In 1764, Juan de Rivera lived at present-day 22 St. George Street. He was born around 1732 into a family of either Guale or Yamassee Native Americans from the nearby mission Nuestra Señora del Rosario de la Punta. His father was Pedro de Rivera and his mother María de la Cruz. Rivera followed in his father’s footsteps by joining the Spanish royal service as an artillerymen at Castillo de San Marcos. Sometime around 1761, he married Lorenza Ramos of the Canary Islands and they had at least 3 children. Their family evacuated St. Augustine at the end of the First Spanish Period in 1763, and Jesse Fish sold their home for them. Rivera never returned to Florida; he passed away in Cuba around 1772.
Concerning Juan de Rivera’s house in St. Augustine, we know of two documents describing the structure on St. George Street. The first, Puente’s 1764 map, describes a “Casa de piedra de Juan de Rivera” as measuring 16 by 35.5 veras at #63 in Quadra (D). The second reference appears in Fish’s account book, in the form of two cryptic entries that raise more questions than answers. On May 18, 1770, Fish recorded in the credit column: “For stone of the new walls of his house . . . 86 pesos.” Maybe Fish sold some of the piedra from Rivera’s home for building materials? For seven years later, Fish sold “his old house and lot.” to Luciana de Herrera for 117 pesos, 7 reales – a low price for the time. From here, Rivera’s casa disappears until 1962.
That year, Dr. Hale Smith of Florida State University led an archaeological investigation into the Parks Hotel site. Here they found the foundations of a coquina building. A follow-up excavation in 1964 estimated the structure dated to sometime between 1750-1800. Combined with cartography, the archaeological team concluded that the foundations most likely date to 1750-1788, the same time Juan de Rivera lived there.
Using the uncovered foundations, St. Augustine Restoration, Inc. reconstructed the two-story, four room house with an exterior kitchen and garden in 1964. Named Ribera House and Garden, the reconstruction served as an example of a wealthy household from the 1700s for the living history museum San Agustin Antiguo. But how did a soldier like Rivera own such a large casa? After all Rivera never gained rank in the Spanish military. This left him him with a meager annual income of 168 pesos. Without further records, we can only guess that Rivera acquired the property as a “fixer upper” to renovate in his free-time.
Learn more about Juan de Rivera and Ribera House in University of Florida Digital Collections at ufdc.ufl.edu.