A presidio (from the Spanish, presidio, meaning "jail" or "fortification"[1]) is a fortified base established by the Spanish in areas under their control or influence. The term is derived from the Latin word praesidium meaning protection or defense.

In the Americas, the fortresses were built to protect against pirates and rival colonists, as well as against resistance from Native Americans. In the Mediterranean and the Philippines, the presidios were outposts of Christian defense against Islamic raids. The presidios of Spanish-Philippines in particular, were centers where the martial art of Arnis de Mano was developed, combining Filipino, Latin-American and Spanish fighting techniques.[2] Later in western North America, with independence, the Mexicans garrisoned the Spanish presidios on the northern frontier and followed the same pattern in unsettled frontier regions like the Presidio de Sonoma, at Sonoma, California, and the Presidio de Calabasas, in Arizona.

In western North America, a rancho del rey or king's ranch would be established a short distance outside a presidio. This was a tract of land assigned to the presidio to furnish pasturage to the horses and other beasts of burden of the garrison. Mexico called this facility "rancho nacional".[3] Presidios were only accessible to Spanish military and soldiers.



North Africa:


United States

South Carolina[4]



  • The Presidio San Augustin, founded in 1565, which developed into the city of St. Augustine, ceded to Great Britain in 1763 and regained 20 years later
  • The Presidio San Mateo, founded in 1565 on the ruins of Fort Caroline, captured and destroyed by the French in 1568
  • The Presidio Ais, founded in 1565 on the Indian River Lagoon, abandoned after one month
  • The Presidio Santa Lucia, founded in 1565 near Cape Canaveral, abandoned four months later
  • The Presidio San Antonio de Padua, founded in 1566 at Calos, capital of the Calusa, abandoned in 1569
  • The Presidio Tocobaga, founded in 1567 on Tampa Bay, destroyed by the Tocobagas within ten months
  • The Presidio Tequesta, founded in 1567 on the site of what is now Miami, abandoned in 1568
  • The Presidio Santa Maria de Galve, founded in 1696, near Fort Barrancas at present-day Naval Air Station Pensacola; captured by French in 1719, Spanish relocated to Presidio Bahía San José de Nueva Asturias (see below)
  • The Presidio Bahía San José de Valladares, founded in 1701 on St. Joseph Bay, captured by French in 1718
  • The Presidio San Marcos de Apalachee, founded in 1718 at the existing port of San Marcos, which developed into the town of St. Marks, ceded to Great Britain in 1763 and regained 20 years later
  • The Presidio Bahía San José de Nueva Asturias, founded in 1719 on St. Joseph Point, abandoned when Spanish regained Pensacola Bay area from French in 1722, Spanish relocated to Presidio Isla Santa Rosa Punta de Siguenza (see below)
  • The Presidio Isla Santa Rosa Punta de Siguenza, founded in 1722 on Santa Rosa Island, destroyed by a hurricane in 1755, Spanish relocated to Presidio San Miguel de Panzacola (see below)
  • The Presidio San Miguel de Panzacola, founded in 1755, which developed into the city of Pensacola, ceded to Great Britain in 1763 and regained 20 years later


  • The Presidio Nuestra Señora del Pilar de los Adaes, founded in 1721 near the present-day Robeline


New Mexico

  • The Presidio Santa Cruz de la Cañada, in Santa Cruz




Presidios were established in frontier regions in northern Mexico to control and confine rebellious indigenous tribes.[5] Captured indigenous warriors were confined and enslaved at the presidio.[6]




  • The Presidio de El Paso del Río Grande del Norte (1683 - 1773), at Ciudad Juárez, across the river from El Paso, Texas. Later relocated south in 1773 to Carrizal.
  • The Presidio de San Felipe y Santiago de Janos (1691-?), in Janos.
  • The Presidio de Casas Grandes (1686), was relocated to Janos in 1691.
  • The Presidio de San Francisco de Conchos, founded in 1685 at San Francisco de Conchos.
  • The Presidio de San Bartolomé (? - 1710), located 20 km east of Parral. Replaced by flying squadron operating from the Post of Valle de San Bartolomé (1710 - ?).
  • The Presidio de Nuestra Señora de las Caldas de Guajoquilla, founded in 1752 in Jiménez
  • The Presidio de San Fernando de Carrizal (1758 - ?)


  • The Presidio del Santísimo Sacramento del Valle de Santa Rosa, founded in 1780 in Melcho Muzquiz, Coahuila
  • The Presidio San Juan Bautista del Río Grande, founded around 1703 in San Juan Bautista, now the present-day Guerrero, Coahuila
  • The Presidio San Antonio Bucareli de la Babia, founded in 1774 in present-day La Babia, Coahuila
  • The Presidio San Gregorio de Cerralvo, founded in 1626 in Nuevo Leon, Mexico





Further reading

  • Moorhead, Max L. The Presidio: Bastion of the Spanish Borderlands. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press 1975.
  • Rene Javellana, S. J. Fortress of Empire. Ateneo de Manila University Press 1997.


Gerald, Rex E. (1968) Spanish Presidios of the Late Eighteenth Century in Northern New Spain. Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe.

  1. "presidio — Diccionario de la lengua española, Edición del Tricentenario". RAE (in Spanish). Retrieved October 28, 2017.
  2. "Real Fighting". 2008-02-21. Archived from the original on February 21, 2008. Retrieved 2015-12-01.
  3. Ranchos of California: Extracts from: Grants of land in California made by Spanish or Mexican authorities, by Cris Perez Boundary Determination Office State Lands Commission Boundary Investigation Unit August 23, 1982. Berkeley Library website.
  4. Childers, Ronald Wayne (2004). "The Presidio System in Spanish Florida 1565-1763". Historical Archaeology. 38 (3): 24–32. JSTOR 25617178.
  5. "Spanish policymakers also decided to set up a line of presidios stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This presidial line was very close to today’s international border between Mexico and the United States." Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (p. 198). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  6. "As the eighteenth century unfolded, military garrisons and soldiers superseded the missions as the lynchpins of Spain’s efforts to stabilize the frontier. With the new approach came new forms of coercion. The word “presidio” captures the dual purpose of garrison and prison." Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (p. 205). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
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