Castillo de San Joaquin (2005) by Justin Ruhge
The Castillo San Joaquin
was built in 1794 on the site selected by de Anza eighteen years
earlier for the presidio. The Punta del Cantil Blanco was a bold
jutting promontory of hard serpentine rock overlaid with sand
about one hundred feet above high water on the south side of the
Golden Gate. It was windswept and remote.
Vancouver recorded the early
construction of the Castillo while visiting the presidio for the
second time in October 1793. He speaks of seeing on the beach
eleven dismounted cannon, nine-pounders, with a large quantity
of shot of two different sizes, and on the top of the cliff several
Spaniards who, with a large number of Native Americans, were erecting
what appeared to him to be a barbette battery. The construction
observed by Vancouver was a preliminary and temporary defensive
work. This structure was now replaced by a fort consisting of
ten-foot thick embrasures on the seaward side of adobe faced with
brick and mortar. Behind this was laid out an esplanade on which
the heavy guns with their four-wheeled siege type carriages rested.
The esplanade, made of heavy timbers, had a plank flooring about
20 feet wide held together by nine-inch spikes. On the land side,
the walls of unfaced adobe stood only five feet thick. There,
lighter guns on two wheeled carriages sat on the ground. The
Castillo's construction was managed by the superintendent of construction
for the Department of San Blas, Francisco Gomez. Master gunner
Don Jose Garaicochea directed the placement of the cannon. These
men and three sawyers had come up from Mexico aboard Aranzazu
originally bound for Bodega Bay before the fort planned for that
location was cancelled and the personnel and equipment reassigned
to the San Francisco Castillo. Antonio Santos also arrived with
the ship and took charge of the manufacture of tile and burnt
brick. The masters worked with Christian Native Americans provided
by the missions and non-converted Native Americans brought up
from the area around Santa Clara. Woodchoppers went into the
hills west of San Mateo for timber, going more than 15 miles to
find the redwood. It took about a week to bring back the timber,
weather permitting, while 23 yoke of oxen hauled the material
northward. Additionally, the laborers made many bricks and tiles
before the rains halted work in January 1794. At this point,
Alferez Jose Perez Fernandez replaced Sal as nominal director
of work on the Fort.
Timber cutting went well
and as soon as the workers received the requested boats the lumber
was brought to the Fort. This fact indicated that the beams and
boards from the hills would be hauled overland then probably floated
to the beach between the Presidio and the Castillo. Even before
this, a half dozen cannon had been placed and stood ready for
action on the partially completed esplanade, although Perez Fernandez
admitted the use of incorrect size timber in its construction.
In early March 1794, when
the rains ceased, efforts resumed. Perez Fernandez sent Sergeant
Amador to San José to obtain non-Christianized Native Americans
for heavy work because they provided the only available labor
force. They received a daily-allotted wage plus cotton breeches
and a blanket as a bonus. Occasionally, some of them ran away.
By April, 78 Native Americans toiled on the Castillo, including
some 30 Christian Native Americans. The money and clothing earned
by the mission Native Americans went back to the padres for disbursement.
A sergeant, corporal and two soldiers supervised the work of
this group, who they kept occupied at adobe brick making at the
rate of 1,500 bricks daily. Others cut wood. Before long, they
provided 52 large square timbers for the esplanade.
While construction progressed
at a steady rate, the viceroy changed his mind about the Fort's
construction because he felt it was costing too much. For once
the long delays in communication with Mexico City worked to the
advantage of the Californios. The Viceroy's instruction to stop
construction took six months to reach Monterey. By then, mid-June
1794, the governor replied that with completion so near it seemed
wise to finish the project. In his opinion no ship could enter
or leave San Francisco once the Fort stood as a guardian while
enemy cannon from the ships could not damage the Fort to any great
extent because of its superior construction. With enough artillery
and artilleryman, San Francisco would be safe from foreigners
once and for all, said the Governor.
Thus, ignoring the Viceroy,
California's leaders took local defense matters into their own
hands. With all the heavy masonry and timber work completed after
an expenditure of 6,400 pesos, 4 reals and 7 granos, acting Commander
Perez Fernandez dedicated the new Castillo de San Joaquin on December
8, 1794 with the priests of the mission saying mass and chanting
the Te Deum. Musket volleys and cannon fire concluded the festivities.
Afterward the Comandante saw to the final details, which included
the installation of flooring and gun racks in the barracks, the
sentry box of the fortified tower, and the door of the mess room.
Only a few details remained to be received, including two boxes
of nine-inch spikes so the roof could be nailed on, and doors
and windows from San Blas to enclose the building.
Additionally the governor
requested more artillery, writing to request four more 12-pounders
and three 24-pounders along with carriages, implements, fuses,
powder, cable, lead base plates for the primer mechanisms, burlap
wrapped cartridges in 8,12 and 24-pounder calibers, and regular
cannon balls for the cannon.
The Castillo was a formidable
affair of adobe, rectangular in shape, and pierced with fourteen
embrasures lined with brick. It was about one hundred and twenty
five feet long by one hundred and five feet wide. The parapet
was ten feet thick and in the middle of the Fort was a barracks
for the artillerymen. A corporal and six artillerymen garrisoned
it. Eleven brass nine-pounders were sent from San Blas but only
eight were mounted. The Castillo was variously called the Castillo,
Fort Blanco and the Fort.
In the spring of 1796, 75
Catalonian volunteers headed by Lieutenant-Colonel Pedro de Alberni
arrived at San Francisco on the Valdes and San Carlos. Along
with these reinforcements, the Viceroy sent the Royal Engineer
Alberto Cordoba. As was mentioned earlier in this work, Alberni
became the Comandante of the San Francisco Presidio. The catalyst
for the "volunteers" was the war between France and
Spain. Cordoba was to inspect the coast defenses and make needed
improvements and recommendations. In addition he was to establish
the location and layout of the Villa de Branciforte, which was
subsequently founded at Santa Cruz.
Three more cannon were brought
by the San Carlos along with Cordoba. At the time the Castillo
was just two years old when Cordoba inspected it. He did not
like what he saw. The location was unstable; the Castillo was
built on sand and crumbling rock, which was subject to
frequent earthquakes since it was located on the San Andreas Earthquake Fault line. The guns were badly mounted and could not fire a shot across the Golden Gate. In addition there were not enough gunners to support the guns at hand. When the guns were fired, the adobe and brick merlons would shake and crack. Of the 13 pieces of cannon, three 24-pounders, two iron 12-pounders, and eight bronze half culverin 8-pounders, only two could fire across the Golden Gate. If ships stayed on the far side they could not be easily hit by shots from the Castillo. In addition there was high ground behind the Castillo from which an enemy could fire down on the Fort.
Cordoba did try to improve
the situation by helping place the three cannon, supervising repair
work on the Fort, building a double wall for the powder magazine,
and building a pair of sentry boxes.
Cordoba recommended that
the Fort be moved to the commanding high ground and estimated
that a new structure would cost less than the repair of the old
one. In addition he called for a second Fort on the other side
of the bay entrance and for more troops, the shortage of which
was made critical by the lack of training among them. Cordoba
gave further advice in the repairing of the Presidio's powder
magazine, tower, sentry box and roofs. He also drew plans for
a new presidio and made a drawing of the Castillo and the Cantil
Blanco upon which it rested. While the Fort had shortcomings,
it retained some value so long as the enemy did not realize the
poor state of the defenses.
Cordoba also made a case
for two or three ships of war to be stationed at San Francisco
as a headquarters to patrol the coast for added protection, a
concept that the governor endorsed. None of these proposals were
carried out due to lack of funds.
In the winter of 1797 news
arrived on the San Carlos that Spain and England were at war.
The San Carlos brought additional cannon for the Castillo. On
March 23, 1797 the San Carlos was wrecked while at anchor in front
of the Presidio during a sudden storm. The cannon had been off
loaded earlier but food and clothing had been lost. This was
the second San Carlos surnamed El Filipino. The San Carlos of
the 1769 Portola expedition had been lost at sea some years before.
Over the next two months the supply vessels Concepcion and Princesa
arrived. From these some of the sailors and officers helped to
man the Castillo during the war emergency, which only lasted for
a few months.
During this period, the
"Bateria de San Jose" was built during the months of
April and June 1797. Cordoba's recommendation for a second fort
on the north side of the Golden Gate was ignored and a small battery
of eight embrasures was built of brushwood fascines east of the
Castillo at "Black Point" or "Yerba Buena",
near where Vancouver had anchored in his first visit.
Five guns deemed too small
to be of use at the Castillo were placed there. A palisade and
mud shelter served as a barracks since nothing more substantial
could be brought there.
Cordoba objected to the
battery's poor construction, which once more rested on a sand
foundation, its distance from the Fort at the mouth of the bay,
and the shortage of artilleryman, already too few to manage the
guns that had been mounted earlier in the decade. After the departure
of the sailors, it appears that no garrison stood regular watch
there. To at least the end of the 18th century, a soldier simply
paid Bateria San Jose a daily call and occasionally a noncommissioned
officer from the artillery rode over for a brief inspection.
Cordoba completed his work
on California fortifications, made his surveys, and produced a
general map of the province before returning to Mexico in the
autumn of 1798 according to the History of California by H. H.
Bancroft, Vol. I, pg. 545.
The weather continued to take its toll on the Castillo. On February 28, 1799, Comandante Alberni made the following comments about the state of affairs at the fort:
1. First, the two walls which serve as ramparts and defense for said fort were located east and south. The door is found in the latter of these. Because they are constructed of adobe of very poor quality, the storm demolished them.
2. The Extraordinary Engineer don Alberto de Cordoba constructed the merlons, which face north and were made of fascine. They have come undone and have fallen to the ground because water had seeped and rotten the leather and maguey cords with which they were tied.
3. The merlons built in an easterly direction and its building of adobe covered by bricks which were cemented with mud are all demolished.
4. The merlons situated to the northwest, although they are made from stone of the same terrain and constructed of sand from the bar at the mouth of the harbor, also are sagging out and at the point of falling into the sea. For this reason, I ordered the cannons and also the sentry box that were at the battery to be taken off in order to avoid a mishap.
5. The wall that serves as a rampart to the blockhouse looks toward the south has its adobe building demolished. There is a sand dune that surrounds it at this time. It leans its full weight against said wall. The dune is rising above the wall and threatens its ruin.
6. The structure that serves as a barracks for the troops of the garrison of the Castillo and also for the defense of the stores. Its construction being of sandy adobe and so eaten away in the south wall, with another small storm it will come down. As its roof has little slope, and also because the roof tile which covers it is of such poor quality, the rains come in everywhere.
7. It easily is noticed that the intermediate passage from the blockhouse to the fortification s so dilapidated on both sides of its narrow passage that it barely retains enough space to permit the ten to twelve varas width necessary to pass by. Since the precipice to the side of the fort is of pure sand, it is possible during one of the earth tremors that are experienced here, it can be split because of its narrowness, thus leaving the aforementioned fortification cut off from the mainland."
Spanish Army Royal Engineer Alberto de Cordoba executed two drawings related to the Castillo de San Joaquin, one of which provided a cross section of the Cantil Blanco and the other one provided his most concise views of this approximately 40 varas by 60 varas emplacement. Positions exist for a dozen guns. The proximity of the west side of the fortification to the edge of the cliff stands out, this being one of the problems cited by Cordoba in his analysis of the placement and construction of the battery. The drawing is located in the records of the Provincias Internas, 216:236, AGN, at the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
The information for the drawing translates as follows: "Plan of the Battery of San Joaquin constructed on the northernmost point of land for The defense of the entrance to the Port of San Francisco. A. Gate of the Battery; B. Main walls of adobe; C. Guardhouse; D. Storage for implements for the Artillery; E. Corridor to the Guardhouse; F. Kitchen; G. Wooden Esplanade; H. Cannon by which to defend the narrowest entrance of the Port; K. Embrasures of the Battery constructed upon sand; M. Embrasures of the Battery constructed on rock and sand. Note: The main walls of the Guardhouse and kitchen are of adobe and equally are those utilized for the battery and which are brick fastened with mud.
The fortification was not then viable. Sand, rain and earthquakes do not make for good foundations. Similar comments were made for the condition of the Bateria de Yerba Buena.
Alberni recommended rebuilding the two forts at the mouth of the Golden Gate, one on either side. But funds were not forthcoming and things just got worse.
In 1805 an extensive reconstruction
took place with Native American captives erecting a stonewall
on three sides and a palisade on the fourth. They also provided
a new casa mata
some 300 yards behind the Fort.
This renovated Castillo
then gave way to an entirely new fort. Work began in October
1815 in response to the Russian presence at Fort Ross. Brevet
sub-lieutenant Manuel de Luz Gomez of the artillery supervised
the work. Gomez, with the master carpenter and soldier, Jose
Franco, along with five Native Americans from Mission Santa Clara
and four from Mission San Jose, used 200 beams and 600 planks
for the esplanade on which to place the guns. Apparently the
work went forward without the use of any of the nails and spikes
used earlier. Governor Sola sent three 8-pounder cannon with
300 balls. The new Castillo had embrasures for 16 cannon. Apparently
many of the older cannon were also used. The new structure was
horseshoe in shape with the crown of the shoe facing north. Bancroft's
History of California and other 19th century works depict the
semicircular version of the Castillo. Dr. Eric Beerman of Madrid
discovered the drawings of the new Castillo and deserves credit
for resolving this matter, which had confused many earlier writers
on the subject. The drawing was located in the Archivo General
Militar de Segovia, Section X. There were, as we have seen, two
Castillo designs and one interim structure between these.
After Bouchard's visit to
California in November 1818, further cannon and artillerymen were
sent to man the Castillo. A "hot shot" furnace was
constructed at the Castillo in 1820 so red hot shot could be fired
at ships, if necessary, to start them on fire.
On November 6, 1826 British
Royal Navy officer Captain Frederick William Beechey anchored
his ship, H.M.S. Blossom, at San Francisco. Two renderings of
the Presidio and the Castillo were made during this visit. One
of the Presidio by Richard Brydges Beechey has been shown in an
earlier section on the San Francisco Presidio. A second view
was rendered by Captain W. Smyth. It shows a scene from on high
looking down on the Golden Gate, the Presidio and the Castillo.
Three Native Americans are shown in the foreground. This may
have been the basis of the drawing shown earlier of the Castillo
on the Cantil Blanco. The Smyth drawing is in the Hydrographic
Office of the Royal Navy, Taunton, England.
originally built to protect the population, had all but disappeared.
The artillery stood unused and uncared for, although Comandante
Vallejo recommended the Castillo be rebuilt in the early 1840s.
As it was, only one artilleryman remained to man the last six
cannon since Vallejo had ordered the relocation of several of
the serviceable guns to Sonoma.
The French visitor from
Mexico, Duflot de Mofras toured the almost deserted Castillo in
1841 and made the following comments: "The fort has been
so completely abandoned that a ship could easily send its small
boats over the shore below and without attraction attention of
the presidio, carry off the cannon that could be rolled down the
cliff. The Castillo consisted of a horseshoe-shaped adobe battery
with 16 embrasures for cannon. Only three obsolete guns and two
good bronze pieces of 16 caliber, cast in Manila were in place,
all on wooden gun carriages which date from 1812 and are partially
decayed. In the center of the horseshoe, the barracks, used originally
to house the soldiers, have fallen into ruins. No one lived there
nor did a ditch or other protection to the rear exist to keep
the place from being overtaken from the side should the battery
Bancroft's drawing shown in the foregoing figure is apparently based on the comments of de Mofras. It is not as accurate as the recently located drawing shown before it. Bancroft's comments on the Castillo are a summary of the comments of the visitors to San Francisco from England and France.
On July 1, 1846 American
Captain John Fremont with his company of men which included Kit
Carson, Lieutenant Gillespie, and twenty Delaware Indians approached
the bark Moscow riding at anchor off Sausalito, where they asked
for the loan of a longboat to transport them across the Golden
Gate. The party rowed southward where the Presidio was in total
abandonment as was the Castillo, the latter's guns being found
in poor condition. They spiked the five brass pieces they found
in order to be sure that the ordnance would not be pressed into
service by the Mexicans. Fremont and his company then returned
north to Sutter's Fort. It was on this mission that Fremont was
supposed to have named the mouth of San Francisco Bay the "Golden
Gate". The following week, Commodore Sloat sent to Commander
Montgomery of the Portsmouth the news of a declaration of war
between Mexico and the United States. Sloat ordered Montgomery
to take possession of Yerba Buena and hoist the American flag
within range of our guns, post up the proclamation in both languages,
and notify Captain Fremont to put the Fort and guns in order.
In other words "unspike those guns".
As a result of the Fremont
boat borrowing, the captain of the Moscow, for his services, made
a claim on the U.S. Government. The Captain was the same William
Dane Phelps, who appeared in San Diego in 1842 to spike the guns
at the fort there when Commodore Jones landed at Monterey. The
subject of this claim is reviewed in the note 40 from the reference
document to follow with a somewhat humorous conclusion that the
service of boat borrowing was only worth fifty dollars and that
was paid by the U.S. Government.
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