Group Title: Historic St. Augustine: Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Title: The Coquina Castle, America's Oldest Spanish Fort, Castillo de San Marcos
Full Citation
Permanent Link:
 Material Information
Title: The Coquina Castle, America's Oldest Spanish Fort, Castillo de San Marcos
Physical Description: Archival
Language: English
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00095513
Volume ID: VID00006
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

Full Text
' .0 -..--.._ ..., ,,, 2 5 .- ..2 -, ,. . 1.. ,.- -

-. 5W,..-y> y> ..- / ^ ... 4-.' ( 4 -.5._ .<... -

l^1P .1 -.L-:
r .- .'-^^ ^ ;^

t7--.^ -, .. ^ ^< ^

Aerial view of Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine. Started in 1672, the fort was proclaimed essentially complete in 1756.



By Joan Marshall

Like the charming German cities of
Rothenburg and Dinkelsbuehl, Amer-
ica has its own remnant of an ancient
walled fortress in the carefully restored
Fort of Castillo de San Marcos at St. Au-
gustine, Florida. The city gates, too, are
a reminder of times past when the
fortification was more than decorative.
Behind these defenses St. Augustinians
barricaded themselves against attack,
sometimes for months on end or until it
seemed, if they did not die in the on-
slaught, they would perish for want of
Today, strolling the quaint and
peaceful streets of the nation's oldest
city, it is hard to remember that the
beautiful restoration that remains
would have been just the rubble of a
bloody history were it not for the pro-
tective mantle of America's oldest
Spanish fort, Castillo de San Marcos.
At one time, just as in medieval
towns, the only entrance to the city was
across moats, and during some assaults
the walled city would close in upon it-

self with some success. But the popula-
tion, the sophistication of enemy
weaponry, and the determination of
aggressors increased and six-foot city
walls do not a fortress make. So the
painstaking building of a permanent
solution to St. Augustine's defenses
was undertaken in 1672 on order of Don
Manuel de Cendoya, Spanish Governor
of Florida. This was done after the sec-
ond savage attack on that city by pi-
rates, and it marks the beginning of one
of the most interesting and effective
Spanish forts. In fact, the building of
the Castillo de San Marcos was but a
cornerstone in the key plan to expand
the whole system of Spanish defenses
in North and South America.
Ironically, this important project
began without blueprinted pattern or
plan. Unable to import architects or
skilled artisans, it was only through
great effort that the Governor and
his successors were able to project
the idea into a sturdy bastion upon
which the life of the city was to become

completely dependent for a century
thereafter. It took Spanish overseers
and Indian artisans until 1700 to com-
plete the structure, and those parts of
the original fort in evidence today
reflect the great care with which they
worked. In the first place the founda-
tions were laid below the high-tide
mark, and what the workers may have
lacked in experience they tried to make
up for in attention to detail. No effort
was spared to put together the kind of
fortress of which history might record,
"they builded well," for archeologists
today still marvel at its strength. This is
remarkable because of the techniques
employed, and also for the skillful use
of those materials which lay at hand, a
lesson all our forebears had to learn. In
this do we trace the true genius of all
builders of log cabins to pyramids.
In the case of San Marcos it is possible
the builders wished for clay pits for
molding block or brick, but what they
had, and what they used with such as-
tounding success was the common co-



S fun d only on Florida's coasts.
r^' discussion n ol Castillo de San Mar-
Sshould neglect a reference to the
ca's famous coquina rock which the
t. Augustinians found so plentiful
Sand which makes their fort unique. It is
not just the use of this shell rock which
makes it so unusual, but the extensive
use of a substance which at first seems
an insubstantial resource for produc-
ing, of all things, a fortress. For coquina
is nothing more or less than sea shells,
amalgamated with sand and melded
over the centuries with lime, the
grayish-white chemical found in shells,
which is water-soluble. That this ma-
terial, compacted by time into solid
walls of rock which could be chipped
and hewn for building, could be placed
into a fort which would last, in part, for
over 400 years (and who knows how
many more) is one of the more interest-
ing mysteries of the Castillo de San
Marcos. Remembering the kind of
bombardment that these defenses sur-
vived, you will wonder at the faith with
which this fort was fashioned!
Of course we must bear in mind that
the builders were as long on ingenuity
and motivation as they were short on a
choice of materials with which to pro-
tect themselves. The Spaniards who
worked on the fort had, of course, a
vested interest in their own safety.
However, the majority of the workmen
who provided the Herculean effort
were Indians, and it is interesting (and
it may be unique) to note that in the
case of this Castillo the Indians were
paid for their efforts; they were not, as
one might expect, "volunteers" per-
forming on orders of a Spanish Cover-
The hardest and best coquina is
found above sea level. Historians be-
lieve that the coquina which was used
in San Marcos was carefully hewn by
hand into solid blocks on Anastasia Is-
land, off the southern tip of the city be-
tween the Intracoastal and the ocean,
and then ferried from the Anastasia
quarries to the fort site. The shell blocks
had to be transported a few at a time on
rafts, lest the precious work sink, and
the story is told of at least one occasion
when artists became divers to retrieve a
precious molded block about to sink en
route! Tedious transport, but Anastasia
rock was plentiful enough for the pro-
digious demands of thirty-foot walls
and of a quality durable enough to pro-
duce a fort capable of protecting the city
for the next century, and of surviving
partially for present-day historians. The
coquina which was used, a geologically
recent sedimentation of rock, was orig-

S. .-. .

. --, :.. ... -
.-^ -*, "' -.' -'. "".."' -

,:+ :+" + 2 ",_ .L "-' ,J"_r--,

View of the carefully restored coquina walls of the castle and surrounding moat.

finally covered with a protective coat of
lime-base plaster. Over'the years evi-
dence of this has crumbled away and
can only be observed in the Oldest
House in St. Augustine as a guide to
the appearance of the fort as it neared
In fact the fort never actually was
finished. In addition to the usual prob-
lems of labor and transport, the project
was often halted for lack of funds with
which to pay the Indians; and there was
always plague or fever or battle or
threat of starvation to grind work to a
halt over the more than three-quarters
of a century until the fort was pro-
claimed essentially complete in 1756.
But by then the city was able to take
cover almost completely within its walls
in the event of Indian raids, advances
by sea pirates, and threats of British ag-
gression. In fact, shortly after the work
was begun on the fort in 1672, the garri-
son was put to the test, and time after
time during construction, it proved to
be the city's salvation. As early as 1683
English raiders did, in fact, capture the
Spanish fort fourteen miles to the south
of St. Augustine at Matanzas Inlet.
However, early warning put the
Spaniards on guard at the Castillo de
San Marcos and enabled them to repel

the English before they could attempt a
similar success at St. Augustine. One
can imagine the haste that was made to
bring the fort to completion against the
further threat of attacks.
This was fortunate, for the British
were nothing if not persistent, and kept
the Spaniards alert with frequent test-
ing of the new fortification. Just after
the turn of the century the bold James
Moore, the King of England's Governor
of Carolina, marched south to attack
with eight hundred men. Surrounding
the fort, they actually captured the town
outside. In the face of such odds the
only defense the Spaniards had was of-
fense, and so they bravely turned their
guns on their own city, destroying forty
houses but rendering them useless as
hiding places for the British. The two
forces were at a stalemate for two full
months in that encounter, but the Cas-
tillo de San Marcos kept the citizenry
intact within its walls until Spanish
warships arrived to blockade the har-
bor. Rather than leave their fleet to the
enemy, the British Governor set fire to
his ships, and the city, and fled leaving
the city in flames for the second time in
its history. And this time the St. Augus-
tinians determined to protect them-
selves by building outer walls and re-



doubts which were to encircle and pro-
tect the entire settlement in a pattern
that was to be adopted by the earliest
American settlements of the "wild"
west a century later. Thus, all of the
nation's oldest city became virtually a
fortress, entrance by invitation only,
across a moat in the European style,
with each of the city's gates guarded by
field cannon and the Castillo de San
Marcos commanding the key position.
This was accomplished during the
first decades of the 1700s but if steel
walls do not a prison make, coquina
fortresses don't frighten off one's
enemies, and the British were both
brave and determined. The fort was to
continue to come under attack-and
prove its worth-time and again
throughout the first half of the 18th cen-
tury. In fact, Carolina Commander,
Colonel William Palmer, razed the land
right to the city gates and robbed the St.
Augustinians of important numbers of
cattle, and those Indian allies not
herded into the compound in time to
avert capture. This bold attack was fol-
lowed by a stronger attack by the
courtly General James E. Oglethorpe
-perhaps best remembered for the
gracious old southern hotel which later
bore his name! Although the Castillo
had held off Colonel Palmer's attack,

and been gil.itly fortified against the
second attack in 1740, the British Gen-
eral launched an all-out offensive that
continued for almost a month and left
the Spaniards close to death from star-
vation. Still, the Coquina Castillo itself
took the heavy bombardment, and
within its walls, the Spaniards survived
until brave adventurers from Cuba ran
the British blockades with food sup-
plies from Havana which saved the set-
tlement, and sent General Oglethorpe
back to a position of retreat.
The British, however, were growing
bolder and their withdrawals covered
less distance. Georgia was British and
only three dozen miles from the city
limits of St. Augustine. The area of
British influence was widening and it
was obvious (at least it is obvious to all
armchair historians today!) that at some
point of confrontation one or the other
of the adversaries would have to give.
Ironically, however, although the
Spaniards added to the fort until 1756,
as noted, it was never completely
finished and it went to the British in the
end, not by travail but by treaty, when
it was ceded with all of the state of
Florida as a ransom for Spanish Havana
in 1763. In 1783 it reverted to Spain who
sold it to us in 1821.
The story of British occupation be-

ongYs to the 1. , .

tered around its drtrr.-. -, .
to an end, but thl e i'.lo ~s.. v s,.
infant historical lthem in ,, '
can drama continued. The ta',e ,
men who were imprisoned thir
French, British, Indian, ,
another tale. After 1870, the United
States government shipped captive
western Indians to the Castillo for in-
carceration, and it was also used as a
military prison during the Spanish-
American war. As a penal institution, it
housed some historically colorful
characters, too, and some of the in-
mates of the Castillo add substantially
to the excitement of its history. During
the Seminole War of 1836, the Indian
leader "Wildcat" led an escape from
one of the cells to prove that while the
Castillo might be proudly impenetrable
from outside attack, it takes more than a
fort to hold the likes of some of the ad-
venturous and dramatic men of Florida
history. In 1837, Seminole leader
Coacoochee, and Chief Osceola himself
were captured with a number of war-
riors just south of St. Augustine where
they had come under a white flag for a
pow wow with the Americans. They
were imprisoned in the Castillo until
continued on page 46







391-0640 OR 395-3400




florida Events

( continuedfrom page 45 )

March 7-9 Sanibel Sanibel Island
Shell Fair. From an informal display on
a hotel veranda in 1928, the island
community's Shell Fair has grown into
a major annual event held at the Com-
munity House the first Thursday, Fri-
day and Saturday in March. Amateur
and professional collectors display
some of the finest and rarest shells
gathered from local areas and from
around the world. The best-of-show
exhibit is awarded the duPont Trophy
of the Delaware Museum of Natural
History. A live exhibit features exotic
shells and sea creatures. Works of local
artists are exhibited, and photographs
of the island's birds are shown by the
Sanibel-Captiva Audubon Society.

March 9-10 DeLand Sidewalk Art
Festival. Paintings and sculptures in
various categories are displayed in this
eighth annual show, sponsored by
West Volusia Artists Association and
the DeLand Chamber of Commerce.
Prizes awarded.

March 15-17 Winter Park Sidewalk
Art Festival. Artists and craftsmen dis-
play their works in what has grown into
the most prestigious show of its kind in
the southeast. Exhibits are shown along
Park Avenue and Central Park, and
cash prizes awarded in all arts and
crafts categories. Concerts, plays and
ballet in the park, along with strolling
musicians and folk singers, add a spe-
cial air of gaiety to the three-day event.



( continued from page 42 )

Coacoochee and twenty of his men also
made good their escape, but Osceola
was transferred to Fort Moultrie at
Charleston, South Carolina, which has
since become famous as the site of his
If walls could talk! Today the Castillo
with its sixteen-foot thick embank-
ments of shellstone and memories is a
national monument dedicated to offer-
ing visitors authentic glimpses of a
glorious past. Courteous park rangers
must do the interpreting for all the
brave souls who built and clung to
life there. The huge symmetrical
fortification is maintained by the Na-
tional Park Service and free tours are
offered to help visitors understand the
importance of this historic edifice. As
one inspects the crumbling layers of
coquina, and marvels over the clearly
visible restorations of the 1740s, 1750s,
1760s, and the carefully controlled work
that is going on today, the thoughtful
visitor is astounded by the realization
that the fortress was not captured in the
major offensives of 1683, 1728, and
1743, nor while under siege in 1702 and
1740. What a monument to the deter-
mination of men to survive, to settle,
and to pass on to future generations the
fruits of their labors!
More than half a million visitors each
year cross the drawbridge into the mas-
sive old fortress, Castillo de San Mar-
cos, visiting its dungeons and clamber-
ing among the ramparts which overlook
Matanzas Bay where the first Spanish
conquistadores came ashore in 1565.
They linger over displays and ask ques-
tions and unleash their historic imagi-
nations as they envision the swash-
buckle of pirates, the stealthy approach
of Indians, and the orderly advance of
British troops. Undoubtedly they leave
the Castillo and head for the Castle Ar-
mory to buy imitation antique coins
and lances and shields, and it is well
that they do. For without this reminder
of a fort that endured, without the Cas-
tillo de San Marcos and its native co-
quina walls guarding the bay, there
would be no St. Augustine, no charm-
ing little village to delight our fancy and
nourish our pride as possessors of the
nation's oldest city.




A Note to Visitors
of Kennedy Space Center:

The recent action by the Department
of the Interior of the United States Gov-
ernment in renaming the land mass
"Cape Kennedy" back to Cape Canav-
eral has resulted in misunderstanding.
Not realized by many is that action by
the Federal Government as well as the
state of Florida involved the land mass
only. Cape Kennedy Air Force Station
remains Cape Kennedy Air Force Sta-
tion until and if the United States Air
Force and/or the Department of Defense
takes appropriate action to change it.
Kennedy Space Center actually is lo-
cated on Merritt Island, and except for
activity on unmanned launches on the
Department of Defense side, is the only
connection NASA has with Cape Ken-
nedy Air Force Station. There have
been no manned launches from Cape
Kennedy Air Force Station since Apollo
7 on October 11, 1968. For the last five
years, all manned launches have been
from either Pad A or Pad B from the
Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Is-
This misuse of names could cause
confusion; as example: using current
terminology, a visitor wanting to see
the Kennedy Space Center and Cape
Kennedy Air Force Station could start
driving to Cape Canaveral. Current
road signs and directions would direct
him to the community of Cape Canav-
eral, which is located outside the gate to
Cape Kennedy Air Force Station. If the
visitor then drives to Cape Kennedy, he
would arrive at the Cape Kennedy Air
Force Station at "Gate 1." Except on
Sunday, when this gate is open from 9
a.m. to 3 p.m. (Sundays only), the vis-
itor will be turned away. This could
mean two tolls of twenty cents each and
forty miles extra driving. If the visitor
to Florida wishes to visit the Space
Center and Cape Kennedy Air Force
Station, his only means of doing this is
through Gate 2, State Road #3 on Mer-
ritt Island, or Gate 3 off U.S. #1 both
gates located on Kennedy Space Center.

Ar ri r. n-Tr I rr

- '

University of Florida Home Page
© 2004 - 2010 University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries.
All rights reserved.

Acceptable Use, Copyright, and Disclaimer Statement
Last updated October 10, 2010 - - mvs