Massacre at Fort Caroline

Fort Caroline Massacre

This engraving depicts the massacre that took place at Fort Caroline. It was created by Theodor de Bry from a sketch by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues – who survived the attack.

Seeing that they were Lutherans, his Excellency condemned them all to death; but, as I was a priest and felt a sympathy for them, I begged him to grant me a favor, – that of sparing those who would embrace our holy faith. He granted me this favor. I succeeded in thus saving ten or twelve; all the rest were executed because they were Lutherans and enemies of our holy Catholic faith. All this took place on the day of St. Michael, September 22d, 1565. There were one hundred and eleven Lutherans executed, without counting fourteen or fifteen prisoners.

I Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales, Chaplain of his Excellency, certify that the foregoing is true.

A Huguenot survivor of the attach on Fort Caroline has described that human butchery as “a massacre of men, women, and little infants, so horrible that one can imagine nothing more barbarous and cruel.”

From Boomfield’s Illustrated Historical Guide, one of the many guidebooks published in the late 19th century as St. Augustine became a popular tourist destination. Photo courtesy State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

When History Gets Personal

Celia Garth coverAs a teenager, one of my favorite books was Gwen Bristow’s Celia Garth. It is the story of a young women living in Charleston, South Carolina, during the American Revolution. It has romance, adventure, history and, best of all, a character with common sense.

I didn’t know at the time that I had ancestors who lived in Charleston during the Revolution. My 5th great grandfather was John Lewis Gervais, a French Huguenot who came to Charleston in 1764 and quickly became involved in politics, serving in the Provincial Congress in 1775, as a member of the Continental Congress in 1782 and 1783, and in the State Senate beginning in 1784. After that discovery, I wanted to go back and take another look at Celia Garth but unfortunately it was out of print and my local library didn’t have a copy.

Just recently, however, all of Gwen Bristow’s books have been released as ebooks. Not only that, but at Amazon they are available as part of their Kindle Unlimited subscription service. Reading Celia Garth again was even more interesting. I found myself much more focused on the “background color” that added to the plot line. It made it easier to build a picture of Charleston at that point in time with my ancestors walking the same streets as Celia.

I’ve always been a fan of historical novels, but I wonder what might have happened if there had been a genealogist in the family who could have made books like Celia Garth a more personal experience for a youngster like me . . .

Don’t Tread on Me

Gadsden FlagThis flag has been getting a lot of attention lately as a symbol of today’s Tea Party movement. It’s history goes back to the American Revolution where, among other things, it was the first flag ever carried into battle by the United States Marine Corps.

It also has a connection to St. Augustine.

The flag is known today as the Gadsden Flag because it was designed by Christopher Gadsden, a Patriot from South Carolina. Gadsden served in the First and Second Continental Congress, leaving in 1776 to take command of the 1st South Carolina Regiment. His military service lasted until 1778 when he was named Lieutenant Governor of the South Carolina colony.

When Charleston fell to the British in May of 1780, Gadsden represented the civil government in the surrender. He and others arrested by the British were given parole and allowed to return to their homes. But in August he was arrested again, along with about twenty others, and marched to a ship which brought them here to St. Augustine.

Christopher Gadsden

Christopher Gadsden

When they arrived, Governor Tonyn offered them freedom of the town if they would give their parole. Most of the others accepted this offer, but not Christopher Gadsden. He stated that the British had violated their parole in Charleston so he could not give his word to a false system. As a result, he spent the next 42 weeks in solitary confinement here at the Castillo de San Marcos.

In 1781, he and the other South Carolina Patriots were put on a ship to Philadelphia. It was there they learned of Cornwallis’ defeat at Yorktown. Gadsden returned to Charleston to help restore the city’s civil government. His health was impaired by his stay at the Castillo, but he was still able to serve in the state convention of 1788 and voted for ratification of the U.S. Constitution. He died in 1805.

Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Tolomato Cemetery

Tolomato Cemetery sketch

Tolomato Cemetery sketch

Located on the site of an early Franciscan mission for local Indians, Tolomato Cemetery is one of St. Augustine’s historic cemeteries with graves dating back to the 18th century. During the British period a number of refugees from a failed settlement near New Smyrna arrived in St. Augustine. Being mostly Catholic, they needed a proper place to bury their dead. Father Pedro Camps, their priest, requested and was granted use of the old mission as a cemetery. It would remain a cemetery until 1884 when all cemeteries within the city limits were closed.