In 1768, Dr. Andrew Turnbull brought a group of indentured servants to the wilderness of East Florida. The colony was called New Smyrna after his wife’s birthplace and the plan was to raise indigo and silk on the land. Although the group of 1,403 settlers were mostly from the Mediterranean island of Minorca, they also included people from Italy, Greece, Mallorja, Spain and France. They became known collectively as the Minorcans.
Only 1,255 arrived in Florida. Over the next 9 years their suffering continued until 1777 when most of the surviving colonists migrated to St. Augustine and were granted sanctuary. They were free from their indenture, but their situation had not improved much. England was more focused on the colonies to the north and had little inclination to support a ragtag group of people who weren’t even British. At the end of the war, Florida once again became a Spanish colony and the Minorcans chose to stay on in Florida.
Through the centuries their descendants have had a significant impact on the culture and politics in this part of the state. Although my family does not have any Minorcan ancestors, we grew up enjoying many Minorcan customs and dishes – like clam chowder, pilau (pronounced perlow) and fromajadas (cheese pastries).
My interest in the Minorcans and their history increased when I learned that my family has a Minorcan link. After leaving Florida, Dr. Turnbull and his family settled in Charleston, South Carolina, where he lived until his death in 1792. In 1797, my fifth great aunt, Claudia Butler Gervais, married one of his sons, Robert James Turnbull, in Charleston.
So far my information on the Turnbull – Gervais relationship is still quite sketchy. In fact, I spent much of this morning in the library doing some research – and came home to find “Minorcans to Florida 1768″ in my newsreader. Yes, it caught my attention. This article from Olive Tree Genealogy Blog announces the release of passenger lists from the ships bringing the New Smyrna settlers to Florida. Scrolling through the lists I found many names that are still very common in this area – Reyes, Capo, Pellicer and Llambias.
Many thanks to Olive Tree Genealogy and Lucie Servole Myers for their efforts. This is an important addition to the story of Florida’s Minorcan heritage.