A Brief History
of the Effect Piracy had on St. Augustine and Matanzas Bay
This Spanish city was founded in 1565
to prevent pirates and foreign nationals from attacking her fleets
returning to Europe by way of the Gulf Stream. When the French
established Fort Caroline at what is now May Port at the mouth of the
St. Johns River, Pedro Menendez established St. Augustine as a base to
destroy the French. Down through the years St. Augustine sustained many
pirate attacks, making the city a successful outpost against piracy.
Francis Drake, with a large flotilla, came into
St. Augustine. Drake entered the city virtually uncontested and left it
In March 1683 a band of three hundred
marauders landed near Matanzas Inlet, but were discouraged after being
caught in an ambush on Anastasia Island.
In 1666 the highly successful French pirate,
Nicholas Grammot, tried his luck. He too was turned away in a skirmish
just south of Matanzas Inlet.
1688 Robert Searle too anchored his ships in
Matanzas Bay to attack the city but he
failed when his crew chose to sack the town instead of attacking the
fort. The captain was lucky to escape with his life.
In 1740, When the Spanish government
neglected to send the annual subsidy for the previous two years,
Governor Montiano informed the Spanish regional government in Cuba
about his intention to arm a ship as a privateer to supply the city
with food. "Privateers" were independent pirates sanctioned by their
governments with the requirement to share their booty with the
government and merchant sponsors.
St. Augustine’s privateers sailed from
Bay aboard the ship Campeche,
captured a ship filled with rice off Charleston, South Carolina. At
times as many as thirteen English vessels were anchored in
Matanzas Bay under the Castillo's guns, all
Privateering prizes. By the end of the year, more than forty English
ships had been captured and their cargoes sustained the Spanish
Augustine privateer (pirate to the English) was Francisco Menendez.
Menendez was an escaped Mandingo slave from the British Colonies. He
converted to Catholicism and was granted his freedom by the Spanish
governor. In 1738 Governor Montiano established Fort Mose, the first
free black settlement in North America. Just to the north of St.
Augustine, the fort served as a buffer from anticipated British attacks
from the North. This Fort and village was operated by Captain Menendez
for over 20 years. In 1740 he took a commission as a privateer who
sailed from Matanzas Bay until he was captured by the British
ship Revenge in July 1741. He was tied to a gun and the British ordered
the ship's doctor to pretend to castrate him. Later he was given 200
lashes by the British and pickled (given a vinegar and salt bath). They
attempted to sell him back into slavery but by 1752 he was again in
command at Fort Mose.
In 1756 the
Seven Years War between England and France began. The French
soon found St. Augustine’s
Bay to be a perfect port for refitting
their ships for voyages along the coast. By 1758, the French were
arriving on a weekly basis with a newly captured English ship. In the
fall of that year the French pirates arrived in
in eleven English vessels.
When Spain joined with France in the
war against England in January of 1762 the English captured Havana. Now
surrounded by the English occupying Havana and her colonies to the
north, once again, St. Augustine turned to Privateering to battle
starvation. In only ten days, the San Christoval captured three English
ships filled with essential food. Two of her prizes sank
while trying to cross the bar at the inlet and never made it into
Matanzas Bay. Three
more privateers joined the San Christoval on subsequent voyages.
Together they were able to feed the residents with captured English
We are very proud of the
heritage of St. Augustine and Pirates, Privateers and National vessels
which sailed into and out of Matanzas Bay.
Visit our Pirate Group and
see what we do.
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