March 31: The Battle of Escolta Island

Don Juan Márquez Cabrera, royal governor of Florida from 1680 – 1687, receives warning from Havana in late February, 1683 that French and English buccaneers from New Providence, in the Bahamas, intend to attack the presidio of San Agustín (present-day St. Augustine, FL).

Gov. Márquez takes defensive measures, erecting two new, coastal watchtowers, one at Ayamón, about 27 miles south of the presidio, and another on the beach north of the town. Summoning the citizenry into the relative safety of the partially completed Castillo de San Marcos, he stations garrison and militia troops at likely landing places.

Led by the French captain, Bréhal, and guided by the San Agustín renegade, Alonso de Avecilla, the buccaneer vessels, including those of Captains Jan Corneliszoon, John Markham, Thomas Paine, and Conway Woolley, approach the Florida coast.

On March 24th, two hundred and thirty buccaneers land near Ponce de León Inlet, 70 miles south of San Agustín and, flying French colors, march on the presidio. Proceeding up the coast, they capture the Ayamón and Matanzas watchtowers, torturing the soldados they’ve seized for information on the town’s defenses.

On March 31st, on Escolta Island (modern Anastasia Island, FL), about eight miles south of San Agustín, the freebooters are ambushed by 30 Spanish musketeers, under Capt. Antonio de Argüelles, and routed.

The buccaneers retreat to their ships then sail north; anchoring off San Agustín itself on April 5th.

Seeing the town alerted and the Castillo at arms, the corsairs abandon their San Agustín enterprise and instead raid the Spanish province of Guale (today’s NE Florida/SE Georgia coast). They sack the mission villages of San Juan del Puerto (on Ft. George Island, FL) and Santa María (on Amelia Island, GA).

After careening their vessels on the Isla de San Pedro (present-day Cumberland Island, GA), the buccaneers bury their dead and depart.

Written by Davis Walker and posted courtesy of Florida Living History, Inc.

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