Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mural on Aviles Street Celebrates Spanish Origins.

Map of Old Town found on Aviles city gate.
With the 450th rapidly approaching, many people want to know where to go to experience the 16th century.  While there are no standing remnants from the 16th century, I suggest you start your quest at an empty parking lot on St. George Street.

 Kathleen Deagan and her FSU crew made an unexpected discovery at this site in the 1970s.  During her survey of St. Augustine to look for evidence of colonial daily life, every test conducted in this area turned up fragments of human remains.  She had found the cemetery associated with the Nuestra Seniora de la Soledad.

Why would you start your visit with a trip to a cemetery?  Soledad provides a unique opportunity to summarize life in 16th century St. Augustine.  Every theme for St. Augustine colonial history is reflected in the burials found in the 1970s.  Here are five things I learned about St. Augustine while studying reports and articles on the archaeological investigation of the site.

Source material for this blog entry.
1.  St. Augustine residents lived in poverty.  Throughout the historical records we can read the requests and pleas of the Spanish officials for more money and resources.  This historical interpretation is confirmed in the fact that the Spanish burials at Soledad lacked worldly possessions.  In fact only one person was found buried with a personal object (a rosary).  The Spanish buried their dead in ancient custom: interred in bare earth with a simple shroud.

2.  Colonial St. Augustine was conservative.  From the burials at Soledad we learned that for over 200 years people were buried much in the same way with little to no change over time.  One interpretation I read credited the Catholic traditions brought by the Spanish that maintained the 16th century way of life.  Beyond burials, St. Augustine remains conservative with little changes in ceramics, glass, and architecture.

Casta drawings showing Spanish diversity.
3.  St. Augustine was diverse.  From the parish records and estimates based on the rate of burial, over 525 would have been buried at Soledad.  The majority were Spanish men, but Spanish women and at least one child was present, as well as men and women of African descent.  At least one "mestizo" man was buried here.  The only individuals missing that we know lived in St. Augustine at the time are in fact Native American Women.  Why?  We don't honestly know and more research by historians and archaeologists is needed to answer.

4. People cared about one another in St. Augustine.  From the burials archaeologists confirmed people were living long lives.  Their bones showed signs of arthritis and hard work, but also care for each other.  Analysis of the teeth confirmed close family connections among those buried at Soledad.  And care of the dead by Catholic custom suggests bereaved family members tending to the dead.

5.  Every aspect of life (and death) gets turned on its head in 1763.  When the First Treaty of Paris changed possession of Florida from the Spanish to the British, life changed in every way.  Burial of the dead was no exception.  Where the Spanish buried their dead primarily in the north side of the lot, the British made use of the western side.  The arms of the deceased were no longer placed over the stomach in "prayerful pose," but with the arms to the side.  The British deceased were not laid to rest in shrouds, but rather wore clothes and ultimately placed in hexagonal coffins.  The British even buried their dead in the opposite direction of the Spanish.
All you see today- no headstones- just unpaved parking lot across from Church.


Thanks to the St. Augustine Archaeology Association there is more to visit at the site than a parking lot.  Last month the organization placed a marker with images and information about the Church, Hospital, and School.  Read the St. Augustine Record article for more on the marker unveiling.

(Note: all burials were studied with the utmost professional care and reburied according to Catholic custom)


For more information I highly recommend reading Kathleen Deagan's Spanish St. Augustine: The Archaeology of a Colonial Creole Community (1983), especially Joan Koch's chapter on her bioarchaeological analysis of Soledad.  Or visit the site (don't expect much- marker is only evidence for site) next to Villa Flora at 241 St. George Street, St. Augustine. Map to Soledad


Text and images: Sarah Miller, FPAN staff

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