Although St. Augustine was small, remote and poor, life in the town was governed by traditional Spanish municipal organization, with a mayor and city officials in addition to the military and crown-appointed government officials.
The daily, weekly and monthly practices of the Catholic Church were also profoundly influential in shaping the routines of St. Augustine’s residents. And the constant quest for adequate food, clothing and shelter were concerns held in common by all of the town’s citizens.
But despite these shared community elements, the daily lives and experiences of individual people in St. Augustine varied dramatically. Within the town’s small resident population, sharp social distinctions were recognized and maintained. These distinctions took into account place of birth, race, occupation and income.
Spaniards with some connection (however remote) to nobility were at the top of the social hierarchy, and were able to use this to advance themselves both socially and economically.
Most of the residents were Spaniards of humble background, connected to the garrison. Many of these soldiers were able to improve their economic circumstances by practicing other trades and professions in addition to their military duties.
By the end of the sixteenth century a significant portion of St. Augustine’s inhabitants were criollos (people of Spanish descent who were born in America), Indians, Africans or of multiracial parentage. A peninsular (a Spaniard born in Spain) was generally held to be more socially prestigious than a criollo, and people of color were generally relegated to the lower social ranks.
A great many Spanish soldiers married Indian women, which, by 1565, was already a long-established practice throughout the earlier Spanish colonies in Mexico and the Caribbean.
This tradition deeply influenced the nature of everyday life in St. Augustine throughout the Spanish period. Artifacts related to women’s domestic activities reflect a strong Native American influence in household and kitchen management, whereas artifacts related to men’s traditional activities are nearly exclusively European.
Francisco Camacho came to Florida in the 1560’s from San Lucar de Barrameda, near Cadiz. He was a soldier in the regiment, and also a fisherman. He married an Indian woman named Teresa, and in 1580 the couple’s household in St. Augustine included Francisco, Teresa, Teresa‘s sister Catalina, and Catalina’s son, Juan. Fewer than half of the Spanish men in St. Augustine were married, and fewer than half of those had a Spanish wife.
Juan Cevadilla married into one the elite governing Spanish families of St. Augustine, and was given the lucrative post of situador. The situador was responsible for going to Mexico City each year, collecting the money of the crown subsidy for St. Augustine, and buying goods from the money for shipment to St. Augustine, There were clearly many opportunities for personal gain in this process, and Cevadilla’s will reflects this. He died suddenly in Veracruz in 1590 while collecting the subsidy, leaving to his widow, Doña Petronilla, such elaborate household furnishings as a carved and gilded canopy bed of embroidered Chinese taffeta, great quantities of luxury cloth and clothing, several African slaves, horses and other livestock, several sets of glazed earthenware and Chinese porcelain, silverware, perfume and books.
Francisca de Vera
Señora de Vera’s soldier husband died in St. Augustine sometime before 1580. She supported herself by opening her home as a boardinghouse, renting space to five soldiers. Three of the soldiers also worked on the side as carpenters, and one worked as a barber. Men vastly out-numbered women and they generally continued to live in the comrade groups mandated by Pedro Menéndez at the first settlement, in order to pool rations and share household needs. Most soldiers also practiced trades or crafts on the side to supplement their meager salaries, usually through barter.
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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.
Deagan, Kathleen (Editor). 1985 The Archaeology of Sixteenth Century St. Augustine. The Florida Anthropologist (Special issue) 38:6-33.
Notes:A collection of articles summarizing the results of archaeology in sixteenth century St. Augustine sites up to 1985.
Lyon, Eugene. 1992 Richer than we thought: the material culture of sixteenth century St. Augustine. El Escribano. Volume 29 pp. 1-117. St. Augustine: the St. Augustine Historical Society.
Notes: Lists of personal goods compiled from wills as well as from shipping records are presented and discussed.
Manucy, Albert. 1 1997 Sixteenth century St. Augustine: The people and their homes. Gainesville: University Press of Florida and the St. Augustine Historical Society.
Notes: A charmingly illustrated and written book about St. Augustine, its people and its architecture at ca. 1580.
Reitz, Elizabeth J., and C. Margaret Scarry. 1985 Reconstructing historic subsistence with an example from sixteenth century Spanish
Florida. The Society for Historical Archaeology Special Publication No. 3.
Notes: An archeological reconstruction of the diet, foodways and environmental resources of the sixteenth century colonists of St. Augustine.