Chapter II: French Tricks, 1973-1802


Material Information

Chapter II: French Tricks, 1973-1802
Series Title:
Castillo de San Marcos Terreplein Project
Physical Description:
Luis R. Arana
Publication Date:
Physical Location:
Folder: Prior excavations, research, & reports

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
97-3003; 93-3000; 94-3000
Castillo de San Marcos
System ID:

Full Text


Chapter II

French Tricks, 1793-1802

1793. Spain became finally involved in war with revolutionary France. The National Assembly declared war on March 7, and the Spanish reciprocated on the 23rd. Six days later, Spain and Great Britain became allies against France.67

About that same time but for other reasons, repairs were ordered for Castillo de San

Marcos. On or about March 6, two large stones fell off a merlon at the face of one of the bastions facing south, probably San Agustin. The stones had become loose by the blast of an 8-pounder gun used to fire the reveille and retreat calls, and by the poor mix used in joining them to the bulk of the structure. Other stones, too, at either side of the particular gun embrasure, were loose and in danger of falling off. The fallen stones were picked up for repositioning, a cost estimate was submitted for rebonding all the loose stones, and a gun at the west parapet was designated to fire thenceforth the morning and the evening shot.68

Then by April 18, the door at the gate had gotten into such a bad condition that it

threatened to fall off. The leaves and the bearing blocks where the post holding the leaves pivoted were rotten or split because a soft wood had been used to build them. What was needed was new door the blocks and posts of which were made of hardwood: If the hardwood could not be obtained, then frames should be used to hang the leaves. The building of a new door was

67 Altamira, p. cit., IV, 75; Quesada to Minister of Grace and Justice, Dec. 10, 1793, 38/41 (26).

68 De la Rocque to Quesada, March 6, 1793, 171/131; Quesada to De la Rocque, March 9, 1793, 171/132.


authorized provided there were means to do so.'

About June 5, Engineer-in-ordinary (captain) Pedro Diaz Berrio arrived in St. Augustine to relieve Mariano de la Rocque, who had been ordered to serve in Spain. Diaz, a native of Orin (Algeria) and an infantry cadet, had been appointed as an engineer assistant (sublieutenant) on October 16, 1774, and ten days later assigned for service in his native city. He was promoted to engineer-in-extraordinary (lieutenant) on May 10, 1779, and was serving in M1laga on February 22, 1783, when he was proposed for assignment to Orin a second time. The transfer order was issued the ensuing June 22.70

Diaz became the commanding engineer of East Florida on June 6, 1793. On the 27th, De la Rocque asked for passage to Habana, and had left by July 6.71

Probably the same day of the arrival of Engineer Diaz, the news of the war with France reached St. Augustine. Governor Juan Nepomuceno de Quesada summoned a council of war to

9 De la Rocque to Quesada, April 18, 1793, 171/137; Quesada to De la Rocque, April 22, 1793, 171/138.
70 Id. to De la Rocque, June 5, 1793, 171/144; De la Rocque to Quesada, June 6, 1793,
171/147; Luis Pascual, "Cuadernos de reconocimiento de los papeles que existen en Simancas en el Archivo General del Reino, referentes al personal del Cuerpo de Ingenieros del Ej6rcito en el Siglo XVIII," vol. I (1854), 211, 228, 554, 599-600, 609.71 Council of Finance, June 6, 1793, 277/1 [13], in which Diaz participated as present
commanding engineer; De la Rocque to Quesada, June 27, 1793, 171/151; Council of War, July 6, 1793, 277/1 [16], in which De la Rocque was not listed as present. De la Rocque must have expected the transfer because in January he had sent his wife, four children, a mulatto woman, an orphan girl, and two white servants back to Habana (De la Rocque to Quesada, Jan. 10, 1793, 171/123; Quesada to De la Rocque, Jan. 11, 1793, 171/124; De la Rocque to Quesada, Jan. 14, 1793, 171/125). Once he arrived in Habana, De la Rocque never went to Spain, for he died there on Jan. 28, 1795 as engineer-in-second (lieut. col.) (Ware, "Mariano de la Rocque: Military Engineer," 13). During his 9 years in East Florida, he remodeled or repaired extant public buildings, built new earthwork fortifications, and drew at least 9 maps and plans related to subject in the province.


meet on June 7 to consider defense measures for East Florida. One previous positive step had been the activation on May 18 of the comandancia de fronteras india y americana (Indian and American frontiers command) headquartered initially at St. Marys River. Province wide, the council now resolved to concentrate forces on the frontier on Amelia Island, and build batteries there and at the St. Johns River's mouth. In St. Augustine, the gunpowder in the Anastasia watchtower magazine would be moved to a storeroom in the lot called Governor's Garden, and the gun platform of Fort Matanzas repaired for emplacement of two guns. n

The treasurer requested on September 4 for the rehabilitation of the Castillo vault known as the royal treasury (Room 16) as his office and repository of the King's coffer. An inspection revealed that all vaults were filtrating rainwater excessively through cracks in the terreplein, and the water was damaging the supplies stored in them. However, there were four vaults that leaked less than the others, and those were the flour storeroom (No. 13), the old chapel vault (Room 14) used as the room for the officer of the guard, the general storekeeper's office (Room 15), the upper story of which contained merchandise for the Indians, and the vault wanted by the treasurer, in which the second story held items which had to be kept dry, such as tents, sandbags, and rope.7

Diaz thought the lower story of Room 16 could be fixed up. There was the inconvenience of the supplies stored on the upper story, but there was n6 other place where those supplies could be preserved properly. The work contemplated consisted of repairing the floor, filling-in several holes in the walls, rebuilding the door, and removing a previously erected small, wooden room

n Quesada to Minister of Grace and Justice, Dec. 10, 1793, 38/41 (26); Council of War, June 7, 1793, 277/1 [14].

73 Quesada to Diaz, Sept. 13, 1793, 171/162; Diaz to Quesada, Sept. 16, 1793, 171/163.

within the vault in front of one of the windows. On September 17, 1793, Quesada approved the rehabilitation of the room to place the King's coffer there.74

While supervising the repair of Room 16, Engineer Diaz inspected Castillo de San Marcos carefully. The unfortunate condition of the structure stemmed from the filtration of rainwater through the terreplein down into the main walls and the vaults. Both were made of a poor stone formed by small sea shells separated one from another by the filtrating water itself. The tabbybuilt terreplein was fissured profusely and lacked proper drainage. The water got into the crevices and, running down to the main walls, enlarged old cracks and developed new ones. The water made the vaults unfit for habitation and storage of provisions, weapons, and merchandise because these items became subject to damage. In fact, the floor boards of the former powder magazine (Rooms 10 and 11) were rotted by dampness and there was water under them. In the vault housing the armory, the upper story might fall because all the heads of beams supporting the story were rotted, most of them had slipped out of their wall recesses, and were held up only because the upper story floor was nailed to them. Most of the parapet, firing steps, and esplanadas de bateria (probably, the water battery salients) were torn up because they had not been repaired on time. The covered way wall was missing entirely at the northwest quadrant of the fort.75

Diaz talked also of emergency actions taken and lis recommendations for preservation. The water filtration problem required the repair of the terreplein, including providing proper drainage, and covering the extrados of the arches with a course of bricks topped in turn by a slab of good sulaue (probably, mix). For the time being, the rehabilitation of vaults in use for storage

74 Iid., Quesada to Diaz, Sept. 17, 1793, 171/164.

75 Diaz to Quesada, Sept. 23, 1793, 171/166.