In Spanish Florida, mental rebellion could get a man shipped to Cuba and hanged. The thought police in those days were religious in nature and Fernando Arredondo was a rebel of that kind.
The Spanish in Florida didn’t execute many people. Instead, those people were sent to Havana where they were tried and punished for their crimes. These were times, when thinking the wrong way could result in torture and execution. The Inquisition was alive and well in Spain.
The time was the early 1800’s. England gave Florida back to Spain only a few years before in 1784. Times weren’t as harsh as the first Spanish period for Jews, but it was still illegal to be a Free Mason.
In the Second Spanish period, Jews were no longer executed for Judaism, but it was illegal for them to own property, i.e., land.
A Jewish man, Moses Levy prospered in St. Augustine in the preceding years and wanted to acquire some land of his own. That’s a reasonable thing to want, but under Spanish law, it was forbidden. As they say, where there’s a will there’s a way, AND there were good people there to help. Fernando Arredondo was one.
Ownership of land takes many forms. Arredondo owned land and wanted to sell it to Moses Levy, but there was the law to consider. Instead of selling it to him, Arredondo leased him a large parcel. When Florida became a United States Territory, many new warranty deeds were issued to replace many such leases, Arredondo to Levy among them. When the law is in error, good people often find ways to compensate, so they can do what’s right and that is exactly what Arredondo did and he left his message to future generations about that on harder stone.
In 1812, when Spain got its first Constitution, the Spanish King ordered that Constitution Monuments be erected in all his American Villages. In compliance with that order, the City Council of St. Augustine hired Fernando Arredondo to erect a Constitution Monument here. Then, it became apparent that Arredondo was a Free Mason.
In St. Augustine, over the centuries, there were twelve Masonic Lodges. Most of those lodges disappeared by order of the Catholic Church under the nation of Spain. Arredondo was apparently a member of one of those lodges, persecuted by the church. We believe that because when he erected the twenty-foot tall, stone obelisk in the plaza, he placed it directly in front of the front door of the St. Augustine Cathedral Basilica and he signed it with the Masonic symbol, the Square and Compass.
It may well be that he was questioned about the symbol and answered truthfully that it was the symbol of his craft. He was an operative stone mason. He had just proved that by erecting a stone obelisk in the plaza to honor Spain’s first Constitution. It may be that the Spanish officials did not know that the Square and Compass placed in that configuration, is a time-honored symbol of the Fraternity of Free Masons. The symbol is unmistakable.
In 1813, when the Constitution Monument was completed, a young French Canadian girl, talented in art was visiting St. Augustine. She passed the time here by sketching things that struck her interest. One of the things she sketched was the Constitution Monument, complete with the Spanish message and the Square and Compass at the bottom of the plaque.
In 1814, Spain rescinded its constitution. The King ordered that the constitution monuments in his American Villages be dismantled. In compliance with that order, the plaque was removed but kept safe. The stone obelisk was left standing. Spain then ceded Florida to the United States in return for forgiveness of a $5,000,000 debt – 1821.
They went from place to place comparing their ancestor’s work with the real thing. When they got to the Constitution Monument they discovered the Masonic Symbol was missing.
Shortly after, The Grand Lodge of Florida received a letter from the Grand Lodge of Quebec asking what happened to the Square and Compass. The correspondence started circling.
It was discovered that the City of St. Augustine had restored the monument in the 1960’s. At that time, they assumed the symbol was placed there by miscreant youths, i.e. it was graffiti. On the strength of that assumption, when they restored the monument they omitted the symbol.
Today, thanks to the efforts of The Grand Lodge of Quebec with the help of the local Free Masons and based on the strength of that little girl’s sketch from 1813, Fernando Arredondo’s statement of defiance, if that is what it was, is back in front of the front door of the St. Augustine Cathedral Basilica.
The City of St. Augustine has restored the symbol to its original place on the plaque.
Historic sources in St. Augustine say that Free Masonry was in evidence here as early as 1750, but there is earlier evidence. The Castillo de San Marco was constructed beginning in 1672. Marks of the Masons that were left in its walls and ceilings are still visible today.
The Mason’s Marks are visible as well on Fort Matanzas. That was built beginning after Oglethorpe’s invasion in the fall of 1740.
Fernando Arredondo’s humanity to others and the anger he expressed at the persecution of his lodge puts spice in the dryness of dates and facts. History is a recording of passion usually remembered in Pasteurized and homogenized dates and facts. Recalling the people and what they did is meaningless without remembering why they did these things.
I can’t walk past the Constitution Monument without thinking of how Arredondo must have felt, when he chiseled the Square and Compasses into Stone in front of the front door of the Cathedral. It makes me proud of him when I consider how he allowed Moses Levy the ownership of land under laws that forbade it because of Levy’s faith. God Bless America and God Bless Fernando Arredondo.
In time, the plaque came into the hands of Clarissa Fairbanks Anderson, second wife of the first Doctor Andrew Anderson, original builder of the Markland House. Clarissa, when she felt the time was appropriate, returned the plaque to the City of St. Augustine who in turn replaced it in its original spot on the Obelisk. More than another hundred years passed with Arredondo’s statement of defiance against the church intact.
In 1976, St. Augustine had some visitors from Canada who had with them copies of that little girl’s sketches.
By: Robert G. Makin
Published by Historic City News with permission
Makin’s original article appeared on his website.
Photo credit: © 2010 Historic City News staff photograph