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History’s Highlight Fort Mose – 1st Free Black Settlement  More than a century before the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves from the British colonies followed the original underground railroad south — not north — to the Spanish colony of La Florida. Fort Mose Historic State Park has partnered with Florida Power & Light Company and The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida to create a self-guided educational tour experience along the Flight to Freedom Trail. Interactive signage along the ¾ mile trail will allow the annual reenactment to be experienced year-round.   Word came aboard ships plying the east coast from Florida through the Carolinas: the governor of Spanish Florida promised freedom to all who would swear allegiance to the Spanish Crown and Catholic faith. The flight to freedom began – through the thickets of the Carolinas, and swamps of Georgia, pursued by overseers and hired bounty men - an underground railroad to their promised land, the Spanish garrison of St. Augustine. A leader awaited them: Francisco Menendez, brought to the Americas in chains from his native Mandingo, Africa, in the early 1700s, escaped to St. Augustine in 1724, now a captain in the St. Augustine militia, soon to be commander of the first free black settlement in today’s America, Fort Mose. Responding to this surge of escaped slaves, Spanish Florida's Governor Manuel Montiano established, in 1738, Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose – Fort Mose (Mo-SAY). It would serve as a northern outpost for the garrison two miles to the south. For Montiano, it would be manned by a fighting force fierce to hold its freedom; for its inhabitants, it would be a new, unshackled life.  Fort Mose became home for more than a hundred freed or fugitive slaves from the British colonies, forming more than 20 households. Together they created a frontier community which drew on a range of African backgrounds blended with Spanish, Native American and English cultural traditions. Echoing its host city, it became both a defensive garrison and civilian settlement. This first free black settlement was a matter of both religious pressure and military expediency. The powerful Spanish Church had long dictated moral, religious, and social conditions. For slaves, it meant legal rights to full Christian communion, marriage, and parenthood, to personal security, ownership of private property, and the purchase of their own freedom. Militarily, Spanish Florida’s cedula of freedom would weaken the economy of the British colonies, shifting its labor force from plantation slaves to Spanish soldados. The night of June 26, 1740, this Spanish policy proved its worth, as a force of 300 regulars, Black militia and Yamasee Indians routed an occupying force during a British siege in the Battle of Bloody Mose. Excerpts from Fort Mose in St. Augustine Bedtime Stories. Click for further information on this  fascinating historic series with 24 accounts of famous people and events. 
Meet Police Chief Jennifer Michaux Police Commander Jennifer Michaux, a 26-year veteran of the St. Augustine Police Department, will succeed Barry Fox as Police Chief in June. “Commander Michaux’s ability to think critically and articulate tangible solutions, her vision for the future of the St. Augustine Police Department, and her approachable and empathetic leadership style make her the best fit for the immediate needs of our community as the next Chief of Police,” City Manager John Regan says.  While Fox is retiring as Police Chief, he will Remain with the city as code enforcement manager. Commander Michaux is a graduate of the Florida Criminal Justice Executive Institute’s “Executive Leadership” training and of the Florida Leadership Academy. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in public administration from Flagler College.
Commission wants half of potential bed tax increase    City is still the main attraction in county Stating, "People don't come to St. Johns County. They come to the oldest city in the country," St. Augustine commissioners would seek half of a one cent additional bed tax if the St. Johns County Commission decides on an increase. Commissioner John Valdes noted the city is losing clout with the county government because it represents a small portion of the county's population ― 15,415 of the county's 264,672 residents in 2019, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. But the city remains the main draw for tourism, he says, and the city has long been feeling the impacts of tourism in road conditions, congestion and more. "If you take St. Augustine out of St. Johns County, you've just got another … county with golf courses and beaches. So we're not getting our fair shake now," Valdes says. Commissioners are also concerned with speculation that the county would want to use the entire 1% increase for beach renourishment in the north part of the county. Valdes said he knows renourishing beaches is important, though he sees it "as futile." Mayor Tracy Upchurch says he finds it "problematic" to spend bed tax dollars to renourish beaches "where there is precious little access by the general public. "That seems to me a … very poor usage of tourist development funds." The possibility of increasing the bed tax for infrastructure projects has been brought to the commission by Vice Mayor Nancy Sikes-Kline, the city’s representative on the Tourist Development Council. That board has been asked to weigh in with a “yea or nay” and spending recommendation to the county commission.
March 31 2021
Inaugural Lightner Le4xhibit: Antwan Ramar The inaugural Lightner Local exhibition presents Antwan Ramar: Contemporary Impressions April 2–May 23 in the Lightner Museum’s East Room Gallery above the historic swimming pool. In his work, Ramar brings a contemporary vision to landscape painting while embracing historic traditions and techniques. Presenting his plein air studies alongside larger studio works, Ramar’s exhibition at the Lightner explores his process of art making from field study to final painting. Originally from rural Wisconsin, Ramar studied art in Southern California. Learning the fundamentals of drawing and painting gave him the tools to take his art in any direction. Ramar is a full-time painter, splitting his time between painting in his studio, teaching classes and participating in plein air events around the country. “My paintings tell stories through the ephemeral mood of natural light,” Ramar says. “I look for the subtle poetry of each subject, trying to paint the adjective and not the noun of the scene.”
Tourism official looks to COVID silver lining Local hiring to meet demand “Due to the foresight of the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners in providing continued tourism funding to maintain awareness and demand during the darker days of COVID- 19, this county’s investment is paying dividends,” says Visitors & Convention Bureau President Richard Goldman. “As a result of consumer confidence in the new vaccines as well as increased pent-up travel demand, the St. Augustine | Ponte Vedra hospitality industry is now in a very aggressive hiring mode for full-time as well as part- time employees,” he says.  “Throughout the area, there is a wide variety of positions available including managers, assistant managers, food servers and bartenders, housekeeping, engineering, maintenance, and even actors.” Goldman also suggests there’s a future for first time tourism hires. “The U.S. Travel Association reports that 40% of workers whose first job was in travel are now earning more than $100,000,” he says. Listing a sample of local job openings he includes: Ponte Vedra Inn & Club is hosting a job fair at the resort on March 27 Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa contact: Cameron.Bradley@Marriott.com     Embassy Suites by Hilton Oceanfront St. Augustine Beach go to: Careers.HVMG.com (click on St. Augustine) Old Town Trolley Tours go to: HTAJOBS.com (select St. Augustine) The Columbia Restaurant contact: colsaug@columbiarestaurant.com
Community recycle event for Earth Day April 23 The City of St. Augustine will host a special, free community recycle event on Friday, April 23, from 9 am-1 pm at the Solid Waste Facility at the south end of Riberia Street. In celebration of this year’s Earth Day theme, ‘Restore Our Earth’, the City is offering the community shredding documents (5 box limit per resident), recycling outdated or broken electronic devices, and disposal of used cooking oil. “As a community, it is so important to take steps together to ‘restore our Earth’,” says Glabra Skipp, Environmental Program Coordinator. “As a coastal community, we have even more responsibility to keep our local ecosystem thriving, and this can be accomplished by properly recycling waste, as well as doing what we can to maintain the City’s wastewater system.”
Friends fight permit approval for Fish Island carwash                                Supporters of the Fish Island Preserve are gathering to protest  last week’s decision by the St. Johns River Water Management District to issue a permit to Gate Express Carwash allowing construction of a 5,000 square foot carwash immediately adjacent to Fish Island Preserve and construction of a storm water management system on Fish Island property.       “Any construction through Fish Island Preserve for Gate’s storm water drainage is completely untenable,” stated Jen Lomberk, Matanzas Riverkeeper. “We are talking about the disruption to wildlife habitat, natural and historic resources and protected trees so Gate can have even more space for their express car wash.       “It is essential that the City of St. Augustine fulfill its obligations to conserve and protect the natural resources on Fish Island Preserve,” says Janet Patten, Friends of Fish Island. The Preserve was purchased by the state of Florida in July 2019 using Florida Forever funding and St. Augustine became the steward of Fish Island Preserve.       The construction Gate proposes for their storm water management plan on Fish Island Preserve will require removal of protected Sand Live Oaks, as well as over 150 other trees. These protected species of trees can not be removed without the approval of the City of St. Augustine Planning and Zoning Board.       St. Johns Audubon Society President Amy Koch says, “the Fish Island Preserve is much needed habitat for the fewer and fewer number of birds that live and migrate through the St. Augustine area. To date, birders have verified over 70 species of birds at Fish Island Preserve.”       “We never want to see bulldozers destroying irreplaceable historic artifacts and existing resources on Fish Island Preserve,” says immediate past President Marsha Chance, St. Augustine Archaeological Association. “As an archaeologist, I first started examining historic resources on Fish Island in the early 2000s and I am absolutely thrilled that the State of Florida has finally realized the importance of preserving this very important land.”       Even before Fish Island was acquired by the State of Florida, the land was recognized by many organizations for its historical and ecological significance. Fish Island has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972. It was named by the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation in 2019 as one of eleven most threatened historic properties in the state. Fish Island Preserve is considered a Natural Resource of Regional Significance by the Northeast Florida Regional Council and it is part of the North East Florida Blueway.