Florida’s Original Camino Real
by Kartik Krishnaiyer
Boca Raton’s Camino Real, a main road through the city, isn’t the first road named that in Florida.
In fact, the first road named that was an important link in colonial Florida. The road linked Florida’s capital and Catholic missions that were thriving in during the 1600’s.
The El Camino Real connected St Augustine with the settlements and missions to the west. The road ran roughly to the area where modern-day Tallahassee is. By 1640, the road contained over two dozen towns or Catholic missions along its path.
Following English Privateer Robert Searle’s 1668 sack of St Augustine and the founding of Charles Town in South Carolina, the Spanish crown aimed to improve and finish the road. The Crown saw this road as an important link to protect St Augustine and the missions from further encroachment.
Throughout the 1680’s work continued though the road was never fully completed. Although not fully complete, El Camino Real provided the outlet for trade and movement of goods throughout Spain’s Florida settlement.
History of Missions
Spanish Catholic missions in Florida began as early as 1569, just four years after the founding of St Augustine. The missions were staffed by Jesuits. By the mid 1600’s Spain had as many as 50 missions in Florida (including territory claimed by Spain which is now in Georgia). These missions, which were connected by the El Camino Real represented the first attempts at permanent settlements mixing Europeans and natives in Florida.
The End of the Missions
During the 1680’s English pirates regularly raided Spanish ships off the coast of Florida and raided missions in Florida with its native American allies. In 1682, pirates raided the ship of provisions coming from Mexico to St Augustine, leaving the town in crisis. Pirates even raided inland Spanish missions using the Suwannee and Apalachicola Rivers as highways into the heart of Florida. In 1693, English-backed Native Americans burnt a Spanish mission near the Suwannee River and enslaved its residents.
The thriving mission culture of the early-mid 1600’s was already beginning to collapse when tensions spilled over into war between England and Spain in 1702. In 1659, a Measles epidemic brought the population of Florida down toward 20,000. This was significantly lower than the population had been in the 1630’s. By 1700, many missions and towns in Florida had already been abandoned.
Today’s Camino Real that cuts through the heart of Boca Raton pays homage to those colonial beginnings.