Celebrate St. Augustine’s 450th with the Woman’s Exchange

The Woman’s Exchange of St. Augustine will offer visitors a special free program on Sept. 5, during the city-wide celebration of St. Augustine’s 450th birthday – a tribute to Governor Patrick Tonyn, the last British governor in North America, south of Canada. He ruled the British Colony at St. Augustine in East Florida from 1774 until the 1785 when he left for Britain at the end of the British occupation.

Sept. 5, Dr. Roger Smith, Ph.D., who portrays Tonyn in historic programs, will speak from “his former home,” now the Pena-Peck House at 143 St. George St., one block north of the Plaza. The Woman’s Exchange of St. Augustine maintains the site on behalf of the city of St. Augustine.

Smith, in Tonyn’s persona, will speak at 10:45 a.m. on Tonyn’s St. Augustine years. That will be followed by a book-signing for Smith’s book, The 14th Colony: George Washington’s Planned Invasions of East Florida. The book is about George’s Washington’s plan to take control of East Florida from the British. Smith’s book may be purchased at the Woman’s Exchange gift shop. The book signing will continue until 1:30 p.m.

The Sept. 5 event is part of the Woman’s Exchange’s five-day 450th Celebration “gift to the community.”

Sept. 4-8, the Woman’s Exchange will extend its hours for tours starting at 10:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and its gift shop hours from 10:00 a.m. until 6 p.m. Donations are gratefully accepted for the tours. The Peña-Peck House was built circa 1750 for the Spanish Royal Treasurer Juan Estevan de Peña. It later was the home of two British governors, other tenants and owners, and three generations of an American family, 1837-1931. The last Peck granddaughter, Anna Gardner Burt, died in 1931 and left the house to the city to be maintained as a house museum. The Woman’s Exchange has maintained the home since 1932.

Tonyn was governor from 1774 to 1785. The Spanish returned to St. Augustine in June 1784 and Spain regained Florida in 1763 by treaty. The Government House became the home of the new Spanish governor, but Tonyn was still in charge of all British matters during the sixteen-month dual occupation of the colony, including the command of two companies of light horse (cavalry) needed to protect St. Augustine from raiding bandits and potential attack from Georgia. During this time, his home became the sole seat of British power inside the borders of the present-day United States.

By the time that Tonyn left East Florida he had been promoted to the rank of major general, largely due to the fact that he was the only royal governor south of the Canadian border to never lower the Union Jack during the American Revolution – even though his colony was invaded three times (two more invasions were cancelled due to the futility of the ventures). Tonyn was the last royal governor to evacuate his colony when he sailed from East Florida on November 13, 1785.

Dr. Smith received his Ph.D. in Early American History and Atlantic World Studies, with a certificate of scholarship in Museum Studies, from the University of Florida in 2011. His work on the American Revolution in the South has received the Aschoff Fellowship Dissertation Award and the Jack and Celia Proctor Award in Southern History. He is now an independent research historian with Colonial Research Associates, and speaks across the South on his Revolutionary War research. He is currently in the process of writing and producing a series of books on the significance of the South during the American Revolution, particularly from 1775 – 1779. Dr. Smith has provided consultation for the AMC television series Turn and the up-coming PBS documentary on the 450 year history of St. Augustine. In addition, Dr. Smith has worked on projects with the Florida Humanities Council, the University of West Florida, the University of Florida, the City of St. Augustine, the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum, the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, and the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park.

The Woman’s Exchange web site is www.penapeckhouse.com. It is also on Facebook and Twitter. The phone number is 904-829-5064.

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