitution. Fernando de la
Maza Arredondo, senior alderman, and Francisco Rovira, the town
attorney, were appointed to develop the plans and
specifications for the monument in order to determine its cost.
On January 19, 1813 the Governor of Florida informed the
local town council of the above decree and instructed them that
the naming of the Constitution Plaza should be inscribed on a
tablet (implication seems to be marble or tile from another
place since no suitable material was available in St.
Augustine). In May, 1813 the town council met to discuss the
erection of a monument designating the central plaza as the
Plaza of the Constitution. About that time the council
appointed a committee to oversee the project and on July 5
requested the mayor to allocate the funds for construction of
the monument. On July 27, Fernando de la Maza Arredondo
reported only about 150 pesos had been collected. He
subsequently resigned from the construction committee in
protest because the funds were not in proportion to
significance of the monument. He was replaced by Mayor
Geronimo Alvarez and Alderman Eusebio Gomez.
On August 2, the committee charged with the construction
of the monument presented a tentative design based on the funds
available. The monument was to be 30 feet in height. Mayor
Alvarez asked permission to use the coquina rubble from the
Palacio Episcopal which was located on the present site of
Trinity Episcopal Church. On December 24, 1813 the town council
received 151 pesos for construction of the monument.
Construction of the monument was completed the latter part of
January, 1814. On February 14, 1814, Alvarez and Gomez
presented their account for approval.
The principal materials used in the construction of the
monument were coquina and stucco. The stucco was prepared from
materials produced locally. Nine bushels of lime were
purchased from Mrs. Russell and another thirty-three from the
widow of Mr. (Jesse ?) Fish. Part of the coquina came from a
pallet of stone which had been set aside for the construction
of a bridge but not used. Other materials included spikes for
scaffolding, wood for form boards, a drop cloth, and an iron
bar to support the perilla or pear-shaped ball at the pinnacle
of the monument. Part of the coquina ruins of the Old Episcopal
Church located on the south side of the plaza was used due to
the scarcity of materials.
Local masons and laborers were responsible for the
construction of the monument. The master mason was named
Maron. Two apprentices and a black laborer assisted him. Two
black laborers using a wagon removed coquina at low tide for
the cornice. The cornice was apparently pre-fabricated because
there was a labor charge for setting it separately on the
monument. A mason named Benjamin Seguier (Segui) assisted with
the construction, and a master carpenter named Cercopoli did
minor carpentry work.
Construction of the monument lasted nearly three months.
The first week the master mason and the two apprentices
constructed the scaffolding and a trough for mixing mortar or
stucco. The materials used were a drop cloth, 30 feet of
planking for the scaffolding and trough, and a pound of nails.
No information is available regarding the second and third
weeks. During the fourth week construction was apparently well
under way as the apprentices were paid for their services.
Lime was also purchased probably for mortar. During the fifth
week the master mason, and two apprentices worked on the
project, and additional lime was also purchased. During the
sixth week the apprentices worked on the project for two and
one-half days. During the seventh and eighth weeks the
apprentices worked four and one-half and two and one-half days
During the ninth week the apprentices worked six days.
The base of the monument was apparently complete or nearing
complete at that time because the materials for the cornice
were delivered. The two black laborers removed large pieces of
coquina at low tide for the cornice. The stone must have come
from somewhere along the Matanzas Bay because no mention is
made of a boat. A cart was rented to transport the stone.
During the tenth week the cornice was constructed. The
apprentices worked two days, and a black helper worked one day
handling the coquina block. Three blacks worked half a day
handling and lifting the cornice into place. During the
eleventh week the monument was completed. The master mason and
the apprentices worked two days. One-half day was spent
assembling the scaffolding, apparently for construction of the
upper portion of the monument. Thirteen bushels of lime were
used, probably for the stucco finish that was applied to the
coquina. A brush was used apparently to wet the coquina in
preparation for the application of stucco.
After the monument was completed the constitutional
government of Spain was overthrown and the authority of the
King, Ferdinand VII was restored. On September 15, 1814 a
daily paper was received from Havana, and the city councilmen
read that similar tablets had been removed from monuments in
other towns and cities and been substituted with the
inscription "Plaza of Ferdinand VII." Alderman Francisco Pons
was ordered to remove the tablet from the plaza. On January
18, 1815 January 18, a royal order, dated July 20, 1814, was
received, declaring the dissolution of the constitutional
government and the local town council. On May 4, 1820 the
council was recreated as the result of the re-proclamation of
the 1812 constitution. On May 11, 1820 the tablet was once
again placed in the monument.
In 1953, the St. Augustine Historical Society had a
Herculite glass plate placed over the original marble tablet on
the east face of the monument. A replica of the original
tablet was placed on the west side and a bronze plaque, with
inscriptions in Spanish and English was installed on the base
in 1955. The origin of four smaller plaques on each side of
the base is unknown. They are written in Spanglish--Plaza de la
Constitution instead of Plaza de la Constitucion. There were
many English speaking subjects living in Spanish Florida at the
time the monument was erected. Perhaps one of them was
responsible for the engraving.
The Constitution Monument has international significance.
It is possibly the only one remaining of the hundreds which
were constructed at the time of the first Spanish constitution.
Most, if not all, of the others were destroyed at the time of
the restoration of the Spanish monarchy. An interesting aspect
of the tablet is the Masonic emblem engraved in the original
tablet. Masons were instrumental in the movement for
constitutional government in the British colonies, Spain, and
Spanish America. The Masonic symbol is therefore appropriate
on a tablet celebrating the Spanish constitution.
The information included above was obtained from records
at the St. Augustine Historical Society, the City of St.
Augustine, and the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board.
Sources included the Florida Master Site File, the St.
Augustine Record, Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps and other
historic maps, and the East Florida Papers.