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Fort Santo Angel c. 1756

Fort Santo Angel was the second of four Spanish fortifications built in the southern village of Umatac in the midst of the galleon trade era. The fort was constructed on top of a large rock structure that is situated at the entrance to Umatac Bay. From this vantage the fort could defend the anchorage and the channel entrance to the bay from the increasing number of non-Spanish ships navigating through the Mariana Islands.

By the early eighteenth century, Great Britain, Holland, and France had increased their presence in the Pacific. To allay this threat, Spain launched a naval expedition in 1716 that captured six illegal French merchant vessels. With Great Britain and Holland still a threat in the Pacific, Spain initiated plans to improve Guam’s defenses. An earlier incident on Guam had also alarmed the island’s governor, Juan Antonio Pimentel (1709-1720). In March of 1710, four war ships, under the command of English privateer Captain Woodes Rogers, anchored off of Umatac Bay with 200 well-armed and battle-ready crew members.

Pimentel, knowing his forces could be overwhelmed, struck a deal that allowed the privateers to replenish their ships in return for the release of Spanish prisoners that were held aboard the English ships. Pimentel would later have to answer for his hospitality toward Spain’s enemies.

Improving defenses

This episode, however, encouraged Pimentel to write Spanish authorities regarding the importance of defending Guam as a last line of defense before the Philippines. With the increasing presence of foreign ships with well-trained crew members skirting the island, Pimentel recommended that a fort be built at Umatac in addition to the existing shoreline battery. The plan for Fort Santo Angel was realized sometime within the next three decades. The earliest historical record of the fort was made by British Commodore George Anson in 1742 through information he received while anchored at Tinian.

Fort rebuilt

In 1756 Governor Enrique de Olavide y Michelena (1749-1756 and 1768-1771) rebuilt Santo Angel after he observed that the artillery emplacement there was merely protected by ditches in the rock. The new fort was also built atop the fifty-foot high rock-like promontory and was accessed by steps cut into the rock. On the top of the promontory was a flagstone esplanade that measured forty by twenty-four feet. Surrounding the esplanade was a one-foot-high and eighteen-inch-thick mampostería, stone and mortar, wall.

Separating the esplanade and the stone steps was a thirty-foot-long entranceway. A mampostería guard room measuring ten feet by fifteen feet was also erected on the bay side of the entranceway. Santo Angel was built to house three cannons that could effectively damage ships, but its wall was low which left soldiers and gun-carriages exposed to enemy fire.

Over time the fort suffered damage to its foundation from years of pounding waves. Governor Alexandro Parreño (1806-1812) determined the fort to be unsafe and had it dismantled. The existing structure, without its guns, was used to hold piles of wood which, when lit, provided safety for ships at night. Today, ruins of the fort can still be seen along Umatac Bay’s north entrance. However thick vegetation covers much of the site.

By Daryl A. Haun

For further reading

Degadillo, Yolanda, Thomas B. McGrath, S.J. and Felicia Plaza, M.M.B. Spanish Forts of Guam. Publication Series 7. Mangilao, GU: University of Guam Richard F. Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center, 1979.

Driver, Marjorie and Omaira Brunal-Perry. Architectural Sketches of the Spanish Era Forts of Guam. Mangilao, GU: University of Guam Richard F. Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center, 1994.

Ruth, Mark H., Jack B. Jones, and Morris M. Grobins, eds. Guidebook to the Architecture of Guam. N.p.: American Institute of Architects; Guam and Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands Chapter, c.1976.

Guam Historic Resources Division, Parks and Recreation. (Accessed 15 June 2012)