Search National Register Search
[image] Archeology Month Banner

A Plantation Settlement of Diversity

in British East Florida

The archeological resources of the Smyrnea Settlement tell the intriguing story of an abandoned British colony in East Florida. The numerous archeological sites along a river in Volusia County are evidence that a large plantation was in business for over nine years before its settlers left for better opportunity in St. Augustine and elsewhere.

[image] map Florida Under British Rule, 1789; Courtesy of Maps ETC, on the web at

After the (first) Treaty of Paris in 1763, Florida switched from a Spanish territory to a British one. In an effort to fill the vast lands with white settlers, the British government advertised land grants in the notable British papers of the day. One man interested in such a venture was Dr. Andrew Turnbull. A wealthy man of Scottish birth, Dr. Turnbull was well-known in many respectable British circles. He had connections with a number of titled gentlemen, including his eventual business partners Sir William Duncan and Lord Temple. These three men were also members of the East Florida Society, a group eager to explore the newly acquired British territory for financial gain.

Turnbull's efforts to establish a colony were troubled from the start. The land grant required white Protestant settlers to occupy the newly acquired territory. Turnbull had no luck convincing white Protestants to come with him for the Florida plantation settlement. Instead, Turnbull turned to other Europeans, the vast majority of the Roman Catholic faith. He convinced 200 Greeks, but found the most success in Minorca, a tiny island nation in the Mediterranean. A number of Italians, Turks, and Corsicans, also joined the diverse group of potential settlers. There was a high rate of intermarriage among these groups and they are referred to today as “the Minorcans of Florida.” Turnbull now had the required number of workers, although they were not of the requisite faith, to inhabit his plantation which he named after his Greek wife's birthplace – Smyrnea.

In 1768, eight ships set sail for East Florida carrying the 1255 people who would survive the more than three months' journey and became the workers and inhabitants of the Smyrnea Settlement. They were greeted by at least fifty African American slaves who had begun to clear the land and build structures for plantation life. These enslaved African Americans continued to live and work at Smyrnea for the next nine years and grew crops such as rice, corn, sugar cane and cotton. The primary agricultural focus, however, was the growing and processing of indigo. Large plantations cornered the indigo production market, due to the expensive equipment and complicated processing needed. Smyrnea was the largest exporter of indigo from East Florida during the settlement's peak years of production. Later years in the settlement's short history, other exports such as tar, turpentine, and lumber became the focus. This was a direct result of the War for American Independence, where these types of exports – especially lumber – would aid the British war effort, and therefore, be more valuable cash crops.

[image] map 1803 map of New Smyrna and vicinity showing Turnbull's Grand Canal and possible western lateral (Anonymous 1803; reproduced from Adams et aI. 1997Figure 3).
Click image for larger version.

The settlement became an independent town organized in a linear fashion along a river, much unlike the grouped-community housing that the Mediterranean workers were accustomed to. There were numerous building structures, including houses for Turnbull, enslaved African Americans, colonists, overseers, two Catholic priests, and one Anglican preacher. Smyrnea also included a Catholic church (perhaps an Anglican one as well), workshops, storehouses, wharves, bridges and agricultural buildings. The remnants of roads, drains, gardens, and mills have also been found through archeological research.

In 1777, the Smyrnea Settlement was in a state of rapid decline due to a number of factors including poor weather conditions and escalation of rifts between the settlers and Dr. Turnbull. Lacking the support of his partners in the venture, the British Government, and the territorial Governor of Florida, things went from bad to worse for Dr. Turnbull. Agricultural production halted and the colony dissolved. In late November 1777, “the Catholic church on the settlement, San Pedro, and its priest were transferred to the city of St. Augustine, marking the official end of the colony. This singular movement of a village was termed a rare case on record where a whole parish, priest, and people, moved from one place to another” (NRHP Nomination pg. 23).

[photo]Excavation site of a two-room residential structure, aka Turnball Colonists' House, is listed in the National Register within the Archeological Resources of the 18th-Century Smyrnea Settlement MPS.
Courtesy of the Florida Historic Preservation Office

In the second Treaty of Paris, marking the end of the War for Independence in America, Britain gave back Florida to the Spanish in return for the Bahama Islands, thinking Florida an insignificant territory. Though the Spanish now ruled Florida for a second time, former British subjects remained in East Florida, joining the diverse population made up of Spanish soldiers, slaves, white and black immigrants from the United States and Caribbean, Seminole Indians, and other European immigrants, quite resembling the cultural and ethnic diversity of the Smyrnea Settlement.

Archeological Resources of the 18th-Century Smyrnea Settlement is a multiple property nomination. Most of the resources are archeological sites of different types, including: artifact scatters, middens, building remains, and structural remains. Various structures are present, such as vats, wells, bridge remains, canals and ditches, roads and trails, and cemeteries. The site has potential for data related to understanding the British experience in East Florida, related to settlement organization, potential for economic reconstruction, and potential for socio-cultural reconstruction. Some of the archeological resources listed under this nomination include the canal system, colonists' houses, and more.

By Stephanie Massaro

Archeological Resources of the 18th-Century Smyrnea Settlement of Dr. Andrew Turnbull MPS Cover submitted by the Florida State Historic Preservation Office.
Florida Under British Rule, 1789 (Map), Caroline Mays Brevard, A History of Florida (New York, NY: American Book Company, 1919) 84; Downloaded from Maps ETC, on the web at [map #f2073]

Archeology 2011 Home | Intro
Properties: Pottersville | Smyrnea Settlement | Sams Tabby Complex | Paulino Outdoor Oven
Previously Highlighted Properties & Learn More

National Register Home


contact us

feature prepared by: Erika Martin Seibert and Stephanie Massaro



[graphic] Link to [graphic] National Park Service  Arrowhead and link to [graphic] National Park Service Arrowhead and link to