About 300 people lived in the town site that was established to the south of the present-day St. Augustine plaza in 1572. Most of the residents were soldiers and their dependents.
The colony was not profitable for Spain, but St. Augustine’s economy was subsidized by the crown because of the town’s strategic position in guarding the route of the Spanish treasure fleets, and also because it provided a safe haven for shipwreck victims and a base from which to salvage wrecked ships’ cargoes.
Disaster struck repeatedly during this period.
A garrison mutiny in 1570 destroyed the fort on Anastasia Island. By 1572 the rebuilt fort was eroding into the sea, and a new town and fort had to be built again after the move back to the mainland in 1572.
Many of these new houses were made of wattle and daub, which employed a framework of wood over which clay was plastered. In 1577 Indians attacked the settlement and burned many of the houses.
The entire town and fort were destroyed again in 1586, when the English privateer Francis Drake burned St. Augustine to the ground (fortunately making a map of the town before he did so). Drake’s threats to Santa Elena in the same year resulted in the permanent abandonment of that settlement, and the relocation of all its population to St. Augustine in 1587.
St. Augustine was rebuilt yet again, after Drake’s attack, this time mostly of board and thatch construction. In March of 1599 a disastrous fire swept through the town, igniting the wood and thatch. And in September of the same year, the rebuilt and still-damaged buildings suffered severe flood damage from a major hurricane.
Miguél de Escudón
Miguél was a Basque carpenter and sawyer from Vizcaya. He had joined the Royal Armada in Spain, but deserted. As punishment, he was sent to St. Augustine in 1573 to serve 3 years in the military. Since the town’s population was predominantly male, most of the households were made up of groups of soldiers. Miguel’s group included three others who moonlighted in the building trades, including Santos Hernández from Carmona who was a cord and rope maker as well as a sawyer; and Blás Hernández from the Canary Islands, who was a carpenter and a gunner. Their services were undoubtedly in great demand during this time of building and rebuilding. (Manucy 1999:88)
The following resources include only a few of the many works that have been written on these topics. We have chosen those you see here because they are relatively recent (or have continued as enduring classics), they are published in easily accessible formats, and they are generally non-technical in their presentation. These sources will also lead you to many more popular and scholarly publications on these topics.
Most of these resources can be found through your public library. Other useful sites for locating many of these readings include the University Press of Florida and the St. Augustine Historical Society. For a complete list of archaeological sources, visit the Florida Museum Historical Archaeology site.
Arnade, Charles. 1959 Florida on Trial 1593-1602. Coral Gables: University of Miami Press.
Notes: A detail-rich translation and commentary on the trials held to determine St. Augustine’s fate in 1602.
Covington, James. 1965 Drake destroys St. Augustine. Florida Historical Quarterly 44(1&2):81-93.
Notes: An account of Francis Drake’s raid on and burning of St. Augustine in 1586.