The Forgotten English Attacks on Spanish Florida

We are all too well aware of the unfortunate persistence of the Black Legend of the Medieval, Roman, and especially of the Spanish Inquisitions. Their very mention brings forth the thoughts of a darker time, filled with disease and ignorance. That the Inquisition also received some of the worse lampooning from the likes of Mel Brooks and Monty Python doesn’t help. However, the true ignorance of modern man can fade, just as easily as the “archaic” world view (at least to the ignorant) did, and with that, the replacement of the Black Legend with the all too real tales of cruelty on the part of anti-Catholics not only worldwide, but also within our own history. An event dealing with the Spanish in Florida during the early eighteenth century serves as a good example.1

During the War of Spanish Succession (1701-14), in which England, Austria, and others, attempted to stop a relative of the King of France from taking the Spanish throne, the English governor of Carolina, James Moore, took it upon himself to attack St. Augustine, Florida. When Moore got there, the Spanish forces took shelter in the fort just to the town’s north. Unfortunately, this left St. Augustine itself undefended. Moore, grasping the situation, sacked the town. During the sack, Moore’s men razed several churches, and enslaved several hundred natives. Two years later, Moore attacked the Florida panhandle. The locals, allies of the Spanish, quickly summoned them. The Spanish managed to defend against Moore’s advance for a while, yet he gleefully accepted their surrender when they had run out of munitions. Once again, he inflicted mayhem on the Spanish. Three priests travelled with the Spanish; one was beheaded and then dismembered, one burned to the degree that his crucifix had melted to his charred flesh, and the third was never found. Moore’s men did not save civilians from similar treatments, including the children, much to the horror of the Spanish reinforcements. Those that managed to survive told them of the ordeal in detail. And yet, this story is not well known among the general public, unlike the tale of the Iron Maiden and its supposed (non-extant) role in the Inquisition.

Culture and religion seem to be the driving force of the scandalous ignorance. The Anglo-Protestant culture that gave birth to the United States saw not only Spain but Catholicism as the bane of all things good. On top of this, the matter itself is not as publicized to the degree of the Black Legend, on account of the heretics’ masterful use of the printing press, and perhaps a general silence on the part of Catholics.2 That itself leads to another possibility, namely indifference on the part of American Catholics in particular, who have the historical tendency to side with the Protestant ruling class. Thus, the event at hand seems to have been forgotten because of a) the lack of criticism and the apparent approval of a Protestant, English ruling class, and b) the lack of desire to be militant on the part of the Church Militant. Such, then, presents a great tragedy, and one that can only be remedied with the proper use of the dissemination of knowledge and prayer.

Col. Moore leads his raiding party past the Ocmulgee trading-post, in this museum display at Ocmulgee National Monument (public domain).

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  1. The story is found in Charles A. Coulombe’s Puritan’s Empire: A Catholic Perspective on American History, pgs. 72-3.

  2. There is a BBC documentary on YouTube, embedded here on this site, that discusses the Inquisition in Spain, and goes into a detailed discussion on the heretics’ use of the press.