Page from the tourist guide of Saint-Augustin banned in 1848

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The Forbidden Books Week last week got me thinking about books that might fall into this category written about St. Augustine. Forbidden Book Week turns 39 and is sponsored by the American Library Association to celebrate and promote the freedom to read.

In 1848, Rufus K. Sewall published “Sketches of St. Augustine,” a guide for “foreigners,” as tourists were called at that time. Historian Thomas Graham wrote in his book “The Awakening of St. Augustine,” that Sewall “intended to promote interest in St. Augustine among visitors to the North, but Sewall compressed all of his concerns into his book. hostilities against Catholicism ”.

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Sewall was certainly not the first to offer such opinions. In 1827, Ralph Waldo Emerson of Massachusetts visited our city and in his unpublished diary called the religious artifacts in St. Augustine Catholic Church “big, crass toys.”

Rufus K. Sewall was the pastor of the first St. Augustine Presbyterian Church, located on the west side of St. George Street, across from the present cathedral parish school. Sewall reflected the anti-Catholic views of most of the people he knew in the northern states. Fear of Catholics was strong in the 1840s, even more so in the northern states, where residents felt threatened that Irish immigrants and other Catholics would monopolize jobs.

Sewall also wrote disparagingly about the Minorcans of St. Augustine. These Mediterranean workers had arrived in Florida in 1768, 80 years before Sewall’s book, and in St. Augustine in 1777. Since most of the immigrants were from the island of Menorca, off the east coast of Spain . Over the years, they have become collectively known as the Minorcans.

Sewall complained that the Menorcans were irreverent on Sundays. Instead of being quiet and dark as Sewall saw fit, they were loud and pursued their hobbies. They were Catholics.

It was not Sewall’s remarks on Catholicism that angered the Menorcans, but his comments on their social value. He called them slaves and “slavish extraction”. Sewall was probably referring to the Minorcan’s status as contract workers brought to British East Florida to work in the New Smyrna indigo business. At the time, the term “slave” often included anyone considered unfree – convicts and indentured laborers as well as enslaved Africans.

Sewall claimed the Menorcans, angered by passages from the book, surrounded his house in protest. He wrote that they had gathered wood in piles in the square with the idea of ​​burning it at the stake. Dr Graham points out that we only have Sewall’s version of this story in his memoir. The St. Augustine newspaper did not comment on this galley.

The Menorcans could not tolerate the sale of these words in their city. The solution? “Sketches of St. Augustine” was not banned in St. Augustine, only the offending page was deleted. If you bought a copy of “Sketches” in this town, the pages would change from page 38 to page 41. Page 40 contained the offensive comments. As it was printed on the back of page 39, this page was also necessarily missing, torn from the binding.

About five years ago I had the opportunity to purchase “Sketches of St. Augustine”. On one of the first pages, a second-hand bookseller wrote “imperfect, 2 missing pages”. I slowly went through the somewhat brittle pages to pages 39 and 40. They were missing. I could see where the page had been intentionally deleted – so many years ago. For me, the missing page, this missing page in particular, made the book more valuable as part of the history of St. Augustine. I bought the book and gave it to one of my children as a Christmas present.

Susan R. Parker holds a doctorate in colonial history.


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