Part 2: Multi-ethnic Beginnings

Journey 2016

Watch and read: Part 2 (6:52 minutes)

This is the Archives of the Diocese of St. Augustine. Inside its walls are the oldest American documents in the United States. It is here where researchers like Dr. Francis gain insight into America’s first colony and its’ multi-ethnic beginnings.

Something you notice immediately going through the parish records is how often you see marriage unions between Spaniards, other Europeans and Africans.

Hidden for centuries in the archive records are scenes like this Spanish colonial wedding. 

And it’s ubiquitous in the records, they’re everywhere from the early period all the way through to the 18th century. There are large numbers of unions,  between predominantly of course African women and European men.

While these interracial marriages largely occurred between Spanish soldiers and others who didn’t have noble blood lines to protect, it would still be some 400 years later that these same marriages would need to get Supreme Court Approval in order to be accepted in all 50 of the United states.

Part of the main missions given to the St. Augustine colonists was to spread the catholic faith in the New World. This document dates back to 1606. It denotes the baptism of a free black child in Spanish Florida before Jamestown was founded.

You mentioned that we have those sacramental records of baptisms of Blacks and Indians and such. It was just, if I may say, the normal course of events because this was the responsibility that the Spanish colonists were given and they took it quite seriously.

By the late 1600’s, the colony of St. Augustine had been in existence for over a century and was continuing to grow and thrive as a multi-racial, multi-cultural society. But, this version of Spanish Florida might never have existed.

In 1565 Pedro Menendez de Aviles signed a contract with the Spanish Crown. In that contract Menendez was assigned 500 slaves to Florida with the idea that those slaves would work on developing a sugar plantation economy for northeast Florida. Now that economy never unfolded, Menendez never brought 500 slaves to Florida. In fact, in the entire first Spanish period there are never 500 slaves in Spanish Florida.

St. Augustine certainly had it share of slaves, but newly discovered documents show that during these early years, the slave owners were as mixed as the slaves themselves.

Here in St. Augustine among the Spaniards there were white slaves, galley slaves, people who had committed a crime and were sentenced to 5 years in the galleys, they were slaves then.

Anyone could be a slave, Christian, Jew, Moore, you could be enslaved and likely would be enslaved if you were captured in warfare for example.  It was considered a punishment.  But it was not considered a status into which you were born.

Most of the slaves that were brought to Spanish Florida were domestic slaves or royal slaves who had very specific, highly refined skills.

African women, for example, you see them performing tasks as domestic servants. You also see African women in the late 16th Century/early 17th century who serves really as the first nurse in the hospital of Santa Barbara in St. Augustine

By the mid-to-late 1700s… Their mission of keeping La Florida to themselves had failed… and a plantation economy took root in the Carolinas.  For Blacks, there were now two Americas, one

English, one Spanish.. and the difference between them could not be more striking.

First thing we have to understand is that the Spanish and the English had two very different ideas for North America.

The English tried to colonize North America with, at first, indentured servants and a promise of 7 years of labor. What they will find is that being a slave for 7 years, it might as well be a lifetime and half of them will die and that the first slaves in North America were Native Americans.  And that the people working the fields as un-free people in Jamestown,were both red, black and white.

 Once the English began to say that our survival depends upon this stable labor supply.  there was nothing that was “out-of-bounds” in terms of their morality as well. Because it all came down to their survival. This is how we are going to live and survive.

Slaves had guaranteed rights under Spanish legal codes. Families, for example, were not to be split or separated.

You yourself would know that if you lived under a system where your family could be broken up and sold for sale. If you have that fear that your child could be sold. That is a true definition of chattel slavery.

Slaves were not ignorant, by far they did not live in a vacuum. They were well aware of the world and the surroundings around them, they just did not have the ability to change it.  

And there are plenty of instances throughout St. Augustine’s early history where slaves petition, they lobby, they sue, often successfully for freedom.

Now, the Spanish did not shy away from large scale, ruthless enslavement of Natives or Africans. Prior to colonizing Spanish Florida, their conquest approach to colonization included large-scale destruction and mass murder in the Caribbean, Mexico and Latin America.

So while it is true that Spanish Florida slaves had pathways to freedom, it would be wrong to think or believe that slavery under Spanish rule was somehow better than the unending brutality African slaves endured under British or American Rule.

Next, Carolina slaves hear about a better life in Spanish Florida and risk their lives for a chance at freedom… 

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