Minorcans of Old St. Augustine
Spain, Her Colonies, Her Regions and Menorca
Spain is composed of many regions, each with their own dialect, customs and peculiarities. Most of the Spanish colonists in the New World, were from the predominantly light skinned regions of Castile, Aragon, Navarre and Extremadura. Reason being, that these lands belonged directly to the Spanish monarch as did the colonies. In other words, technically speaking, the colonies did not belong to Spain, but to her king or queen.
Our ancestors, the Menorcans, were and are an olive skinned lot, having had contact with neighboring lands from the time of the Phoenicians; well before the birth of Christ. Her people are of hearty peasant stock, and never were brass helmeted, gallant conquistadores. Her language is closest to that of the Spanish region of Cataluña, or Catalonia, the Capital of which is Barcelona. The island is located between Spain, France and Italy, being close neighbor to Sardinia and Corsica. Her people are much closer in language and culture to Barcelona than to Madrid.
Europe, America and the Conditions that Brought our Ancestors to Florida
In the mid1700's, Europe was involved in a series of wars that were to cause a remapping of her New World possessions. During the Seven Years War (it was called the French and Indian War in the New World), Spain was pitted against England with her other Catholic ally the French. Havana, Cuba was an important port on the Spanish trade routes with ships carrying silver and gold coming from what is now Mexico, Colombia and Peru on their way to Spain. Havana and the fortresses that guarded her, were indispensable to the integrity of the Spanish Main. Without Havana, the treasure fleets would be prey to raids by pirates and privateers. In a bold move, England laid siege to Havana and Cartagena de Indias. The invasion at Cartagena de Indias was prevented, but the Spanish were not so lucky in Cuba, and Havana fell to the English.
At the Treaty of Paris in 1763, it was determined by those powers involved in the war, that all of New France (present day Canada), the Spanish island of Menorca and the colony of Florida be awarded to the victor England. In return, Spain was to receive Havana from the British and the Louisiana Territory from her former ally the French in compensation for lands ceded to England.
St. Augustine and Spanish Florida
Spain's colony in Florida was merely the small outpost of St. Augustine; founded in 1565 to prevent France or England from settling the area. St. Augustine was more important as a military and naval base as it was close to the gulf stream which was the route of the treasure ships after they left Havana. Florida had few materials of any value to the Spanish and absolutely no gold nor silver. The only other settlement, and it was barely a settlement, besides St. Augustine was the one at Escambia Bay called Pensacola. St. Augustine was far larger, but neither colony paid its own way and was dependent on the situado, that is subsidy, from the Spanish crown. This money was dispersed from Mexico City via Havana and was often incomplete and slow in coming. St. Augustine and the rest of Florida was far down the list of colonial priorities. Spain's colonies were looked upon as producers of raw materials to be exploited by the mother country. Spain was not particularly interested in populating her colonies as was England.
In Comes England
Thus was the colony inherited by England in 1763. The English were much more interested in populating their colonies, as England's population had exploded and there was simply more people than land in the mother country. England saw Florida as a vast area waiting to be developed into a profitable colony filled with settlers producing products such as naval stores (lumber and pitch for ship building), indigo (a crop that produced a blue dye), corn as well as small amounts of cotton and sugar cane.
To facilitate settlement, the English crown began granting land free to wealthy investors who would develop the land and encourage settlement and product development.
Florida was split into two provinces, East Florida, with her capital at St. Augustine, and West Florida, with her capital at Pensacola. England sent James Grant as Governor of East Florida. Grant was a career colonial administrator, a bon vivant and general happy go lucky kind of fellow. The town of St. Augustine had been hastily evacuated by the Spanish who took with them many Indians who had converted to Catholicism. The town had few masonry buildings and most were wood with roofs made from palmetto leaves and even those structures were in very bad condition.
Governor Grant set about the renovation of the Government House and the construction of proper barracks for the soldiers. His extensive program of public works and his efforts to replace wooden structures with ones made of native coquina stone led to the St. Augustine of today that is extant from the colonial periods.
Governor Grant was a Scott, and one of his cronies from the old world was Dr. Andrew Turnbull, another physician and a Scott. Turnbull was quite wealthy and was looking at a means of expanding his fortunes. Grant saw to it that Turnbull was granted acreage at Los Mosquitos, the area which is now known as New Smyrna near Ponce de Leon Inlet.
Andrew Turnbull and Los Mosquitos
Turnbull was married to a native of Smyrna, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire. His wife, Maria Gracia DuraBin, encouraged him to take people from her homeland to settle their new property in British East Florida. Turnbull purchased vessels to collect settlers at Smyrna and carry them to Los Mosquitos.
At that particular time, trouble was brewing in another former Spanish territory inherited by the British. The island of Menorca was in the midst of a terrible drought which had provoked a sever famine on the island. Turnbull's partners suggested to Turnbull that he send his ship to Menorca to collect colonists as indentured servants. Indentured servants are individuals that agree to work for an employer for a specific period of time in return for passage to the New World and support services (tools, foodstuffs, ships, slaves, etc.) once there. Turnbull also promised them land at the expiration of their contracts. On his way to Menorca, Turnbull's ship stopped at Livorno (Leghorn), Italy, and Corsica. At these ports he also recruited settlers for his new venture. Among those from Smyrna, were Gaspar Papi, at Corsica , José Peso de Burgo. At Menorca, the Canova's, Segui's, Andreu's, Capella's, Mabrity's, Duran's, Capo's and Caules' boarded as well as other Menorcans. Additionally, he purchased some 1,000 African slaves to do the heavy work at Los Mosquitoes.
Founding of the New Smyrna Colony
Turnbull's ships left Gibraltar on April 17, 1768 carrying a total of 1,403 colonists. The settlers arrived at New Smyrna between June 26, 1768 and the following August as two ships had been blown of course due to storms. The settlers were packed into the ships in conditions hardly better than those that slaves endured.
Landing at Los Mosquitos, Turnbull christened the spot New Smyrna in honor of his wife's birth place. In reality, the only individuals born in Smyrna were Gaspar Papi and Mrs. Turnbull. The Menorcans were horrified by what they encountered. First of all, the ship carrying the African slaves had sunk in a hurricane while crossing the Atlantic. Secondly, Menorca has an arid climate and here the Menorcans encountered insects (mosquitoes in particular) and reptiles that they had never imagined. Turnbull had also not completed preparations for them and they had to live in palmetto shanties while the colony's carpenter went about the task of building dwellings, a warehouse and a mansion for Turnbull.
The work was hard and the Menorcans were not prepared to work from dawn to dusk without their siesta and Sunday leisure time. Food was limited and consisted mainly of a kind of gruel made from corn. The Menorcans were accustomed to a high protein diet and, although the Indian River was full of fish in greater quantities than they had known before, they were not permitted to fish until canals were dug and the indigo was planted. During the harvest time, fishing and hunting were also prohibited. Holy days were another important aspect of their culture and often involved feasting and parties. These too were outlawed for their entire time at New Smyrna.
Water was collected from shallow wells and purified by means of a porous rock cistern. It was not until the late 1800's that the relation of disease and water fouled by human feces and urine was discovered. The settlers died of dysentery and malaria by the hundreds in the first few years of the colony averaging 300 deaths per year. Whippings and beatings were common. There was more than one outright murder too.
Ruins of "Los Mosquitos"
New Smyrna Settlement
Dwellings were built in a linear fashion as opposed to being grouped in a circle. This inhibited any gathering or group activities at night after the chores were finished as there were roughly 160 houses lined up next to each other. The single men were all housed in a large dormitory and the families in their individual huts. Women worked the fields as did the men and even skilled laborers such as carpenters, shoemakers, and stone masons. These craftsmen were expected to work the fields and only practice their trade as required by the overseers.
As the years went by, settlers approaching Turnbull at the end of their contract were whipped and sometimes put in the stocks. Their contracts were also extended arbitrarily and many began to doubt if they would ever get the land and freedom that Turnbull had promised them
Trouble for Turnbull and Maria Gracia DuraBin
The indigo crop had been a success after the initial colony infrastructure had been completed. Turnbull though, not being a farmer, was ignorant of the need to rotate the fields as indigo farming will deplete the soil over time. The Menorcans attempted to explain this to Turnbull, but they were not believed by him and whipped for not cooperating. The Menorcans of course did as they were told and the crop was a disaster. In the meantime, Governor Grant left St. Augustine for Scotland for health matters and was replaced by Patrick Tonyn. Governor Tonyn's wife was considered a tramp by those in her social circle and when she called on Mrs. Turnbull and asked that she return the call, the invitation was ignored. Turnbull was also good friends with Tonyn's arch enemy Chief Justice Hume.
Talk of the improprieties at the colony spread like wildfire and Turnbull's partners in London were not happy with the dividends that the colony was returning. Turnbull and his wife left for England to smooth over matters with the partners leaving Turnbulls young nephew in charge of the enterprise.
About this time, the Indians, who still had a hate for the Spanish, were beginning to notice that the New Smyrna colonists spoke a language similar to Spanish. They assumed that the settlers were their enemies the Spanish and went to Governor Tonyn to complain. Governor Tonyn assured them that the settlers were not Spanish although similar in appearance and language to them.
The Indians were not particularly convinced and camped on the edge of the settlement. One night they entered the settlement and set about stealing food stores and scaring the settlers with war whoops and torches. That was the straw that broke the camels back. To live with the knowledge that they would probably never see freedom or call the land their own was enough; to be threatened by savages was too much.
In June of 1777, a visitor to the New Smyrna remarked that "it is fortunate for Turnbull that these people do not know their rights". A worker overheard this and went to tell the others. The settlers selected three men to go to St. Augustine and plead their case to Governor Tonyn. The men told the overseers that they were off to hunt, and took a skiff across the inlet. From the inlet, they walked along the beach so as to avoid detection by the overseers. They journeyed to St. Augustine walking all day and night with only sticks to protect them from marauding Indians.
Arriving at St. Augustine, they were given a warm welcome by Governor Tonyn and were supplied with food and clean clothes. Governor Tonyn listened closely to their predicament and issued a written order to Turnbull's nephew stating that all settlers must be freed immediately. The three men carried the order back to New Smyrna where they advised their friends and families as well as the small military garrison and Turnbull's nephew.
The exodus began and the settlers were followed up the highway by Turnbull's nephew who could only beg that they stay.
St. Auustine and the Return of Personal Freedom
Although they were away from Turnbull's yoke, the settlers, who by this time were called "Menorcans" whether they were from Smyrna, Greece, Italy or Menorca, were not to see an immediate end to hardship. Again they had to erect shanties of palmetto and mud as dwellings and many simply slept in the open with a blanket praying that it didn't rain. The Menorcans continued to die for the next year before their collective health improved and at that time there was a population boom. Roughly 600 were left to make it to St. Augustine and it is believed that another 150 stayed in New Smyrna hoping to claim their land. Assuming that the 150 did indeed stay at New Smyrna or settled elsewhere in the out back, the figures would indicate that nearly half the population, 700 individuals, died during their nine years in Turnbull's employ.
At the same time that the Menorcans arrived in their new home, to the north, in what would be the "Original Thirteen American Colonies", the War for Independence had begun. East Florida was intensely loyal to the British crown as hardly any English subjects had been there long enough to want independence. Governor Tonyn issued a proclamation to the colonies to the north reminding them that the Floridas were under British rule and that any English subjects willing to continue living under the British monarch were invited to come to East Florida.
St. Augustine was swamped with refugees from the north. Naturally there was a shortage of nearly everything, but the Menorcans, having arrived before the others, were at least able to stake out lots and abandoned houses. The Menorcans began to thrive, as many of the new refugees were town dwellers and, although skilled, were not farmers. The Menorcans took to the sea as they had done for so many centuries and supplied the town with fresh fish. Those that did not go to sea started small farms outside the city gates. These farms were within view of the Castillo (already 100 years old at that time) as the Indians were an ever increasing threat with so many whites moving through their lands on the way to St. Augustine.
Normalization of Life and a Future
In 1783, the American Revolution came to a close and the European powers again redrew the maps of the Americas and Europe. The French had sided with the American Revolutionaries and the Spanish had sided with the French. Being on the winning side, the Spanish were ceded both Menorca and the Floridas. Again, it was time for another exodus, but this time it was the Menorcans' turn to stay. Only two or three Englishmen remained and they too soon left. That is why the Menorcans are the oldest people in the oldest city in the United States, yet we have been here only since the 1700's.
The Menorcans were happy to be again under the Spanish crown and to have a Catholic sovereign and they told Carlos III in a memo they gave to the incoming Spanish governor, Vincente Zespedes.
As the years passed, life in general improved greatly for the Menorcans. As their health improved, a baby boom occurred and Menorcan woman were often pregnant and in the kitchen. As to being barefoot, we can only guess. Governor Zespedes wrote in 1787 that "a Menorcan with a wife and four or five children (these people are so prolific that one frequently sees a pregnant mother with a baby at the breast and leading another baby by the hand) does not even earn a peso fuerte a day". He had penned a more flattering description soon after his arrival in 1783:
"These Menorcans in general are an industrious people. Young and old, they have all retained their Catholic religion, even those reared among the English, and they make use of the mother tongue. Some are traders, others are farmers, still others occupy themselves with only fishing. There are very few craftsmen among them. Among the traders, there are some who have a capital of from 1,000 to 8,000 pesos, and some own sloops and schooners. The majority raise crops in the vicinity of the city, few or none owning land. They rent four or five fenegas (a fenega can be anywhere from a third of to one acre) of cleared land on which they raise Indian corn and some garden stuff".
The Spanish instituted a free public school upon their return to the Floridas and prohibited the young Menorcans from speaking their native dialect. Most likely because the teachers could not understand all that they said. The school teacher was Father Thomas Hassett, an Irish priest who could barely speak Spanish, much less the Catalán dialect of Menorquín. This school is noteworthy in that all children were welcome regardless of race or origin. This was the first public school in what is now the United States to provide schooling for Whites and Blacks at the same par.
There were exceptions to this view of impoverished Menorcans. Our ancestors José Peso de Burgo and Gaspar Papi did well for themselves even becoming "wealthy" in community standards. Some of the Segui's prospered as well in the years following the return of Spanish rule.
Into Modern Times, the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
The community was insular and marriage was generally within the Menorcan community. Members of the Canova and Andreu families have intermarried a total of four times over four hundred years! Others did marry into our family though. The Lawler (Irish) married into the Andreu's as well as a Spencer (English) and a Noda (Spanish) married into the Canova's.
Being, as we all are, people of the time in which they were born, the Menorcans supported the local politics and values of the era. They distinguished themselves as members of the St. Augustine Greys, a militia group that became part of the Confederate Army fighting in the major battles in Kentucky and Tennessee. Francisco P. Andreu (Born 1841) served and was incarcerated at Cairo, Illinois. He received a Confederate pension until his death in 1920. Many died but enough were taken captive and survived so that this article has been written. Overall, the Menorcans were fiercely loyal to the Southern cause as some, like Francisco A. Andreu and his wife Agueda, were slave owners. They were the parents of Francisco P. Andreu and owned a small plantation on the North River that was called Nueva Armenia.
When the Federal Army took St. Augustine, they raised the U.S. flag from the flagpole in the plaza. The Menorcan ladies, knowing that the Yankees dared not touch a woman in the public square, cut the flagpole into one inch pieces so that the flag could not be raised again. They also made a point of spitting at and insulting the Federal occupation forces at every opportunity. One Menorcan woman ("lady" may be an incorrect term), invited the Yankees to her home at Moccasin Branch for an evening of dancing. When they arrived, they were promptly ambushed by guerilla Confederate soldiers. Legend goes that this was not an accident and that the whole incident was planned.
The "Prince Murat House" , Associated Properties and Juan Climaco Canova
"Prince Murat House" 1974
250 St. George Street in 1989
At the time of this writing, the Daytona Beach Museum of Arts and Sciences is in the process of restoring several properties, there are eight, that were owned by the Canovas between 1839 and 1889. The properties are bounded by Cordova Street on the west, Bridge Street on the south and St. George Street on the east. The center piece of this collection of structures is the Prince Murat House which was built in 1790 and was used as an inn that temporarily housed Prince Achile Murat, son of the Crown Prince of Naples and the Two Sicilies and nephew of Napoleon I. Antonio Canova built both 42 and 46 Bridge Street. 42 Bridge Street was built for Antonio's son Paul and 46 Bridge Street for the eldest son John (Juan Climaco Canova). John moved to the Murat house in 1866 and 46 Bridge Street was conveyed to Ramón Canova. It is believed that Lucian Thomas Canova (father of Lucian Spencer Canova and son of John Canova) was born at 46 Bridge Street. Although these properties were all in family possession, only one house, 42 Bridge Street, will be known as the "Canova House".
Lucian Thomas Canova
L.T. Canova and Catherine Spencer
John Canova (Juán Climaco Canova) had many children, but we are directly descended from Lucian Thomas Canova, a.k.a., L.T. Canova . L.T. was born in St. Augustine in 1852 and in 1880 married Catherine Spencer of Savannah, Georgia. L.T. Canova was a successful businessman who owned a saloon (the first in Florida it is claimed) where the DeNoel French pastry shop is located now at the corner of Artillery Lane and Charlotte Street. He also had a brand of cigars "L.T. Canova Specials" which featured a picture of his son, Lucian Spencer Canova. He may also have had an interest in the Jacksonville Brewery
The history of the Menorcans continues to this day with descendants scattered across the United States and the world. It is a history rich in the drama of real life and a legacy of the early days of the nation.
Copyright 1998. Roy P. Bower
Rev. September 20, 1998
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