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Ask the average American what comes to mind when they think of Florida. It will likely be Spring Break (sum total of college students’ knowledge), Oranges (TV watchers of the orange juice marketing), Retirement (the only known place on earth to retire if you live in Michigan or New York), or Disney World (the universal answer of everyone under forty)! Our tour group can now add to that limited knowledge, and understand more clearly the place of Spain and her colonies in the web of history.

No Shortcuts to Heaven

Now you know that the name of the state was invented about 503 years ago by explorer and governor of Puerto Rico, Juan Ponce de León. We walked around the place he landed and talked about the mythology that people embrace, seeking eternal life without responding to the means God provided in the Lord Jesus Christ. There are still no shortcuts to Heaven nor ways to avoid leaving this world other than feet first. The governor was only the first of many who came to Florida seeking gold, evangelizing for God, and hoping to find glory along the way. He found oranges, resistant natives, and eventually a six-foot plot of his own.

On site at the landing spot of Ponce de León

Fellow Floridians enjoying local history

Catholic Spain vs. Protestant France

Pedro Menéndez de Avilés — hitman for Phillip of Spain and executioner for the counter-reformation — landed on St. Augustine Day and named his cove after the great post-apostolic father. He attacked the Huguenot settlement of Fort Caroline surprising the garrison just before dawn. The male prisoners who were not Roman Catholic were all hanged and the women and children enslaved. The short-lived Protestant enclave gave way to permanent Spanish settlement and the people of Florida would speak Spanish instead of French for more than two hundred years.

Manning the walls of Fort Caroline

Inside the Huguenot Fort in Jacksonville

Oldest Masonry Fort in the United States

Menéndez would build the first of ten forts named Castillo de San Marcos, the first nine being burned down by pirates, and English and American armies. The tenth one, however, is a magnificent masonry star fort made of coquina shells, which has stood the test of time and absorbed whatever could be thrown at it. It symbolizes the power of Spain in the New World but existed on the frontiers of the empire, beyond which the English would settle and eventually conquer the continent. Nonetheless, it is the oldest masonry fort on the continent in the oldest continuously inhabited city.

Wish you were here! — Castillo San Marcos

The walls of the mighty fortress in St. Augustine

Pirates — Truth vs. Myth

Pirates were central to the story of St. Augustine, Fort San Marcos, and all along the Florida coast. We visited the best pirate museum in the United States, led through the pages of history by a Captain Mayhem, a piratical character born out of time. We discussed the place of pirates in the history of Florida and meditated on the ways they have been presented to the American public through Hollywood film. Not just the lovable crazy uncle that happened to take other people’s stuff once in a while, the wily freebooters of the Spanish Main were a cross between gangland thugs, with their own distinctive language of profanity and of the sea, and professional terrorists, living by a peculiar code of honor and deadly camaraderie. We noted that some made Christian claims and relied on letters of marque as privateers to justify their activities. Be careful not to call evil good and good evil. Pirates are funny and charming till you are bereft of your possessions and swinging from the yardarms. That is where they all ended, soon enough. (I still like Captain Blood, though).

The greatest Pirate Museum in the country

1 of 4 authentic “Jolly Rogers” in existence

“Old Hickory”

The name of Jacksonville is a reminder that Andrew Jackson rode to the presidency on the back of his military victories, not the least of which involved bearding the British lion, scaring the Spanish governor out of his wits, and annihilating anyone in his path. He even intimidated two sitting Presidents until he could replace them in a few short years. The path to the White House no longer includes graves full of resisters, manly men who fight duels over insults to women, unprincipled loudmouths and lawyers bent on power at all costs. At least two out of three, anyway.

Largest Civil War Battle in Florida

We ended our tour at the Civil War reenactment of the Battle of Olustee. Florida played the role of quartermaster of the Confederacy the last year of the War and the Union attempt to destroy the railroad and capture the capital city ended on the very battlefield we were privileged to visit. We were once again reminded that God was active even in the midst of war. The first station to greet us going into the park was the “Reenactors’ Missions of Jesus Christ,” a small group of Christians who portray the Gospel witness that took place in the War and seek to deliver the same message to the reenactors and visitors today.

Olustee Civil War aid station

Driving the Yankees back up North

A two-day tour is not very long in time but we can see the hand of God in ways large and small in the life and past of Florida. Those who think its history began with the invention of air conditioning and Mickey Mouse, should think again.

Miss the Florida Tour? — Join Us in 2017!

Florida has always been one of our most popular tours, so if you missed us this year, reserve your spot now for 2017. As an added incentive, register by March 15, 2016 and save 25%!

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