The Story of Jonathan Dickinson
Jonathan Dickinson, an English planter from Jamaica, took passage with his
wife and child on the ship Reformation in 1696. The Reformation was part of a
convoy headed for Philadelphia in the colony of Pennsylvania. It never got there.
On September 23rd and 24th a terrible storm out of the northeast broke up the
convoy. The Reformation ran aground on the coast of Florida near today's
Jupiter Inlet. Its twenty-five crewmembers and passengers made it safely to
shore. But they would not be safe for very long. Dickinson helped the
commander of the Reformation, Joseph Kirle, gather together provisions and
build shelter. The other survivors consisted of the ship's crew (six men), the
master's boy, a slave named Ben who belonged to Captain Kirle, Dickinson's
wife Mary, their baby boy, their relative Benjamin Allen, another passenger
named Robert Barrow (a Quaker preacher), and ten slaves belonging to
Dickinson (four men, a boy, and five woman). There was also an Indian girl.
These people were all in a great deal of trouble. They were deep in the
Indian territory of Florida and far from help. The nearest European settlement,
the Spanish town of St. Augustine, was 230 miles away on foot! And the Indians
living around Jupiter Inlet, a people known as the Jobe (pronounced HOBE),
were not happy to see strangers in their land. They seized all the survivors,
stripped them of their cloths, and took everything else that washed ashore from
the wreck. "Nickaleer, Nickaleer" they kept shouting out ("Englishmen!
Englishmen!"). The survivors of the Reformation were terrified the Indians would
kill them. They decided to pose as Spaniards. Solomon Cresson, a sailor who
could speak Spanish, told the Indians that the Reformation was not an English
ship. They were all Spanish settlers, he said, and wanted to go to St. Augustine.
This made some difference. The Indians did not completely believe Cresson, but
they did not want any trouble from the Spanish soldiers and settlers living in St.
Augustine. They decided not to harm the survivors and told them they should go
south toward Havana, Cuba, to find help. This the passengers would not do.
They told the Indians they needed to go north and find St. Augustine. The
Indians did not seem pleased with this. Eventually, though, they let the captives
So began an ordeal that would go on for 49 days (from September 28th until
November 15th) as Dickinson and the others struggled up Florida's east coast.
They managed to salvage a boat from the Reformation. It leaked, but could hold
five or six people. Part of the group-the injured, the weak, and those who knew
how to sail or paddle-went by boat along the coast. The others walked along
the beach within sight of the boat. It was a hot Florida September and everyone
grew weak from thirst. Sometimes the Indians would hold one or two people
back, and the group began to break up into different parties.
For almost a month, they traveled like this, passing into the lands of another
Indian people, the Ais (pronounced Ah-EES), and stopping when they could at
Indian towns. But whenever they reached an Indian town, the people accused
them of being "Nickaleers" and would help them only a little. The Jobe had taken
most of the group's cloths. The men had only breeches and bits of sailcloth for
shirts. The women had some of their clothing from the ship, and some deerskins
they received from the wife of an Indian chief. By late October, as the weather
was becoming chilly, exposure to cold became a problem. At night they slept in
the open, with no coats or blankets to keep warm, and no fire if it rained. It was
hard to find food and fresh water, and everyone grew thin and sick. The land,
too, changed. They had to walk barefoot through marshes and swamps.
Week after week, they pushed on, the sick and injured taken by boat, the rest
on foot. On day they passed the wreck of another ship. The Ais had taken the
survivors- six men and a woman-as prisoners. They would not release them
because they were "English"-enemies. So, more than ever, the survivors of the
Reformation had to convince all the Indians they were Spaniards. Otherwise
they too might face death.
The long journey was especially hard on the women and children. On
November 13th, still two days away from safety in St. Augustine, people began to
die. Benjamin Allen, a relative of Dickinson's, collapsed with fever and cold.
Two male slaves, Jack and Cesar, and a woman slave, Quenza, died from
exposure. Hagar, another of the woman among the slaves, carried the dead
body of her young son until he could be buried. Dickinson's own wife, Mary,
spent part of the journey trying to keep others on their feet, but she also had to
carry and protect their baby boy. By the time the group finally stumbled into St.
Augustine on November 15th, they were close to dying.
All of this Dickinson later wrote down. His book God's Protecting Providence
was published in 1699. It is one of the first "true adventure" stories of American
history and today is usually known as "Jonathan Dickinson's Journal."
Jonathan Dickinson's Journal or God's Protecting Providence.
Edited by Evangeline Walker Andrews and Charles McLean Andrews, with a
foreword and new introduction by Leonard W. Labaree. Yale University
Press, New Haven, Conn. 1945. Reprinted 1985 by Florida Classics Library,
Port Salerno, Fla.
"Suffering of the Shipwrecked Quakers," by Frederik de Coste. In True Tales of
Old St. Augustine, pp. 31-35, Great Outdoors Publishing Company, St.
Petersburg, Fla., and the St. Augustine Historical Society, 1966.
"Jonathan Dickinson," by Maurice O'Sullivan and Jack C. Lane. In The Florida
Reader: Visions of Paradise from 1530 to the present, pp. 41-42. Pineapple
Press, Sarasota, 1991.
See the entire "Journal" online (1759 edition)
* Florida State University copy
* Same version, through PALMM Florida Heritage Collections
Excerpts from "Jonathan Dickinson's Journal"