September 30, 2014

La Florida

Early Spanish settlers saw Florida as 'a business opportunity'

Lilly Rockwell | 5/1/2013

Manuel Solana: Self-made

Manuel Solana, meanwhile, was born in St. Augustine in 1740. Like Sanchez, he was the descendant of Spaniards who'd arrived in the early 1600s. His great-great-grandfather, Alonso Solana, is credited with drawing one of the very first maps of Florida. Other Solana ancestors included parish priests and a deputy governor of West Florida.

A self-made man, Solana learned at an early age how to ride horses and shoot a musket. "Solana pretty much grew up on horseback in Florida," Cusick says.

Solana was touchy about his lack of a formal education. "He frequently got into arguments with some of the wealthier residents of St. Augustine who were well-educated," Cusick says. "He was pretty vocal about saying he understood Florida and what it took to survive in Florida better than those people coming in who had a lot of book learning." Those arguments show up in the form of slander lawsuits filed against the hot-tempered rancher.

Cattle, real estate and cheap labor

Solana and Sanchez definitely knew each other, historians say, in part because they were competitors in the cattle business. At different times, both secured contracts to provide beef to the Spanish government.

Both also became real estate speculators. They helped themselves to land they bought from Spanish families departing for Cuba and also acted as brokers for other Spanish owners who wanted to sell their land to British newcomers.

"Everything went through agents," Cusick says. "But the agents had a difficult time selling things. The market to purchase was not as good as people thought. When the agents did sell, the owners never saw any of the money."

Then as now, new immigrants to Florida meant commerce. After the Revolutionary War, Florida became a refuge for southern planters loyal to Britain. These planters brought property and slaves with them to Florida ["The Outlaw Daniel McGirtt," page 109].

The influx meant more customers for both Sanchez and Solana's cattle operations. "Cattle was a pretty lucrative industry," Cusick says. "Cattle sold for anything between $10 and $25 a head." The money generated from selling 100 cattle at $20 each would be enough to pay cash for a typical stone house at the time. It wasn't uncommon to sell hundreds of cattle a year.

It also created other opportunities. The cattle operations largely relied upon slave labor. Both men owned slaves, and Sanchez engaged in the slave trade. "He was a bit of a rogue," says Earl Sanchez, a Sanchez descendant who lives in Plant City. "How he made his fortune would be questionable now."

Tags: La Florida, Hispanics in Florida

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