Don Manuel de Cendoya: The Governor Behind The Castillo De San Marcos

On October 2, 1672, Governor Manuel de Cendoya broke ground on a masonry fort for St. Augustine. Today, we know this fortification as the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. Yet, what do we know about the historical leader behind the monument?

Spain’s Queen Regent Mariana appointed Cendoya to the governorship of Florida on October 30, 1669. She charged him with the responsibility of repairing the fortifications at St. Augustine after the 1668 pirate’s raid. Cendoya’s background included almost 23 years of military service to the Spanish Crown. He began as a private advancing to major and serving in various Spanish territories.

Accompanied by his family, Cendoya left Spain in July 1670 for Mexico. He needed to retrieve St. Augustine’s situado fund, plus the extra capital for a fort, from New Spain’s Viceroy in Mexico City. Requesting 30,000 pesos, he only received 12,000 pesos to start the project – with the promise of more if it proceeded successfully.

A map of the Spanish territories and trade routes in the Caribbean, Central America, South America, and North America.
“Route of the Treasure Fleets in the Spanish New World.” (UFDC)

With the funds released, Cendoya and his family headed to Florida in April 1671. After a stop in Havana, the new governor arrived in St. Augustine on July 6, 1671. He immediately went to work on the fortification. Within a week, he began organizing laborers to gather, create, and transport the needed materials and tools. Cendoya’s engineer Ignacio Daza arrived in September 1672 and official construction began in October.

“…I represent to Your Majesty that, having sufficient materials and other equipment needed to begin work on the Castillo, which by order of your Majesty I am directed to build, I opened the foundations, which are being filled with stone as best as the terrain, which is sandy and next to the sea, permits.”

Governor Manuel de Cendoya to Spain’s Queen Regent Mariana de Austria on December 15, 1672 (UFDC)

That winter an unidentified contagion swept through St. Augustine – sickening and killing many of the laborers. In addition, the promised extra funding for the fort failed to arrive from New Spain’s viceroy. As a result, the governor pledged his own salary.

A plan of the Castillo de San Marcos under construction in 1676. (UFDC)

However, Cendoya still suffered from the financial strain of his journey to Mexico City. At the time, he could not draw from his governor’s pay until he arrived in Florida. To cover his expenses, he borrowed 16,000 pesos from the situado fund. He also enrolled his two-year-old son into the military to obtain extra pay and rations. (A common practice amongst contemporary European militaries.) When the governor asked for reimbursement, the Council of the Indies in Spain refused his petition.

On March 8, 1673, Governor Manuel de Cendoya died, likely a victim of that winter’s illness. He did not see the completion of the Castillo de San Marcos 23 years later. His initial investment in those early years of planning and construction made the fort possible. However, it also forced his widow and children to live on the charity of St. Augustine’s residents. Cendoya’s widow, Doña Sebastiana Olazarraga y Aramburu, eventually collected the funds owed to her deceased husband 10 years later.


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