The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine

Every Sunday, worshipers belonging to the oldest Catholic parish in the United States file into the St. Augustine Cathedral Basilica, where mass has been celebrated in some form or fashion for nearly 450 years. As timeless as this sturdy building may appear to the visitor, however, its history bears witness to many instances of warfare, disaster, and change that have shaped the city of St. Augustine.

This is an engraved, hand-colored map drawn by Baptista Boazio in 1589, depicts a raid on St. Augustine by the English navigator Sir Francis Drake. Boazio lived in London from about 1585 to 1603, illustrating accounts of English expeditions and campaigns.

This engraved, hand-colored map drawn by Baptista Boazio in 1589 depicts a raid on St. Augustine by the English navigator Sir Francis Drake. Boazio lived in London from about 1585 to 1603, illustrating accounts of English expeditions and campaigns.

In this zoomed portion of the Boazio map, notice the location of the parish church, marked "O" in the original and indicated with a green arrow.

In this zoomed portion of the Boazio map, notice the location of the parish church, marked “O” in the original and indicated with a green arrow.

St. Augustine was established in 1565 by Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles. He had carried with his expedition four priests who immediately began preparing to minister to the Spaniards who would settle in the new outpost. The map above shows the location of the first parish church at the southeast corner of the old plaza.

Depiction of the first mass celebrated in St. Augustine on September 8, 1565. This painting, dated 1919, is an exact copy of the version that hung on the wall of the St. Augustine Cathedral for many years before the building burned in 1887.

Depiction of the first mass celebrated in St. Augustine on September 8, 1565. This painting, dated 1919, is an exact copy of the version that hung on the wall of the St. Augustine Cathedral for many years before the building burned in 1887.

In addition to serving as the principal port and administrative center of Spanish Florida, St. Augustine was also the headquarters of the Catholic Church’s effort to minister to the Native Americans living in the surrounding area. Two lines of Franciscan missions extended outward from the town, one heading west as far as Tallahassee, and another stretching into present-day South Georgia as far as St. Catherine’s Island.

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Gregor McGregor (Part Two)

McGregor settled in on Amelia Island after capturing the Spanish town and blockhouse at Fernandina.

After Gregor McGregor captured the small fort and block houses at Fernandina on Amelia Island in June of 1817, he sent the Spanish prisoners to St. Augustine. McGregor planned to continue his invasion of North Florida, but delayed at Amelia Island to set up a government of his own. He established a postal delivery system, acquired a printing press for a local newspaper, issued his own currency and flew his own flag, a green cross on a white background.

Gregor McGregor's flag

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Gregor McGregor (Part One)

In July 1817, McGregor devised a plan to capture part of Florida and sell it to the United States.

Gregor McGregor was born in Scotland in 1786. After serving in the British Army for eight years he sold out of the army in 1810, having attained the rank of major. In 1812, McGregor sailed to South America to join the colonial revolution against the Spanish. He married a relative of Simón Bolivar and campaigned against the Spanish in South America and the Caribbean for several years.

In 1817, he left South America for North America to campaign against the Spanish in Florida. McGregor devised a plan to capture part of Florida and sell it to the United States. He obtained financial backing from an American mercantile company from Charleston, South Carolina, recruited veterans of the War of 1812, and invaded Amelia Island in North Florida.

Map from the Unconfirmed Spanish Land Grant of John McClure on Amelia Island, showing the location of Fuerte San Carlos (upper left) overtaken by McGregor on July 9, 1817

Map from the Unconfirmed Spanish Land Grant of John McClure on Amelia Island, showing the location of Fuerte San Carlos (upper left) overtaken by McGregor on July 9, 1817

Quotation below from Narrative of a Voyage to the Spanish Main in the Ship Two Friends (J. Miller: London, 1819), 87-88.

“On the 9th of July (1817), the little band of McGregor, attended by two schooners and a few row boats, passing the shores of Cumberland island, at the entrance of the river St. Mary’s, anchored in the Spanish waters of Amelia, disembarking in all about 60 muskets, under the very guns of the fort of Fernandina, and two block houses intended as a defense for the rear of the town. McGregor, assisted by Colonel Posen of the United States Army as second in command, led his little band over a swamp, which divided the point of debarkation from the town, plunged up to their knees in mud, exposed to the means possessed by the Spaniards of totally annihilating them… The garrison… did not offer a single coup de canon of resistance from the fort, and only one gun was fired from the Block house and that without the orders of the commandant.”

William Augustus Bowles (January 16, 1792)

On this date in 1792, William Augustus Bowles and his band of followers seized control of the Panton, Leslie & Company trading post on the Wakulla River.

William Augustus Bowles (ca. 1795)

William Augustus Bowles (ca. 1795)

William Augustus Bowles arrived in Florida as a British soldier during the Revolutionary War. He defected from Pensacola in about 1778 and sought refuge in the Creek Indian country. During his time among the Creeks, Bowles apparently married Mary Perryman, a daughter of Lower Creek headman William Perryman. Bowles used this union as the basis for his claim to exert political influence among the Creeks, later proclaiming himself “Director General of the Muskogee Nation.”

In 1783, Bowles left North America for the Bahamas. There, he solicited support for a plan to challenge the Indian trade monopoly exercised by Panton, Leslie & Company in Spanish Florida.

Detail from the Forbes Purchase Map (1817) showing the confluence of the St. Marks and Wakulla Rivers

Detail from the Forbes Purchase Map (1817) showing the confluence of the St. Marks and Wakulla Rivers

In January 1792, Bowles and his adherents—made up of disaffected whites, runaway slaves and a few Seminoles—attacked the Panton, Leslie & Company trading post on the Wakulla River. Bowles briefly seized the store, shown on the map above as “Old Store,” located about four miles upriver from Fuerte San Marcos de Apalache, before walking into a trap set by the Spanish. The Spanish first sent Bowles to Cuba, and later imprisoned him in the Philippines. Little did the Spanish know it would not be the last time they would encounter William Augustus Bowles.

Eight years later, having escaped from the Philippines, Bowles again launched a plan against the Spanish and Panton, Leslie & Company, this time striking at Fuerte San Marcos de Apalache. In early 1800, he took control of the fort for several weeks before being ousted by Spanish reinforcements from Pensacola. Bowles evaded capture by Spanish authorities until 1802. In 1805, he died at Castillo Morro in Havana, Cuba.

British Intrigue and the Events at Prospect Bluff

Although not part of the United States during the War of 1812, Florida witnessed its share of fighting between Spanish, British, American, African and Native American belligerents involved in the protracted conflict.

Conventional histories of the War of 1812 end the conflict with Andrew Jackson’s campaign against Pensacola and New Orleans in 1814 and 1815. However, for African and Native American peoples in the southeast, the war continued after the fighting ceased between the British and the Americans.

In the summer of 1814, several British vessels arrived at St. George Island along Florida’s Gulf Coast. They carried supplies for the construction of a fort along the Apalachicola River. In the waning stages of the War of 1812, the British hoped to continue the conflict in Spanish Florida with the help of Native Americans and Africans hostile to the United States.

Map of the Forbes Purchase (ca. 1820). In the lower left portion of the map is St. George Island. The “Negro Fort” was located on the Apalachicola River near Prospect Bluff.

Map of the Forbes Purchase (ca. 1820). In the lower left portion of the map is St. George Island. The “Negro Fort” was located on the Apalachicola River near Prospect Bluff.

Prior to the War of 1812, several agents of the British Empire, most notably William Augustus Bowles, attempted similar schemes to enlist black and Indian allies in armed struggle against the Americans with the goal of wresting control of Florida away from the Spanish. Bowles seized the Panton, Leslie & Company trading post on the Wakulla River in 1792. Panton, Leslie & Company, a Scottish-owned firm, enjoyed a monopoly over the Indian trade in West Florida. The Spanish granted the firm these rights as they were unable to satisfy Creek and Seminole demands for trade goods themselves. The Spaniards apprehended Bowles and sent him to a prison in the Philippines.

William Augustus Bowles (ca. 1795)

William Augustus Bowles (ca. 1795)

The intrepid Bowles escaped incarceration and returned to Florida in 1800. This time he besieged Fuerte San Marcos de Apalache, forcing the Spanish to withdraw. Shortly thereafter, an expedition sailed from Pensacola and expelled Bowles. He was later captured by the Spanish, who imprisoned him in Havana, Cuba, until his death in 1805.

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The United States Formally Takes Control of Florida (July 17, 1821)

The United States signed the Adams-Onís Treaty with Spain on February 22, 1819. The treaty provided for the transfer of Florida from Spain to the United States, and established the southern boundary between the U.S. and Mexico.

Map of Florida (ca. 1821)

Map of Florida (ca. 1821)

The formal transfer of Florida took place on July 17, 1821. An exchange of flags occurred first at St. Augustine on July 10, and then on July 17 at Pensacola. Andrew Jackson became governor of the newly created territory of Florida.

Drawing of the exchange of flags: St. Augustine (July 10, 1821)

Drawing of the exchange of flags: St. Augustine (July 10, 1821)

As part of the treaty with Spain, the U.S. agreed to honor Spanish land grants in Florida. Spain encouraged settlement in Florida by offering land grants in order to boost economic activity in the colony. Holders of Spanish land grants could submit claims to the U.S. government for compensation, or to retain their land after 1821.

The Spanish land grants provide information on the settlement and cultivation of Florida during the Second Spanish Period (1783-1821), and the Territorial Period (1821-1845).

Map showing the confirmed claim of John McIntosh along the St. Johns River at Migert’s Point

Map showing the confirmed claim of John McIntosh along the St. Johns River at Migert’s Point

Map showing confirmed claim of John Bolton

Map showing confirmed claim of John Bolton

The collection of Spanish Land Grants on Florida Memory includes many land grant claims with colorful maps depicting the landscape of Florida.