Group Title: Historic St. Augustine: De Hita and Gonzalez Houses
Title: Site History - Lot 4, Block 7
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00095545/00002
 Material Information
Title: Site History - Lot 4, Block 7
Series Title: Historic St. Augustine: De Hita and Gonzalez Houses
Physical Description: Research notes
Language: English
Physical Location:
Box: 8
Divider: Interpretive Plans
Folder: De Hita and Gonzalez Houses
 Subjects
Subject: Saint Augustine (Fla.)
48 King Street (Saint Augustine, Fla.)
Government House (Saint Augustine, Fla.)
Spatial Coverage: North America -- United States of America -- Florida -- Saint Johns -- Saint Augustine -- 48 King Street
Coordinates: 29.892465 x -81.313142
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00095545
Volume ID: VID00002
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

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Site History Lot 4, Block 7


In early 1764, as the last shiploads of Spanish residents were

evacuating Florida, the accountant Juan Joseph Elixio de la Puente prepared

a real estate survey to record property ownership at the time of the province's

cession to Great Britain. The site in question appears on Puente's map as

number 80 lying just north of number 81, a house and lot belonging to Antonia

de Avero. The property is described as a tabby house on a lot measuring 15

varas north to south and 71 varas east to west, both house and lot owned by
/ #1
Don Geronimo de Hita.
#2
Geronimo Joseph de Hita y Salazar, born in October, 1706,#2 was a

son of the Adjutant Don Pedro de Hita Salazar and a grandson of Pablo de

Hita y Salazar, Governor and Captain-General of Florida from 1675-1680. #3

Although a member of one of St. Augustine's most illustrious criollo families,

Geronimo had failed to attain a distinguished position in local society. He

joined the garrison in 1734 at the age of twenty-eight, becoming a cavalryman. #4

After eighteen years of service he was still a private. #5 By 1763 he had command

of the garrison of free blacks at Fort Mose, but the position conveyed no increase

in salary beyond the 264 pesos a year earned by a cavalryman. #6 The De Hita

family income was twice that of an infantryman (132 pesos) and greater than

the salaries of artillerymen (168 pesos) or of infantry and artillery non-com-

missioned officers, but was substantially below the amounts earned by com-

missioned officers. #7 Economically, the De Hitas occupied the middle rungs

of the ladder.




-2-


On December 20, 1736, Geronimo married a twenty-one-year-old widow,

#8
Juana de Avero, the second oldest of the Avero daughters. #She had first

#9
married at sixteen, wedding a ship's pilot named Simon de Morales# and

#10
bearing him a son who died shortly after birth. The date of her husband's

#11
death is not certain, #11 but she obviously had become romantically involved

with Geronimo by early 1736, for she bore him a daughter, Eugenia Bacilia,

a week before their marriage. #12 The union ultimately produced four more
S#13
children, Simon, Francisca, Leocadia Maria, and Maria Isabel. The

De Hitas were luckier than most parents of the time--all their children lived

to maturity#14

Geronimo owned two houses in 1763, the one on St. George Street

and another, also of tabby, on the south side of present-day Bridge Street

in the middle of the block between Charlotte and St. George Streets. #15

We can assume, however, that he lived in the former, among his wife's

#16
sisters and their families. Unfortunately, none of the sources consulted
/
revealed when the houses were built or how Geronimo acquired them.

Like most residents of St. Augustine, Geronimo failed to sell his

properties before leaving Florida and thus relied on Elixio de la Puente to

dispose of them when he returned to St. Augustine in May, 1764, acting as

agent for the departed residents. But even such a capable man as Elixio de la

Puente enjoyed scant success, for most incoming British soldiers lacked the

money to buy property, and the civilians hoped to secure grants from the

government.#17 Consequently, as the eighteen-month deadline for property
government. Consequently, as the eighteen-month deadline for property










C'-
sales approached, the increasingly nervous Spanish gent resorted to deals

with a handful of British speculators. The De Hita house and lot on Bridge

Street he sold to Jacob Kip and Benjamin Barton for 20 pesos: the property
#18
on St. George Street went to Jesse Fish for 25 pesos. #18

A long-time resident of St. Augustine as factor for the William Walton

Company of New York, Fish acquired a major portion of the houses and lots

in St. Augustine under the provision that he would sell them and remit the

proceeds to the original owners. By this arrangement Elixio de la Puente

hoped to beat the deadline while at the same time preserving some chance for

the former residents to be compensated for their losses. As it turned out,

Geronimo and Juana never realized a single real from the sale of their pro-

#19
perty.

The references to the De Hita property in Fish's account book are

puzzling. Two sales were evidently made, the first in 1764 for "his lot sold

for 20 pesos. The purchaser was not named, nor was a house indicated.

The second entry reads "1777, August 20, for his house and lot sold to

Captain Rainford. "#20 Fish possibly sold a portion of the lot in 1764, but

the Moncrief map of 1765 does not corroborate this interpretation, since the

lot appears complete and the whole property is assigned to Fish. #21 No

evidence to clarify this problem has come to light. About the other trans-

action we have more evidence. Captain Andrew Rainsford, a British officer,

purchased several properties on St. George Street. In 1765 Moncrief indicated











his owning a lot, two houses and an outbuilding just north of the Arrivas house.

Sometime before 1771 he left the province#22 but evidently had returned by

1777, for on August 20 of that year he purchased not only the Deiita house and

lot but also the house and lot of Bernardo Gonzalez just to the north. #23

Apparently the De Hita house, shown on Moncrief as a two-room (or double?)

structure with an outbuilding in back, still existed. But its days were num-

bered. Under circumstances presently unknown the building soon disappeared,

and the lot, seized by the Crown, was sold by the Provost Marshal at a vendue

held on December 21, 1778. The purchaser was Luciano de Herrera, one of

the handful of Spaniards who remained during the British occupation. He paid

15 pounds sterling for the lot, described as "fronting to the West on George

Street having North and South thirty Spanish yards and East and West Sixty

five Spanish yards". #24

Herrera held the lot through the end of the British period. Not long
/
after the Spanish administration returned in 1784, Lt. Colonel Antonio Fernandez,

commander of a dragoon company and son-in-law of Juana's sister, Antonia

de Avero, arrived with power of attorney from Antonia's children.

Acting on the belief that former residents, or their representatives,

were entitled to reoccupy their former properties, Fernandez seized two Avero

#25
buildings, one of them Antonia's "large house, number 81 Puente. Since

the lot adjoining it had belonged to Antonia's sister and her husband, he claimed

it as well. When the engineer Mariano de la Rocque compiled his map of the




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