The Minorcans in Florida
The Peace of Paris in 1763 gave Florida to the British. When the British entered Florida they found it depopulated. To promote settlement the Proclamation of 1763 offered easy terms to prospective settlers who desired land grants. A Scottish physician, Dr. Andrew Turnbull, siezed this opportunity. Realizing that citizens from the British Isles might have difficulty with the heat and humidity in Florida he resolved to use Greeks, who were accustomed to such conditions and knew how to cultivate olives, cotton, madder, and tobacco, as settlers. He had experience with the Greeks as his wife was Greek. He received large grants of land near the Ponce de Leon Inlet (near present day Daytona). His plans called for 500 Greek settles to cultivate crops that would thrive in the Florida climate. He called his colony New Smyrna after the birth place of his wife.
Turnbull arrived at the port of Mahón on Minorca in June 1767. This was the perfect base for his operations. The island was owned by the British and the harbor of the port Mahón was deep and well sheltered. His original intention was to go to Greece to enlist immigrants, but he postponed his trip and instead went to Leghorn, Italy where he heard there were some Italians willing to immigrate to British East Florida. The Italians who signed on with Turnbull, all male, were transported to Minorca. In July Turnbull departed for the Levant. While he was on his voyage, his agents found a number of Greeks on the island of Corsica who were willing to join his venture. His recruiting efforts in Greece were much more difficult. Eventually about 200 Greeks from among the peoples of Mani in the Peloponnesos, and a handful of Greeks from a variety of other locations were recruited. Turnbull returned to Mahón in February only to find that many of the Itallians had married Minorcan women. An additional group of about one thousand Minorcans persuaded Dr. Turnbull to accept them as colonists. On 17 April 1768 Turnbull left Minorca with eight ships carrying 1403 colonists, almost three times more than his original plan.
The colony ran into problems almost immediately. A ship carrying supplies to the colony was shipwrecked before it reached the colony. 148 of the colonists died during the voyage from Minorca to New Smyrna. When the colonists finally reached the colony they were met by mangrove swamps. The land had not been cleared, and food was scarce. The swamps had to be cleared and shelter built for the colonists. Although there was an abundance of food in the area the colonists weren't allowed the time to gather, hunt, or fish. The alligators and indians also kept the colonists close to the colony. Worse were the mosquitoes, which brought malaria to the colony.
These conditions led to a minor revolt by about 300 colonists. They rioted, siezed a ship, and sailed south. A British frigate captured the escapees and brought them to St. Augustine. Two of the rebels were executed and the rest were returned to the colony. Life at the colony continued to be difficult. The work was hard, the food continued to be scarce, and malaria was rampant. In the first year of its existence an additional 450 colonists died.
Life remained hard in the colony. The colonists who were deemed not to be working to their capacity were beaten, confined in stocks, or chained to heavy iron balls. Some colonists were chained to logs in the fields to continue their work. Turnbull used his overseers to enforce his judgements, and often they exceeded their master in severity. In spite of this the New Smyrna was the most profitable indigo plantation in North America.
All the colonists had signed letters of indenture with Turnbull. They would work for a set number of years. At the end of that time they would be released from the indenture and Turnbull would give them a small plot of land for their own. The more skilled such as blacksmiths and carpenters had shorter terms of indenture. As the terms of indenture ended for the more skilled of the colonists they approached Turnbull for their discharge and land. Invariably they were imprisoned and forced to sign new indentures. Eventually the colonists were afraid to ask for their discharge.
In 1777 a group of Englishmen from St. Augustine came to New Smyrna to examine the colony. A young boy overheard these gentlemen say that if the colonists knew their rights they would not suffer the slavery in which they found themselves. The boy told his mother, who discussed the matter with other colonists. They decided to see what they could do. On 25 March 1777 three of the men got permission to go to the coast to hunt for turtles. They were granted permission and went to the coast, but they turned north and went to St. Augustine where they sought a audience with Governor Tonyn asking for justice as their terms of indenture had expired. Governor Tonyn promised to protect their rights. A number of factors came into play; the conditions at New Smyrna, the need for men to protect Florida because of the outbreak of the American Revolution, and antagonism between Tonyn and Turnbull, led Governor Tonyn to liberate the New Smyrna colonists. During May and June of 1777 most of the colonists migrated to St. Augustine and by 17 July 1777 Turnbull's attorneys had set all the colonists free. In its ten years of existance 964 colonists died at New Smyrna.
Beeson, Kenneth H., Jr., 1966. "Janas in British East Florida", Florida Historical Quarterly, 44: 121-132.
Doggett, Carita, 1919. Dr. Turnbull and the New Smyrna Colony of Florida. Drew Press. Jacksonville, FL.
Gregory, Desmond, 1990. Minorca the Illusory Prize: A History of the British Occupations of Minorca between 1708 and 1802. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press. Madison, N.J.
Griffin, Patricia C., 1991. Mullet on the Beach. University of North Florida Press. Jacksonville, FL.
Panagopoulos, E.P., 1956. "The Background of the Greek Settlers in the New Smyrna Colony", Florida Historical Quarterly, 35: 95-115.
Panagopoulos, E.P., 1966. New Smyrna: An Eighteenth Century Greek Odyssey. University of Florida Press. Gainesville, FL.
Quinn, Jane, 1975. Minorcans in Florida: Their History and Heritage. Mission Press. St. Augustine, FL.
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