Friday, June 8, 2018



For as long as my mind can recall, I have considered cake to be a festivity fundamental. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, retirement parties, baby showers – cake should accompany any day of joyful celebration. New Smyrna Beach is prepping a HUGE celebration on June 16th. “Why?,” you might wonder. The city has existed for 250 years. We have much to commemorate!
As previously promised, I am embarking on a digital cake-making, candle-lighting venture with all who would like to join. New Smyrna’s archaeological heritage over the past three centuries will serve as the cake ingredients. Each candle, when “lit,” will represent one story, as told through archaeology, from each century.
 
To begin celebrating this city, we must venture back to the late 18th century (the late 1700s). We travel to a time when the British occupied Florida. Spanish control of St. Augustine and Florida floundered by 1763. Countless British men, women, and children entered the colonial streets of St. Augustine. The British government, and many wealthy individuals, considered Florida to be a vast land bloated by untapped resources, economic opportunities, and agricultural prospects. The potential to create an enterprise allured to Dr. Andrew Turnbull, a Scottish physician. Under his direction, the Smyrnea Settlement – a precursor to New Smyrna Beach – came into being.
 
Turnbull’s Smyrnea Settlement was a joint endeavor. Turnbull (left), Sir William Duncan, and George Grenville (right) combined their land grants (which amounted to a whopping 101,000 acres) and financial resources to develop a settlement in East Florida. The group, with Turnbull’s guidance, chose New Smyrna Beach.
 
Florida Memory provides this 18th century portrait of Turnbull. William Hoare painted Grenville in 1760.
With Smyrnea’s land and location arranged, Turnbull began to most important part of the process: recruiting settlers. Relying on his experiences while living in Egypt and Turkey, Turnbull sought a less common source of workers. He sought Mediterranean natives, particularly Minorcans, Greeks, and Italians. People from these areas, he thought, would be better suited for the Settlement. The Mediterranean was quite similar to that of Florida. Over the course of several months, Turnbull recruited 1,403 individuals. Settlers agreed to indenture terms. These terms required that settlers work for, at minimum, six years. Turnbull promised transport to Florida, housing, and food.

The voyage to Florida began in April 1768 and was not without casualties. Over 100 people perished at sea, leaving 1,225 men, women, and children to establish Smyrnea. Turnbull’s Settlement dismally failed after 11 years. During those years, those who had emigrated endured high death rates, food shortages, crop failures, and – according to some testimonies – abuses imparted by overseers and, on occasion, Turnbull.1 Settlers also experienced agricultural successes, especially with indigo, and developed an innovative canal system.
 
Dr. Daniel Schafer, professor emeritus at the University of North Florida, has intensively studied British plantations and settlements in Florida. His interest in Smyrnea has significantly increased knowledge and understanding of the Settlement. Schafer traveled to England and Scotland, visiting archives and collecting historical documents relating to the Settlement. Official correspondence, informal letters, receipts and bills, and other documents provide information about life at and the people of Smyrnea.

 Archaeologists Dr. Roger Grange and Dorothy “Dot” Moore have scrupulously studied the Smyrnea Settlement for over 20 years. Modern development prompted local archaeologists, and the City, to investigate the buried past. Their archaeological investigations enable us to “light” our cake’s candle. To celebrate Smyrnea, which was the largest British settlement attempt in the New World, we focus on two sites: The First Turnbull Settlement House Site and the White-Fox Site.
 
The First Turnbull Settlement House Site -- an apt name for the first Smyrnea-era site discovered in New Smyrna Beach. While investigating land slated for development on US1, Dot Moore noticed hewn coquina on the ground surface. Over the course of a year, Dot, Roger, and 50 volunteers excavated a settler’s house and two other associated buildings. Excavation revealed a house, the foundation and floor of an 18 square foot building, and the base of a bread oven. All of the structures incorporated coquina as an architectural element.2 Similar to present day townhouses, internal walls separated the settler’s house into two living spaces. Unfortunately, artifact collectors seeking objects for their private collections damaged much of this site.




Dr. Roger Grange digitized a map of the First Turnbull Settlement House Site. The map
includes the location of all three structures as they appeared in the excavation units.

Investigations at the White-Fox Site occurred in 2001. Dot, Roger, and an invaluable volunteer labor force again excavated a house. Archaeologists noted that an internal wall also divided this structure; however, this home was split into two rooms, not two residences. The crew also found a large oven, also made of coquina. The oven was probably large enough to produce enough bread for most settlers who resided in town. (You can see part of this site! The oven base is on display at the New Smyrna Museum of History.)

 

Dorothy Whitner Backes' conceptual depiction of the White-Fox site oven.
Piecing together the past is a process. Understanding settler’s lives and experiences requires attention to numerous types of data and information. Archaeologists who study Smyrnea rely on architectural features, such as the hewn coquina, and artifacts to tell the Settlement’s stories. Close attention to context enables artifacts – objects made or used by humans – to provide significant information to archaeologists.
 
Although Minorcans, Greeks, and Italians comprised most of the Smyrnea population, their possessions were few. Turnbull purchased, transported, and imported innumerable supplies for the settlers. Most of these objects were of British origin. Settlers used agateware, slipware, creamware, and other English style ceramics. People smoked tobacco out of kaolin pipes. Wrought nails held homes and other structures together. Buttons and buckles reflect British styles and preferences.
 

This Staffrdshire slipware-style posset cup was found, relatively intact, during excavation. Archaeologists

mended the broken pieces. The cup is currently interpreted at the New Smyrna Museum of History.
May you find this cake indulgent and delectable. If “lighting” the first candle has sparked your curiosity, consider partaking in New Smyrna Beach’s upcoming 250th celebration. The event will take place at Old Fort Park from 9am to 4pm on June 16th. The park will feature areas that highlight New Smyrna during the 1700, 1800, and 1900s. An Archaeology Discovery Station will be present in each century. Explore archaeology of the 1700s. Engage yourself by playing Puzzles of the Past. Challenge yourself to mend a piece of the past.
 
Savor this slice of cake. (If you prefer to enjoy more of the 1700s, see the recommended reading list below). Tune in Monday, June 11th, for a second serving!
 
 
Notes
1. For many years, individual testimonials regarding abuse at Smyrnea went unquestioned. Archaeologists and historians are starting to reexamine these documents and the archaeological data. It is possible that underlying political divisions influenced the content of the testimonies or the investigative process.
2. Coquina is a naturally occurring sedimentary rock unique to Northeast Florida. Coquina can be, and was, quarried and used to build structures.
 

Recommended Reading

Beeson, Kenneth H., Jr.
2006    Fromajadas and Indigo: The Minorcan Colony in Florida. The History Press, Charleston.
 
Grange, Roger T., Jr. and Dorothy L. Moore
2016    Smyrnea Settlement: Archaeology and History of an 18th Century British Plantation in
East Florida. The New Smyrna Museum of History, New Smyrna Beach.
 
Grange, Roger T., Jr.
1999    The Turnbull Colonist’s House at New Smyrna Beach: A Preliminary Report on
8VO7051. The Florida Anthropologist 52(1–2):73–84.

 
2011    Saving Eighteenth-Century New Smyrnea: Public Archaeology in Action. Present Pasts
3:52–58.
 
Griffin, Patricia C.
1991    Mullet on the Beach: The Minorcans of Florida, 1768-1788. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.
 
 

Text by Sarah Bennett, New Smyrna Museum of History
Images courtesy of Roger Grange (unless otherwise noted)
Logo by Shok Idea Group



 

 
 
 
 





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