Monday, August 12, 2013

The Colonial Quarter

Years ago, at our old church, I took a class called Living Your Strengths.  Part of the class included taking the Clifton StrengthsFinder test, then looking up those strengths in the Living Your Strengths book.  The test took about 25 minutes to complete; upon completion I was given my top 5 spiritual strengths.  Two of those strengths were Context and Learner.

Context.  A person who looks to the past to understand the present.  Someone who learns best when placing what is learned into the context of other important dynamics and the history of what is being learned.

Learner.  Simply that.  A person who loves to learn.  Who wants to continue searching and learning.  Someone who is energized by the very process of learning, and gets a thrill out of learning new facts.

Put these two together, and you get a history buff like me.  I love history.  I love learning about the past.  I enjoy looking at the past in the perspective of those living during that time so that I can understand how we got to where we are today.  American history is especially fascinating to me.  The way our nation developed and grew into the powerhouse it is today is a subject I can't get enough of.

Imagine my thrill, then, to step into the past at St. Augustine's Colonial Quarter.  Similar to Colonial Williamsburg (though much smaller in size), the Colonial Quarter invites you to see St. Augustine as it was in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.  There are tours and demonstrations to watch and learn about common life when St. Augustine was a new settlement and how it evolved through the centuries.  I could not have been happier.  Even my kids, who are not big history buffs like I am, found the Colonial Quarter to be extremely interesting and fun.

We walked in and under a canopy of flags.  These are the Flags Over St. Augustine.  St. Augustine began as a Spanish settlement, fell under British power, returned to the Spanish, and ultimately joined the United States.  These are all the flags depicting the reigning power from the 16th century on.  It's quite an interesting walk.

This is another view of the flags, and anchors from the ships that brought the Spanish into St. Augustine.

There are short guided tours and demonstrations, but it's just as easy to do a self tour, reading the information and chatting with the folks who are in period dress and who explain in detail the life in the times they're representing.  One thing we learned was that St. Augustine was not just a port intended to protect the Spanish territory from invaders.  It was the headquarters for Catholic missions.  These missionaries came to teach the Catholic faith to the natives and to teach them to read and write.  Theirs was a mission for good.

This young man is the blacksmith.  We saw the tools used by tradesmen at the time.  I had real compassion for the blacksmith; it was hot and muggy that day in St. Augustine, as it typically is at the end of July, and here he was flaming an intense fire.  It may not have been so bad in the winter, but considering how mild Florida winters are, and how little time they last, working as a blacksmith must have been exhausting work.

Furniture in colonial times was simple, though the detailing to it was lovely.  This is a typical bed for the colonials. The mattress would be stuffed with Spanish moss, a type of plant that grows on other trees and is found abundantly in the South where the weather is warm and humid.  From the bedroom you'd turn and find...

the rest of their living quarters.  A kitchen area and dining area completed the home.  These were the days before McMansions, when folks worked hard, had little, but were content with what the good Lord provided.  Of course, they didn't have much time to complain about their living conditions.  They were too busy living life, not watching it on television.  But that's just my opinion.

This was the leatherworker's shop, which doubled as his family's home.  Any and all goods made of leather were purchased here.  The leather worker would bring in rolls of leather from cattle farmers; making the actual leather was done by slaves, as the work was hard and smell atrocious.  The leather worker made shoes, belts, bags, hats, anything you wanted.  What was most amazing was the fact that the home was in no way separate from the shop.  Items could be hidden in trunks or banquettes, but basically it was one large room where everything was done.

This is what the structure looked like on the outside.  It's important to note that these buildings were either restored structures or built on the exact location where a similar structure had been located.  It's like stepping back in time and seeing it as the settlers were living it 300 years ago!

We then toured the De Mesa-Sanchez house.  Construction of this home began in 1740 by Antonio de Mesa, the Royal Treasury shore guard.  It began as a one room house but was added on to during the Spanish and British regimes.  This was a much more modern home and would have been owned by a high ranking official of the army.

This was the beginning structure of the de Mesa-Sanchez home: a one room colonial residence, much like all the other homes of the time.

Just as with all other colonial homes, the de Mesa-Sanchez home had the principal room where all the living and sleeping was done.  It was simply furnished with just the necessities.

In 1764 the British took possession of Florida from the Spanish, including St. Augustine.  This room was added on as a type of living room, a social room to entertain guests or gather as a family in the evenings for card games and such.  Did You Know?:  That there were more than 13 British colonies?  The original 13 colonies rebelled against the British, but East and West Florida, which were the 14th and 15th colonies, remained loyal to Britain and were used by the British to launch attacks against the southern half of the colonies.  After the war, Britain chose to give Florida back to the Spanish rather than turn it over to the newly established United States (sour grapes, I guess).  Florida's role in the Revolutionary War is rarely mentioned nowadays, but it is what it is.  Even the not-so-pleasant history is still history.

The home continued to be added onto, creating a warm and inviting house, still sparsely and simply furnished, but larger and with many of the newer comforts of the time.

Mattresses were still made of Spanish moss at the time, but I found the intricate detail of the spindles and finials of this bed to be extraordinary.

A quilt rack

Spinning wheels

Our tour guide was also the gun shop owner.  He showed us how the old muskets were loaded and then gave a demonstration that was quite interesting!

 Tomen las armas! (Take up your weapons!)

Preparen las armas! (Prepare your weapons!)  

Apunten las armas! (Literally, point your weapons, or Aim!) 

Disparen las armas! (Fire your weapons!)

There were approximately 500 households when the British took over possession of Florida, and all heads of household were part of the Spanish militia, trained to protect their territory.  It was a great honor to go daily and train.

The Colonial Quarter was an incredible, full morning of learning and reliving life in the past.  I purchased the tickets online and got a package deal, the Colonial Quarter and the Pirate and Treasure Museum next door, for $21.99 per person.  While the pirate museum had some interesting artifacts, we all agreed it was pretty small and we were able to see it all in about 45 minutes.  The Colonial Quarter had way more to see and explore and was worth the time spent there.  We would definitely visit the Colonial Quarter again and recommend it to anyone visiting St. Augustine.

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