I recently came across some photographs I’d taken of St. Augustine, Florida. My family and I have taken several trips there, over the years. Not as many as I might wish, because it’s a truly beautiful place. I’m not talking about the commercialized sprawl of a big city, but the historic downtown. The city has done well keeping history alive, with many museums and historical sites.
On one trip, my husband and I visited The Fountain of Youth. I’d love to say that drinking the water made us younger, but it’s really just strong mineral water. It’s no wonder it was considered the Fountain of Youth. Drinking that water would give strength to the nutrient deprived Europeans. It probably kept the Native population healthier too.
At the Fountain of Youth, history comes alive. They have people there who talk about the time and share stories about St. Augustine. On the river’s edge, they have canons set up and a man in period clothing who talks about and fires them.
On the same trip, we drove down to Fort Matanzas on the Mantanzas river. This fort was added after the English siege of 1740. The Governor of St. Augustine decided they needed more defense to their south, something they hadn’t considered problematic before. It wasn’t large, but it was well armed. Anyone foolish enough to come up the river at that point, would be caught in a blaze of cannon fire.
The park ranger talked about living conditions at the fort. It was fascinating. It’s so tiny, you wonder how so many men lived in such close proximity without wanting to kill each other.
On another trip, which I made with my children, we visited Fort Mose, just north of Castillo de San Marcos. This was the Black Militia stockade. The governor of St. Augustine had a brilliant idea. The English, who were encroaching from the north, had many Black slaves. The Governor told them if they wished to become Catholic, he would take them in and give them a home.
During the 1740 siege, led by General James Oglethorpe of the British Army, Fort Mose was evacuated in order to protect the residents. The British Army took it over. Understandably angry about that, the Black Militia, along with Spanish Army regulars, planned a dawn raid on the fort and captured it from the British. My children and I went up to see a re-enactment of that battle.
I’m sure that the photos make clear why I set my first novel, Indian Summer, here. The history and beauty of this place spoke to me. I could almost hear Gabriella’s laughter echo in the walls of the Castillo de San Marcos. Though she isn’t based on a real person, who’s to say that someone with her spirit and cleverness didn’t exist? She will always be real to me. Indian Summer is an historical romance set in St. Augustine, Florida in the year 1739, a year before this siege took place. The sequel (coming eventually) Savage Heart, is set during this historic siege.
© 2014 Dellani Oakes including all photographs