Descendants Brighten Pages of History
Sunday July 7, 1968
(contributed by Bob Jones)
The Miami Herald - Page 5-H
Florida Minorcans-200 Years Later
Herald Staff Writer

It’s been two centuries since (unreadable six words) colonists, hopeful of starting a better way of life in the New World,
landed in this palm-fringed spot on Florida’s East Coast.

Although the colony was a spectacular failure, the offspring of the survivors have contributed a colorful chapter of the
history of the New World. Among them have been outstanding men of letters, priests, soldiers, businessmen, political
leaders, fishermen, unique and unforgettable characters.

Stephen Vincent Benet, whose ancestors came with the Minorcan colony – as it became known – was awarded the
Pulitzer prize in 1929 for his book length poem, “John Brown’s Body.” Benet’s brother William Rose Benet, was a founder
of the “Saturday Review of Literature.”

The father of the Benet brothers was a general in the U.S. Army [Editor note:
General Stephen Vincent Benet, while
their grandfather,
Pedro Benet, one of St. Augustine’s most colorful characters, was known as the “King of the
Minorcans.” He was a political leader before and during the Civil War.

A relative, Charles (Bossy) Benet – who pronounced his name like Bennett – was St. Augustine’s Marshal for several
years after the turn of the century.
* * *
OLD TIMERS remember when Bossy whipped out his revolver at a council meeting and shot a councilman. Bossy had
asked the council to buy new uniforms for the police force. Councilman John Papino got up to speak against the motion.
Bossy ordered him to sit down and keep quiet.

The offended councilman shook his fist in Bossy’s face and informed him he had no right to speak like that. Whereupon
Bossy shot the councilman in the face. The councilman survived and so did Bossy. (
See the shooting of John Papino)

For nearly a century, from the time Spain ceded Florida to the United States 1821 until just before World War I
(unreadable five words) dominated by the New Smyrna colonists, who became  collectively known as “the Minorcans.”
Sticking together, they were able to capture the important political posts after Florida became a state in 1845 and hold

But Minorcans disagreed among themselves as much as they did with outsiders. Strongly individualistic, hot-tempered
and aggressive they continually fought among themselves giving St. Augustine one of the most unstable governments in

Not until recent years, after the Minorcan population was diluted by newcomers who were often quick to marry the
attractive, dark-eyed women, has St. Augustine had anything resembling a stable government.
* * *
BUT TO GET the full flavor of Minorcan history, one must return to 1768 when a Scottish physician, Dr. Andrew
Turnbull, planned with the help of money from wealthy Englishmen to establish a lucrative farm colony in Florida.
Only five years before, England had acquired Florida in exchange for Havana, which British troops had captured during
the Seven Years’ War. A Florida land boom followed. Dr. Turnbull contracted the land fever and managed to infect
several wealthy Londoners with it.

Together they obtained grants of more than 100,000 acres. Then Turnbull went to the Mediterranean, where he had
once served in the foresight service, to recruit colonists. He named the colony Smyrna, birthplace of (unreadable

Of his colonists (unreadable sentence) he collected 200 from Greece, 100 from Italy and (unreadable words) from
Minorca. Eight vessels with 1,400 colonists on board left Gibraltar on April 17, 1768. Over ten died on the way but there
were several births.

Many of the Italians, brought to Minorca a year before departure, had married Minorcan women. So many births
occurred at sea that amid the confusion of a priest unaccountably recording one birth as “parents unknown.”
But in spite of the many births, only 1,255 arrived in Florida.

A more motley group with such a diverse background was never brought to America according to Leonard A. Usina,
President of the People’s Banks in Miami (unreadable words) who traces his ancestors to the Minorcans.

“There blood was a cross-section of the centuries of the hard traders, plunderers and political firebrands of the
Mediterranean,” said Usina, “beginning with the Phoenicians and including the Greeks, Roman’s, Carthaginians,
Vandals, Visigoths and Moors.

“Minorca long had been a convenient place for the exile of Castilians and Catalan trouble-makers, a d the blood of
these hot-headed revolutionists flowed through the vein of many Minorcans.

“Moreover, the group spoke three languages…a dialect of Catalan, Greek and Italian. Even with conditions ideal,
Turnbull and his backers might have had a difficult time establishing a successful colony.

(Unreadable words) The fewer than 500 who survived…they were described as demoralized, ill, hungry and rebellious….
Abandoned their palmetto shacks and trekked to St. Augustine.

Turnbull’s venture had cost 964 lives and 40,000 pounds sterling equivalent to several million dollars in today’s value.
All that survives of the colony in New Smyrna is a drainage ditch known as Turnbull’s Canal, the stone foundation of
Turnbull’s headquarters and the name of the town.

The disillusioned Turnbull returned to England, leaving his colonists to root for themselves, which they did quite
successfully. Their offspring have done much better.
                         *  * * *
It has been the nature of the Minorcan’s to be competitive, driving, argumentative, challenging, defying (unreadable

Not only did the Minorcans dom9inate the politics of St. Augustine for a century, but several generations of the former
colonists have run shops, restaurants, hotels, have been skilled craftsmen and have made St. Augustine the center of
the fishing industry in Northeast Florida.

Minorcans have scattered throughout Florida. Besides Usina, another well-known Miami Minorcan is Edward N.
Claughton Jr, whose family owns the Claughton hotels and theatres. His Minorcan come from his mother, the former
Lillian Corbett of St. Augustine.

In Fort Lauderdale, Father Lamar Genovar pastor of Saint Sebastian Catholic Church, traces his ancestors to the

In the St. Augustine telephone directory are still a dozen familiar Minorcan names…Pellicer, Manucy, Usina, Hernandez,
Baya, Masters (for Maestre), Ponce (for Pons), Andrew (for Andreau), Leonardi, Pacetti, Capo and Papy. Some are of
Spanish (unreadable sentence), in
St. Augustine’s Oldest House. Dan Mickler is chairman of the St. Johns County
Commission. Former J. Earl Mickler owns the Lions Motel. Eleanor Philips Barnes is a genealogist.

Upon abandoning the New Smyrna colony in 177, the Minorcans were permitted to build palmetto shacks on the
outskirts of St. Augustine. Here they lived by truck farming and fishing until the British ceded Florida back to Spain in

It was a break for the former colonist who quickly moved into houses abandoned by the British, and the Minorcans,
being Catholic, fared well under the Spanish.

The Minorcans’ priest, Father Camps, was given a chapel on St. George Street, not far from the City Gates. Minorcans
quickly became leading merchants and shippers. They dominated the fishing industry and became the leading farmers,
providing most of the food for the Spanish garrison.

After the U.S. purchased Florida from Spain in 1821 the Minorcan became even stronger. They claimed nearly 50,000
acres of Florida land. Many Minorcans became wealthy.

In May, the Greek Order of Ahepa erected a plaque at New Smyrna Beach ”In honor of those intrepid Hellenes who
came to the New World in 1768.”

It was the first large number of Greeks to come to America, starting a trek which thousands of other Greeks have
followed since.         What have the former colonists done to commemorate the 200th anniversary? Hardly a thing.
“If you got all these Minorcans together” observed one of them, “you would wind up with a brawl. “
                                        # # #

About the writer:
Nixon Smiley (August 17, 1911 – 1990) was a reporter, columnist, and feature writer for the Miami Herald born in Orange
Park, Florida and was raised by his maternal grandparent after losing both parents by the age of 7.
His career in newspapers began at the Florida Times Union in Jacksonville. He was in the U.S. Marine Corps during
WWII. Upon his return he began a 30 plus year career at the Herald and authorship of 15 books.
He worked at the Herald from 1940 until 1973. The Nixon Smiley Research Papers (1940s-1972) are held at the
Historical Museum of Southern Florida.
Custom Search
Like us on Facebook
Stephen Vincent Benet
General Stephen Vincent Benet
Pedro Benet
Charles "Bossy" Benet
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,
Menorcan Culture and History
British Period
Second Spanish Period
New Smyrna
History of Cast Nets
Canova de Medicis House
Gaspar Pappy House
Gonzalez-Alvarez House
Carrying the Mail
Minorcan Made Cast Nets
Growing Datil Peppers
Captain Jack Usina
Golden Book of the Minorcans
Menorcan Fisherman in the
Benet Family
Menorcan Black Drum Line
The Legend of Carl Canova