After the Spanish exodus St. Augustine was repopulated by British soldiers, planters and loyalists from the other English American colonies. The population of St. Augustine grew dramatically after the beginning of the American revolution, as British loyalists fled to Florida, which was one of the few remaining sanctuaries.
A large group of Minorcan farmers and fishermen also arrived after 1777, refugees from a failed colony at New Smyrna in Florida. Several hundred Indians of Creek origin, who were by then called Seminoles, also came to St. Augustine, many of them settling in the abandoned mission villages around the city.
The African population also grew, and several hundred enslaved laborers of African origin, and a smaller number of free black and mixed-blood artisans and laborers lived in St. Augustine during the British occupation.
A great many African slaves escaped and fled to the Florida interior to live with Creek-Seminole Indian groups. St. Augustine was a polyglot, multi-ethnic community, but with the English firmly seated at the top of the social and economic ladders.
Juan Triay was born in Ciudadela , Minorca in 1754. He arrived in Florida at the age of fourteen, as a member of Turnbull’s New Smyrna expedition. He was also one of the 600 people who made the trek to St. Augustine in 1777, where he lived on north St. George Street, and farmed land north of the city. Five years after coming to St. Augustine, he married another Minorcan refugee, Juana Ximénez, who was a widow with a five year old son. Their wedding may have occasioned a sansarasca (sherivaree in English), which consisted of two or three days of noise-making, buffoonery and tricks by the young men of the community when a widow or widower remarried. The couple had three more sons over the next four years, and acquired more farmland and one slave.
Thomas Browne was a plantation owner in Georgia when the Revolutionary War broke out. In the manner of Turnbull’s New Smyrna venture, Browne had enlisted a number of colonists from England to farm the plantation, and rumors abounded of his cruelty to the workers. As a staunch Loyalist, Browne suffered at the hands of the American rebels. The Sons of Liberty captured and pillaged his plantation, and Browne himself was tarred, feathered, tortured and scalped three times by them. He survived and reached St. Augustine where, craving retribution, he helped organize the East Florida Rangers militia, and was appointed a colonel. The rangers, dressed in buckskin uniforms, patrolled the frontier and raided farms and settlements, often scalping rebel sympathizers. As Revolutionary action reached the Georgia-Carolina backcountry, the Rangers were able to engage in skirmishes with rebel supporters, with what vengeance we can only imagine.
Benedita was born in 1772 in the New Smyrna colony. Her parents, Bartolomé and María Usina , were original members of Turnbull’s expedition, and joined the refugee group that fled to St. Augustine in 1777, when Benedita was just five. Her younger sister was born seven years later in 1784. The family occupied (as squatters) a Crown-owned lot on today’s Spanish Street and built a wood and thatch house there. Bartolomé farmed land to the north of St. Augustine, and by 1803 was able to buy the property legally. When Benedita was fourteen, although unmarried, she was listed as living with a neighboring family perhaps to help out in the house, or perhaps because of other family problems. She married Antonio Pons when she was fifteen, which was about a year older than the average age of marriage for Minorcan girls at that time. Pons had a farm in New Smyrna, and he took Benedita back to live with him there.
The following resources include only a few of the many works that have been written on these topics. We have chosen those you see here because they are relatively recent (or have continued as enduring classics), they are published in easily accessible formats, and they are generally non-technical in their presentation. These sources will also lead you to many more popular and scholarly publications on these topics.
Most of these resources can be found through your public library. Other useful sites for locating many of these readings include the University Press of Florida and the St. Augustine Historical Society. For a complete list of archaeological sources, visit the Florida Museum Historical Archaeology site.
On the British period and the Minorcans
Fabel, Robin. 1996 British Rule in the Floridas In The new history of Florida. edited by M. Gannon. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. pp. 134-49.
Notes: An overview of British policy and practice in both East and West Florida.
Griffin, Patricia. 1990 Mullet on the Beach:The Minorcans of Florida 1768-1788. St. Augustine: St. Augustine Historical Society. (Volume 27 of El Escribano)
Notes: The most up-to date and authoritative treatment of the Minorcan experience in both New Smyrna and in St. Augustine.
Leitch-Wright, John. 1975 British St. Augustine. St. Augustine: Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board.
Notes: An accessible and popularly-written synthesis of life in British St. Augustine, by one of the leading scholars of this era.
Manucy, Albert. 1962 The Houses of St. Augustine. St. Augustine Historical Society, St. Augustine, Florida.
Notes: Contains well-illustrated discussions of St. Augustine’s architecture during the British period.
Schaefer, Dan. 1983 “…not so gay a Town in America as this…” 1763-1784. In The Oldest City . edited by J. Waterbury. St. Augustine Historical Society, St. Augustine. pp. 91-124
Notes: A non-technical, treatment of St. Augustine’s British period history by a leading historian of the English in East Florida.
Quinn, Jane. 1975 The Minorcans in Florida: Their History and Heritage. St. Augustine: Mission Press.
Notes: A popular account of the Minorcans in Florida.
On the black residents of St. Augustine after the first Spanish period
Landers, Jane. 1996 Free and Slave. In The new history of Florida. edited by M. Gannon. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. pp. 167-182.
Notes: Provides an overview of the black experience in colonial Florida.
Landers, Jane G.. 1999 Black society in Spanish Florida. Chicago: The University of Illinois Press.
Notes: The most comprehensive and authoritative source on the black residents of St. Augustine throughout the colonial era.
On the origins of the Seminole People
Mahon, John and Brent Weisman. 1996 Florida’s Seminole and Miccosukee Peoples. In The new history of Florida. edited by M. Gannon. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. pp.183-206.
Notes: A summary of research on the history and archaeology of the Florida Seminole People.
Weisman, Brent. 1989 Like beads on a string: a culture history of the Seminole Indians in north peninsular Florida. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.
Notes: A comprehensive archaeological and ethnohistorical study of the origins and history of the Seminole Indians.