Group Title: Historic St. Augustine: Benet Store
Title: St. Augustine, 1839-1841
Full Citation
Permanent Link:
 Material Information
Title: St. Augustine, 1839-1841
Series Title: Historic St. Augustine: Benet Store
Physical Description: Report
Language: English
Copyright Date: Public Domain
Physical Location:
Box: 6
Divider: Block 13 Lot 8
Folder: Benet Store
Subject: Saint Augustine (Fla.)
62 Saint George Street (Saint Augustine, Fla.)
Benet Store (Saint Augustine, Fla.)
Spatial Coverage: North America -- United States of America -- Florida -- Saint Johns -- Saint Augustine -- 62 Saint George Street
Coordinates: 29.895679 x -81.313201
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00094791
Volume ID: VID00016
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: B13-L8

Full Text


P. 0. BOX 1987


Miss Joyce E. Harman
74 B Marine Street
St. Augustine, Florida 32084

Dear Miss Harman:

The following manuscripts prepared by you as Historian of
the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board will not be
published or copyrighted by the Board, but the material
contained therein will be available for use by researchers
subject to the customary professional standards and ethics:

S1. Population Chronology and Report on First Spanish Period.

1.0 Provisioning Chronology and Report on First Spanish Period.

L3. Salcedo House Study.

"4. Benet Family Study.

15. Circa 1750.

6. St. Augustine, 1839 1841.

Si ere ,

Jkn W. Griff Director
His ric St. Augustine
Preservation Board



By 1839 Saint Augustine and the Floridas had been a part of the
United States for only eighteen years. The accession by the United States
in 1821 had removed the area from the "vicissitudes of international
affairs"'1 after some two hundred and fifty- six years of international and
intercolonial strife and intrigue between the major colonial powers of
Europe. The newly-acquired territory had been a colony of Spain for
some two hundred and thirty-six years, 1565- 1763, and 1783-1821, and
for a brief period, 1763- 1783, a colony of Great Britain. Spain by 1839
had lost most of her colonies in the Americas and was emerging at home
from a bitter Civil War (the Carlist War 1834- 1839) between the conser-
vative and liberal factions in the country. 2 Great Britain, however, was
at the beginning of her Victorian Era (1837- 190 1). The young Victoria
had ascended to the throne two years earlier at the age of eighteen. On
February 10, 1840, she married her first cousin, Albert of Saxe-Coburg-
Gotha. 3

The United States to which the Floridas now belonged in 1839 was on
the eve of a Presidential election. The Whigs met on December 4, 1839,
at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and picked William Henry Harrison of Ohio
to be their candidate. The Whigs considered Harrison a good contender--
in spite of his lack of substantial qualifications as a public servant--since
he was a military hero with no important political enemies and had received
an encouraging number of votes in 1836. The Whigs did not adopt a platform,
but based their appeal on "common opposition" to the Democrats.

The Democrats met in Baltimore and agreed to renominate Martin
Van Buren. They adopted a platform declaring their adherence to strict
constructionist doctrine, opposition to Congressional interference with
slavery (thereby first introducing the question of slavery into the platform
of a major political party) opposition to a national bank and internal im-
provements at Federal expense, and affirmation to the principles of the
Declaration of Independence.

The "'Log Cabin and Hard Cider" campaign introduced the campaign
slogan, featured the Whigs (who steered away from clear declaration on all
the major issues) singing "Tippecanoe and Tyler too" with its refrain of
"Van, Van is a used up man, and used many of the devices now familiar
in election contests--hats, floats, placards, emblems, huge rallies, and,
in 1840, transportable log cabins complete with coonskins and barrels of
cider. 4


Saint Augustine, now a "sleepy American town" instead of a
"sleepy Spanish town, was somewhat off the beaten path in the rapidly
growing and westward expanding United States. 5 It was, however, caught
up in the politics of the period. The town had two newspapers, the
Florida Herald and Southern Democrat devoted to the principles of the
Van Buren administration- -Democracy, anti-bankism, anti-bondism--
and the News somewhat governed by the "reverse principles" according
to the Democratic paper. 6 Many of the territory's political leaders
flocked to the Whig party and for the first time in the history of the ter-
ritory two distinct political parties emerged. Newly-converted Florida
Whigs accused the Van Buren administration of putting the political cam-
paign before the successful conclusion of the hostilities in Florida 7 and
this was a major issue in the territory.

The Floridians complained bitterly about their war. The Florida
Herald and Southern Democrat expressed almost weekly dissatisfaction
at the insecurity of the people in the territory. The newspaper charged
that the Indians, exasperated at their "supposed" wrongs, committed their
"depredations with impunity" and nothing was done about it. 8 The Herald
carried an article in October, 1839, suggesting in part that

If the Indians will not remove,
Government had better buy out the
Floridians. They will accept the same
terms; give their property for a fair
valuation, ask twelve months rations,
and remove to the West rather than be
nightly exposed to the tomahawk
and scalping-knife. 9

Consequently, this was a period of "turmoil, danger and difficulty"
for Saint Augustine. 10 The town's two newspapers were full of the Indian
atrocities and crying out for relief. The Indians plundered and burned out-
lying plantations and killed settlers and soldiers alike. Travel even a few
miles outside of Saint Augustine was risky without an armed guard.

The Seminoles were ubiquitous. In February, 1840, they attacked
and killed two mail carriers within a few miles of the town. 11 On May 23,
1840, a band of about fifteen Seminoles in full war paint under Coacoochee
(Wild Cat) attacked a theatrical troop from Savannah about seven or eight
miles outside the city. The actors under the management of W. C. Forbes
were on their way to Saint Augustine to join the rest of their company for a
two weeks' engagement. They were traveling in a two-horse carriage and
a large wagon along with their costumes, scenery and two additional pas-
sengers. A second wagon, belonging to the U. S. Service, came upon the


scene and was caught up in the fracas. Five men, including a young German
musician belonging to Fobres' company lost their lives. Coacoochee was
seen several months after this particular massacre attired in the costume
of the Prince of Denmark which had been among the items taken by the
Indians. 12

When Van Buren lost the election the following fall, some like Con-
gressman Joshua Giddings of Ohio claimed that one of the factors which
defeated him was the Seminole War in Florida. Foes charged that it had
been waged both "extravagantly and fruitlessly. "13 Thus the Whigs elected
their "sturdy son of the Frontier. "

The center for military operations in north central Florida, Saint
Augustine was once again a garrison town. The influx of troops and
refugees from the slowly developing hinterland brought some economic
benefits to the community which had been in a "languishing state" due to a
severe frost in 1835 which destroyed most of the area's orange trees. This
had wiped out overnight the only "considerable source" of cash income for
the town and plunged it into a period of slow development; coincidentally, the
freeze was the same year that the Second Seminole War broke out.

Exactly how many people came to Saint Augustine because of the Indian
war is uncertain. However, the town- enjoyed a "brief bustle" similar to7
the one of the Revolutionary War years when many of the Loyalists flooded
into the then British colony. Troops moved into the old barracks and the
poorly kept fort became a jail for captured Seminoles--including, of course,

The total population, however, dropped in the decade 1830- 1840 from
2, 544 to 2, 352. The 1840 census showed that 1, 369 were White, 110 were
free Negroes, and 863 were slaves. The decline in the first group was
possibly the result of the economic situation after the 1835 freeze and also
the Indian troubles. The decline in the last two groups was perhaps due to
the fact that some of them joined the Seminoles. 15

A contemporary, John Bemrose, described the population of Saint
Augustine in this decade as being one-third American, one-third Minorcan,
and one-third Spanish with a few French and a "good many" Colored people.
Bemrose, an Englishman who served as an enlisted soldier in Florida during
the Seminole war, pictured the Minorcans as a "friendly and simple-minded"
people who spoke a broken English not unpleasant to the ear. Their young
women, he noted, were good-looking with black eyes and long black hair,
and a "countenance usually wearing a smile of contentment, through absence
of anxiety as to their wants, which are few. "


The Spanish, he said, were fond of serenading and Bemrose told of
following along in the rear of such a party which usually consisted of half a
dozen musicians. Af ter the music ceased, the lover would step up to the
front under the window of his sweetheart, gracefully doff his straw hat, and
wish her goodnight. Masquerades, dancing, billiards and showy funerals
were common, too, according to him. The young Englishman saw the
public auction of human beings but once during his stay in Saint Augustine
and that was "once too many" for him. 16

Saint Augustine society with its mixture of American, Spanish, and
Minorcan families offered the visitor, according to another contemporary,
"refined intelligence, "polished manners, and "elegant hospitalities. "1T
Balls, open houses, and other fetes brought the officers of the United States
army and the pretty Spanish and Minorcan girls together. The girls were
"so pretty" and the officers "so lonesome" that several marriages resulted--
although the commanding officers warned against such marriages. 18 The
officers and troops, of course, contributed to the gaiety of the social life. 19

The town itself in 1839 had narrow but regular steets without sidewalks
or pavements. Some two to four inches of loose rolling sand covered the
surface of the streets. There were new houses under construction, however,
and new sections opening up. North City had several new houses, Oneida
was laid off into lots, and the Heights of San Sebastian were up for sale.

Most of the homes in the city had large gardens surrounded by orange
trees and many of them were entirely covered with the trees. The orange
groves were only a few years old since they had been recently related (after
the freeze of 1835) and only the largest ones were in bloom. Their owners,
however, expected to make their fortunes from them. The mulberry tree
was popular too, at this period and some of the inhabitants expected to make
their fortunes from its cultivation. The city and surrounding countryside
abounded in peaches, figs, pomegranates, limes, grapes etc. too. Many
of the inhabitants made a living from fishing and hunting wild deer.

Saint Augustine boasted three churches, "one steeple and turret
crowned, two grave yards, two printing offices publishing two newspapers,
one bank, both a reading room and a circulating library, seminaries, a
dancing school, a number of grocery, liquor and dry goods stores, a soda
fountain, two ice-cream establishments, a Beef Steak and Oyster House,
traveling art exhibits, and, of course, touring theatre troups. The town had
six physicians, twelve lawyers, "lots of loafers" and "sundry" places where
gentleman could drink, discuss politics, and "critically investigate their
Neighbors business, to the great benefit of their own. "

The oldest city had some of the "prettiest women in creation" too,
according to the News. The ladies were free to promenade on the Sea
Wall since the exercise and sa air added roses to their cheeks; but their
place was definitely at home. No in-door household work was '"re-'
pugnant to a modest and sensible woman, the News reminded them.
The Florida Herald and Southern Democrat agreed wholeheartedly with
a sister New York publication that a lady unsexed herself by attending
public conventions of females "upon subjects the discussion and regula-
tion of which belong to men. Such a creature forfeited the "delicate
reserve with which the sex should be treated. If she chose to "mix in
politics instead of mixing puddings" she must expect to be treated as if
she stood in "boots and pantaloons. ,22

By the =nmmaz r of 1839 the steam boat Southerner was plying weekly
between Charlestown and Saint Augustine23 bringing invalids and other
visitors to the city. Early publicity claimed that the sub-tropical climate
was healthful especially for those suffering from respiratory diseases and
it also offered the advantages of a winter resort to healthier visitors.

The tourist trade then had its beginnings around 1840. By this time
the city had increased its accommodations--there was the Magnolia House
(which had recently added seventeen new rooms), the Florida House (which
had undergone complete repair with new furniture, bedding, etc.), the City
Hotel, and comfortable private residences where rooms could be had. The
town enjoyed a tourist boom in this decade, especially after the settlement
of the Seminole war in 1842 and the achievement of statehood in 1845. This
boom lasted up until the time of the Civil War. 24

Joyce Elizabeth Harman
Historic Saint Augustine
Preservation Board
November, 1971


1. John Robert Dunkle, "St. Augustine, Florida: A Study in
Historical Geography" (unpublished Ph. D. dissertation, Clark University,
1955), p. 129. (Hereafter cited as Dunkle.)

2. William L. Langer, ed., An En'cyclopedia of World History
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1948), 1. 645. (Hereafter cited as

3. Ibid., p. 609.

4. Richard B. Morris, ed., Encyclopedia of American History
(New York: Harper & Bros., 1953), 11. 182-83.

5. Dunkle, p. 129.

6. Florida Herald and Southern Democrat (Saint Augustine),
July 5, 1839, pp. 2-3. (Hereafter cited as Herald.)

7. John K. Mahon, History of the Second Seminole War, 1835- 1842
(Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1967), 1. 292. (Hereafter cited
as Mahon.)

8. Herald, July 18, 1839, 1. 3; November 14, 1839, p. 2.

9. Herald, October 10, 1839, p. 3.

10. Dunkle, pp. 139-40.

11. Herald, February 20, 1840, p. 1.

12. Luis R. Arana, ed., "Massacre of Theatrical Troupe in 1840, "
El Escribano, IV (July, 1967), 8- 11; Herald, May 29, 1840, p. ; The News
(Saint Augustine), May 29, 1840, p. (hereafter cited as News).

13. Mahon, p. 292.

14. Morris, 11. 182-83.

15. Dunkle, pp. 139-40.

16. John Bemrose, Reminiscences of the Second Seminole War,
ed., by John K. Mahon (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1966),
pp. 9-13.

17. Jacob Rhett Motte, Journey into Wilderness, ed. by James F.
Sunderman (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1953), p. 112.

18. Mahon, p. 131.

19. J. T. Van Campen, St. Augustine, Florida's Colonial Capital
(Third Printing; Saint Augustine; Saint Augustine Historical Society, 197 1),
p. 62.

20. J. Carver Harris, ed., "Saint Augustine, ca. 1838- 1839, "
El Escribano, I (April, 1960) 6-8. (Hereafter cited as "Saint Augustine, ca.
1838- 1839.)

21. News, February 7, 1840, p. 1.

22. Herald, February 20, 1840, p. 1.

23. "Saint Augustine ca. 1838- 1839. "

24. Dunkle, pp. 141-43.

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