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The Cana Sanctuary

History, Diplomacy, and Black Catholic Marriage in Antebellum St. Augustine, Florida

Frank Marotti

Publication Year: 2012

The Cana Sanctuary uses the collective testimony from more than two hundred Patriot War claims, previously believed to have been destroyed, to offer insight into the lesser-known Patriot War of 1812 and to constitute an intellectual history of everyday people caught in the path of an expanding American empire.
In the late seventeenth century a group of about a dozen escaped African slaves from the English colony of Carolina reached the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine. In a diplomatic bid for sanctuary, to avoid extradition and punishment, they requested the sacrament of Catholic baptism from the Spanish Catholic Church. Their negotiations brought about their baptism and with it their liberation. The Cana Sanctuary focuses on what author Frank Marotti terms “folk diplomacy”—political actions conducted by marginalized, non-state sectors of society—in this instance by formerly enslaved African Americans in antebellum East Florida. The book explores the unexpected transformations that occurred in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century St. Augustine as more and more ex-slaves arrived to find their previously disregarded civil rights upheld under sacred codes by an international, nongovernmental, authoritative organization.
With the Catholic Church acting as an equalizing, empowering force for escaped African slaves, the Spanish religious sanctuary policy became part of popular historical consciousness in East Florida. As such, it allowed for continual confrontations between the law of the Church and the law of the South. Tensions like these survived, ultimately lending themselves to an “Afro-Catholicism” sentiment that offered support for antislavery arguments.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix

A major source for this study was the Patriot War claims located at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. Grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education enabled me to spend several months in College Park locating and taking notes on...

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pp. 1-8

This study of African American diplomacy in antebellum St. Augustine, Florida, is an intellectual history that explores the roots of a campaign by black Catholics to protect their families from the United States slave society that had solidified by the early 1840s. Because of the economic importance of history to the inhabitants...

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1. “The Good Old Flag of Spain”

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pp. 9-28

Three years after the Civil War’s end, and nearly five decades after Old Glory first had been hoisted over St. Augustine, Eliza M. Whitwell finally was coming home. She had been a young bride when her neighbors exiled her from the Ancient City in 1842. Now, as a physician’s widow, she was returning to East...

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2. “Jackasses of the Lion”

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pp. 29-49

God’s agents who invaded Spanish East Florida in March of 1812 were Americans. Perhaps some saw themselves on a divine mission to spread the blessings of democracy. None came to undermine the institution of slavery in the colony. But the invaders did exactly that, illustrating that Providence does indeed work...

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3. Barbarians at the Gates

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pp. 50-72

Robert R. Reid was a “thoughtful, introspective man with an affection for biblical study and the classics.” This native Georgian, who had graduated from South Carolina College and served in Congress from 1819 to 1823, had come to Florida in 1832 as a federal district judge. He would rise to occupy the governor’s...

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4. Prince’s Black Company

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pp. 73-93

In 1946, the undefeated Ken High Red Raiders was the best scholastic football team in western Pennsylvania. The squad’s fame spread far beyond the Pittsburgh area, and consequently, it was selected to play a Texas school in Miami’s Orange Bowl. The invitation must have thrilled the players from the cold, grimy...

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5. Prophets of the Apocalypse

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pp. 94-118

We have seen how white antebellum East Floridians remembered the years immediately preceding the United States–sponsored invasion of 1812 as harbingers of a golden age. Witnesses testifying in the Patriot War claims cases blamed Washington for shattering their dreams of prosperity. Moreover, they portrayed...

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6. The Notorious Andrew Gué

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pp. 119-141

On 25 July 1843, Andrew Gué, William Hernández, Joe Williams, Robert Williams, James Ashe, Gasper Mickler, and Harvey (alias Henry) Fontané threw St. Augustine “into a state of unusual excitement.” Four of these slaves had served aboard the U.S. schooner Walter M, then anchored in port. The conspirators...

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7. The Cana Sanctuary

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pp. 142-164

Andrew Gué’s dramatic escape manifested the depth of the desperation and dread that wracked St. Augustine’s enslaved community in the wake of the Second Seminole War. Over the centuries, Afro–East Floridians had become adept at exploiting geopolitical conflict in order to expand the boundaries of their...


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pp. 165-205


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pp. 207-217


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pp. 219-229

E-ISBN-13: 9780817386061
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817317478

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2012