Government House, Background Information


Material Information

Government House, Background Information
Series Title:
Government House Archaeological Excavation Documents
Physical Description:
Mixed Material
City of St. Augustine Archaeological Program

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
West Plaza Lot
System ID:

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Full Text

The site of Government House has been utilized for

governmental purposes since circa 1598. When Government House was first located on this site, it was a capitol with a jurisidiction that extended north and west to yet-uncontested limits. That jurisdiction continually contracted in actuality over the decades, despite grander territorial claims. With 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 (17631784) and during the subsequent second period of Spanish rule (1784-1821). In 1821 Spain ceded East Florida to the United States.

As the seat of government, the Government House site was better documented and better maintained than most of St. Augustine properties. Unlike other sites in the town, it is possible to identify the occupants of the site for almost of all of the historical period. 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 governors.

By 1687 the Governor's residencer was in such a state of disrepair that rains came in and the floors and fences had

rotted. In 1690 local soldiers, military craftsman, Native American laborers, and Crown-owned black slaves constructed a new 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 for the stone building material.

At face value Father Solana's correspondence suggests that

Governor Palacio's short term brought more reward to the governor and his residence than to the security of the province or the well-being of the residents. Solana complained that although the governor had at his command more than a hundred laborers, he had not used them to maintain or repair fortifications but diverted their efforts to making a "spacious garden" at Government House, which "consum[ed] more than 1500 fence posts and 1200 stones. Despite this improvement, according to Solana, the governor seldom left his ranch (estancia) rather than residing in Government House.2

Although Governor Palacios directed his attention to the amenities and decorations of his residence, he eschewed the

religious motifs which the carpenter incorporated onto the balcony of Government House. He ordered the crosses on the finials of the east and west facades removed, saying they were better suited for the church or the hospitals. Another incident of the Governor's disrespect for religion provides a little architectural information. Solana reported that the governor was annoyed by the religious procession which interrupted his card

_M as he sat in front of the door facing the Plaza.3 1- .Royals Officials to King, 1696 April 20, AGI 54-5-15/114, SC 24.

2. Juan Jos6 Solana, 1760 August 12, AGI 86-7-21/94, SC 52.

3.Juan Jos6 Solana to Julian de Arriaga, 1760 April 9, AGI 86-721/41 SC .