St. Augustine's Lighthouse, A Southern Widow And A Shovel

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JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Feb 14, 2012
Central Pennsylvania
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Etching entitled " Lighthouse At Caldwell's Landing ", from NYPL depicts a roiling sea, various craft and human subjects- all dependent on the little, awkward, life-saving house perched above the scene.

In all the coverage shot by soggy news crews over the weekend, no one thought to anchor coverage on Florida lighthouses. First place I'd head if ' Hope ' was in short supply- literal beacons in The Storm, symbols of survival and a light piercing chaos.

We see stories of Confederate women immortalized for feats of patriotism. Flinging themselves on hoses to warn of an enemy threat, enduring prison, swallowing code as crinolines are searched, smuggling medicine through Union lines by sleight and guile, hefting muskets and dying at Pickett's Charge- flying to deathbeds of stricken men,

And defying the Union Army. And winning. Of course there's a name and timeline- ending at the war.

St Augustine Lighthouse's present, famous outline did not ride from the rocks until 1874- the current, famous, haunted lighthouse. Erosion, not artillery. Previous to this-
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Was this
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" Old Spanish Lighthouse "

. Old? In 1824 Maria De Los Delores Mestre and Juan Mestres ( I have no idea what his several other names were ), her husband took on the job ' Keeper ', here. According to various reports, they had somewhere between 6 and 12 children. Important job? Ships carrying hundreds of souls depended on these signals. There was no day off, flu or bad mood. A heavily Spanish town, Maria and Juan were ' well liked '. Juan lasted until 1859, perishing in a fall from scaffolding. ( and does anyone ask if the lighthouse ghost is Juan? )

Paul Arnau was collector of customs of St. Augustine and superintendent of lighthouses- through his efforts and those of locals in positions to exert influence, Juan's widow Maria was appointed the first female keeper in- well, either in Florida history or along the Southern coast, depending which source. Salary, either 400 or 500 dollars a year, depending on source.

And so to The War- despite reports otherwise, St. Augustine was a solidly Confederate city. One journal contains the story of local women chopping down the flag staff at St. Augustine's military fort so a Union flag could never fly from it. Still- defenses were slim' Confederate forces withdrew. Commodore C.R.P. Rogers received the surrender of the city, March, 1862 after the USS Wabash arrived and set ashore two, unarmed boats.


No record exists of the night Paul and his group of partisans approached Maria Mestre de los Dolores Andreu with their plan to render St. Augustine lighthouse useless to Union forces. No record exists of the night Maria, Paul and a band of Confederate loyalists dismantled the Fensnel lens, secreted it away in darkness, and buried it. An aging, Spanish matriarch, her loyalist neighbors and their leader would not tell. Paul spent time in jail, arrested for the act and his refusal to give up the location.
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Maria Andreu does not seem to have been arrested. You can see it, right?

" I'm not arresting her, she's older than my mother, you arrest her! "
" OH no, I'd never be able to go home! My wife and mother-in-law would eat me for breakfast. You arrest her! "
" Well you might as well bury me, too. Put a 60 year old widow, with children to feed to boot, in the pokey? I'd rather eat a live chicken. "

So Maria Mestre de los Dolores Andreu , without flinging herself onto a horse of tying up a pharmacy under crinolines or even eating troop positions scrawled on paper, became a Confederate heroine. She went home, washed her hands and refused to talk.

Someone did at some point, badly post war. The lighthouse blazed to work again in 1867. Maria and her children left their rocky home shortly after the war. Lost to History, it's a mystery what became of her. Also a slight mystery, why this heroine's name is not as well known as other Confederate heroines- she took on the Union Army, risked prison or worse- and really, really got her hands dirty. Maria Mestre de los Dolores Andreu.

Maybe it's just too hard to spell?
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NYPL, as are all in this thread, another home-lighthouse- not sure if it's ' Old Spanish although entitled so? Seems to be not close enough to the beach.
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Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!