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Treasure Hunting in Florida – Part 2: Picolata

by Matt
Categories: Treasure
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Published on: July 21, 2010

If you’re searching for artifacts and treasure, go where the people were.  If you’re looking for where the people were, look for water.  Not hard to do in a state covered in water, but specifically looking in strategic positions along the St John’s River could turn up some interesting finds.  Take, for example, Picolata, Florida.

Today, Picolata is just a small town on the east side of the St. John’s River – about 44 miles south of Jacksonville and 18 miles west of St. Augustine.  Today, riverfront homes spread are along state road 13, which follows the winding path of the river.  300 years ago, Picolata was a very different place – but just as busy.  With St. Augustine as the only major port city nearby, it was imperative for the Spanish to build sentries in the surrounding area for defense from the natives, and from hostile armies.  Located where the St. Johns River narrows, Picolata provided St. Augustine access to the Apalache missions to the west and to points north and south along the river.  In 1734, Gov. Francisco del Moral Sanchez ordered the construction of a blockhouse, barracks, storehouses and batteries.   On either side of the river was a small fort used by the Spaniards – Picolata to the east, and a matching fort directly across the river, near Bayard (Fort San Francisco de Pupe).  From 1735 until 1740, Picolata was routinely raided by English colonists and their Indian allies (who, incidentally, had a village about 3 miles north along the east side of the river).  In 1740, the garrison was finally defeated by Jame Oglethorpe (founder of the colony of Georgia).

A decade later, William Bartram, in his travels along the St Johns River, described the fort as it existed then.  It was a near match of the Spanish garrison currently located at Matanzas Inlet (now a national monument, accessible via ferry). It was a fortified coquina structure, about 30 feet high, armed with 2 small cannons.  Despite its heavy use over the decades, it was eventually abandoned, and only visited by weary travelers looking for a night’s stay in a hostile region.

Picolata Today
Despite its fortified structure and strategic position, no obvious signs of the Picolata fort remain.  300 years after being a busy hub of activity for the Spanish crown, Picolata is a quiet community on the eastern banks of the St Johns River.  It is generally believed that the original location of this fort is currently covered by the river, as the route of the water changes over time.  However, being a structure like that at Matanzas (which has stood up well over time, with a certain degree of maintenance), it would stand to reason that if one were to investigate further, perhaps some artifacts remain to this day, only a matter of yards from County Road 13.  Could the original cannons still be laying in mud?  Could valuable Spanish coins be buried along the banks of the river?  Rumor has it that on the western bank of the St Johns (Bayard Conservation Area), a series of earthworks related to the sister fort still remain.  Could they hold relics lost to the centuries?  My point is this:  these clues are out there, not far from us.  Perhaps they beg further investigation, and a personal visit.  What more could we find?


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