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STANDARD VIEW MARC VIEW
Overview of Usedand I
The site government House has een utilized or
governmental purposes since circa 1598. During the colonial era
the executive offices of the governor a as well as his
residence were located here, as reflected in the terms
simultaneously applied to the site: Government House (casa de
gobierno) and Governor's House (casa del gobernador). When J-'-
Government House was first located on this site, it was a capitol
with a jurisdiction thatextended north and west to yet-
uncontested limits. Control r-ouality continually contracted
over the deca.ds, despite Spain's anderg~-tersi.trial, legal
claims. Wth the transfer of Florida to Great Britain in 1763,
Florida was divided into two colonies--East and West Florida.
With borders defined by the Treaty of Paris: the St. Marys River
on the north and the Apalachicola River on the west, East Florida
continued to be administered from this site during the British
period (1763-1784) and during the subsequent second period of
Spanish rule (1784-1821). In 1821 Spain ceded East Florida to
the United States. 6 Cjlk L/
As the administrative seat under several regimes, the
Government House site was better maintaineand better documented
than most St. Augustine properties. Unlike other sites in the
town, it is possible to identify the occupants of the Government
House site for almost all of the historical period. Throughout
the colonial period Government House was the official residence,
although not always the actual domicile, of the governors. The
Spanish governors and their families and servants were usually
natives of the Iberian peninsula. The governors themselves could
often boast of service to the Spanish king in African outposts,
Flanders, or Cuba. Service in South America, however, was not
common among Florida's Spanish governors. 1P 0-d oL
Governor Gonzalo M6ndez de Canzo relocated the governor's
house to this site in 1598, when he laid out the town according
to the 1573 ordinances. Prior to then the governors had lived in
a building on the waterfront--a most unhealthful location
according to Governor Ybarra--shown in a circa-1595 drawing of
St. Augustine.' Information about the excavation site prior to
the establishment of Government House is less detailed and site
specific There are several theories about the location of St.
V^^^);o .4^M^ r
indicates that thd "high scaffold for a watchman" (item N)Ushown
on the Baptiste Boazio map (figure **), which depicts Sir Francis
Drake's 1586 raid, might well have been located on or near the
Government House lot. The persistence until today of the
indentation of the shoreline shown on the Boazio map and the
existence of sixteenth-century burials on the north end of
present-day blocks 23 and 28, in conjunction with the church,
also shown on the Boazio map (item 0) suggests such a
possibility.2 Drake burned the town's structures during his
Canzofpurchaseda house, its kitchen and a field for his
home on this site from the widowed Dofa Maria de Pomar. During
his occupancy Canzo almost doubled the size of the house. The
addition was better constructed than he purchased section and he
roofed the whole house with azotea, replacing the palm thatch on
the original part. The purchased kitchen, which had a roof of
this wooden planks or shingles (tejamanil), burned and Canzo
built a new, larger kitchen. Canzo claimed that the new kitchen
was worth as much as the dwe ling house when it was purchased.
The whole site was fenced with cedar paling.3 In 1604 the Crown
purchased Canzo's private house fo the governors' official
During the last one-third of the seventeenth century the
scope of activity in St. Augustine picked up in response to
English threats to Spanis interests in Florida and the Q
Caribbean. In 1668 p vateer Robert Searles slipped into Lp at
night, sacked the town, captured the money in the counting house,
killed 60 persons, and carried off a number of residents-fmixed
parentage to be slaves. During the raid the governor his
house and took refuge in the fort. Searles did not, however,
burn the town.4 The raid reawakened the Spanish crown's interest
in Florida, evidenced by the appropriation of money, manpower and
material to construct a masonry fortress of local shellstone
rather than another one made of wood. )from outside of the
Florida colony arrived to man the garrison; locally born men
found themselves aan employment disadvantage in a military
town. In 1674 a hurricane and flood levelled half the town.
Sergeant Major Pedro de Aranda y Avellaneda bought a lot within
the compound of the government houses, near the Governor's House
circa 1678. The contentious Governor Marques Cabrera, arriving
in 1680, blocked Aranda's building on the lot, but ostensibly in
disgust at the "detrioiration of the neighborhood" Cabrera
turned the gubernatorial mansion into a public inn and
requisitioned for his own residence the house of Ana Ruiz, two
blocks from Government House abrera mi ht-a.csese-
opportunity for profit in renting his official residence in the
face of the arrival of proportionately so many new soldiers.
During Cabrera's term the 118 men who arrived equalled 37 percent
of the garrison's manpower.6 By 1687 the Governor's residence
was in such a state of disrepair that rain came in and the floors
had rotted. Oute e, the fences were also deteriorated. In 1690
local soldiers, military craftsman, Native American laborers, and
Crown-owned black slaves constructed anew Governor's House of
locally quarried stone--coquina/ Indian axemen cut wood in
nearby forests for the pales, beams, boards, shingles and cross
members. Indian carpenters planed and finished boards for the
roof and fences. New nails and hardware, forged in St.
Augustine, was used for the roof, doors, windows and fences.
Seven hundred seventy pounds of used iron was purchased at the
price of one real per pound and re-worked into ordinary nails.
Other hardware included locks, hinges, and iron bands encircling
the tops and bottoms of columns (armillas) The coquina was
extracted from the royal quarries so no expenditure was necessary
to purchase the stone used for building material.
But the new masonry residence would endure for barely more
than a decade. In 1702 enemy English colonists from Carolina
laid siege to St. Augustine for fifty days. Upon the governor's
order the townspeople retreated to the shelter of Castillo de San
Marcos. The Engi\H invaders set up headquarters in the
Franciscan monastery on St. Francis Street at the south end of
the empty town. The English did not succeed in taking the
Castillo although they occupied the town. Before abandoning St.
Augustine the Carolinians set fire to the town's buildings,
probably as much an act of vengeful catharsis as military
strategy." The governor's house was torched with the rest of the
An appraisal submitted to the crown seven years after the
destruction valued the governor's house at 8000 pesos. The
evaluation was an gross estimate, not an itemized evaluation.
By 1713 the executive mansion had been rebuilt. It was reported
that in 171 s part of a royal coronation celebration, the
governor and his wife hosted the townfolk with sweets and drink
in the courtyard and from the balcony tossed coins to the
revellers. The report unfortunately offers only this limited
comment about the Governor's House.9
The British again assembled a force to lay to siege to St.
Augustine. The British colony of Georgia h4d been founded at
Savannah in 1733 and Frederica established in 1736, even closer [
to St. Au ustine. On ay20 1740, General James Oglethorpe with
from Georgia and South Carolina crossed into Florida and '
landed at the St. Johns River. On June 24, British artillery
opened fire on Castillo de San Marcos. Spanish residents took
refuge within the town walls, but the governor did not order the
populace into the fortress as had occurred in 1702. On July 21,
the Georgians retreated from St. Augustine, their artillery
having been retired four days earlier. Intermittent fire from
British guns on both side of the St. Augustine inlet and from
Spanish guns at Castillo de San Marcos had prevailed in the
interim.**(Arana chronology) Splinters from mortar shells fell
into the fortress, but most of the ammunition did no damage.
Governor Manuel de Montiano wrote on July 6 that despite the
shelling: "Glory be to God, we have received no corporal injury."
Castillo de San Marcos was the only crown property in town which
was mentioned in the correspondence as being damaged: "[British]
guns injured our parapets." Government House does notojL in
the documentation either as reinforced or damaged.10
In the middle of the eighteenth century Father Juan Jose de
Solana forwarded a report on conditions of St. Augustine. father
Solana's account was critical of the contemporary governor; the
correspondence implies Governor Lucas de Palacio's short term
brought more reward to the governor and his residence (han to the
security of ther-paine r the well-being of the inhabitants.
Solana complained that although the governor had at his command
more than a hundred laborers, he had neglected to use them for
maintenance of fortifications but diverted their efforts to
making a "spacious garden" at Government House, which consumede]
more than 1500 fence posts and 1200 stones." Despite this
improvement according to Solana, the governor stayed on his
estanciaa), seldom residing in Government House."
Although Governor Palacio directed his attention to the
amenities and decorations of his residence, he eschewed (to the
consternation of the priest) the religious motifs which the
carpenter incorporated onto the balcony of Government House.
Palacio ordered the crosses on the finials of the east and west
sides to be removed, saying they were better suited for the
church or the hospitals. Another incident of the Governor's
disregard for religion provided a little architectural
information. Solana reported that the governor was annoyed by
the religious procession which interrupted his card game as he
sat in front of the door of Government House facing the Plaza.12
Four years later the Spanish soldiery and citizenry of
Florida relocated to Cuba as British troops arrived to assume
control of the peninsula, lost through treaty arrangements to end
the Seven Years War. Pablo Castell6 inventoried the Spanish
governments properties in the face of imminent transfer to Great
Britain. In typical Spanish style Government House was appraised
by the value of its individual items of construction material.
Among the components of the compound, Castell6 noted the
existence of twelve stone wells, an observation tower, and a
stable. [do we want an appendix of the appraisal]???
Bernard Romans adjudged the Governor's house to be "a heavy
unsightly pile, but well contrived for the climate." He too
mentioned the tower on the northwest side of the building, whose
height had been increased by Governor Grant.13
William Gerard DeBrahm reported that the governor's
residence boasted piazzas on both sides: a double one to the
south, a single one to the north, a belvedere, and a "grand
portico decorated with dorick pillars and entablature."14
A change of sovereignty was always accompanied by the
complaints of arriving officials about the level of deterioration
of government facilities bequeathed by the departing nation. In
1785, two weeks after arriving, Governor anue Vicent de
Z6spedes complained that neither he nor God Had a decent house in
St. Augustine.15 Engineer Mariano de la Rocque's assessments,
cost estimates, and reports provide information about the
Government-House compound rather than just being limited to thq
main building itself The work in 1785 consisted mostly ofsmaa
wooden improvements: construction of a double fence of pine,
eight [Spanish] feet in height, on the back side of the house and
a new privy with interior partitions and wood-shingle roof.
Doors and windows were repaired. The south and north loggias
were enclosed and stairs were added to them: one on the south
loggia immediately adjacent to the kitchen connected to the
bedrooms and the other at the end of the north loggia led to the
The following year new floor boards were placed in the
north-facing loggia, over a surface four varas in width and 16
varas long. New floor boards were placed atop stringers or
sleepers (durmientes) in the governor's first-story office.
The room immediately adjacent to the governor's office was
partitioned by a masonry wall a tercia (one-third of a vara or
approx 11 inches) in thickness and a tabby floor was laid. Four
new windows with glass panes were made in the reception room
(sala de recibir) to afford a view of the garden. The
dilapidated wall of the main facade, running along St. George
Street, was demolished and replaced by a new one of coquina
blocks 18 inches thick. It was only two-thirds as tall as the
The engineer's reports noted modifications to the room
situated "to the left of the principal entrance." Th/e present
report assumes that the room was to the left of someone entering
the compound. The room would have been on the south side of the
entry and thus located in today's courtyard. In 1785 work
focused on doors, windows and ceilings. In 1786 three new
windows were opened to face the courtyard (patio). In the
bedroom above, an area 6h varas square was floored with boards
two inches in thickness. The following year, 1787, a new window
with glass panes was made onto the street. An interior partition
wall of wood was added as well as a new wood floor. In 1790
still more windows were added to the lower story. A tabby floor
.^ -- -. --^ K ~ ..-- -- *-_ -- --_- -_
was laid (perhaps in only a portion of the addition). A fence of
small, finished boards and posts was built in the courtyard in
front of the windows.
In 1819 the building was referred to as the "former
residence of the governor in a state of dilapidation and
decay, from age and inattention."16 James Grant Forbes observed
in 1821 that Government House was serving as a barrack of the
royal artillery. He also commented upon its architectural
features of galleries and balconies, which he considered to be
typically Spanish. Forbes noted the existence of several
irregular additions to the main building.17
East Florida became an American territory in July 1821.
Under American control the building's primary function changed
toward legal and judicial functions and remodeling was needed to
accommodate trials and jurors as well as serve American cultural
expectations. The building was enlarged from 19 feet in width to
40 by demolishing the entire north wall, 72 feet 3 inches in
length, and building a new one to achieve the dimensions. The
contractor exceeded the dimensions specified on the contract in
order to accommodate all offices. Fireplaces were added in the
south wing. The building was plastered inside and out, and the
exterior treatment marked with ashlar scoring ("pencilled and
marked off as stone"). The contract called for woodwork was to
be painted blue, including jurors' benches, railings along the
piazzas, mantels. The east and south walls of Government
remained intact, demolition and expansion being performed on the
north and west sides. There is no mention of any other
structures (except privies), specifically the "room to the left"
that had been situated in today's courtyard.18
1. Amy Bushnell, The King's Coffer: Proprietors of the Spanish
Florida. Treasury, 1565-1702 (Gainesville, 1981), 46; Map of the
Town, Fort and Channel of San Agustin, Florida, from the Town to
Channel of San Sebastian, 1595. Archivo general de Indias, Sevilla,
Spain, Indiferente 3743.
2. Baptiste Boazio, "St. Augustini pars et terrae Florida sub
latitudinas 30 gradora vera maritima humilior est, lancinata et
insulosa, 1588. Photostat in HSAPB library, from a reproduction,
in the British Museum (PS3/2893 G345).
3. See Papers relating to the sale of Governor's St. Augustine
house, which Gonzalo M6ndez de Canzo had bought from Maria de
Pomar. AGI Santo Domingo 82. Year of 1603-1604. From abstracts
at St. Augustine Foundation, Inc.
4. Amy Bushnell, "The Noble and Loyal City," in Jean Parker
Waterbury, ed., The Oldest City, St. Augustine: Saga of Survival,
(St. Augustine: St. Augustine Historical Society, 1983), 53.
5.Bushnell, King's Coffer, 47.
6. Luis R. Arana, "The Spanish Infantry: The Queen of Battles in
Florida, 1671-1702," M. A. Thesis, University of Florida, 1960,
78-84; Susan R. Parker, "In My Mother's. House: Female Property
Ownership in Spanish St. Augustine," Paper presented to Florida,
Historical Society, May 1992, 10.
7. Royals Officials to King, 1696 April 20, AGI 54-5-15/114, SC LI
8. Charles W. Arnade, The Siege of St. Augustine in 1702,
(Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1959), 24, 57.
9. Governor Francisco de C6rcoles to the Crown, 1709 August 13,
Appraisal of Ruined Houses, AGI 58-1-28/66 SC; ibid., 1713 August
25, AGI-58-1-28/109 SC.
10.Collections of the Georgia Historical Society VII, Part I,
"Letters of Montiano Siege of St. Augustine," (Savannah: Georgia
Historical Society, 1909), 56, 57, 62.
11. Juan Jos6 Solana, 1760 August 12, AGI 86-7-21/94, SC 52.
12.Juan Jos6 Solana to Julian de Arriaga, 1760 April 9, AGI 86-7-
13.Bernard Romans (263)
14.DeBrahm? 293 or 256,
15. Z6spedes to Bernardo de Galvez, 1785 July 29, in Joseph Byrne
Lockey, East Florida, 1783-1785 (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1949), 571.
16. Anaonymous, 1819, 118.
18. Report (No. 223) of the House Committee of Claims, 26th
Congress, 2nd Session.