Get ready, because the British are coming again to America’s Oldest City – Friday night, November 30, and Saturday, December 1.
If an 18th century pistol duel, court martial and public hanging all sound like your cup of tea, organizers of 38th annual British Night Watch plan once again this year to deliver the wow-factor by following a theme that focuses on the last day in the life of an ill-fated British soldier before he meets his final (and just) punishment at the end of a rope.
In fact, while the ambitious reenactment at Francis Field on Saturday will include a fully complete portrayal of the carefully choreographed rope-swing, Night Watch event coordinator Anthea Manny says that just like in the ‘good ‘ol days’ of the 1763 to 1783 British period in St. Augustine: “it will all be in jolly-good fun!”
See history: British Night Watch – one of St. Augustine’s largest and longest running historic events
“Back then, a court marshal and hanging would have attracted curious crowds and generated a carnival atmosphere. The intent of the gruesome display was to deter criminal behavior for all who witnessed it. Manny further explained newspaper publishing in Florida began under British rule. After leaving South Carolina in 1783, William and John Wells published a Tory newspaper, the East Florida Gazette from St. Augustine before moving on to the Bahamas when Florida again came under Spanish rule. Before the newspaper, word spread through town, and British soldiers would have been required by their regimental commander to attend.”
While this certainly would have been true of the 18th century, Night Watch Parade Marshal John Thornton said that hangings happened in St.Augustine even up into the early 1900s. His grandfather, Harvey Philips used to tell a story that there was going to be a triple hanging at the Old Jail on San Marco. Grandpa, a student of St. Agnes, also heard that students would be locked in at school to prevent them from attending the hanging. Harvey and several friends did not return to school from lunch, so they were able to sneak over to see the hanging. “Punishment has been a public event for centuries, people changed their daily routine so they could attend a hanging,” Thornton said.
Events this year for the British Night Watch will begin on Friday night at Francis Field with gates opening at 7 p.m. and live music by traditional Celtic recording artists Father, Son and Friends beginning at 8 p.m.
“This is a not-to-be-missed concert,” said Manny. “Father Son and Friends travel around the country singing British, Irish, Scotts and American folk music with humor and stories that will have everyone clapping and singing along.” Admission for the Concert is $5.00, with children under 12 admitted free with a paying adult.
On Saturday, organizers have declared St. Augustine under British rule!
Experience a Colonial Market, fife and drum performances, military drills, plus – an all-day 18th century circus and glass harp performances by Faire Wynds, and the spectacular feats of famed slack-rope walker, Signora Bella. Musicians and itinerant travelling performers will delight all ages, Manny said, while period merchants, called sutlers will offer their wares. “Why not add a little colonial to your Christmas?” asks Manny. “Stroll and shop for that ‘just got to have it,’ one-of-a-kind item only found at the Market.”
The Military Encampment will present public demonstrations of the weapons and artillery of the period, along with the pageantry of the Trooping of the Colors and Blessing of the Flags ceremonies.
Slideshow from last year’s British Night watch events
Bonus link: Trooping of the Colours activity page for children
To commemorate the 235th Anniversary of the Arrival of the Menorcans to St. Augustine, Historian Roger Smith will present a lecture about the Menorcan colonists. Also on location at Francis Field, an encampment by Deep Forest Historical Native American Program see these valuable Allies of the British bring to life their role in the Colony of East Florida.
Also on Saturday in the Spanish Garden at the corner of St. George Street and Hypolita, the St. George Players will perform a 20 minute 18th Century Mummers Play, 3 show times between 2:30 & 4:00 pm.
The premiere vignette of the afternoon will be the reenactment of the 18th century duel and the dramatic arrest of the victor. This will be followed by his military court martial, which will include witness testimonies – and the public hanging. “You can decide whether the testimonies from townsfolk are real or just balderdash – but I can tell you, his crime fits the punishment,” Manny said.
It is also important to note that the Tavern Tent will be open Friday night and all day Saturday, with a selection of hot and cold beverages. Francis Field is located on Castillo Drive (west of the city parking garage). Admission on Saturday is $3.00, with children under 12 admitted free with a paying adult.
One of the most famous of signature events of the year in America’s Oldest City is the British Night Watch Grande Illumination Parade – now in its 38th year, with the city’s award winning holiday light display as a backdrop featuring more than two million tiny white lights that will glow along the ancient streets and illuminate historic buildings. Join in and march with the Soldiers on the very streets the British did over 200 years ago. “This beautiful display of traditional colonial pageantry and lighted historic architecture is the perfect setting to begin your family’s holiday celebration,” Manny said.
Grande Illumination Parade route: The parade will begin at the Plaza, in front of Government House, at 8:00 p.m. The Parade will leave St. George Street, heading east on King St. to march around the Plaza to Cathedral St, then turn right onto St. George Street. The parade route makes a left at Hypolita St., then right onto Spanish St. down to Orange, where it turns right to proceed through the City Gates, and then back down St. George Street back to Government House.
Advice from Manny and Thornton: the best place to be for the parade as a spectator is in the Plaza, and plan to be in place around 7:00 PM to get a good spot. Bring a lantern or candle. Once the parade begins one of the most moving and beautiful events of the city is the tradition of townspeople and visitors following behind with candles or lanterns as part of the parade.
The parade is followed by a Volley of Joy and the annual Christmas carol sing in the plaza.
For more information, see British Night Watch Weekend schedule of events
British Attacks on St. Augustine
British Christmas Siege of St. Augustine in 1702
Did clean living save the Spanish from the British in the Christmas siege of St. Augustine in 1702?
British 1740 attack on St. Augustine
St. Augustine – the Nation’s Oldest City
A Brief History of America’s Oldest City Printable PDF – Courtesy of the City of St. Augustine
1776 Fashion Show (American) – Youtube.com, very detailed!
18th century Fashion – head to toe
British 18th century military uniforms