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The Coming of the Judeo-Christian Religions
to the Caribbean and Florida

by Michael Gannon


 Given Christopher Columbus's spiritual sense of mission, it is surprising that the great Admiral of the Ocean Sea did not at once distribute large numbers of Christian missionaries among the islands of the Bahamas and Caribbean that he stumbled upon in 1492. Of course, he had no idea that he had discovered a New World; to his dying day in 1506 he thought that he had found islands and archipelagos just off the coasts of Japan, Cathay, and India.

In his diario, or log, of the 1492 voyage, Columbus commented on the Lucayan Arawak natives of Guanahani, the Bahamian isle where he made his first landfall, stating that they would become Christians easily because, "it would seem to me that they had no religion." (He had no way of knowing that these people, and all the Bahamian people, some 80,000 in number, would be dead, extinct, in 30 years' time because of the diseases he and his men left behind them.) Christening that first island San Salvador – Holy Savior – Columbus sailed on to Cuba, which he caused his crew to swear was Cipangu, that is, Japan, and concluded his first voyage at the large island he named Hispaniola, or the "Spanish land," that today hosts two nations, Haiti in the west, and the Dominican Republic in the east. There, he asserted that the native Tainos "have no religion of their own and are not idolaters."

The next year, in a remarkable feat of seamanship, Columbus returned directly and unerringly to Hispaniola, bringing with him a handful of Franciscan friars, including Juan Pérez, who had had a major theological influence upon him during his stay at La Rábida in southern Spain. The first missionaries, like the soldiers, sailors, and artisans in Columbus's party, made their base at La Isabela, which can be called the first Spanish town in the New World, on the north coast of today's Dominican Republic. But the friars seem to have devoted most of their labors to pastoral work among the Spaniards rather than to evangelization of the Taino people. Indeed, it was not until 1496 or '97 that the first Taino, a man named Guaticabanú, was baptized into the Christian faith.

Columbus was wrong in thinking the Tainos had no religion of their own. They did, and it was animism, the belief that certain inanimate objects were alive and that they were invested with supernatural powers. These objects, which the Tainos called cemíes, were manufactured from stone, wood, ceramic, seashells, and cotton. Many stone cemíes have survived, and can be found today in anthropological museums. When the Catholic priests gave the Tainos Christian images, such as figures of the saints, they promptly planted them in their fields and urinated on them to encourage the fertility of their crops. Shamans, or witch doctors, were also characteristic of Taino religion: they presided over offerings to the gods, conducted healing ceremonies, and divined the future. Like the Lucayan Arawaks, the Taino would all be extinct within forty years of first contact with Europeans.

All of the native societies of the New World had religious belief systems of one form or another. It would be a serious mistake to think of them simply as "infidels" or "godless savages." Some commentators have argued that the Amerindians were among the most religious people in the world at that time. Whether their lifeways were based on hunting, as in Labrador, or on horticulture, as among the Pueblo tribes of New Mexico, whether they worshipped the sun, as in Florida, or participated in high state religious rituals, as found among the Aztecs in Mexico and the Incas in Peru, all the Native American societies of which we have record practiced a religion that both gave meaning to life and promoted social unity.

 In the high state religions the Spaniards found certain similarities to their own practices. In Mexico, for example, there was abundant ceremony, the priests practiced celibacy and occupied a special place in society, and there was belief in an afterlife, though an individual's immortal place depended not on personal behavior but on the manner of death; for example, a person who died by drowning would live forever with the water god. And there existed the concept of sacrifice which undergirded ancient Hebrew ritual, and characterized Christian theology, with its central focus on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. To the Spaniards' dismay, however, Aztec sacrificial worship took the form of appeasing their ancestral god with bloody hearts carved from living human beings. Because of the similarities some Spaniards argued that the Aztecs must have descended from the lost ten tribes of Israel; others argued that their religion was a decadent form of Christianity that was first preached to them in the first century by the Apostle Thomas.

When, later, both the Spanish Franciscans and the French Jesuits found not only that conversions came slowly but that aboriginal beliefs persisted for generations below the veneer of Christian conversion, it became clear to the Europeans just how profound the native belief systems had been. Like the Christian missionaries, the Aztec priests could proclaim, as they did: "This is the faith of our fathers." The syncretistic and polytheistic priests of Mexico, unlike their European counterparts, practiced toleration, pluralism, and inclusion. They sought for a way to incorporate the Christian God as one of many alongside their own. Even today, in Latin America, Christian rituals exhibit the influence of the original Amerindian religions. And five centuries after the evangelization effort began, shamans till abound.

While the missionary work was proceeding poorly in Hispaniola, only slightly better successes were secured by the missionaries who accompanied or followed conquistadors to Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Isthmus of Panama, the northern coast of Venezuela, as well as to Florida which was also a part of the Caribbean Basin, or as anthropologists say today, the Circum-Caribbean. It was, ironically, the conqueror of Mexico, Hernan Cortés, that conquistador whose name is most closely identified in the popular mind with Spanish violence, who persuaded the Spanish Crown – Charles I at the time – to make the first major commitment to spread the Gospel among the New World natives. Despite his warlike image, or alongside it, whichever one prefers – in history we not infrequently encounter personages who are odd mixtures of the celestial and the crass – Cortés was a sincere and pious Christian. In 1524 he importuned the king to send him a large team of mendicant friars – the clergy who followed a strict rule, lived off alms, and had a reputation for learning and holiness. Accordingly, in that same year, twelve Franciscan friars disembarked at Vera Cruz and walked overland to Mexico City, where, when they arrived, Cortés and a large entourage welcomed them. The conquistador dismounted, doffed his helmet, knelt and kissed the hands and tattered robes of the friars. The significance of the number twelve was not lost on Cortés. Two years later, another twelve, this time Dominicans, arrived in the Mexican capital. And in 1533, members of a third order, Augustinians, joined them. In the words of Robert Ricard, author of The Spiritual Conquest of Mexico, New Spain, as Charles I named Mexico, became a "church of friars." Consoling missionary results were not long in coming, and by 1539 the mission fields could boast of Indian conversions in the thousands.

Meanwhile, prior to 1540, an entirely different attitude toward Indian societies was taking shape among Spanish officials, mine owners, agriculturalists, and colonials generally who believed that the indigenous peoples, wherever found in the Indies, as Spaniards called the Americas, were a sub human species – a collection of not fully developed human beings, who had no claim to the same rights and privileges accorded Europeans, but, rather, were by their natures subject legally and morally to exploitation, including slavery. A typical and, as it happened influential, expression of that view is provided by Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdes, who spent almost 50 years in the Indies and wrote two lengthy works on his findings. In Oviedo's view the Indians were lazy, corrupt, vicious, idolatrous, bestial, and deserving of enslavement, which he himself practiced. It needs be said that during the entire early missionary period Indian slavery was widely employed as an official policy under the specious argument that it served to promote evangelization. The system was called the encomienda. By its terms Indians were granted in slavery to a Spaniard in return for services. Those services were military in times of emergency and labor support of a doctrina, that is, of a church with a resident missionary for catechetical instruction of the Indians. What the encomendero received was free, forced labor and tribute. It was an appalling system, one subject to numerous frauds and abuses.

The encomienda system and the ideology behind it did not go unchallenged by churchmen. The first voice of that counterattack was raised on the island of Hispaniola, in a small thatched church, on the fourth Sunday of Advent in the 1511. The voice belonged to a Dominican friar named Antonio de Montesinos. After citing his text for the sermon, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness," he spoke these words to his parishioners about their treatments of the Indians:

"You are in mortal sin and live and die in it because of the cruelty and tyranny that you use against these innocent peoples. Tell me, by what right or justice do you hold these Indians in such cruel and horrible slavery? By what authority do you wage such detestable wars on these peoples, who lived mildly and peacefully in their own lands, in which you have destroyed countless numbers of them with unheard-of murders and ruin....Are they not human beings? Do they not have rational souls? Are you not bound to love them as you love yourselves? Don't you understand this? Don't you feel this?...."

The Spanish colonials who heard this strong talk were, not surprisingly, shocked, and they murmured in church during the remainder of the Mass. They would have to murmur for a long time to come, for the sermon Montesinos delivered that day grew into a steadily enlarging movement for Indian rights and social justice – particularly when the banner was taken up by a fellow Dominican named Bartolomé de Las Casas. Born in Seville in 1474, Las Casas became a secular cleric and accompanied his father to Hispaniola in 1502. After receiving ordination to the priesthood, he received an encomienda and settled down to the life of a gentleman-cleric-farmer, first in Hispaniola, later in Cuba, and apparently saw no special conflict between his Christian obligations as a priest and his life as an encomendero – until, that is, August 1514, when, preparing for a sermon, he happened to read the following passage in the Book of Ecclesiasticus, now commonly called Sirach: "The sacrifice of an offering unjustly acquired is a mockery; the gifts of impious men are unacceptable." The passage provoked him to meditation on his own state of soul as well as on the plight of the Indians. When he rose to give his sermon on the Sunday that followed, he announced that he was giving up his encomienda and was, instead, devoting his labors to the defense of the Indians. There followed another shocked house of worship.

 During the several years following, Las Casas lobbied the cause of the Indians at court in Spain. Returning to the Indies, in Venezuela, he put into practice, though with little success owing to the hostility of surrounding encomenderos, his proposition that Indian laborers should be attracted to Spanish enterprise and introduced to Christianity by kindness and good example alone. It was a Latin treatise he wrote about 1530 that had the greater effect in propagating his views. Entitled "The Only Way of Attracting All Unbelievers to the True Religion," the treatise proposed that the Indians were fully developed human beings to whom the Gospel should be imparted by pacific means. This treatise, together with petitions to the pope drawn up in consort with two bishops of the Church, in 1537 led to the promulgation by Pope Paul III of a landmark document, the papal bull Sublimis Deus, which proclaimed the Indians to be truly human beings with full intellectual and moral capacity to become Christians. This triumph was followed five years later when the Spanish Crown issued what were called "New Laws," which reinforced the papal bull and forbade all further enslavement of the Indians under any pretense whatever. Thus the royal seal itself was affixed to the "political theology" of Las Casas, which held that: "Blood and iron are instruments too cruel to use in the conquest of souls. The faith of Christ can be taught only by good example and saintly preaching." It was a fine moment. As historian Lewis Hanke has written: "Probably never before or since has a mighty emperor...in the full tide of his power ordered his conquests to cease until it could be decided whether they were just."

As for Las Casas himself, he died twenty-four years after the proclamation of the New Laws. Today his name is known and reverenced throughout the Americas. In this century alone more than two thousand books and articles have been written about him. The prophetic faith of Las Casas and other like-minded clergymen of his time anticipated the principles proclaimed by the Second Vatican Council in 1962-65: liberty as the supreme value of humankind; the hatefulness of force and oppression; and the priority of peaceful persuasion and good example as the true means of preaching the gospel.

 In the immediate post-Columbian period Spanish navigators launched an ever-widening circle of voyages from bases in the Caribbean Sea. It was inevitable that one of those voyages would bump into the mainland of what is now the United States, and that the most likely point of contact would be the peninsula of Florida. According to the documents, it was Juan Ponce de León, lately governor of Puerto Rico, who first made landfall here, in April 1513. (Though unrecorded, Spanish slavers from Hispaniola probably preceded him.) The most recent estimate of his landing site, based on a careful resailing of his route, places Juan Ponce south of Cape Canaveral, at or near present-day Melbourne Beach. He named the place La Florida – "the flowery land."

 During the forty-eight years that followed, five expeditions either traversed this peninsula or attempted to settle it. But the flowery land, and its indigenous inhabitants, resisted. Failure followed failure as a long succession of Spanish captains carried their proud lances into the wilderness only to see them broken by outrageous fortune. Here one sees no sated conqueror resting amid Aztec splendor, no master of Incan wealth and magnificence. What one sees instead is Juan Ponce, on a second voyage in 1521, staggering from a native's arrow that would carry off his life; Pánfilo de Narváez, in 1528, attempting escape from the Gulf coast, his rough-hewn barge awash, and the Gulf of Mexico in his lungs; Hernando de Soto, in 1539-40, disconsolate of finding the El Dorado of dreams among these swamps and pines; the Dominican friar Luís Cáncer de Barbastro, in 1549, cruelly slaughtered at Tampa Bay before he could do any more than hold aloft a crucifix before his native assailants; Tristán de Luna y Arellano, in 1559-61, a failure in the eyes of both his men and his Viceroy after two inglorious years at Pensacola Bay.

What of the missionary priests and lay brothers who accompanied the would-be conquistadors to Florida? We find them on every one of the expeditions save the first voyage of discovery. The secular and regular clergy who accompanied Juan Ponce in 1521 were driven off by hostile Calusa natives before they could even begin their labors. Narváez brought five Franciscans friars and an unknown number of secular priests, and De Soto carried eight seculars and four regulars in his expedition. No stable parishes or missions resulted from either of those two ventures, however, which were concerned more with exploration than with settlement. Nor does it seem, in those years before the New Laws, that the clergy were able to temper the violence shown to Florida's natives by both of those captains. In De Soto's case, the atrocities committed by his men against the native societies seems to have reflected not only the bias toward them as constituting a lower species, but also an extension of the cult of military violence nourished over many centuries of the Reconquista, the struggle to regain control of Iberia from the Muslims. Fray Luís Cáncer, as we have said, was killed for his missionary pains, and with that guileless messenger of peace another Dominican priest and a lay brother fell beneath the native macaña, or war club. Not death but frustration characterized the efforts of the five priests and one lay brother, all Dominicans, who settled with Tristán de Luna at Pensacola Bay; indeed, during two years of evangelization of the native people their efforts resulted in only one convert, a woman baptized at the point of death. It should be noted, however, that, in general, the behavior of Luna's soldiers toward the aborigines of La Florida was gentle and correct, in keeping with the spirit of the New Laws.

At the conclusion of that near-half century of military and missionary failures, the Spanish crown had reason to wonder if Florida was any longer worth the expenditure of money and human energy. But yet another man came forward to make a sixth attempt at settlement. His name was Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, from the northern Spanish province of Asturias, who had spent a lifetime at sea, lately as Admiral commanding Spain's plate, or treasure, fleets. The year was 1565, one year after the death of Michelangelo, and one year before the birth of William Shakespeare. Though his motives were various – finding a son lost at sea near the Florida shoreline, establishing an agribusiness empire, and driving the French out of a fort built near the mouth of the St. Johns River (about which he learned only after signing his asiento [contract] with the king), Menéndez told King Philip II that he would seek the chance to evangelize those people "sunk in the thickest shades of infidelity" before any other command that His Majesty might bestow upon him. (Of that statement the early twentieth century colonial historian Francis Parkman – no friend to persons or things Spanish – said: "Those who take this for hypocrisy do not know the Spaniard of the sixteenth century.")

 Suffice it to say in this narrative that he did not find his son, he did not succeed in his agricultural enterprise, but he did drive out the French and he did establish, on September 8 of that year, Florida's and North America's first permanent settlement, which he named St. Augustine. And he did found as well this country's first Christian parish and mission to the natives, both of which were served by secular priests who had accompanied him to Florida. Hoping to extend the missionary endeavor to other parts of Florida outside St. Augustine, in 1556 Menéndez invited in missionaries of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). One was killed by natives near the mouth of the St. Johns River. A second began a mission at Charlotte Harbor, and a third took up station near present-day Miami. Neither was successful and both missions were abandoned by 1570.

The first large-scale evangelization of the Florida nations and tribes began with the arrival of Franciscan friars in 1573. In the beginning their ministry was confined to villages near and north of St. Augustine, including the Guale chiefdoms on the coastal islands of Georgia. By 1595, 1,500 converts could be counted, though two years later a number of Guale revolted against the friars' restrictions on polygamy and killed five of them. The garrison and civil list at St. Augustine were served by secular priests, among whom, after 1597, was Ricardo Artur (Richard Arthur), the first Irish priest to serve in this country. He presided over a parish church and a hospital. The Franciscans operated a seminary in the city. For the entire first Spanish period (1565-1763), the Florida church was under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Santiago de Cuba, whose see was situated at Havana. In 1606, that prelate, Juan de las Cabezas de Altamirano, made an episcopal visitation to St. Augustine and traveled the mission trail northward where he confirmed both Timucuan and Guale converts, the latter now at peace again with their friars.

 In 1607, the Franciscans began to push westward into the forested interior of the peninsula, first to present-day Palatka and Gainesville, thence to the juncture of the Santa Fe and Suwannee Rivers, finally to the rolling farmlands around Tallahassee where they were to have their greatest successes in the 17th century. In 1612 the Franciscan missionary system in Florida and Cuba was raised to the dignity of a Province under the title Santa Elena de la Florida. Forty-three additional friars arrived in Florida during the next three years. The period after 1632, the year of the first sizeable Franciscan settlements in northwest Apalachee, as far as 1675 was a time of great numerical increase in the number of baptized natives. A census of 1655 counted 26,000 Christianized natives living in or around 38 doctrinas, or mission compounds. There they were learning not only the catechism of Christianity but also European arts and crafts, including, in many instances, reading and writing. The mission program was not without its setbacks, including several armed rebellions against Spanish civil and military authorities, strained relations between the friars and government officials, severe poverty and hardships experienced by the friars in the field, and a constant worry among the missionaries that they were placing a mere Christian veneer over persistent aboriginal beliefs and practices.

The native peoples who had 40 towns to the Spaniards' one, lived throughout the 17th century in a relatively autonomous entity that the Spaniards called the "Republic of Indians." Occupying different regions of the same La Florida, the natives paid no head tax or tribute to the "Republic of Spaniards." They enjoyed rights to inherit titles and offices, to own land and rule vassals, and, in the case of chiefs and nobles, to wear swords and go about on horseback. They were protected from molestation by rules that forbade any Spaniard on legitimate business among them from staying longer than three days in an Indian town (where the visitor also was constricted to sleeping in the official building, the council house). When addressing the native peoples the Spanish governors used the expression, "my sons and cousins." That general familiarity and respect did not, however, prevent several of the governors in the century from exploiting native men, including nobles, as cargadores to carry food supplies, mule-like, on their backs from the deep interior to St. Augustine.

 One continuous thread of unassailable good that emerges from the mission story as far as the 1670s is the Franciscans' defense of the human, civil, and religious rights of the indigenous peoples. During the governorship of Diego de Rebolledo (1655-59), for example, they denounced his outrages committed against the native converts and with such effect that the Crown ordered him arrested and sent to Spain for criminal proceedings. New violations of native rights by Governor Juan Márquez Cabrera (1680-87) led to a similarly strong Franciscan protest. This time the Franciscans' concerns extended beyond the natives to include other classes of the population that were being abused by the governor: criollos (Florida-born residents of Spanish descent who were contemned by peninsulares, residents who had come to Florida from Spain); Christian natives, who, along with convicts and black slaves, were put to forced labor on the castillo (fort) then under construction; widows; and Mexican and Cuban ne'er do wells. As with Rebolledo three decades before, the vigorous Franciscan defense of human and civil rights led to the royal arrest of the governor.

The years 1574-75 may be said to have marked the zenith of the mission century. In those years visiting Bishop Gabriel Díaz Vara Calderón counted 30,000 converts in 36 missions. During a 10-month inspection of the mission chains north and west he confirmed 13,152 Spaniards and Indians and ordained seven young men from St. Augustine to the priesthood. In a lengthy report on his visitation he enumerated the doctrinas as well as the distances that lay between them, and wrote favorably about the converts he met: "As to their religion, they are not idolaters, and they embrace with devotion the mysteries of our holy Faith."

During the last quarter of the century the number of Franciscans decreased and the fervor and charity of the missionaries appear to have decreased in something like the same proportion. By the 1690s soldiers in the field made frequent complaints about mistreatment of the natives by the friars. The missionaries were accused of conscripting native labor for their own service and of whipping parishioners for such offenses as being late for Mass. One 37-year veteran, Fray Blas Martínez de Robles, lamented that, except for the robes, the Franciscan Order had ceased to exist in Florida.

After the turn of the century, the Florida missions were destroyed by English governor James Moore of Carolina. In 1702 he laid siege unsuccessfully to St. Augustine, having raided the Guale mission islands on his way south. Two years later, he assaulted the missions in Apalachee, around present-day Tallahassee, killing hundreds of Christian natives, taking about 1,000 as slaves to Carolina – and sending 2,000 into exile. In additional forays into Florida during the following two years native allies of the English cleaned out the remaining mission villages in Timucua (north central Florida), killing some Christians and sending the rest in flight to St. Augustine. The mission era had come to an end, and the hinterland chapels would not be rebuilt.

 

Epilogue

 

Though the missions were never revived, Catholic life continued in the provinces of Florida under the jurisdiction of the pastor at St. Augustine, until 1763, when, in the Treaty of Paris ending the French and Indian War, Florida was ceded to Great Britain, and the entire Catholic populations of St. Augustine and Pensacola (founded in 1698), together with surviving remnants of the Indian converts, departed for Cuba and Mexico carrying all of their records, liturgical objects, and furnishings with them.

Under British rule Florida extended westward as far as the Mississippi River, and London divided it into two colonies, East and West. Replacing Roman Catholicism, the Anglican Church took root in the two Floridas during the next twenty-one years. Notable among its achievements was the introduction and practice here, for the first time, of religious freedom. A small number of Presbyterians and other Protestant Christians could be found in both East and West Florida, as well as Jews in Pensacola, after the 1760s, and in St. Augustine, beginning in the 1780s. A community of French Catholics worshipped in Mobile, then a part of West Florida. Catholic life revived in St. Augustine in 1777 when Mahonese Minorcans with their priest, survivors of an ill-fated indigo plantation at New Smyrna, found refuge in the Old City.

Following the British interregnum, Roman Catholicism was reintroduced as the official religion in the two Floridas, (though its priests tolerated the Anglican practices of British settlers who chose to remain) until 1821, when a single Florida with a western boundary at the Perdido River became the possession, later a territory, of the United States. Overnight as it were, Roman Catholics again became a distinct minority in the new Anglo-American population. An even smaller minority were Florida’s Jews, the first of whom had settled in Pensacola during the 1760s and in St. Augustine during the 1780s, though they were never numerous enough in either city to form the minyan required for religious worship. By the late 1820s the Jewish population numbered perhaps forty people, which was less than one percent of the territorial population of 35,000.

 The most prominent Jews in Florida during the territorial and early statehood periods were the Sephardic father and son Moses Levy and David Levy (Yulee). The elder Levy came to Florida from Morocco and the Caribbean in 1821 intending to establish a refugee colony for Jewish families in the north central interior. The plantation, called New Pilgrimage and resembling the much later Kibbutz, eventually failed, but Levy poured his considerable energies into other projects, including the abolition of slavery and the defense of Judaism. Young David became an attorney (much against his father’s wishes) and businessman. Attracted to politics, he was instrumental in securing Florida’s entry into the Union as the twenty-seventh state in 1845. In the elections that followed, he was elected one of Florida’s two United States senators, thus becoming the first known Jew to serve in the Senate –seven years in advance of his cousin Judah P. Benjamin, of Louisiana. At the time, Florida was home to fewer than 100 Jews in a state population of 66,500. No Jewish institutions were established in Florida prior to statehood, and not until 1874 was the first synagogue founded, Temple Beth-El at Pensacola, to be followed in 1882 by Temple Ahavath Chesed at Jacksonville.

The predominant numbers of religious adherents in Florida after 1821 belonged to the Protestant Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches. While Methodists erected permanent churches at St. Augustine, Tallahassee, and Pensacola by 1830, the typical minister of that denomination during territorial and early statehood years was a wandering "circuit rider," who conducted services wherever people could be found in Florida’s sparsely settled wilderness, using for his sanctuary private homes, court rooms, barns, or stables. Baptist ministers also traveled extensively in their ministry, but their denomination was quicker to erect church buildings. We find the first at Bethlehem in the Panhandle in 1825 and the second at Newnansville in 1828. Thereafter numerous other churches, with memberships from fifteen to fifty persons, were established at settlements named Bellville, New Hope, New Prospect, Fayetteville, Hatch Bend, Midway, Sand Hill, Macedonia, Rose Mary, and Fort Clark. The large cities St. Augustine and Pensacola were late in building Baptist churches, whose informal religious style, featuring revivals and temperance meetings, appealed more at the time to a rural constituency.

 Scotch families from North Carolina introduced the Presbyterian Church to Florida at Euchee Valley in today’s Walton County, where they built a log cabin church in 1828. Its services would be dependent for many years on visiting ministers. In the peninsula Presbyterianism first took root at St. Augustine in 1824, where a church building was erected in 1830. The "ancient city" was followed soon afterward by congregations at Mandarin, Tallahassee, and Jacksonville.

Episcopalians established their American wing of the Anglican Church at St. Augustine in the very year of cession from Spain, 1821. The first priest, Reverend Andrew Fowler from Charleston, succeeded so well in building a strong local parish that the cornerstone of a church building to be called Trinity was laid in 1825. It was consecrated in 1833 thanks to the energetic leadership and fund-raising of the Reverend Raymond Henderson, who also increased the parish roll to 160 communicants, making Trinity the largest single new faith in the territory. The Episcopal Church had its first beginnings at Pensacola in 1829, when Christ Church, with a membership of twelve, was founded. St. Paul’s was organized at Key West in 1833, and in the same decade Christ Church was established at Apalachicola, St. John’s at Jacksonville, St. John’s at Tallahassee, St. Joseph’s at St. Joseph, St. Luke’s at Marianna, and St. Paul’s at Quincy. With such growth a new Diocese of Florida as recognized by the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States on September 7, 1838.

The approach taken by the Protestant Churches to Florida’s native population, now the Seminoles (originally Lower Creeks from the Georgia-Alabama line), was different from that taken by the Spaniards in the First Spanish Period. Where the Spaniards and their Franciscan friars were content to let the Indians live unmolested on their interior country lands, the Anglo-American population, both in and out of the various new churches, not only made no effort to evangelize the Indians but supported efforts of the United States Army, in the longest Indian War fought in this country’s history, to drive the Seminoles into the trans-Mississippi West and to seize what had long been conferred to them by treaty; their fertile fields and deep rivers.

By the dawn of 1861 the new Florida Christian denominations, joined by the relatively few surviving members of the long-positioned Roman Catholic Church, were anxiously engaged in justifying the enslavement of the state’s 60,000 African-Americans. The slavery issue, together with other regional claims, would come to a tragic boil on January 10 of that fateful year when the independent "nation of Florida" withdrew from the American Union, the third state in the newly organized Southern Confederacy to do so.

 


Selected Bibliography

 

Boyd, Mark F., Hale G. Smith, and John W. Griffin. Here They Once Stood: The Tragic End of the Apalachee Missions. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1951.

Connor, Jeanette Thurber, ed. and trans. Pedro Menéndez de Avilés: Adelantado, Governor, and Captain-General of Florida. Memorial by Gonzalo Solís de Merás. Deland: Florida State Historical Society, 1923.

Curley, C.SS.R., Michael J. Church and State in the Spanish Floridas (1783-1822). Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1940.

Friede, Juan and Benjamin Keen, eds. Bartolomé de las Casas in History: Toward an Understanding of the Man and His Work. Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1971.

Gannon, Michael V. "Conflicto entre iglesia y estado en Florida: Administración del Gobernador don Juan Márquez Cabrera, 1680-1687." In La influencia de España en el Caribe, la Florida, y la Luisiana, 1500-1800, ed. by Antonio Acosta and Juan Marchena. Madrid: Instituto de Cooperación Iberoamericana, 1983.

__________The Cross in the Sand: The Early Catholic Church in Florida, 1513-1870. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1965.

__________"Defense of Native American and Franciscan Rights." In David Hurst Thomas, ed., Columbian Consequences. Vol. 1: Archaeological and Historical Perspectives on the Spanish Borderlands East. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989.

Geiger, Maynard, O.F.M. The Franciscan Conquest of Florida (1573-1618). Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America, 1937.

Gibson, Charles. The Aztecs under Spanish Rule: A History of the Indians of the Valley of Mexico, 1519-1810. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1964.

Gómez Canedo, Lino. Evangelización y conquista: Experiencia franciscana en hispanoamérica. Mexico: Editorial Porrúa, 1977.

Hanke, Lewis. The Spanish Struggle for Justice in the Conquest of America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1949.

Hann, John H. Apalachee: The Land Between the Rivers. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1988.

 

__________History of the Timucua Indians and Missions. Gainesville: University Press of

Florida, 1996.

__________, ed. and trans. Missions to the Calusa. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1991.

Lippy, Charles H., Robert Choquette, Stafford Poole. Christianity Comes To The Americas, 1492-1776. New York: Paragon House, 1992.

Milanich, Jerald T. and Charles Hudson. Hernando de Soto and the Florida Indians. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1993.

Oré, Luís Jerónimo de. The Martyrs of Florida (1513-1616). Translated by Maynard Geiger. New York: Joseph F. Wagner, 1936.

Ricard, Robert. The Spiritual Conquest of Mexico. Trans. Lesley Byrd Simpson. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966.

Weber, David J. The Spanish Frontier in North America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.

Wenhold, Lucy L., ed. A 17th Century Letter of Gabriel Díaz Vara Calderón, Bishop of Cuba, Describing the Indians and Indian Missions of Florida. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 95 (16), 1936.

Worth, John E. The Timucuan Chiefdoms of Spanish Florida. Vol. I, Assimilation. Vol. II, Resistance and Destruction. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998

Zubillaga, Félix. La Florida: La Misión Jesuitica (1566-1572) y la colonización española. Rome: Instituto Historicum S.I., 1941.


Image Citations

Index Title Source ID
0026 Missions of Florida. 1675. State of Florida website pr07118
0030 Route of De Narvaraez. Florida’s Indians and The Invasion from Europe - University Press of Florida  
0042 Portrait of Pedro Menendez de Aviles Jay I. Kislak Foundation  
0069 Florida Promontorium. De Bry. 1591. Jay I. Kislak Foundation  
0078 Portrait of Columbus. Jay I. Kislak Foundation  
0099 “Hunting Indians in Florida with Blood Hounds” Born of the Sun - Worth Communications  
0142 Mass in St. Augustine, Florida. State of Florida website pc3604
0149 Presbyterian Church in St. Augustine, Florida. State of Florida website n039460
0150 Historia de los indios Mexicanos. Juan de Tovar. Jay I. Kislak Foundation  
0152 Brevissima relacion de la destruycion de las Indias. Las Casas. 1552. (title page.) Jay I. Kislak Foundation  
0157 Portrait of David Yulee Levy. State of Florida website n027463
0162 Taino cross Jay I. Kislak Foundation  
0167 Confederate Florida Flag, 5th Regiment. State of Florida website pr01648
0177 Slaves mining gold in Cuba. Jay I. Kislak Foundation  
0178 Las Casas Bewailing the Cruelty of the Spanish. Felix Parra. Jay I. Kislak Foundation  
0179 Hernando de Soto Jay I. Kislak Foundation  
0190 Catechismo. Pareja. 1627. (title page) Jay I. Kislak Foundation  
0191 Catechismo. Pareja. 1627. Jay I. Kislak Foundation  
0259 Drawing of Hernando Cortes. State of Florida website pr02971
0289 Ceremonies et Costumes. Picard. Jay I. Kislak Foundation  
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