Why Are We Sleeping?

The post title and following text come from T. Frederick Davis’s 1925 work, “History of Jacksonville Florida and Vicinity, 1513 to 1924.” The green cloth-covered hardback beckoned to be read from the beginning. This text is at the end of the Chapter 1. (Emphasis mine)

“From Maine to California in the schools of every city and hamlet of the nation where American history is taught, children recite in a word or two the events that occurred in the vicinity of St. Johns Bluff recorded in this chapter. They know that perhaps the destiny of a continent was settled somewhere in Florida, but they do not know that it was anywhere near Jacksonville, nor that here the first white women and children landed in the territory now the United States in the first really substantial attempt at permanent colonization, and that here according to a record inference the first white child was born–the first Protestant white child born in North America. They do not know that the first battle in North America between white races was fought at Fort Caroline. But they do know all about Jamestown and Plymouth rock and a good deal about the missions of California. Thousands of people visit those places every year for no other reason in the world than for their historic interest.

The Daughters of the American Revolution, on May 1, 1924, unveiled near Mayport an enlarged copy of the marker placed by Ribault at the mouth of the river in 1562, and which was undoubtedly destroyed by the Spaniards upon the capture of Fort Caroline in 1565. This is the only effort that has been made to commemorate any of the events of history along the St. Johns River between Jacksonville and the sea.”

Some recent events have led me back to the green book that I generally reference for early 20th century Jacksonville history.

First, a Jacksonville Historical Society meeting in December to celebrate U.S. Rep. Charles Bennett’s 100th birthday taught me what he did for the area, from securing the land for Fort Caroline National Memorial to writing his history of the Fort and Laudonniere.

Second, a meeting of Old Arlington Inc. featured a speaker from the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve and Fort Caroline National Memorial and a McCormick family member speaking about the life of Willie Browne, whose land became what is now the Theodore Roosevelt Area at the National Park Service site.

Third relates to the italicized quote above. Even a north Florida native who wholeheartedly loves this state can miss the historical marker. While working at the St. Augustine Record, I ran an “In Depth” page about Jamestown and Plymouth Rock, to recognize Jamestown’s 400th anniversary. The copy desk chief included a small box with a statement that St. Augustine celebrated its quadricentennial in 1965. Looking back, it is a miracle the Historical Society did not call for my immediate firing.

I realized after seeing the page in print that I had never put the timeline together. No matter how many elementary school field trips we took to St. Augustine, what I remembered as oldest were Jamestown and Plymouth. It escaped me that these were continuously occupied *British* settlements. St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied *Spanish* settlement.

St. Augustine has fought Jamestown and Plymouth a bit unsuccessfully for the title in the public mind of Nation’s Oldest City. Williamsburg figured out years ago how to capitalize on cultural and historic tourism, which St. Augustine has been working on. Even Roanoke and its Lost Colony has created something to see and they promote it, too.

So, why haven’t we done anything in Jacksonville? We predate St. Augustine, which means we predate Jamestown and Plymouth and Roanoke. Why do we not see the value in our own history?

It’s not only the value of the story of French Protestants at Fort Caroline–we also dismiss or forget our role in film history (winter film capital), tourism (winter holiday capital until Flagler kept building that railroad), banking and finance (so many banks and insurance companies had their headquarters here), Black history (some have boldly reversed our stature of Harlem of the South to state that Harlem was actually the LaVilla/Jacksonville of the North), music (hello, birth of Southern rock) … Need I go on? Why aren’t there museums to each of these?

As Mr. Davis noted in 1925, people visit historic places out of an interest in history for its own sake. With our budget still in jeopardy, imagine the economic impact of just one history-centered attraction, promoted across the state, region and nation. We have so much to offer–including accuracy in the historical record.


About newzgrrl

Writer, editor, photographer, Southerner. I love Downtown Jacksonville and bicycles.
This entry was posted in Jax History, Make it better, Take a look around and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Why Are We Sleeping?

  1. dukeroberts says:

    People are often surprised when I tell them any of these things. They’re like, “Jacksonville? Really?” Yes, really. Open a history book.

    Another little known historical fact about Jacksonville involves two regiments of black Union soldiers that seized the city during the Civil War. I had never heard anything about this until a few years ago. I’m reading a book about it now. It is called “Firebrand of Liberty”. These black regiments, the 1st and 2nd South Carolina, existed before the events depicted in the film “Glory” occurred. However, there is no movie about these brave black soldiers actually seizing and holding a major Southern port town. Jacksonville gets no respect.

    • newzgrrl says:

      Duke, are you familiar with Old Arlington Inc.? I thought about you while at the presentation last night. And the one I attended Monday night at the Historical Society, with a Teddy Roosevelt impersonator. You would have enjoyed both. (Unfortunately I found out about each one the day before, and didn’t think about sharing the invitations.)

      • dukeroberts says:

        Bummer. Did you lose my number? Accidentaly, of course? Ha ha. They meet not far from my house. Those would have been fun, I’m sure.

  2. dukeroberts says:

    I meant “Accidentally”.

    • newzgrrl says:

      After hearing about a cool event, I show up at the appointed time, get through social hour and introductory remarks. At the start of the presentation, I think, “Gee, such and such would really like this …” I have done this a few times with a few people in mind. So I need to think ahead of who else would enjoy these fascinating discussions.

  3. dukeroberts says:

    I’m close by.

  4. Kevin says:

    Great post. Our schools don’t even teach US history, much less local. Sad.

  5. Katie Ross says:

    Let me know next time you go. For me, committing myself to a community means learning about it’s history and advocating on its behalf (that includes education and preservation). Please put me on your “cool events” invite list!

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  7. dukeroberts says:

    You should come over. It’s not even a 10 minute drive down the road from my house.

  8. Dan M says:

    I’ve been playing too much Sim City over the weekend. When you were asking why we don’t have museums for some of these things, I instinctively reached for the build menu.

    Imagine a universe where Fort Caroline survived. We’d be living in Fort Caroline, America’s Oldest City, now. That’s kind of a big deal.

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