Free People of Color and the Spanish Legacy in Antebellum Florida
Publication Year: 2013
Heaven’s Soldiers chronicles the history of a community of free people of African descent who lived and thrived, while resisting the constraints of legal bondage, in East Florida in the four decades leading up to the Civil War.
Published by: The University of Alabama Press
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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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I owe a huge debt to Dr. Idus A. Newby, professor emeritus at the University of Hawai’i, for devoting a significant amount of his retirement time to assisting me in the early stages of this project. Drs. Marcus Daniel, Margot Henriksen, Robert McGlone, Miles Jackson, and Karen Jolly of the University of Hawai’i also gave me the benefit of their expertise. ...
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This study focuses on one group of African Americans who struggled to “make it” in an ethnically diverse slave-owning community. It is about agency, memory, and what one historian has called the “hidden transcript of resistance” by oppressed people. It seeks to retrieve “previously suppressed versions of the past” ...
1. Looking Backward and Forward
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In 1868, Eliza M. Whitwell, the quadroon granddaughter of George J. F. Clarke, a former lieutenant governor of Spanish East Florida, critiqued antebellum US policy toward free persons of color in a bitter letter to the prominent St. Augustine physician, John Peck. The “good old Flag of Spain,” she wrote, ...
2. The 1820s: Anxious Optimism
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At least 145 of the Spanish monarch’s free black subjects sailed away from St. Augustine to Cuba between 1821 and 1827.1 They saw the American regime’s advent as an impending disaster. Those who opted to remain harbored strong attachments to their land, along with a remarkable faith that they could prosper under US rule, ...
3. The 1830s: Manumission, Property, and Family
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National, local, and international events conspired against St. Johns County’s free people of color during the 1830s. In 1829, a black man, David Walker, sanctioned servile insurrection in his Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World. The Virginia bondsman, Nat Turner, led his followers to slaughter more than fifty whites in 1831. ...
4. The Second Seminole War
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When the Second Seminole War (1835–1842) erupted, free blacks were able to enlist in the militia. Between 1835 and 1838, in accordance with family and Spanish East Florida tradition, William Clarke joined his white neighbors’ struggle against the Indians and their black allies. ...
5. Restricted Manumission, Migrations, and Antimiscegenation
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Florida lawmakers sought to complete their victory against black fighting men by launching a vigorous attack on manumission in 1842. The sad outcome of the slave Jimmy Gibbs’s freedom bid (which began in 1839 when his owner agreed to sell the black man to a master who would emancipate him so that he could remain united to his St. Augustine family) ...
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6. Preserving Spanish Days: Marriage and Manumission
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One Spanish-era legacy that persisted, although with muted or at least veiled advantages, was familial bonds with whites. Interracial relationships, however, occurred more surreptitiously and with less social pressure on white fathers to live up to their responsibilities. ...
7. The Black Martial Heritage
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The rise of a statewide romanticization of the Hispanic past starting in the late 1840s certainly worked in blacks’ favor in their efforts to preserve Spanish days, as did the adjudication of the Patriot War claims.1 These two factors were important for bolstering memories of the military traditions of St. Johns County’s community of color. ...
8. Land, Paternalism, and Laws
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Free black landownership had badly eroded by the end of the antebellum period. In order to establish the context for an investigation of the US attack on this Spanish-era pillar of liberty, it is useful to survey St. Johns County’s demography and economy. ...
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Page Count: 245
Publication Year: 2013