Juan Josef Elixio de la Puente: The Man Behind The Map

On January 22, 1764, Juan Josef Elixio de la Puente completed Plano de la RL. Fuerza Baluartes y Linea de la Plaza de SN. Agustin de Florida . . . or Puente map for short. As one of the earliest detailed plans of St. Augustine, we mention this map a lot for its historical value. But what do we know about the cartographer?

A detail of Juan Josef Elxio de la Puente's 1764 map featuring the date of completion and his signature.
Juan Josef Elixio de la Puente’s signature on “Plano de la RL. Fuerza Baluartes y Linea de la Plaza de SN. Agustin de Florida” in 1764. (UFDC)

Don Juan Josef Elixio de la Puente was born into a St. Augustine criollo (people of Spanish descent born in America) family in 1724. His parents were Don Antonio Elixio de la Puente of Havana, Cuba, and Agustina Regidor of St. Augustine. He entered the service of the Spanish crown as an infantry cadet. By 1739, Puente rose to the important position of Chief Clerk of the Royal Accountant.

Puente also built strong ties of friendship and trade with the Lower Creeks. He even negotiated a peace treaty between the Uchise/Ochese/Uchize (a Spanish moniker for Creeks) and Spain at the age of 23. It was probably through this trade, as well as his ties to the Treasury, that he became a wealthy man by the end of the First Spanish Period (1513-1763).

In 1747, he married María Sanchez (possibly the inspiration behind Maria Sanchez Creek), a St. Augustine criolla. The couple had at least six children. According to his own map, the family lived at 273 in “Quadra (e) – just south of the Plaza De La Constitucion between Marine and Charlotte Streets.

This brings us back to 1763 – the year Puente became the official sales commissioner of Spanish property. As part of the Treaty of Paris at the end of the Seven Years’ War, Spain transferred their control of Florida to Great Britain. Puente’s immediate duty was to find some means to profitably dispose of Spanish buildings and assets in 18 months as stipulated by the treaty. With few buyers for St. Augustine’s devalued land, this task proved difficult for Puente.

Two months from his deadline, Puente transferred the majority of the city’s houses and lots to English merchant Jesse Fish in July 1764. Fish promised to continue selling the properties on behalf of the exiled St. Augustinians. Their transaction – which featured very low prices and lack of binding payment – continues to ignite discussion and questions: Was Puente a dupe, scheming opportunist, or only in a hurry? Whichever the case, Puente succeeded in keeping Spanish properties from confiscation by the British crown and the continuation of sales after their departure. With most of St. Augustine, Puente and his family left for Havana in 1764 – where he continued to serve the Spanish crown.

A black and white copy of a 1778 map featuring Cuba, Bahamas, Gulf of Mexico, Florida, and colonies along the east Atlantic coast.
“1778: Plano que comprehende las Costas, Ensenadas, Puertos, Barras y Rios que desaguan al Mar de las Provincias de Nueva Escocia, Hampshire, Massachusset, Rho Yland, Connecticut, Nueva York, Nueva Gersey, Pensilvania, Mariland, Virginia, Carolina del Norte, Carolina del Sur, Nueva Georgia, Florida del Este, Florida del Oeste, Nueva Luisiana, … Por D. Juan José Elixio de la Puente.” (University of North Carolina)

When the American Revolution broke out in 1775, Puente played a key role in developing a Spanish intelligence network in the colonies. Based on his suggestions, the Governor of Cuba sent Puente’s brother Jose as a representative to the loyalists and bother-in-law Don Juan de Miralles to the colonists. While the loyalist mission failed, Mirralles became Spain’s first minister to the United States and built close relationships with the patriots.

Spain (and Puente) hoped to use this war as an opportunity to recapture Florida. Puente strongly advocated for the retaking of St. Augustine. Although never executed, Spain did develop plans in 1779 based on Puente’s knowledge and continued connections with the Lower Creeks. Alas, Puente passed away in Havana in 1781. Only two years later, Spain regained control of Florida through the 1783 Treaty of Paris.

Maybe the next time Lin Manuel Miranda writes a musical, we will suggest Don Juan Josef Elixio de la Puente as his leading man.

6 thoughts on “Juan Josef Elixio de la Puente: The Man Behind The Map

  1. Pingback: On The Map: Colonial St. Augustine – Governor's House Library

    1. Excellent observation! This also left us scratching our heads. This information came from the Florida Museum of Natural History – which describes his birthdate as 1724 and his enlistment date as 1729 in their exhibit “St. Augustine: America’s Ancient City.” This exhibit is available online at https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/staugustine/timeline/desperate-entrepreneurs/. Looking at our collections again, it appears that his birthdate is 1724, but our records show his enlistment date being somewhere around 1739. You can see this in our digitized collections at https://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00094824/00003/4j. We will continue to look into the subject and encourage you to reach out to the Florida Museum of Natural History to learn more about Puente. Thank you for feed back! We hope you enjoyed our blog post.

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