Economic Problems of Florida Governors, 1700-1763
By John J. Tepaske
Part 2 of 4
THE OLD EVILS RE-APPEAR
But the picture soon changed. Delivery of the subsidy was still irregular and a source of real trial to the governor and his hard-pressed colonists. In the spring of 1712, English capture of a supply ship bound for Florida made cats, horses, and dogs, real delicacies at Saint Augustine supper tables.
At the same time these conditions enabled the second-in-command of the Florida presidio, Don Juan de Ayala Escobar, to exploit the residents of the colony. He illegally procured several boatloads of food from the English in South Carolina and sold them to the people of Saint Augustine. Desperate for food and tired of their domestic animal fare, the hungry soldiers flocked to Ayala’s shop and bought his high-priced meat and flour with what little they had saved or on credit against their future salaries.
It was a sordid affair, which the governor was powerless to handle. One pound of Don Juan’s maize cost one real; in Havana one real could buy over one and one-half bushels of the same commodity. Meat priced at nineteen pesos in Florida brought only two pesos in Cuba. When Governor Francisco de Corcoles y Martinez attempted to arrest his avaricious second-incommand, the entire garrison threatened to mutiny.
In a dramatic scene in the public square of Saint Augustine, the governor prudently backed down and, to the approving cries of the assembled residents, exonerated Don Juan.
Ayala had kept them alive and they meant to show their appreciation. After all, the governor had done little to help them.
In Puebla the governor’s agent soon began to experience difficulties, also. Long delays made a farce of the order requiring him to conduct his business within six months; shortages in payment of the subsidy also became common. Don Joseph Benedit Horruitiner, dispatched to New Spain in 1712, was unable to secure the full amount due him because of other warrants on the sales taxes which had drained the Puebla treasury.
To make up for this shortage of over 13,000 pesos, the bishop’s agents saddled Horruitiner with this amount in fine china, silk, and woolen cloth. Their pledge was a lie. He could not unload these dainties on unreceptive Vera Cruz merchants and returned to Saint Augustine with the unwanted dishes and cloth.
For his part Governor Francisco de Corcoles y Martinez was outraged and threw poor Don Joseph into prison for dereliction of duty. From all reports he was not a model prisoner and died later while his case was being considered by the Council of the Indies in Spain.
It did not take long for other abuses to reappear. In 1716 and 1717, a delay of twenty-one months in remitting the subsidy cut the daily ration to less than two pounds of flour – this for soldiers with large families.
The bad condition of food bought in Puebla and its high cost also became a common gubernatorial complaint. In 1735 Governor Francisco del Moral Sanchez pointed out that merchants in Puebla made a fifty percent profit on all goods shipped to Florida. Ordinarily six bushels of wheat cost eight pesos, but the special price for his Florida garrison was twelve pesos.
The next year the English capture of the subsidy ship carrying 97,000 pesos in money and supplies, added still more to Moral’s financial troubles. In what he imagined to be a discreet move, however, he paid his soldiers in rum. If he was unable to relieve their hunger, he at least hoped to make them forget it temporarily. In that, his method proved highly unsuccessful.
THE GOVERNOR SUGGESTS REFORMS
Throughout the early part of the eighteenth century, different governors of Florida offered various solutions to the economic problems of their colony and presented reforms for the subsidy system.
In 1715 Governor Corcoles suggested that two hundred Galician families be sent from Spain to Florida to farm the rich land near Apalache. Foodstuffs ordinarily purchased in New Spain or Cuba could thus be grown within the colony and relieve the garrison of its perpetual supply problem.
This plan obtained ready acceptance from all but the poor Galicians, who refused the crown’s offer of free passage to Florida and of aid in money, seed, and implements once they arrived. They protested to the captain general in Galicia that if they were to die of hunger, they would rather starve in Spain than in Saint Augustine.
A later effort to bring families from the Canary Islands proved more successful. Between 1757 and 1761, over seven hundred islanders migrated to Florida to aid in developing the country agriculturally.
For the most part, however, they were a troublemaking group without real farming experience. Their only real contribution was in aiding Governor Alonso Fernandez de Heredia in the establishment of a naval stores industry.
This enterprise, which gained impetus about 1757, had a bright future, but the Spaniards left Florida in 1763 before they could obtain any real results.
Immigration, aimed at making the Florida colony less dependent upon the subsidy, was a move toward self-sustenance, a basic reform. But other suggestions from the governor worked toward correction of the lesser evils of the subsidy system.
Continued tomorrow …
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