Clhe Oldest house
SAINT AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA
We present this house as a symbol of early life in St. Augustine as it
changed under Spain, Britain and
the United States.
Saint Augustine Historical Society
SAINT AUGUSTINE'S OLDEST HOUSE
St. Augustine was a military outpost, and as such was expendable. This city was raided and burned by Sir Francis Drake in 1589, sacked by English pirates in i668, and burned again by English troops from Carolina in 1702.
Archeological research to date shows continuous occupancy of the Oldest House site from the early I6oo's to the present day. This house rose from the ashes of a crude early structure of palm thatch and wood, perhaps destroyed in 1702. The house as you now view it is an evolution from its early form, and the fabric of the house tells the story of a long and colorful past.
Many additions have been made to the Oldest House during its long history. The result is a composite of several different periods rather than the product of any single one. The first floor walls are solidly constructed of coquina, a natural shellstone found on Anastasia Island, across the bay. Its tapia (tabby) floors, a mixture of lime, sand and shell, are typically Spanish, and also go back to a very early period. Few if any of our early Spanish houses had fireplaces.
The Spanish used charcoal braziers. Fireplaces came with the British in 1763. The Spanish covered their windows with projecting lattices of wood, and used wooden shutters to keep out their enemies and the weather.
Secluded patios were located to the rear of the houses, and were well stocked with orange, lemon, pomegranate, fig and other fruit trees suited to the climate.
The first documented occupant of the Oldest House was Tomas Gonziles y Hernandez, one of the many Canary Islanders who came to St. Augustine at various periods. In 1723 he married Francisca de Guevarra, and the old Cathedral Parish records reveal that an infant born to this couple was laid to rest from the Oldest House in 1727.
The Gonzales family still occupied the Oldest House in 1763, when Spain ceded Florida to England in exchange for Havana, Cuba, which the British had recently captured. St. Augustine's three thousand Spanish residents, including the Gonzales family, reluctantly prepared to leave their homes. The majority of the expatriates went to Cuba, taking with them all of their movable possessions.
(The following is a translation of a letter in the archives of the Indies from Tomds Gonzdles y Hernandez to the King. This letter was written ten years after his removal to Havana.)
Tomis Gonzales y Hernindez, native of the kingdoms of Spain and resident in this city of Havana, prostrated at the Royal Catholic Feet of Your Majesty, declares that he served Your Majesty in the Presidio of Florida two years as sailor and thirty six years as artilleryman and fusileer, plus another five on the disabled list as he was failing in health and suffering from shortness of breath.
As a consequence of a Royal Order from Your Majesty, he was transported here (Havana) when Florida was delivered to the King of Great Britain. The salary of his post was discontinued as he arrived in Havana seriously ill and was unable to appear at the muster that was held when he disembarked. This situation obliged him to ask for alms and has caused him to undergo the most
excessive poverty and his family the greatest misery. He was unable to work because of his above stated physical condition and his advanced age of seventy four years.
In remuneration of his forty thread years of service, he humbly requests that Your Majesty honor him with a salary of four reals a day with which he can complete the few remaining days of his life. He also asks that this salary be transferred to his two daughters, Catalina and Margarita, on his death. With this favor he will receive the accustomed mercy of Your Majesty.
Havana, September 5, 1773.
At the Catholic and Royal Feet of Your Majesty.
(signed) Tomas Gonzales y Hernindez.
THE SAINT AUGUSTINE
The Saint Augustine Historical Society acquired the property in 1918 for the purpose of preservation.
Your interest in the Oldest House
has enabled the St. Augustine Historical Society to carry out its program of marking and preserving important historical sites and buildings in and near the Ancient City. In addition to its museum, the Society has also developed an outstanding research library which is consulted by every serious student of Florida history.
As a Society, we are continually translating and studying documents to learn more about our past. This program will result in a more realistic, informative and entertaining interpretation of this house and our city.
"History doesn't happen between
the covers of books, it is merely recorded there. History happens to people and it happens on the land. Seeing where history happened makes it more intimate and
meaningful to us."
THE SAINT AUGUSTINE HISTORICAL SOCIETY