“For God and the cause,
For the church and the law
And for Elizabeth, Queen of England!”
It wasn’t the last time America’s oldest city heard the rallying cry of soldiers or the shrieks of terrified residents forced to flee an enemy who arrived by sea bent on pillage, but 424 years later, the June 1589 attack by the infamous English privateer, Sir Francis Drake continues to be marked by St. Augustine as an event that won’t be forgotten.
This year, on Saturday, June 1, the annual Drake’s Raid reenactment will include a 16th century military encampment, drills and exhibits at the Fountain of Youth to be followed at 8 p.m. with the invasion by the English forces starting at the City Gates and the Santa Domingo Redoubt on Orange Street. The twilight battle will continue with cannon fire, pike charges and skirmishes down St. George Street. The Spanish will make a final heroic stand at the central Plaza de la Constitucion at dusk.
The event is sponsored by the St. Augustine Men of Menendez with participation from groups under the umbrella of the Historic Florida Militia who will help to bring alive those terrifying days in June when the fledgling settlement of St. Augustine caught the eye of the world’s most famous “privateer”.
Seer slideshows and articles Part 1 and Part 2 of the battle reenactments and encampment from 2012 Drake’s Raid
“Queen Elizabeth I called Sir Francis Drake “my pirate.” To those cities and unprotected villages he terrorized throughout the Caribbean Spanish Main, he was known as El Dracque or “The Dragon,” said Willie Kuntz, who portrayed Drake in last year’s battle reenactment.
Brian Bowman of the Men of Menendez, also commented, “Sometimes the crowd doesn’t know who to cheer for, because they think of Drake as a hero, but to the Spanish, Drake represented an illustrious foreign power who burned their city, church and all their crops. He uprooted their orange trees and tossed them into the bay. The people fled into the woods and came back to face devastation and starvation, so to them, Drake was The Devil.”
Kuntz said, “Drake had sailed up the Florida coast searching all the small bays and inlets to find the settlement, and was about to give up when he spotted the watchtower. It just one of those little quirks of history, but the watchtower they’d built to protect themselves actually gave away their location.”
A Drake companion wrote about the pending attack, “We might discern on the other side of the river against us a fort which had been newly built by the Spaniards; and some miles above the fort a little town without wall…”
Bowman said it was due to the arrogance of an English officer, who was actually a cousin of Drake’s, that the town faced such devastation.
Here’s an excerpt on how it all went down in the words of Drake’s Lt. Crofts and Walter Biggs:
“…As soon as we landed, our Sergeant Major mounted a horse he discovered, saddled and bridled, to see if he could chase down somebody fleeing. Having left his comrades behind, he was shot through the head by a man lying behind a clump of reeds (then) stabbed all at once by three or four swords and daggers, and died, no little mourned by us. He was a veteran and a great-spirited soldier.”
“By accounts, Drake flew into a rage. He ordered the town burned, the wells poisoned and the crops destroyed,” Bowman said.
From the Crofts and Biggs account:
“From the fort, as we drew closer, we were shot at by some fellows who remained behind, braver than the rest. Of these we found nobody when we landed. The walls of this fort were made of ship’s timbers and other pieces of wood after the fashion of a palisade but the ditches outside were not yet brought to completion… One must not imagine they abandoned it rashly, because, besides the fact it could easily be taken by assault, it could also be set afire…
The Lieutenant General (was) ignorant that the fort had been abandoned until a French piper (a prisoner) was seen by our guards playing a popular song on his flute in praise of the Prince of Orange…”
Evidence of the destruction has been uncovered in archaeology south of the plaza, where the town was located at the time. Charred remains of the church Drake burned at the head of Aviles Street (America’s oldest) were discovered during renovations in 2010, and city Archaeologist Dr. Carl Halbirt also made an unprecedented find in 1998 of undisturbed ruins during excavations of the Art Association building located at 22 Marine Street.
Artifacts from the burning of a waddle-and-daub structure that may have been a private home is on permanent display at the Art Association. “Art from ashes” is how Art Association Director Elyse Brady described use of some of the artifacts in art displayed along with the factual exhibits and is free to view by the public.
See usedview.com article: Art Association exhibit reveals artifacts from 16th century home burned by Drake
Men of Menendez reenactor Conrad Matt also commented, “The day Drake came still resonates in the memory of the people of the St. Augustine, but the really important message from history is that the citizens didn’t give up. Other towns were abandoned, but the people here stayed and rebuilt, and while St. Augustine faced numerous attacks and was burned several more times, we now see it as the oldest continuously occupied city in the United States.”
The encampment and living history exhibits will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, located at 11 Magnolia Ave. Residents with St. Johns County IDs are admitted free.
For more information on this event, call the Fountain of Youth at 829-3168 or go to www.DrakesRaid.com.