A Map and Two Letters Related to Fort St. Nicholas

This collection is comprised of three documents from the second Spanish colonial period of East Florida. The Second Spanish Period spanned from the 1784 repossession of East Florida, after a twenty-year British rule, to the 1821 transfer of the Florida territory from Spain to the United States (Johnson 1992). The three documents edited all relate to a former Spanish fortification known as Fort St. Nicholas that was situated on the banks of the St. John’s River in what is now Jacksonville.

Plano número 1. de la barra y río de San Juan desde su entrada hasta dos millas más arriba del paso de San Nicolás... (1791)

The first document is a 1791 map of a portion of the St. John’s River and its surroundings which form part of the present-day city of Jacksonville. It was created by Mariano de la Rocque, an architect and chief engineer of St. Augustine during the Second Spanish Period, who was also responsible for a detailed map of that city as well as plans for the completion the St. Augustine Cathedral Basilica (completed under the governorship of Enrique White) and renovations to Castillo San Marcos and the San Francisco Convent (“On the Map”; the University of Florida Digital Collections gathers several related items by de la Rocque). The map includes the location of Fort St. Nicholas – a strategic placement designed to help protect the Cowford Crossing (called "Paso de San Nicolás" by the Spanish) and defend the area from smugglers and raiders (“Fort St. Nicholas”). While the fort no longer stands, it was located near the current Bishop Kenny High School on Atlantic Boulevard in South Jacksonville. After the U.S. acquisition of the territory, it was no longer needed and was dismantled. However, artifacts from the fort were rediscovered during World War II during the building of a ship slip at the site (“Fort St. Nicholas”). The map also includes the areas now known as Little and Big Talbot, Fort George Island, St. John’s Bluff and the King’s Road.

Letter from Jose Martines to Enrique White, Nov. 20, 1797 Letter from Jose Martines to Enrique White, May 6, 1800

The other two documents included in this exhibit are intelligence reports from Fort St. Nicholas to Governor Enrique White written in 1797 and 1800, respectively. The documents form part of the East Florida Papers – the collection of Spanish administrative documents that U.S. officials received upon possession of Florida in 1821 (Johnson). The original documents are housed at the Library of Congress, but images of microfilm copies were provided by Dr. James Cusick, curator of the PK Yonge Library at the University of Florida. The documents provide a brief snapshot of the complex sociopolitical dynamics of Spanish East Florida via happenings at Fort St. Nicholas. The first correspondence deals with a resident’s pig that was killed and eaten by soldiers at the fort and her subsequent demand for two pesos of recompense. The second correspondence deals with two Indians appearing at St. Nicholas and claiming ownership of a Black slave that had escaped. This document in particular provides insight into the social dynamics of the time as Spanish East Florida often served as a haven for fugitive slaves escaping from territories just to the north (Landers “Spanish Sanctuary"). At the same time, Spanish East Florida was also home to both enslaved and free Blacks, Black Spanish militia troops, maroon communities comprised of Blacks and Indians and various interracial marriages and social relations within the larger community (Landers "Transforming Bondsmen" 128; Landers "Gracia Real" 23). As explained by Dr. Cusick, these dynamics were often a source of tension between the Spanish and the U.S. slaveowners just to the north. In fact, they were one of the catalysts for later U.S. acquisition of the Florida territory as the U.S. demanded compensation from Spain for the value of the escaped slaves lost to Spanish Florida, among other damages (Rosen 12, 25, 30). The addressee of the two letters, Enrique White, was an Irish-born soldier who served the Spanish Crown from his teens until his death in St. Augustine in 1811. He served as governor of East Florida from 1796 until his death and as governor of West Florida from 1793 to 1796, making him the longest-running governor in Spanish Florida’s history (Harlan; Camp).

Several challenges were navigated in the transcribing, editing and translating of these documents. In dealing with the map, careful consideration was taken in the translation of place names due to the fact that some names have been anglicized and some have retained their Spanish names. For example, "San Pablo" was left in its Spanish form while "St. John’s" was translated from the Spanish "San Juan." The map is also oriented with the south facing the top of the page – something that readers should be cognizant of when viewing the image.

In regard to the two letters, the Spanish has been modernized as to capitalization, spelling and accent norms. The original text often lacks punctuation and presents inconsistent capitalization patterns so care has been taken to include punctuation where it is likely to best retain the original meaning of the text yet simplify the reading experience. One interesting aspect to note is the inconsistencies in orthography and abbreviation between the two letters despite the fact that they are authored by the same person and addressed to the same recipient, albeit three years apart. One very apparent example of this can be observed in the misspelling of the governor’s surname "White" as "Whuyte" in the later correspondence while it is spelled correctly in the earlier one. This may due to the fact that the letters were dictated to two different scribes.  

This collection presents only a small sample of the existing archival documents related to Florida’s Second Spanish Period and Fort St. Nicholas. Further investigation and editing of additional documents related to the fort is merited in order to paint a more vivid picture of this period of North Florida’s history.

A Map and Two Letters Related to Fort St. Nicholas