St. Joseph’s Plantation

In a busy Palm Coast shopping center that is bounded by Old Kings Road, Palm Coast Parkway and Florida Park Drive North lies the memory of a great and historic sugar plantation called St. Joseph’s.

In a busy Palm Coast shopping center that is bounded by Old Kings Road, Palm Coast Parkway and Florida Park Drive North lies the memory of a great and historic sugar plantation called St. Joseph’s. It was part of a complex of properties owned and developed by Joseph M. Hernandez including those of Bella Vista (now Washington Gardens), and Mala Compra (now Bings Landing Park and the A1A MalaCompra Greenway) plus many other land grants and developments. In the American State Papers is was recorded the land for MalaCompra was originally granted to Josiah Dupont in 1792 by the Spanish authorities, then re-granted by the Spanish authorities to Michael Crosby, a Catholic Priest also known as Miguel Crosby in 1804. Dupont lost his entitlement because the Spanish deemed him to have abandoned the land grant during the First Seminole Indian War. After further use of the land grant for agricultural pursuits, Priest Crosby sold the land grant to Hernandez in March of 1816. Hernandez then obtained some 800 acres immediately south of the plantation at the head of the Matanzas River to expand his area of production. By the 1820s all the land was reportedly in full production and in the 1830s the Hernandez family were living at MalaCompra. The remains of his plantation house, with artifact displays, are in a public archaeological interpretive facility at Bings Landing. 

In 1834 the Hernandez properties were heavily mortgaged. He had borrowed monies to continue and expand. A step-son, John T. Williams was engaged as a plantation manager. Thus, it was a disaster when the Second Seminole War began in December of 1835. MalaCompra was used as a fortification by the federal troops fighting the Seminoles. Federal troops also occupied St. Joseph’s in February of 1836, using it as a field hospital named Camp Brisbane. Sometime in February of 1836, both plantations were burned and by the Seminole Indians. It was the war practice of the Seminoles to burn any facilities used by the federal troops in the field of battle in order to deny the federal troops any refuge or fortification from which to launch or continue their maneuvers. 

The MalaCompra ruins to the extent existing in 1990 were preserved by Flagler County in a series of parkland acquisitions covering the plantation enterprise. On the other hand, when the new development of Palm Coast was constructed, the extensive ruins of the St. Joseph’s Plantation were destroyed and removed leaving not even a marker to this great enterprise of Hernandez. Fill dirt dredged from the finger canals were laid over the ruins. The St. Joseph’s Plantation was frequently mentioned during the Second Seminole War which began on Christmas of 1835 as it was a place of refuge for frightened refugees and wounded soldiers. Here is what I wrote for my book “Bulow Gold” with appropriate revisions:

“It was near dusk Sunday, January 23, 1836.  A large group of frightened refugees, badly wounded and sick soldiers in an ox cart and walking slaves departed the Bulow Plantation on Old Kings Road.  They were seeking safety at today would be  Palm Harbor shopping area near Old Kings and Palm Coast Parkway.  Here General Hernandez had his huge sugar works with a two-story coquina rock curing house.  It took in some 200 acres, cross ditched for drainage.  The curing house was 67 x 31 feet, a boiling house 41 x 32 feet, steam engine house with the rotary-valve engine, and various storehouses made it one of the most elaborate plantations in Florida for production of sugar.  Some 55 wounded, sick soldiers arrived on Monday and were then sent onward to St. Augustine by boat. The refugees and slaves had to walk.  Young John Jacob Bulow was under arrest and also had to walk for opposing the army taking over his own plantation.  When Palm Coast was being developed engineers found many ruins that some locals had called “an old Spanish Mission.” The State of Florida in approving the development of Palm Coast required ITT to document the historic resources in a report but allowed the developer to destroy and fill-in the historic ruins. Judge Billy Wadsworth purchased the property for his house in the 1970s and found the immense sugar house floor made from cut coquina rock.  He long took pleasure in showing visitors the mill floor on his property and telling the Hernandez story.  The plantation was burned during the Seminole War.”

In 1842 Hernandez tried to re-establish St. Joseph’s.  His first crop was poor due to a wet season, but by 1850 he was reportedly yielding 3,000 gallons of syrup, and 300 hogsheads of sugar. (Mildred L. Fryman Ph.D. Oct 1992 Report)

In 1856 he abandoned his efforts moving to Cuba.

Spanish Mission?  Hernandez picked an interesting name “St. Joseph’s” for his plantation.  The Spanish had been in Florida for some 200 years prior.  They did build a series of missions including one called “San Josef de Jororo.”  Because the early plantation ruins had such a “Spanish look” many locals theorized that there were missions perhaps at Bulowville and at St. Joseph’s.  One researcher John A. Gallant wrote Florida State University in March of 1964 as follows:

“I first heard of the site from D.D. Moody, Flagler County’s Tax Assessor and a surveyor there for nearly 40 years.  He told me he had first seen it in the early 1920″s while running a survey, and a few years later took the late Jeannette Thurber (Mrs. Washington T.) Connor there.  He recalls that she had a list of three missions to the Jororo built in the 1690’s, together with their exterior dimensions, and the Flagler ruin fitted almost exactly her description for San Josef.”

He enclosed his findings, plus artifacts located.  The Florida State experts called them the 18th to late 19th Century and not from the Spanish period.

He had enclosed a detail report plus an area that did not appear to be the same as the other Plantation ruins.

In the 1950’s several archaeologists including John W. Griffin wrote that the possibility of Spanish Missions in Flagler or Volusia Counties did not exist. Articles and papers were written stating the Spanish had no missions in this area.  However, D.D. Moody and others were convinced there were.  Some refer to the shopping area by the name “St. Joseph’s.” The shopping center is a couple of miles away from the main plantation area but the former name of the main road in the area before the development of Palm Coast was the St. Joe Grade.  This road ran through the plantation and served as the main access to the St. Joe Still, a turpentine operation in the early 1900s.  Relatives of D.D. Moody operated the turpentine camp and the area was well known to him as a surveyor.

Author: Bill Ryan