UF researchers highlighted in PBS documentary “Secrets of Spanish Florida”

December 15, 2017
Steve Orlando

Two-hour special airs Dec. 26 at 9 p.m. EST (check local listings). Streams Dec. 27 via pbs.org/secrets and PBS apps

A PBS documentary about Florida’s earliest settlers scheduled to premier later this month will feature a host of University of Florida researchers who helped uncover the real story of America’s Spanish colonists.

“Secrets of Spanish Florida – A Secrets of the Dead Special” airs Dec. 26 and is narrated by Jimmy Smits. It includes the story of St. Augustine, the first permanent European settlement in the United States, founded in 1565 -- two generations before the settlements in Jamestown and Plymouth -- not by English Protestants but by the Spanish and a melting pot of people they brought with them from Africa, Italy, Germany, Ireland and even converted Jews, who integrated almost immediately with the indigenous tribes.

UF has a long legacy of involvement in St. Augustine and in uncovering and preserving its history. In 2007, the Florida Legislature authorized UF to manage some three dozen historic properties there, and in 2010 UF Historic St. Augustine was formed to oversee and develop support for the properties.

UF researchers interviewed for the program include:

·         Kathy Deegan, one of the nation’s leading Spanish colonial archaeologists, now retired from the Florida Museum of Natural History

·         Michael Gannon, former distinguished service professor emeritus of history (The documentary is dedicated to Gannon, who died in April.)

·         Eugene Lyon, adjunct professor of history

·         Jack Davis, professor of history

·         Jane Landers, Vanderbilt University history professor and project historian on the Florida Museum of Natural History’s Fort Mose Research Team

·         James Cusick, curator of the P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History in the UF Smathers Libraries Special and Area Studies Collections

·         Ghatu Subhash, mechanical engineering professor

Among the program’s highlights:

·         With claim to the east coast of the New World contested by both the French and the Spanish, a community of settlers from Spain and elsewhere arrived in 1565 – before Jamestown and before Plymouth -- and laid claim to an area that is now St. Augustine.

·         America’s original European forefathers were a melting pot of races that more closely resembled today’s population than was previously understood.

·         The discovery of 1,000 pages of manuscripts written by members of the Timucuan tribe in the 16th century indicates that these people, who lived in Georgia and Florida, had achieved a level of literacy among indigenous peoples that has not been recognized before.

·         Nearly 125 years before the Emancipation Proclamation—in 1738—a colony of 100 former slaves had already been given their freedom and their own land in Spanish La Florida.

·         A “lost tribe” of indigenous people known as the Yamasees, survived extermination by hiding in the colony’s swamps and blending in with other tribes for generations, though their existence is still not recognized by the federal government. The documentary interviews two members of the tribe.

“Secrets of Spanish Florida – A Secrets of the Dead Special” is a production of Small Planet Pictures Inc., Investigative Media Group Inc. and 1186 Pictures in association with the University of Florida Historic St. Augustine Inc. and THIRTEEN Productions LLC.

Funding for the program was provided, in part, by The Lastinger Family Foundation; The Hough Family Foundation; The Weaver Family Foundation Fund, through the Community Foundation of Northeast Florida; and The Joy McCann Foundation. Funding for “Secrets of the Dead” is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and by public television viewers.

More information is available at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/secrets-spanish-florida-synopsis/3626/

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