John & Susan Simpson
Mon 13 Jun 2022 03:57
|Just over 100 miles to the south of St Simon’s Island lies St Augustine, Florida. We thought we were going to a place pronounced 'Sunt OrGUStin' but whenever we said it we were met with confused faces. Say it as 'Saynt OWgusteen’ and immediately everyone knows it! It’s the same when we order coffee to take out - ‘Jarn’ gets the coffee no problem, John gets a request to say the name again. A request for a bottle of wine was met with ‘we don’t do wine by the bucket’. Nice idea, but not really what we were looking for!
St Augustine was probably the most significant place we were to visit in terms of American history but Britain could claim little credit for its settlement. Spain first laid claim to Florida in 1513 and started building wooden fortifications in what would become St Augustine in 1565. Sir Francis Drake attacked St Augustine in 1586 and burned the settlement down but got no further.
The area was so important to Spain for the protection of its trade fleets that a large stone-built fort, the Castillo de San Marcos, was completed in 1695. The design is unmistakably Spanish - we had seen the same star-shape with raked back outer walls and corner turrets many times when visiting Spain - but the stone is a locally found material called Coquina. This is made of tiny fragments of seashells compressed into limestone over thousands of years and it proved to be very successful at withstanding cannon ball fire as it would yield to the force but wouldn’t shatter. Although the British managed to burn the surrounding city down in further attacks, they never succeeded in taking the Castillo by force. Even James Oglethorpe, who we had heard about in St Simon’s Island, had a go at attacking St Augustine and the Castillo withstood a 37-day siege by his Fort Frederica regiment in 1740. In 1763 the British finally won St Augustine, but by treaty rather than by force. The Castillo de San Marcos was renamed Fort St Mark.
Castillo de San Marcos, St Augustine, Florida
Great Britain now controlled all of North America east of the Mississippi River and St Augustine was designated the capital city of British East Florida. However, there was trouble brewing amongst the more northerly British colonies as the rapidly growing population felt increasingly alienated from Great Britain. Florida remained loyal to Britain during the American War of Independence and St Augustine overflowed with loyalist refugees fleeing fighting in the north. Meanwhile Spain, realising that Britain was a bit preoccupied, took the opportunity to invade and regained West Florida in 1781. In 1784 Great Britain recognised the independence of the United States and, having no further use for loyal East Florida, gave the colony back to Spain in exchange for the Bahamas. It feels a bit like a giant game of Monopoly!
So St Augustine was British, but only for 20 years and it has to be said that we left little to show for it. The town looks remarkably Spanish, despite the Stars and Stripes flying from the Cathedral. Whilst it was quite scenic this wasn’t our favourite place as it has been taken over by souvenir shops. We also had the largest, stodgiest, sickliest lunch ever and left feeling in need of fresh fruit and vegetables!
The Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW) was very picturesque even here though. We would have liked to have moored Casamara alongside the Castillo de San Marcos and our excursion to the top of the St Augustine lighthouse showed some lovely anchorages in the creeks off the ICW.
There was now one more stop to make on our American history tour, Ocala, Florida…..OcKARla if you’re British, OcKElla if you want to be understood!