A History of Saint Augustine, Florida
© 1881 William Dewhurst
St. Augustine is the oldest European city in North America, founded by the Spanish in 1565. Sitting at the mouth of the St. John river in northern Florida, it originally served to help defend Spanish ships from mischievous English pirates. Its history offers students a view at the turbulent story of Florida during the colonial period; first an object of fixation to Spain, France, and Great Britain, and later on one to Spain, Great Britain, and the United States. Although Dewhurst’s A History of Saint Augustine, Florida is an older work, a product of the 19th century, modern readers will find its author’s hatred of slavery and defense of native Seminoles, Creeks a refreshing departure from that century’s usual conceits. It combines colonial history with accounts both tedious and fascinating, and is largely more about colonial affairs using the city than about civic life.
I didn’t realize until reading this how little I have ever thought of historic Florida. During the American Revolution, for instance, it was technically an English possession, a colony even; but because England had acquired Florida from Spain so recently (1763, a hair over ten years before), and because the initial governors scared all the Spanish away, England had to repopulate the peninsula with new settlers– and not just English-types and Scots, but Greeks. These newcomers shared no history or notion of common struggle with the northern colonies, and so when thirteen of their neighbors became states, the Floridians ignored invitations to the Continental Congress. Less is said about St. Augustine during the Civil War, for the city was captured by the US Navy before the war was a year old. Those who despised the thought of living under foreign rule left the city, leaving a few loyal Unionists and a larger population who didn’t care one way or another. The author ends the book by saying that Jacksonville’s railroad connection to St. Augustine will keep it popular as a health resort, winter haven, and site of tourism.
This little introduction to St. Augustine has only confirmed my realization (in reading The Spanish Frontier in North America) that Florida’s colonial history warrants more attention! I will be visiting St. Augustine within a few month’s time, so do not be surprised to see more histories of Florida and St. Augustine in the weeks to come…