A History Mystery: Who was Juan Garcia Martínez Gallegos?

At first glance, Gallegos House seems like an ordinary St. Augustine casa from the First Spanish Period (1513-1763). Juan Josef Elixio de la Puente on his 1764 map recorded the rectangular home built of ripio. He noted it belonged to Juan Garcia Martínez Gallegos. Almost two centuries later, the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board set out to restore the city’s colonial architecture using Puente’s map as a guide. But upon closer inspection of 21 St. George Street, they came across a mystery. In their research of the site and its owners, they did not find one person by that name. Instead, they discovered two men by the names “Juan Garcia” and “Martínez Gallegos.”

So who were Juan Garcia and Martínez Gallegos?

  • A drawn city plan of St. Augustine with details about property owners surrounding the image.

A search of military rosters revealed a Juan Garcia – who was a soldier in the Second Infantry Company. Records showed that Garcia came from “San Martin de Havana” and joined the Spanish army on June 26, 1702. A roster from 1745, noted Garcia as a “gotoso” (gouty) soldier of 62 years in Captain Don Sebastian Sanchez’s company.

The documentary analysis also discovered a “Gallagos” family. A man by the name of Martínez Gallegos – more often referred to as Martin Martínez Gallegos – appeared in St. Augustine around 1740. He arrived with his father, one of many military reinforcements, and decided to stay here. For on July 29, 1743, Gallegos at the age of 28 married 18-year-old widow Victoria Escalona. Their marriage resulted in three known children. We do not know which trade Gallegos practiced, but he enlisted as an artilleryman on February 11, 1748.

A color photograph of a loggia and courtyard.
A view of the Gallegos House’s courtyard in 1971. (UFDC)

This leaves us to ask: Why did Puente combine the names of Juan Garcia and Martínez Gallegos on his map?

The Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board hypothesized that Gallegos did not own a house when he married Victoria. Perhaps Garcia – an older man with a home and no family – needed someone to look after him? Maybe the two struck a bargain? In exchange for care, Garcia passed ownership of his property to Gallegos after his death. This could explain why both names appear on Puente’s map.

But what happened to their names on Mariano de la Rocque’s 1788 map?

  • A ddrawn city plan of St. Augustine.

When the First Spanish Period ended, Gallegos and his family left St. Augustine for Cuba. Gallegos and his wife passed away sometime around 1784 in Cuba. They left their Florida property to their children (without mention of Garcia). During their absence, Mr. Fish’s record books did not note a sale and Juan Frías of Menorca took claim to their land. Representing her deceased sister’s estate, Lucía Escalona took this issue to court – and won back their plot (with the promise of reimbursing Frías for his fruit trees).

In 1788, a timber-framed building owned by Escalona appeared on Rocque’s map. Garcia and Gallegos’ names as well as their “casa de ripio” receded into history. Or at least until the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board reconstructed Gallegos House on its original site in 1962.

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