Pensacola’s 200th anniversary marks a milestone for Florida in 1821


Judith A. Bensé

Pensacola is a particularly historic place and a source of pride for its citizens. Many non-Floridians believe our state’s history began after WWII with the tourism industry. Many people mistakenly think that the history of the United States began with the English colonies of Jamestown, Virginia, (1607) or Plymouth, Massachusetts (1620), but by this time several generations of Floridians had already elected home in St. Augustine since its founding in 1565.

As we all know, Pensacola would be the oldest settlement in the United States were it not for the 1559 hurricane that doomed the Luna settlement here. the The Spanish returned to Pensacola 137 years later in 1698 and clung to Florida for the next 123 years, with the exception of 21 years when France (three years) and England (18) occupied it.

Join the celebration today:Escambia County celebrates its 200th anniversary today. Here’s all you need to know

Read them all:Find all the historical chronicles published in the PNJ

During the last decades of Spanish ownership, the Spanish Empire was literally collapsing and could neither protect nor support its colonies in the Americas. In 1821, Spain lost its main colonies of Florida, Mexico and Peru. Over the past few decades as a Spanish colony, Pensacola has grown into a very diverse community with many French residents of Louisiana and the Caribbean, Anglo-Americans, Native Americans, and Africans (free, escaped and enslaved) living here with the Spaniards from Mexico, Cuba, the Caribbean and Spain. US General Andrew Jackson invaded West Florida three times between 1814 and 1821 and even set up a provisional military government in 1819. West Florida’s days were numbered as a Spanish colony.

A closer look at the fascinating Spanish colonial heritage of Pensacola | Part 1

What Census Data and Land Records Tell Us about Spanish West Florida | Part 2

1821 marked turning point, shaped the Pensacola of modern times

The year 1821 was a very important milestone for all Floridians, because for many, many generations, ethnically mixed colonial communities had been the subjects of a European monarch who determined colonial policies and appointed local administrators to put them into effect. artwork. The Pensacoliens mainly spoke Spanish, English and / or French, most were Catholics and had sworn allegiance to the King of Spain. A resident military garrison enforced the royal colonial rules and regulations. With the stroke of a pen in 1821, a radical change occurred in the way of life, political organization, religion, military and economy of the new American territory of Florida.

In Pensacola, administrators such as the sheriff, police officer and mayor were only appointed for one year, after which an election for their replacements would take place. Public health and safety directorates were established which continue to the present day. English lessons were given and the public was made aware of the functioning of a democracy. the first newspaper was created (the Floridian), as was the first fire department and so on. 1821 was a huge turning point and ultimately led to the modern Pensacola we live in today.

Most people think they don’t know much about our territorial period, but several familiar landmarks and street names date from this period. Examples of benchmarks are the three large brick forts at the entrance to our bay built with the help of slaves between 1829 and 1844: forts Pickens, Barrancas and McCree (now under water). The Pensacola Navy Yard was established in 1824 and led directly to the creation of Naval Air Station Pensacola. Some local rulers from the Territorial Period remember the names of Chase, Jackson, La Rua, and other streets.

Bicentennial Commission gets creative to bring 200-year history to life

In order to educate the public about the territorial period and the larger context in which it existed, the West Florida Bicentennial Commission, chaired by myself and co-chaired by Margo Stringfield, plus 11 commission members, was established. in 2019 by the city of Pensacola and County of Escambia. Our goal was to educate the public about the transition from colonial rule to American democracy and life before and after the transition. Funding was provided by the city, county and state of Florida.

We have included many local archaeological and historical organizations in our planning with our media, and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, several high profile programs have started. For example, the West Florida Genealogical Society has searched historical documents, compiled information on more than 2,200 inhabitants of Pensacola in 1821 and identified those buried in St. Michael’s cemetery. The UWF Institute of Archeology has designed a virtual tour of these tombs related to genealogical information. A Digital “Sampler” was created for residents to add their images to represent some of our 2,200+ residents in 1821. The The website allows you to upload a photo of yourself and honor someone from the 1821 community.

Sampler project:How the Sampler Project Aims to Connect Us with Our Pensacola Ancestors of 1821

More than a name:Meet some of the residents of Pensacola from 1821

In January, the Archaeological Society of Pensacola started a monthly series of lectures on the remains and history of the second Spanish and territorial period. In February, the Pensacola News Journal started publish a weekly series of articles Mondays on Spanish and the Territory of Pensacola and West Florida, written by knowledgeable people in the area. These articles are compiled in several volumes of Pensacola History Illustrated, published by the UWF Historic Trust. WUWF public radio also broadcast numerous informative interviews and articles about this era. WSRE TV recorded four hour-long programs on Pensacola and West Florida in 1821 and will produce a documentary on our historic city – yesterday and today.

It will be a sustainable product that connects our diverse heritage and history through time. Many other activities, conferences, website and publications were produced and produced, including the June issue of the Florida Humanities Forum, Pensacola Magazine and others.

Join the celebration today

Come join us on Ferdinand Square and commemorate the turning point of 1821 in our history. the flagship event of the Commemoration of the Territorial Bicentenary takes place today, July 17, in the Museum Square on Zaragoza Street on the historic UWF campus. A blessing of the day will be held at sunrise by the chief of the Santa Rosa Creek tribe.

At 10 a.m., free and open to the public, an official program will begin in the museum square with music from the group UWF, remarks from national, state and local dignitaries, followed by a flag raising ceremony where the Spanish flag is lowered and the United States flag is raised. It is the same place, same day and same time as it happened in 1821.

A historic terminal will be unveiled, food trucks will be available, and there will be a treasure hunt for history and archeology for children. At noon, Hispanic dancers will perform and at 1 p.m. African drum and dance groups will dance in the plaza in the same manner as in 1821. All museums and facilities in the historic district will be open and free to the public. . Come join us in commemorating this historic moment for West Florida and Pensacola.

Judith A. Bense is the former president of the University of West Florida.

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