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Witnessing American Culture in Castillo de San Marcos

A surviving edifice that tells of countless tales of the exploits of Spain to conquer the known world in the 17th century, the Castillo de San Marcos in Florida still stands as a reminder of the grim but historically-rich past of our great nation. It consists of a twenty and a half acre site, including the section where the reconstructed walled defense envelopes the city of St. Augustine. Perhaps what makes this Castillo a prime example of historical importance can be based on its significance not only to the might of Spain during the colonial era, but more so in its significance to the history of the American Nation.

Despite of its relatively average expanse, it took 23 years for the Spanish authorities to complete the construction of Castillo de San Marcos. Although initially the construction in 1671 encountered no problems, as evidenced by the completion of the east wall which is “15 feet high, the north wall 20 feet high, and the south wall 12 feet high” (Archeology Activity 21) there were numerous external and internal factors that contributed to the delay, most apparent of which was the incessant problem of lack of food.

Six years into the construction, the Spanish forces found themselves with a dilemma that they had ran out of finances to pay for the construction. With no allocations left for the construction much less for food supplies, they were forced to buy “food from a passing Dutch ship, even though it was against the law” (Archeology Activity 21). This same problem was repeated in 1687 and again in 1689, clearly exhibiting the difficulty of Spain to complete the said Castillo. Another problem that has beset the construction was the constant attempts of invasion from the British forces.

One instance had been the attempt to capture the stronghold in 1683, wherein the British “landed their ships about 14 miles south of St. Augustine” (Archeology Activity 22). Although they managed to repel the attack by a clever scheme of ambuscade, this danger persisted even after the completion of the Castillo in 1695 that necessitated for an innovative plan to build five store houses for their food supplies and three wells to assure a steady supply of drinking water. The Coquina

The Castillo de San Marcos is truly a rich source of heritage. It is the only existing “17th century military construction in the country and the oldest masonry fortress in the United States” (Castillo de San Marcos 1) situated in St. Augustine, which is United States’ oldest city. Likewise, it is distinctive by the material that was used in its construction, which is called coquina; that only one fort other than San Marcos made of this kind of limestone remains existing in the world.

It is worth noting that coquina is relatively a soft type of stone, thus there is a need to be extra meticulous in choosing the right stones to be used in building a fortification such as Castillo de San Marcos. While it is true that coquina is one of the hardest stones when dry, it is soft enough to be chiseled and sawed when wet. Some can even be crushed with bare hands. Fresh ones are yellowish in color, then turns to a darker shade of gray as years go by. Hence, we can presently observe just by looking at the fortification what portions are original and what are renovations.

The Spanish authorities observed three important steps in making coquina blocks. First is to gather the wet coquinas from the shoreline, then to mold them into rectangular shapes in accordance to the specifications of the fortress and have them sun-dried, and last is to manufacture the mortar, which is a glue compound, to be used in solidifying these boulders of coquina blocks. The British Rule Because of Spain’s ever-increasing problems both domestically and internationally, Castillo de San Marcos was handed over to the British in 1763, subsequently changing its name to Fort St.

Mark. Here, what is ironically alarming is the fact that despite the difficulty and sacrifices that the British had to go through in order to finally lay claim to the Castillo, thus controlling Florida, they were only able to maintain their power for twenty years. Several factors were instrumental for this development. First and perhaps most significant was “the American colonies up north were threatening to revolt” (Archeology Activity 24). Another reason was France’s invasion of Spain.

Yet another was the American government’s intense campaigns to include Florida among her states. All of these contributed for the eventual action of Britain to return Florida to the Spaniards. Under America’s Care The year 1821 marks the beginning of American control over the Castillo, instigated by Spain’s withdrawal of interests in Florida. The American government renamed the fort as Fort Marion, where “a 23 star American flag flew overhead” (Archeology Activity 24).

Notably, several historical events occurred in the Castillo under American supervision, such as the capturing of Seminole Chief Osceola in 1837, wherein he was incarcerated in this fort for a brief period, the 1875 imprisonment of American Natives of the Great Plains, wherein Fort Marion’s roofs were used as dwelling quarters after the natives refused to live in the government-designated reservation areas; and the 1862 capturing of the fort by the Union forces from the Confederates without any shots fired, among others. The year 1933 marked a great transformation for Fort Marion.

Here, legislation was finally passed that changes the nature of the fort into being a military base into a National Park. As a direct result of this occurrence, the American government, in 1942, put into law the renaming of Fort Marion to its original name, Castillo de San Marcos, in reverence to the countless individuals who have helped in making the fortification into what it is today—a perfect representation of American history during the colonial era, from the Spanish, the British, the American civil war, and finally, as a historical edifice that represents the richness of our culture.

Works cited Archeology Activity Guide for Northeast Florida. 13 July 2010 <http://www. fpannortheast. org/coquinaqueries/lessons/3/Lesson3. pdf>. Castillo de San Marcos. National Park Service: U. S. Department of the Interior. nps. gov. 1 March 2010. 13 July 2010 <http://www. nps. gov/casa/index. htm>.

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