Sunday, January 8, 2012

St. Augustine-America's First City

Although native Americans have lived in Florida for hundreds of years, a Spanish explorer, Juan Ponce de Leon discovered Florida in 1513.

He was looking for the legendary 'fountain of youth'.

It is said he arrived not far from this location and here is where he claimed America for the Spanish King. It is said he arrived during the Spanish Easter feast, Pascua Florida, and named the land he discovered 'La Pascua de la Florida' or Passion of the Flowers' or 'Passion of Christ'.

Although Ponce de Leon attempted a settlement in 1521, the natives drove them away. The French founded Fort Caroline in 1564 as a haven for the Huguenots, but it did not last. It was the settlement in 1565, San Agustin, which is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the U.S.

The gates to St. Augustine (settled as San Augustin). The walls extended out to the oldest masonry fort in the U.S.,

Castille de San Marcos. Built by the Spanish in 1672, the fort was renamed Fort St. Mark during the 20 year British occupation from 1763-1784. When Florida became an official U.S. territory in 1821 it was renamed to Fort Marion. In 1942 the original name was restored by Congress.

The fort was built of 'coquina' or small shells. Coquina is ancient shells which have bonded to form a type of stone similar to limestone. It can be quarried like any other hard stone. There are several quarries you can visit nearby.

We were lucky enough to be at Castille de San Marcos during a reenactment. The fort was staffed by British reenactors and they staged demonstrations throughout the day, including the firing of the old cannons.

Cannons were fired form on top of the fort walls as well as down below, just outside the entrance to the fort.

North of St. Augustine about 40 miles is a monument representing the stone marker placed at the mouth of the St. John River by French navigator Jean Ribault. Jean Ribault placed the marker claiming Florida for the country of France. The French and the Spanish then battled to see who would settle Florida and it was the Spanish who won after Jean Ribault was killed at the Mantanzas massacre.

Across the St. John's River on Fort George Island is the Kingsley Plantation. Originally established under British rule, this 1000 acre plantation had several owners, but Zephaniah Kingsley and his family held it the longest, over 25 years. Zephaniah Kingsley was once a slave trader, but eventually bought this plantation, along with several others in the area. His was a polygamus and multiracial family, as he married, and eventually freed, one of his slaves, Anna. They had 3 children. He was said to also have relationships with three other African women who were considered co-wives.

I was fascinated by this man's history. Historians say although he was a slave trader and slave holder, he was dedicated to his multiracial family and encouraged his slaves to buy their freedom. When Florida Territorial Council passed a law forbidding interracial marriages and the inheritance of property or holding of property by free blacks or multiracial persons, Kingsley sent his wives, children and a few slaves to Haiti. He started a new plantation in Haiti and sold the Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island to a cousin. There is more, but I guess you will just have to visit the place yourself to find out the rest.

The Ribault Club opened in 1928 as a supper and dance club, designed to be an exclusive playground for the wealthy and socially prominent men of America. Even though prominent men such as Nelson Rockefeller and Winston Churchill were known to come here, the club was hit hard with the stock market crash of 1929. From the 1930s-1989 the club changed hands several times. In 1989 the state of Florida bought the property and it is now a state park.

South of St. Augustine is Fort Mantanzas. It is located on an island and the only way to get there is by boat, but the National Park boat wasn't working. So from across the river we took pictures. Fort Mantanzas was built in 1740 as a rearguard to St. Augustine. It was from this area which George Oglethorpe blocked the inlet and laid seige to St. Augustine for 39 days. He eventually gave up and left.

Further south of Hwy A1A you come to Flagler Beach.

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