Some of the earliest Europeans in Florida were Irish clergymen. During the first Spanish period (1559-1763), Father Richard Arthur, also known as Padre Ricardo Artur, presided over the parish of St. Augustine from 1598 until his death in 1606.
An Early Engraving of St. Augustine
The Hibernia Regiment of Spain (composed primarily of Irish expatriates) fought and defeated the English at Pensacola, Florida in 1781. Pensacola, which had been ceded to the English in 1764, was surrendered back to Spain on May 8 1781. Hibernia Regiment leader, Count Arthur O’Neil, was then appointed as the Spanish Governor of West Florida. The King of Spain provided for the future of the Church in his province by selecting Irish priests Thomas Hassett and Michael O Reilly to be the Parish Priest and the Curate for Pensacola. The Church Register of the time showed the mixed origins of the congregation, listing Spanish, French, Irish and Scots names. In 1794 another Irish priest, James Coleman, was appointed Parish Priest and Chaplain of the garrison at Pensacola.
In 1783, The Treaty of Paris required Britain to relinquish East Florida back to Spain. Britain had governed East Florida for only twenty years between 1763 and 1783. During that period, colonists, seeking land and trade, came slowly into East Florida. These settlers arrived from other colonies as well as from other countries. During the American Revolution, East Florida had become a refuge for colonists wishing to remain loyal to the British Crown. These Loyalists fled to East Florida, primarily from Georgia and the Carolinas, but also from other colonies. Under the terms of the 1783 Treaty, non-Spanish East Florida residents were given the option of remaining and retaining their property, provided that they would become Spanish subjects and swear allegiance to the Spanish Crown – and provided that they were Catholic, or would convert to the Catholic religion. Their only other option was to leave East Florida and relinquish all rights to their land and property. The Treaty gave them 18 months to decide.
1783 Map of Spanish East Florida
The restored Spanish government at St. Augustine then took a census of “alien” residents in East Florida, recording who would remain and who would leave. Among them were many Irish and Irish-Americans (The following list represents only a portion of the 1783 Spanish East Florida census, and may not include all Irish and Irish-Americans):
Henry O’Neil, from Virginia, a farmer, married with 9 children, was undecided on remaining in the country. He had two horses and two head of cattle, and he inhabited an estate 3 miles from the port of the St. Mary’s River.
Daniel and Samuel Patrick, day workers, requested Spanish protection, but did not state whether they would remain or leave. Both brothers lived in The Bluff.
Hannah Mohr (or More), from Maryland, a farmer, widow with 2 children, requested Spanish protection and wished to remain if permitted. She had 3 slaves and 2 horses, and lived on, and cultivated a vacant estate 3 miles from that of Mr. Fatio on the St. Johns River.
Jacob Mohr (or Moore), from Georgia, a blacksmith, married with 5 children wished to leave the country. He had 6 slaves and 2 horses and lived in a house on property he purchased on The Bluff.
Jacob Tomson, from Ireland, a carpenter, bachelor, wished to leave the country. He lived in Picolata.
James Clements, from Ireland, a mason, bachelor, wished to become a Spanish subject; had a brother living in Spain; C.A.R. He had one horse and lived in St. Augustine in the house of the armorer, John Flanagan. He was "of Young’s Company".
Jacob Doharty, from Virginia, a farmer, bachelor, wished to leave the country. He lived at Tompkins Inlet on the St. Johns River.
Stephan White, from Ireland, a trader, married with 2 children wished to leave the country. He had 2 slaves and 3 horses, and owned property and a house at The Bluff.
Charles Smith, from Ireland, laborer, bachelor, wished to leave the country. He lived at The Bluff. He was empowered to bring out other property owned by the Marshall of Camp Tonyn, who owned a plantation with 58 slaves, 100 head of cattle and 12 horses of all classes; and on another plantation this
same Marshall had 23 slaves; and said Marshall had besides 11 slaves belonging to the British King; all were in the charge of an overseer named Thompson McCollough, who had a wife and one son; and all are available to retire.
Joseph MacCormic , from Pennsylvania, a farmer, married with 2 children, was undecided as to remain or leave. He held title papers in his favor to Mr. Mohr’s house on the St. Johns River at the Julia Anton (Julinton) Inlet.
Phillip Proctor, from Ireland, a farmer, married, was undecided as to remain or leave. He had 1 horse and lived with Joseph MacCormic at the mouth of Julia Anton (Julinton) Inlet.
John Murphey, from Ireland, a medical doctor, widower with one son and a nephew living with him, was undecided as to remain. He owned an estate on the St. Johns River at Trout Inlet, with a house on it, where he farmed and lived.
John MacDermott, from Ireland, a merchant, bachelor, wished to leave the country. He lived at Public Point on the St. Johns River.
Jesse Leary, from Pennsylvania, a farmer, married with one child and a sister living with him, wished to leave the country. He owned 4 horses and lived on a vacant estate on the Diego Plains.
John Egger, from Ireland, a farmer, married, wished to leave the country. He lived on Amelia Island.
Jacob Harrel, from South Carolina, a farmer, married, wished to remain in the country, if permitted. He lived on Amelia Island.
Richard Murray, married, stated that he was a native of Ireland, C.A.R. and wanted “an opportunity in this Florida so he can make a living among those who profess this religion, praying humbly to his Excellency that he have permission to come and establish himself with his family, which is comprised of his wife and 3 slaves, transporting all of his goods and sustaining himself the best he may in the Dominions of His Majesty.”
Derby O’Leary, from Ireland, a storekeeper and rum dealer, requested Spanish protection and wished to remain and conform to the Catholic religion. He stated that he had a boy working in his rum shop along with 6 slaves and he lived in a small house attached to the Guard House.
Robert English, from Ireland, a widower with 5 children requested Spanish leaves for the British Dominions. He was a farmer without an estate, owned 30 slaves and lived in a rented house on Charlotte Street.
David Marin, from Ireland, a tavern-keeper, married with a son, intended to remain and become a Spanish subject, if allowed, within 18 months. He owned 7 slaves and a house and grounds close to the Castle. He went to England, leaving his wife and son there with the intent to return for them if they are not permitted to remain; but later the wife and son left with all her family for Georgia and never returned.
Joseph Kelly, from Ireland, a shoemaker, married with 2 children, requested permission to remain and become a Spanish subject at the end of 18 months. His trade was shoemaker, but he had a rum shop, rented a house in the neighborhood of the Castle and owned 4 horses.
Matthew Stewart, from Ireland, a saddler, married with one son, wished to leave for British Dominions. He owned 16 slaves and lived in a rented house, 3 houses from Colonel Brown’s house.
John Reynolds, from Ireland, a merchant, bachelor wished to leave for British Dominions. He owned a store on Charlotte Street. He left.
Charles Doemis, from Ireland, a boat captain and pilot, married with 12 sons, was undecided as to leave or remain. He owned 300 acres of land with a house upon it, about 12 miles from Point Codura on the St Johns River; he also owned about 1,000 acres on the River about 70 miles from this settlement. He held title documents for all the property. He also owned 10 slaves, 2 horses and 2 cows. He lived in the City in a rented house near the Quarters.
George Barnes, from Ireland, a merchant, married with one son, was undecided as to remain or leave. He had title to 500 acres of land with a house on it in the Picaloto neighborhood. He owned 3 slaves and 2 horses. He lived in a rented house and store on Charlotte Street.
George Kerr, from Ireland, a merchant, bachelor, associate of George Barnes, was then in Georgia on business. Mr. Barnes answered for him, and said he was of the same mind as Mr. Barnes.
Jacob Sonson, from Ireland, a grocer, married with 2 children, wished to remain in the province if allowed. He owned about 1,400 acres of land in 4 divisions: the first was on the North River close to the seashore; the second was on the "Two Seeds" Swamp about 12 miles away; the third was in the same place 2 miles further on; and the fourth was on the other side of the St. Johns River, 10 miles above Picoloto. He held title documents to all of the property. On the last division he had a wood house. He owned 6 slaves, 8 horses and 6 head of cattle. He lived in a rented house above the parsonage close to that of Madame Mason.
Fleetwood Armstrong, from Ireland, a wine merchant, married with one son, was undecided as to remain or leave. He owned a house and grounds on Charlotte Street. He was an associate in a company with John Hudson, an Irishman, and was also associated with the Minorcans. He owned a slave, a horse and a schooner.
Michael Flanagan, from Ireland, a Practitioner of Medicine, widower, wished to remain in the country if he could find a way to make a living, otherwise he would leave for the British Dominions. He was an Apostolic Roman Catholic, practiced medicine, and owned 500 acres of land about 90 miles from the City beyond the Big Lagoon on the Small Lagoon. He lost his title documents in a shipwreck.
Daniel Sullivan, from Ireland, a tailor, bachelor requested permission to remain and become a Spanish subject. He lived on The Bluff.
Plan of St. Augustine around 1783
During the second Spanish period (1783-1821), many Irish clergy held prominent positions in Florida. Spanish King Charles III requested that Fathers Thomas Hassett and Michael O’Reilly (priests from Longford, Ireland, educated in Spain, to whom he paid expenses and salaries) proceed to St. Augustine, and report to the Bishop of Santiago do Cuba. In the official register of August 1, 1784, Father Hassett is titled “Beneficed Curate Vicar and Ecclesiastical Judge” and Father O’Reilly as “Assistant and Military Chaplain.” Over the next few years, they were followed by Irish priests Michael Crosby, Michael Wallis and Constantine McCaffrey. Also during that period, six Irish priests served at St. Michael’s parish in Pensacola and in West Florida missionary posts: Francis Lennan, James Coleman, Gregory White, Constantine McKenna, Michael Lamport and William Savage.
In St. Augustine, Father Hassett used, as a temporary parish church, the upper floor of a building occupying the site of the former bishop’s house. He appealed to the King of Spain for means to finish the abandoned parish church, and requested that the church plate and vestments formerly removed to Havana be ordered returned to St. Augustine. It was not until February, 1786 that orders were sent from Spain to the Bishop of Santiago de Cuba to supply the church of St Augustine. In April 1793, Pope Pius VI established the diocese of Louisiana and the Florida’s. The first bishop, Right Rev. Louis Penalver y Cardenas, nominated Father Hassett as head of his cathedral chapter, and Father O’Reilly as parish priest of St. Augustine. Father O’Reilly conducted an energetic pastorate at St Augustine. The new church, which had been under construction since 1792, was completed in 1797. O’Reilly also erected a substantial dwelling, which still exists.
Cathedral of St. Augustine
After the Bishop’s promotion to the Archbishopric of Guatemala in 1801, Father Hassett became administrator of the diocese of Louisiana and Florida. Father O’Reilly died in 1812, and his tomb is in the Tolomato cemetery. O’Reilly was succeeded by Father Michael Crosby. In 1811, a great deal of political unrest was caused in Florida by the extraordinary order of US President James Monroe, appointing a commission to prepare for the occupation of the Florida’s by force, should there be any suspicion that any other power might try to occupy the provinces. The Spanish Governor refused a proposition that he surrender the provinces to the United States. A disturbed condition of affairs prevailed during following years; and in 1814 and 1818, General Andrew Jackson conducted some military operations in Florida. Finally, in 1819, a treaty was concluded. For the consideration of five million dollars, Spain ceded East and West Florida to the United States. The formal exchange of flags took place at St. Augustine on July 10 1821. Father Michael Crosby had died in May, 1821.
1823 Map of Florida
The population of St. Augustine at that time was of mixed character. The Spanish regiment stationed there was largely composed of troops who had served originally in the famous Irish Brigade under the flag of France. Refugees from the failed New Smyrna settlement and Spanish settlers formed the bulk of the civilian population, but a few English and Irish settlers had remained, including a number of the Loyalists who had left the American colonies after the Revolutionary War.