A Long Line

Today, we are traveling back to the 1700s. A time when fortifications enclosed the small community of St. Augustine. Spain saught to protect their presidio – fortified base – in Florida. Already protected by Castillo de San Marcos, the military town needed to strengthen their defenses against land invasions. (Especially after the destructive attack by Carolinian Governor James Moore and his troops in 1702.)

A black and white map from 1821 showing St. Augustine and part of Anastasia Island.
The arrow shows the Cubo Line on the de la Cruz Map from 1821. (UFDC)

So Governor José de Zúñiga ordered the construction of a defensive system to shelter St. Augustine’s exposed sides. The northern face of the new border – completed in 1705 – was the Cubo Line. The line consisted of earthworks topped with a tall palm log stockade. A moat ran parallel. A wooden gate – now the City Gate – provided entrance to the town. The defense stretched from the Castillo to the San Sebastion River.

A black and white drawing of a wood defensive wall surrounded by a moat with water. A flag pole stands taller than the fence.
A drawing of the Cubo Defensive Line based on a description from 1821. (UFDC)

The Cubo Line remained a part of St. Augustine life until the 1800s. When Florida transferred to the United States in 1821, the new government deemed the defense obsolete. Documents show that by 1827 demolition of the line was already in progress. Lieutenant Stephen Tuttle – an engineer with the U.S. military – noted that the defense was in ruins by 1833. In the following decades, St. Augustine’s walls disappeared beneath modern streets.

A black and white photograph of two people walking past stone city gates.
A partial reconstruction of the Cuba Line with the City Gate in 1966. (UFDC)

Archaeological investigations of the Cubo Line began in 1937. The Carnegie Institution sponsored project provided evidence of the line’s size, shape, location, and construction methods. The National Park Service followed with another excavation in 1963. Their mission was to reconstruct a part of the defense for the city’s Quadricentenial celebrations. This examination provided a detailed description and stratigraphy of the line.

A color poster for an archaeological excavation showing a colonial soldier standing behind an earthwork defense with palmettos and cacti as well as a water-filled moat.
A poster advertising an archaeological excavation of the Cuba Line. (UFDC)

In 1990, the City of St. Augustine conducted an archaeological project on the Cubo Line. The excavation examined the intersection of Orange and Riberia Streets. There they discovered the defense’s brief reprisal during the Second Seminole War and identified the remnants of Henry Flagler’s railroad bridge. They also uncovered 506 artifacts – most of which came from when the city used the moat as a trash dump in the late 1800s.

Read more about the long history of the Cubo Line in “The Archaeology of the Cubo Line: St. Augustine’s First Line of Defense” by Carl D. Halbirt (The Florida Anthropologist, 1993) by visiting the University of Florida Digital Collections.

4 thoughts on “A Long Line

  1. Pingback: The City Gates – Governor's House Library

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