St. Francis Barracks

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St. Francis Barracks (c. 1890)

St. Francis Barracks is a historic structure constructed of coquina stone located on Marine Street in St. Augustine, Florida named in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. The barracks were constructed between 1724 and 1755 by monks of the Order of St. Francis to replace a series of previous wooden buildings which were destroyed by the ravages of the Florida sub-tropical climate and by fire, both accidental and intentional when the city was razed by the English in 1702.[1]

The barracks were turned into a military structure by the British in 1763 after Florida became a British territory by treaty after the French and Indian War. The Franciscan monks vacated the city along with the majority of the Spanish citizens of St. Augustine.

The name St. Francis Barracks also came to be applied to the military reservation which was developed around the barracks after its conversion for military purposes. Included in this military reservation on the shore of the Matanzas River are several historic structures including The King's Bakery, believed to be the only extant structure in St. Augustine constructed entirely within the British period of occupation.

Today the St. Francis Barracks serves as the Florida State Arsenal, headquarters for the Florida National Guard as well as the two additional headquarters its subordinate organizations, the Florida Army National Guard and the Florida Air National Guard. A portion of the area is also the site of the St. Augustine National Cemetery.

History[edit]

Spanish (1st and 2nd) and British Periods[edit]

Modern view of St. Francis Barracks

When Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded St. Augustine for the Spanish Crown, Jesuit priests were among the initial colonists to provide for the spiritual needs of the settlers and to help convert the native Timucua Indians to Christianity. In the 1570s the Jesuits were replaced by monks of the Order of St. Francis who were allocated land in 1588 at the southern end of the city for their monastery and church, Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion (Our Lady of the Conception).

The original structures on the site were built of logs and palm thatch roofs. Throughout the years a succession of buildings were constructed as replacements. The structures were susceptible to rotting in the humid sub-tropical climate and were highly flammable. In 1702 all the structures in St. Augustine with the exception of the Castillo de San Marcos were burned to the ground in a raid led by English pirate Robert Searles. After this it was decided to rebuild the monastery with the same durable coquina used in the construction of the fort. Construction finally began in 1735 using coquina stone quarried at the King's Quarry located on Anastasia Island across Matanzas Bay from St. Augustine.

The Franciscan monks lived at the monastery until the British took possession of Florida in exchange for occupied Havana which they seized from the Spanish in the French and Indian War, in which Spain was an ally of the French.

Almost the entire population of Catholic St. Augustine left the city upon the British taking control in 1763 including the Franciscan monks and many of their Native American converts. The British, a large majority of whom were Protestant converted the monks former living quarters into military barracks for the troops stationed at the newly christened Fort St. Marks, the anglicized version of the Castillo de San Marco.

During the British Period of occupation the military constructed an additional wooden barracks behind the coquina stone, St. Francis Barracks. They also constructed The King's Bakery, a coquina stone structure used for baking the bread for the city's garrison. This structure which has been used as a garage by the Florida National Guard since 1930 is located perpendicular to the barracks across Marine Street. It is believed to be the only structure surviving in St. Augustine built entirely during the British Period (1763–1784).

After signing the Treaty of Paris, the British who conceded defeat in the American Revolution agreed to relinquish control of the Florida Territory, restoring Spain's possession of the land. Upon returning the Spanish military continued to use the St. Francis Barracks, as a military installation and troop barracks. During this period known as the Second Spanish Period (1763–1821) the wooden barracks built by the British were torn down.

U.S. Period / U.S. Military Installation[edit]

St. Francis Barracks came under control of the United States Army when the United States gained possession of Florida in 1821. The Barracks would remain an active U.S. Army installation until it was deactivated in 1900, with the exception of one year between 1861-1862 when it, like the rest of St. Augustine was under control of the Confederate States of America.

In 1828, a portion of the southern end of the St. Francis Barracks military reservation was set aside as a post cemetery. In 1842, the U.S. soldiers who perished in the 1835 Dade Massacre were re-interred here under 3 coquina pyramid shaped monument, along with over 1,300 other U.S. casualties of the Second Seminole War. This cemetery would later be redesignated the St. Augustine National Cemetery.

At the start of the American Civil War there was only one ordnance sergeant on duty, SGT Henry Douglas, who was responsible not only for the Barracks, but for Fort Marion as well (the American name for the nearby Castillo de San Marcos). On January 7, 1861, before Florida's formal secession from the Union, members of a newly formed local militia unit named the St. Augustine Blues, went to the St. Francis Barracks to demand the keys to the fort. The U.S. sergeant complied with the stipulation that he receive a receipt for the fort, which he was given.

Douglas would later report that; “All military stores at this place were seized this morning by order of the Governor of the State of Florida. A company of volunteer soldiers marched to the barracks and took possession of me, and demanded peaceable possession of the keys of the fort and magazine.

The U.S. Army deactivated the fort in 1900 and leased it to the Florida State Troops, the forerunner of the present day Florida National Guard, in 1907. It was formally given to the State of Florida for use as the State Arsenal in 1921 by an act of Congress. After receiving use of the Barracks via lease in 1907, the buildings were not immediately occupied. In 1915, the St. Francis Barracks were gutted in a fire, however, the original coquina stone walls remained standing. The building was rebuilt in 1922 using the original walls.[2]

Today, St. Francis Barracks, also known as the State Arsenal, is home to the Headquarters, Florida National Guard, headed by the Army or Air Force officer serving as The Adjutant General (TAG) of Florida, and the TAG's associated staff. It is also headquarters for the Florida Army National Guard and the Florida Air National Guard, headed by the Assistant Adjutant General - Army and the Assistant Adjutant General - Air Force, respectively, and their associated staffs.

References[edit]

  1. ^ St. Augustine and St. Johns County: A Historical Guide by William R. Adams, p. 40
  2. ^ Florida National Guard - St. Francis Barracks

Coordinates: 29°53′16″N 81°18′35″W / 29.8877°N 81.3098°W / 29.8877; -81.3098