|St. Francis Barracks
The headquarters of the Florida National Guard, the
St. Francis Barracks are more than 250 years old and
were built to house a convent monastery.
St. Francis Barracks
Once a Franciscan convent
monestary, the barracks were
converted for military use by
the British in 1763.
Side View of the Barracks
The site has occupied since
1588, more than 30 years
before the Pilgrims set foot on
St. Francis Barracks - St. Augustine, Florida
250 Years of Military History
|Copyright 2013 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Last Updated: November 16, 2013
Military History in St. Augustine
Florida National Guard HQ
St. Francis Barracks is the
headquarters of the Florida
National Guard. Five nations
have based troops there.
Marker for the Barracks
A state historical marker on
the St. Francis Street side of
the barracks offers a brief
version of their long history.
Built nearly 300 years ago and used by the
military forces of five nations, the St. Francis
Barracks stand in St. Augustine, Florida.
The barracks are the headquarters of the
Florida National Guard, a function they have
fulfilled since 1907. The National Guard
presence continues a tradition of service in
St. Augustine that began with the Spanish
colonial militia 450 years ago.
If it sounds odd that a military installation
bears the name of the gentle St. Francis of
Assisi, there is a reason. The structure was
part of a convent monastery for Franciscan
priests long before it was converted for use
as a military barracks.
The occupation of the site dates back to 1588
when the government designated a parcel on
the southern edge of St. Augustine for use of
the Order of St. Francis. The Franciscans
used the land to build their monastery and
church, Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion.
The first worship services on the site were
held more than 30 years before the Pilgrims
set foot on Plymouth Rock and 19 years
before the founding of the first English colony
in North America at Jamestown, Virginia. St.
Augustine's first church, Nombre de Dios,
had been established 23 years earlier in
The original church and convent were built of
wood and roofed with a thatching of palm
fronds. The buildings were replaced with
new ones of similar design when they rotted
or were destroyed in accidental fires. The
entire complex was torched by pirates when
they sacked St. Augustine in 1668.
The Franciscans rebuilt, only to lose their
church and convent again in 1702 when
English forces under Gov. James Moore of
South Carolina attacked and destroyed the
city. Spain's new fort, the Castillo de San
Marcos, held out against Moore's forces in a
55 day siege. The successful defense of the
coquina rock fortress so impressed the
Spanish that they set about rebuilding the city
with masonry where possible instead of
The Convent of St. Francis was rebuilt using
rock and mortar instead of wood and thatch.
The separation of church and state was not a
facet of life in Spanish St. Augustine and the
rebuilding was financed by the government.
The work took place during the first half of the
The famed Oldest House, which stands just
across St. Francis Street from the barracks,
was built in during this same era.
The monastery survived the 1740 attack on
St. Augustine by Gen. James Oglethorpe.
English cannon bombarded the city for 28
days from emplacements across Matanzas
Bay, but Oglethorpe's cannonballs failed to
set fire to the city or reduce the Castillo de
The conquest attempted by Oglethorpe's
army was achieved 23 years later by English
diplomats. Spain had sided with France
against Great Britain in the Seven Years War
- French and Indian War as it was known in
The Treaty of Paris ended the war in 1763,
but required Spain to surrender Florida to
The Church of England was Protestant and
Great Britain saw little need for the priests
who had lived at the convent for 175 years.
The Franciscans left with hundreds of other
St. Augustine residents as a new order came
to the old city.
The British appropriated the monastery for
military purposes, turning the buildings into
housing for Redcoat troops. Additional
wooden barracks were built on the grounds
and the former place of worship became a
place of war.
British troops used the St. Francis Barracks
throughout the American Revolution. Troops
from the complex took part in the Redcoat
invasions of Georgia as well as fighting north
of the St. Johns River that repelled a 1778
invasion of Florida by American Patriots.
Control of the barracks returned to Spain in
1783 at the end of the Revolutionary War. The
era of Florida's Franciscan missions was
long over, however, and Spain's soldiers
moved in as Great Britain's moved out and
Spanish soldiers from St. Francis Barracks
helped put down the so-called "Patriot
Revolution" of 1812. Boldly instigated and
then disavowed by the U.S. government, this
rebellion failed to wrest control of Florida
from His Catholic Majesty.
Florida was turned over to the United States
by Spain in 1821 and U.S. troops replaced
the Spanish ones. American troops from the
barracks took part in the Second Seminole
War and stood guard over Osceola and other
Seminole leaders when they were held
captive in the Castillo, which the U.S. called
U.S. troops lived at St. Francis Barracks until
January 1861 when Florida declared itself an
independent nation and sent its militia to
seize the installation. The bloodless takeover
resulted in Florida becoming the fourth
independent nation to occupy the barracks.
Florida joined with other Southern states in
February to form the Confederate States of
America. The independence flag of Florida
came down and the Confederate flag went
up. The Confederacy became the third nation
in three months to claim the barracks.
Southern troops evacuated St. Augustine
early in 1862 and U.S. forces came back, but
not before the ladies of St. Augustine made
their opinion clear. Marching down to the St.
Francis Barracks, a delegation of women
chopped down the flag pole so it could not be
used to raise the Stars and Stripes over the
By the time the U.S. Army finally abandoned
the barracks in 1900, St. Augustine had
become a popular and hospitable resort for
winter guests from Northern climes. The
historic complex was leased to Florida as a
headquarters for the state militia (today's
Florida National Guard).
Fire gutted the St. Francis Barracks in 1915,
leaving behind the masonry walls built some
200 years earlier by the Franciscans. The
structure was still in ruins when the Federal
government deeded it to Florida in 1921.
The State Legislature appropriated needed
funds to rebuild the barracks the following
year. The old Spanish walls and cells were
incorporated into the rebuilt structure, which
continues to serve as the headquarters of the
Florida National Guard today.
The St. Francis Barracks are located at 84
Marine Street in St. Augustine, Florida. The
installation stands at the intersection of St.
Francis and Marine Streets, directly across
the former from the Oldest House.
A small military history museum is located
inside, but is only open by appointment. Call
904-823-0364 for more information. The
exterior of the barracks can be viewed from
the sidewalks and adjacent St. Augustine
The St. Augustine National
Cemetery began its history as
post cemetery for St. Francis
Barracks and Fort Marion
(Castillo de San Marcos).
St. Francis Barracks
This historic photograph of
the barracks was taken in the
1890s and shows the historic
complex as it appeared prior
to the fire that gutted the
structure in 1915.
Library of Congress