Spanish was the only language used in town for years

The issue of Spanish ballots for Florida is currently under discussion with a workshop scheduled in Tallahassee on Friday. And, of course, the question is controversial.

Yet making government information available in Spanish and English dates back to the earliest days of Florida’s integration into the United States.

At least two weeks after St. Augustine’s transfer to the United States on July 10, 1821 (and perhaps sooner), a St. Augustine newspaper, the East Florida Gazette, published important information in both languages. .

For the people of St. Augustine, Spanish was their first language and for many their only language for decades. Florida’s Territorial Governor Andrew Jackson has issued a number of executive orders and orders dealing with government activities affecting the ordinary citizen. They were published in both languages.

Ordinances debated or adopted by city council also appeared in Spanish and English in the Gazette.

One of the government offices created by Jackson’s order was the public translator. Jackson’s orders also established the fee the translator could charge: 25 cents for every 100 words.

Other ordinances establish the limits of the city of Saint-Augustin and the organization of the courts and their procedures. The ordinances authorized the use of Spanish in legal proceedings if “both or one of the parties must be Spanish”. Jackson’s order, however, warned that the presiding justice “follow as much as possible the forms in use in Spanish courts.”

Surely one of the most painful things to read in the Gazette was that people who had owned property under the Spanish Empire now had to prove that they had a valid claim on the property in order for the property to be recognized by the government. American.

For some former residents, filing claims would become a nightmare.

They had to gather sufficient evidence to prove their ownership. Many had kept the necessary documentation. But for others, their paper proof of ownership had been lost or ruined over the years.

Claimants with incomplete documents should provide witnesses who could testify to the claimant’s occupation and use of city lots or farms or plantations beyond St. Augustine. All would have to pay for the translation of documents or affidavits into English.

The earliest St. Johns County (and hence St. Augustine) deed books contain deeds and bills of sale in both languages. In some cases, the bilingual documents originated from Cuba and not from St. Augustine. Some of the residents of St. Augustine’s Spanish period had chosen to leave St. Augustine for Cuba when transferred from Florida to the United States. Their deeds or similar documents, usually written or signed in Havana, were of course in Spanish and they appear in both languages. in the books still kept in our department.

Some Gazette advertisers have chosen to advertise their services or wares in both languages. It is perhaps not surprising that alcohol and wine advertisements are often “bilingual”.

Perhaps the most controversial electoral issue of the early days of the US government in Florida was recorded in Spanish and English. The election was the race of 1823 for the territorial delegate from Florida. And that competition led to a lengthy complaint printed in English and Spanish in the local newspaper.

The delegate was Florida’s voice in Congress. Territorial delegates could speak and persuade, but did not have a vote in Congress. In 1823-24 Alexander Hamilton, Jr., ran for the Florida territorial delegate’s office. Many Saint Augustines and in particular Menorcans supported their Menorcan compatriot Joseph Hernandez for the office.

A petition claimed Hamilton was intimidating voters into electing him. The St. Augustine newspaper for June 23, 1823 published a copy of a petition in Spanish and English saying that Hamilton, who was one of the United States land commissioners for Florida who was assessing property claims, had “threatened to watch a dim view of the land claims of anyone he learned had voted for his opponents.

The petition in the local newspaper was a text copy of the petition, written in Spanish and English, sent to Washington, DC, to US President James Monroe, who had appointed Hamilton to take up a post in Florida.

Neither Hamilton nor Hernandez would serve as a territorial delegate. Another candidate, Richard K. Call, won the election.

Susan R. Parker holds a doctorate in colonial history.

Edward K. Thompson