In 2000, the Minorcan Festa and Paseo St. Augustine, commemorating the arrival of the Minorcans in St. Augustine in late summer of 1777, was part of the city’s 430th birthday celebration. Kicking off at 9 a.m. at the Mission of Nombre de Dios with a reenactment of the landing of St. Augustine’s founder, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, the day included a variety of events taking place throughout the city.
The Festa and Paseo are the brainchild of Minorcan descendent Suzette Chauvin, a long-time horsewoman and vice president of the Menorcan Cultural Society. (A brief word concerning the different spellings of Minorcan: according to Chauvin, the “i” spelling reflects the English version, while the “e” spelling is Spanish.)
Chauvin said what sparked the idea was a trip to Minorca taken by several of the Society’s members a few years ago. They returned with a video detailing the island’s traditional St. Johns Day celebration, which includes costume parties, processions, rituals of laying flowers at altars, and parades of gaily-decorated horses.
It was Chauvin’s desire to bring a taste of Minorca back to St. Augustine, and to emphasize the legacy of the city`s long-ago Minorcan settlers.
The Minorcan tale began when eight ships were launched off the coast of Spain in 1768. The 1,403 passengers on board were bound for an indigo plantation in New Smyrna, south of St. Augustine. Though the Minorcans believed themselves to be contracted as indentured servants to Dr. Andrew Turnbull, the plantation’s owner, the realty was a situation bordering on enslavement.
For nine long years, the Minorcans were forced to endure suffering and hardship. The settlers who managed to survive eventually escaped from the plantation, and made their way to St. Augustine, where they came under the protection of Governor Patrick Tonyn. These settlers became the core of St. Augustine’s population, and many of their descendants still make their homes here.
In honor of the city’s Minorcan history, a reenactors in period costume led a Paseo (a parade of formally dressed riders mounted on Spanish breed horses) through the City Gate and down St. George Street past the exhibit site.
The day-long celebration featured delicious local recipes with such traditional fare as Minorcan clam chowder, chicken pilau, datil pepper puffs, crispels and fromjardis.
Classical guitar and harp music filled downtown air, and artisans and craftspeople will demonstrate such art as net knitting and palmetto hat weaving.