Artist conception of MalaCompra plantation
A Plantation in
Compiled by Sisco Deen, Flagler County
Plantations lined the banks of tidal waterways and freshwater rivers in
northeast Florida by the late 1700’s. Planters sought wealth from rice and
indigo and later sea island cotton.
Florida’s Spanish government offered free ownership of land to settlers
after ten years of homesteading. But repeated raids and invasions
destroyed most homesteaded plantations. Josiah Dupont and then Miguel
Crosby owned Mala Compra (Spanish for Bad Bargain) and were plagued by
raids and thefts.
When Joseph and Ana Maria Hernandez purchased the plantation in 1816, they
could not know that later events would prove the appropriateness of the
name and continue the cycle of struggle, loss and abandonment.
The Ruins of Mala Compra (1816-1836)
Mala Compra was one of the barrier island plantations. The waters if the
Atlantic Ocean washed its eastern shore, one the west, the saltwater
Matanzas River. These waterways offered the best way to travel among the
Hernandez properties and to St. Augustine where a variety of goods were
available and religious services, festivals, and political rallies were
held. Just a few feet below the soil where the crops were planted are
layers of coquina (compressed shell stone) easily used to build the walls
and foundations of houses and fortifications, The coquina ruins of Mala
Compra have fascinated passersby for over 165 years.
Funded by Flagler County Board of Commissions, Florida Department of
State Division of Historical Resources, Visions 2020 Historical Task Force
Archaeology: A Key to the Past
Archaeologist study the things people leave behind. Using scientific
methods they find evidence that helps us understand yesterday’s and
today’s societies. Many tool and methods are used to map and excavate
sites, keep records and catalogue artifacts. The process is slow and
Did They Find Useful Information?
Archeologists discovered about two plantation buildings, and found
artifacts related to daily activities of Hernandez’s time. In spite of
previous modern activity they found artifacts related to food, clothing,
personal items, household an structural items and labor related tools.
Why Did They Dig Here?
The coquina ruins of the building foundations were still visible in an
1818 plat map showed the original building locations. Archaeologists
cleared debris from the ruins and excavated the soil around them. The
building ruins also appeared on a 1944 coastal map. A detailed description
of the plantation was found among the Second Seminole Ware claims in
What Were They Looking For?
Archaeologists sought to add to the Hernandez story by examining
construction details, finding lost or broken artifacts, and looking for
patterns in the soil caused by plantation activities.
Native Americans Were Here First
The archaeologists also found small amounts of pottery left behind by
historic people hundreds of years before historic use of the site.
The Main House
Historic documents tell us that the main house was 30 by 18 feet with a 10
foot piazza (porch) on one side. A tabby and
coquina foundation supported a 1 ½ story house with a shingled roof. There
were 16 shuttered windows, 9 paneled
doors and wooden floors.
The house had 6 rooms with plaster walls and a staircase and a brick and
coquina double fireplace.
Archaeologists actually found a larger building than described with
coquina and the fireplaces and some tabby (oyster
shell concrete) floors. Excavation showed on tabby floor over another,
suggesting an earlier structure beneath the 1816
dwelling. Post holes were found on the west side of the house that may
relate to a porch with the piazza to the east.
Evidence of the house included thousands of early machine made nails, a
few earlier handmade nails and hand blown
A cellar contained hundreds of bottle fragments and some whole bottles.
Was it a wine cellar?
Other lost possessions found 165 years later included bone and shell
buttons, medicine jars and bottles, pieces of
ceramics and fragments of clay smoking pipes. A Spanish silver coin dated
1810 was also found.
Flooring suggests that an earlier smaller structure was incorporated into
the Hernandez residence. Perhaps it was the
house of Josiah Dupont, who settled the area earlier but abandoned due to
Weapon related artifacts included gunflints, lead shot, and part of a
Spanish flintlock pistol, found in the main house.
A well worn door sill is still in place. Wall debris and one fireplace indicate that portions of the building were
white washed. The other fireplace in the main
house was lined with red tiles.
Archaeologists and Historians Searched for Clues
Experts have used early maps, historical descriptions and excavations to
piece together what Mala Compra plantation
was like in the early 19th century.
Techniques Bring History to Life
Using shovels and small trowels, archaeologists, with the help of
community volunteers, carefully removed thin layers of
soil. The sifted it for artifacts and mapped and photographed color
changes seen in the layers.1998-99 work emphasized exposing the building remains. In 2001, work
focused on the search for other cultural features
and artifacts. All artifacts were bagged according to location, then taken to the
laboratory for analysis. While archaeologists and volunteers worked on Mala Compra, historians
conducted background research on Joseph
Hernandez and his era.
The walls of a substantial coquina well stand undamaged at Mala Compra,
but portions above ground have been rebuilt.
The part below the ground is original. It is between the main house and
the kitchen. South of the kitchen building archaeologists found a dense trash deposit
and a demolished outbuilding or work area.
Almost 3000 artifacts were collected there.
A historic account described a 1 ½ frame building on a stone foundation
measuring 18 by 30 feet.
It had 9 windows, 3
doors, plastered walls, two fireplaces, and a baking oven. The upper room
was used to cure tobacco, the lower rooms
were a kitchen and a laundry room. Archaeologists found a building with the approximate dimensions that
included two rooms, a double hearth and a possible
oven. A tabby floor remains in the laundry room. The kitchen building had a poured tabby floor outside the eastern side
that may have been a covered porch or a patio. It
was grooved to drain water away from the building. The main house and the kitchen were built of wood, supported by shaped
coquina blocks and tabby mortar.
Tabby was a popular concrete-like building material in early Florida
composed of lime, sand, oyster shell and water. It
could be made into walls, bricks or floors.
Coquina is a local type of limestone formed of tiny shells cemented
together. It comes from the Anastasia Formation and
is between 12,000 and 2 million years old. It lies beneath the barrier
islands between St. Augustine and Melbourne.
At Mala Compra natural formations of coquina lie less than five feet below
Kitchen utensils found included a large pot handle, spoon fragments and a
knife blade. Numerous animal bone fragments
were recovered in the kitchen yard. The bones are food remains.
Their diet included beef, pork, sheep or goat, and chicken, supplements
with fish, alligator and other wild species.
Joseph Hernandez was a significant person in early Florida with a
fascinating life. Part of it was spent at his Mala Compra
Plantation, and the main buildings were located on this site.
Joseph Hernandez acquired three plantations in today’s Flagler County. He
purchased Mala Compra (Spanish for Bad
Bargain) in 1816, Bella Vista (Beautiful View), to the north and St.
Joseph, named for himself, across the Matanzas
River. On these plantations he planted cash crops of cotton, sugar and oranges. Mala Compra grew sea island cotton that offered longer, stronger fibers
than short-staple cotton, grown throughout the
south. It required many more hours of labor to harvest, clean and pack.
Ownership of plantations and a large work force place Hernandez in the
planter class. Planters identified themselves with
their plantations. Hernandez referred to himself as “of Mala Compra. ”Planter families were considered members of the highest social class. The
held political offices, influenced voters, and
served as militia officers. They were expected to be gracious hosts.
Hernandez invited the naturalist John Audubon to visit, Audubon
immortalized Mala Compra in his illustration of the
American coot, which he found “in every ditch, bayou and pond” on the
plantation. But Audubon considered Hernandez a provincial Spaniard and Hernandez say
Audubon as an uncouth backwoodsman
engaged in a useless quest.
Hernandez was commissioned by President James Monroe as a brigadier
general in the territorial militia in 1823. He was
mustered into active service in December, 1835. In addition to problems
with the Indians, he had to contend with
untrained, undisciplined and too few troops.
General Joseph Hernandez led about 250 troops to a conference with
Seminole leaders near Fort Peyton, five miles south
of St. Augustine. U.S. Army General Thomas Jesup had ordered Hernandez to
ignore the Indians’ white flag of truce and
capture them. Hernandez captured Osceola and 80 others. Floridians were delighted by the capture of Osceola, but Americans beyond
the fighting area were scandalized at what
they considered dishonorable behavior by the Army.
Hernandez and Jesup were court marshaled, but not convicted.
Florida’s First Voice in Congress
Hernandez was the first Hispanic person to serve in Congress. His parents
came to Florida from Minorca, an island off
the coast of Spain, in 1768. He was born in Spanish St. Augustine in 1788.
When Florida became part of the United
States in 1821, Joseph stayed in the new territory while his relatives
moved to Cuba .Hernandez was the first presiding officer of Florida’s territorial
legislature in 1822, and he helped select Tallahassee as the
state capitol. In 1845, Hernandez was elected Mayor of St. Augustine. He
also served with other influential Floridians as
a director of the Union Bank in Tallahassee. He was apparently the first
Hispanic to serve in Congress as well, but
additional efforts to further his political career ended without success.
Hernandez acquired a ready-made family when he married widow Ana Maria
Hill Williams in 1817. To the marriage
came her four young children and assets, mostly slave laborers, inherited
from her late husband. Joseph and Ana Maria then had ten more children. The walls of the Mala
Compra residence echoed the sound of many
voices at play, at prayer, at work or sick.
During the Seminole War they lived in St. Augustine.
Ana Maria died in 1849. In the 1850s, Hernandez moved to his family’s
sugar estate in Mantas, Cuba. He is buried
The People of Mala Compra
Planter Family Ana Maria Williams Hernandez brought 4 children to her marriage with
Joseph Hernandez and then had ten more. The
Williams children were: William, Samuel, Eliza Ann, and John Theophilus.
The Hernandez children were: Ana Eduarda
Teresa –b. 1814, Ellen Justa Rupina –b. 1817, Fernando Martin Valentin –b.
1821, Martin Edwardo –b. 1822, Lucia
Catalina –b, 1823, Jose Mariano –b. 1825, Maria Josepha –b. 1929 (sic),
John Gaspar, Dorotea Frederica Ignacia, and
Jose Tomas.Ana Maria Hernandez was already familiar with plantation life along the
saltwater “rivers” south of St. Augustine. She had
learned the role of plantation mistress while married to her first
husband. Upon his death, she was responsible for keeping
the plantations working and profitable – and for trying to protect them
against Indian raids. As a plantation mistress, Ana Maria Hernandez assumed the duty to provide
clothing, health care and food for the
plantation residents – the family, visitors and many workers. Curing,
pickling and otherwise preserving food grown on the
plantation required much of her time. When Joseph Hernandez was absent
with frequent political and business
responsibilities, Ana Maria was in charge. The life of a planter’s wife
was hard work – seldom a life of parties and luxury
portrayed in television shows or movies.
Enslaved laborers of African descent worked at Hernandez’s plantations. In
1832 his slaves ranged from one-month-old
Lawrence to 65-year-old Lucy. They planted cotton in March and harvested in the hot days of August,
continuing into October. During bad weather, they
worked indoors cleaning the cotton. Workers were moved from one Hernandez
enterprise to another as needed.
An overseer, William Broadnax, supervised work at Mala Compra and across
the river at St. Joseph. Daily work was
managed by a driver, who reported to the overseer. Drivers were usually
blacks and might be either slave or free. Cotton plantations on the barrier islands used the task system. When the
assigned task was finished, laborers could hunt,
fish, or ten their own small cotton crop. Planters allowed a day in the
spring for slaves to plant and a day in the fall to
harvest the crop which they sold and kept the profits.
NOTE: Our present barrier island, with the Matanzas Inlet on the north and
Ponce DeLeon Inlet on the south, did not
become so until the Florida East Coast Canal Company’s dredge, the South
Carolina made the final cut on May 13,
1907 in our Hammock south of Mala Compra – Sisco Deen, November 7, 2011.
In 1837, twelve of the slaves’ houses were made of “wood posts and
wattle.” Wattle is a method ofconstruction using
slender branches and saplings interwoven with poles. Two others were of
wooden clapboards and had palmetto frond
roofs. There was a wooden privy nearby.
An 1818 survey depicted the workers’ houses in two rows at right angles to
each other. The driver’s house, built of
coquina, might have been at the intersection of the two rows. This would
have placed the overseer at the head of each
row, symbolizing his higher rank among the workers.
The Seminoles at Mala Compra
Seminoles Become Residents of Florida
Groups of Lower Creeks began moving into Florida from central Georgia
about 1715. Fifty years later they had
established a separate identity as Seminoles. Seminoles were not a united
tribe but a group of bands with common
traditions and language.
Seminoles dealt with the British in Florida (1763-1784), the Spanish
(1784-1821), and then the Americans.
Conflicting Needs of Seminoles and American Floridians
Americans began pressuring for Seminole lands even before the U.S.
acquisition of Florida. Arriving settlers wanted the
Seminoles moved to the west, like other groups. Not only land was
disputed. Cattle held an important place in the
Seminole economy, and rustling by both Seminoles and whites led to
The United States and the Seminoles made a series of treaties. A big
problem with the agreements was that the Seminoles
had no single strong leader. Some chiefs would support a treaty while
others denounced it.
In 1800 a Black militia detachment was headquartered at Mala Compra, then
owned by Josiah Dupont, to ward off
Indian attacks. After they withdrew to Fort Matanzas, a famous Indian raid
happened here. In 1802 Josiah Dupont
returned home to Mala Compra to find Seminoles in war paint. They took 10
horses, 4 Negroes and all the household
goods they could carry.
War Begins at Christmastime, 1835
Murders of whites on Dec. 28, 1835, marked the beginning of the Second
Seminole War, or the Florida War, as it was
called at the time. General Hernandez commanded the militia units in East
Plantations in coastal Florida were abandoned, including Mala Compra, and
residents fled to St. Augustine and further
The Army and Militia occupied rural plantations that were damaged by
fighting or modified for defense. Officers were
quartered in the manor house at Mala Compra and it may have been a
briefing station for detachments heading south. It
was also a holding place for slaves recaptured from the Seminoles. St.
Joseph, one of Hernandez’s other plantations, was
the main military depot for the entire region south of St. Augustine. Mala
Compra and St. Joseph were occupied and
abandoned several times by troops. As the Seminoles moved northward, both
were totally destroyed. Hernandez claimed
$99,000 in losses resulting from the war. The loss of crops and livestock,
expense of supporting slaves unable to work
the plantation, damages to several buildings, his orange groves and cotton
gins at Mala Compra totaled $9,951.
Participants in the Conflict
Seminole Indians fought to retain their lands and in hopes of improving
their negotiating position. Decentralized in war as
in life, the Seminoles primarily fought scattered, guerilla raids in
familiar territory. Some African Americans fought with the
Seminoles. Others, who had lived among the Seminoles, served as
interpreters for the Army. Problems of translation and
mixed loyalties added to the complex war.
Factions existed among the white fighting forces, and politicians too.
Florida Militiamen felt they answered to the governor
of the territory, not the U.S. Army commander. Volunteers from Georgia,
South Carolina, Tennessee and as far as
Missouri answered to their own leaders. When action was slow, the
volunteers went home in boredom. While residents were frustrated and angered by the Army’s lack of success
in the conflict and criticized the Army high
command in Florida newspapers.
War Reaches an End
By 1842, few Seminoles remained in Florida. Most of them went to
reservations in Arkansas and then to Oklahoma
where their descendants live today. But the war had devastated the old
plantation economy of the area.
With the remaining 200 or so Seminoles pushed into the Everglades, General
William Worth declared the second
Seminole War over on August 14, 1842.
No treaty or surrender was ever signed. This officially ended the longest of the three Seminole Wars. The first
Seminole War was a short skirmish in West Florida
in 1818. The Third Seminole War was fought from 1855 to 1858, when the war
was again merely declared ended.
A special collection was prepared by the Flagler County History society
and is now on display at the Flagler County Administration building
including pieces of china used by early resident General Jose Mariano
Hernandez to entertain in Washington while he was a delegate to the 17th
Congress (1822-1823) and some recreational items used by Henry Mason
Cutting at his “Cherokee Grove” Lodge now known as the Princess Place.