New digital archive to put worldwide focus on the state’s early history

The names, occupations, ages and origins of many colonial Floridians, including St. Augustinians, will be a key part of a new online archive and database slated to launch this fall.

 

“The overall goal here is to create a biographical dictionary of anyone who ever set foot in Spanish Florida between Ponce de Leon in 1513 and 1821 (when Spanish rule ended),” said J. Michael Francis, Ph.D., of The University of South Florida. “That could quite easily be 20,000 to 25,000 people when it is done,” he said.

The first phase is scheduled to go live in late fall with updates to follow from continuing research.

Francis, the Hough Family Endowed Chair for Florida Studies at USF, outlined the project in a recent talk at Flagler College’s Ringhaver Student Center. His talk was sponsored by The University of Florida Historic St. Augustine Inc. program, Flagler College and The St. Augustine Historical Society.

Allen Lastinger, chair of UFHSA’s board, said Francis is “one of the pre-eminent scholars in Florida colonial history. His research in Spain and elsewhere is broadening and deepening our knowledge of early America.” UFHSA has financially supported his research “as part of our mission of interpreting the history of St. Augustine and Florida.”

The identification of Florida settlers comes from the logs and records of the June 1566 voyage of Sancho de Archiniega, who was sent by the king to bring additional soldiers, tradespeople and supplies to Pedro Menendez’s St. Augustine colony, founded in 1565.

Francis said the Archiniega fleet brought more than 1,830 people in 18 ships, all arriving safely. “Can you imagine what the site was like in the inlet with all those ships?” he asked.

So far, 98 percent of the occupations of those newcomers have been identified, and the origins of 84 percent have been confirmed. Among the 79 occupations was a beer brewer, though Francis said his name is not yet known. The origins of the people included Spain, Italy, France, Algeria, Germany, Greece, Portugal and the Canary Islands. The numbers show 1,458 were from Spain and 85 were foreigners. The project shows that St. Augustine was multicultural from its beginnings.

The center has formed partnerships with institutions of history and higher education in the U.S. and Spain. “The basic idea is to provide a dynamic, interactive, multimedia site to promote and share scholarship on the history of colonial Florida and its place in U.S. and world history,” Francis said. It will be user-friendly to researchers, college professors, students, historians, schoolteachers and the general public.

Graduate students R.L. Sanderson and Hannah Tweet have assisted Francis in the design of the project and the interpretation and translation of many of the documents. Francis teaches a course in paleography in which students learn how to read 16th-century documents.

Then, several students travel with him to Spain to the Archives of the Indies in Seville to research the documents. The Seville archives deal with Spain’s presence in the Americas.

“One person cannot do this alone,” he said.

Francis said the project will need funding beyond what the sponsor institutions can offer. Partners to date include Instituto Nauta, Museo de America (Madrid), Museo del Ejercito (Toledo); Museo Naval (Madrid); The University of Malaga (Malaga); University of Florida Historic St. Augustine; Tampa Bay History Center; Santa Elena Foundation; Beaufort, S.C.; USF; Hough Family Endowment and the Frank E. Duckwall Foundation.

He is hopeful that businesses and private donors will provide that financial support so more graduate students and scholars can participate.

Another goal is to add similar research on Florida’s British Period (1763-1784) that will require part of the additional funding sought. “I would love to have a scholar in British history to lead this research and work with graduate students in British archives,” Francis said.

After the talk, Brianne Sanders, a longtime St. Augustine resident who volunteers at Mission Nombre de Dios Museum, said the program was “spellbinding.” … “I didn’t know so much research was being done on individuals. It makes the people so much more personable, real and valid. It also tells me this was a lot more of a burgeoning city. It was not just a struggling little group.”

Magen Wilson, executive director of the St. Augustine Historical Society, also gave Francis high marks for bringing the ordinary people to life. “I thoroughly enjoyed how he turned them from non-descriptive masses of people to human beings with whom we can relate. We got a feel for what their daily lives might have entailed … even how much wine they were allotted.”

For information on the project and its funding opportunities, email Francis at jmfrancis1@usfsp.edu.

 

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