200 and counting: Ceremonies commemorate Florida becoming U.S. territory


Two hundred years ago St. Augustine was the site of Spain’s transfer of power of Florida to the United States with the signing of the Adams-Onis Treaty.

That was the case once again on July 10, but this time it was a reenactment intended to commemorate the anniversary.

The significance of the events that took place years ago was deeply expressed to the crowd of spectators that stood rows deep at the Plaza De La Constitucion to watch the ceremonies take place.

“We’re here to remember a moment that dramatically shifted our history,” St. Augustine Mayor Tracy Upchurch said.

Dignitaries from Florida and Spain were on hand to take in the event, including Spanish Ambassador to the United States Santiago Cabanas, who felt it was necessary for Spain to have representation at the historical commorancy.

“It’s a very emotional day for us, because we are celebrating not only the 300 years of Spanish presence in Florida, but we’re also celebrating the friendship, partnership and the alliance between our two countries,” Cabanas said. “At that moment when we signed the Adams-Onis Treaty, we were convinced, as we still are, that the United States and Spain are going to be friends forever.”  

The commemoration was broken up into two parts, the first was the initial proclamation and signing of the treaty, which took place at the Governor’s House Cultural Center and Museum in historic St. Augustine.

Jeff Jore of Nocatee portrayed United States Col. Robert Butler during the reenactment, which was a role he embraced after having spent 36 years in the army and teaching history at the Air Force Academy and currently being an adjunct professor of history at Flagler College.

“I really enjoy the reenactments because it’s all about bringing history to life,” Jore said. “That’s what we’re trying to do out here.”

Once the treaty was signed, the precession made the half of a mile march to the Florida National Guard’s training field on the banks of the Matanzas River to lower the Spanish flag and raise the American flag.

“We were touched by the dignified way in which it has been organized by the state of Florida and by the City of St. Augustine,” Cabanas said. “We have a shared legacy and are very proud. We have many reasons to celebrate not only the Spanish, but the Hispanic presence in the United States.”

As the participants marched down the city streets, many onlookers stopped along the sidewalks to wave and take pictures, including several children whose faces showed an amazement for what they were seeing.

“The whole idea is to get them (children) stimulated and to wonder what this is all about,” Jore said.

According to Upchurch, using the National Guard’s training field as the site of the flag exchange was fitting in many ways.

 “Florida is one of two states where the national guard is not based in the state’s capital,” Upchurch said. 

Reenactors portrayed several groups that were prevalent in Florida when the treaty was made official in 1821.

Those groups included Native American representation from the Seminole tribe and militia from Fort Mose, which the National Park Service considers the first legally established free African settlement in North America.

“We take our history in St. Augustine very seriously, and we are blessed with such a rich history,” Upchurch said.

[See also:  Symposium to focus on history of St. Johns County]

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