Editor’s note: This is the 20th of a series of stories that will be featured in the Pensacola News Journal each week leading up to the 200th anniversary of Escambia County. Look for these stories each Monday in print.
The 1820 Spanish census of Pensacola provides a wealth of information on people and their occupations. A look at one neighborhood illustrates not only the diversity of the population but also the diversity of trades as Pensacola transitioned from Spanish to American rule. Panton, Leslie and Company and its successor, the John Forbes Company, was a major house of commerce in Spanish Florida in the 1780s and onward. The business was located along the bay on the west side of town.
This major trading company supplied goods to Creek Indians in exchange for deer skins; they supplied goods to the general population as well. William Panton’s home was described as an imposing three-story brick structure with elegant mill work, a veranda, three chimneys, glass windows and imported furniture. The warehouse and other outbuildings stood nearby and they too were impressive. Around 1806, merchant John Innerarity, who had been long associated with the trading company, moved into the house.
Those living in the same neighborhood included a Spanish tavern owner and his Black common-law wife, an English cabinet maker, a free Black laundress and a Spanish butcher. A mixed-race shoemaker, a mixed-race civil servant and a Spanish port captain also lived there. Julee Panton, a free woman of color, owned a house in the neighborhood. She was a candlemaker. The Julee Panton cottage survives and has been moved to Historic Pensacola Village.
As evidenced by the census, the Americans did not move into a void but rather expanded on services already available. Basic services such as providing food, shelter and clothing topped the list as the population grew. Government-appointed jobs had to be filled so that law and order could be maintained.
Pensacola’s excellent port along the Gulf Coast made shipping an important job. The ships brought in many goods and services that were needed in Florida. Shipping agents and freight brokers were required to broker the deals with the merchants. Innerarity was one of many who served this need. J. Pescay also advertised as a ship and custom house broker. A custom house was established to ensure that the goods being delivered to the port or transferred from the port had the proper paperwork to accompany them.
Just like today, attorneys were needed to represent injured parties. These attorneys would represent people in a wide range of areas, from criminal cases, to disputes around land deals, shipping discrepancies, wills and probate, and various other legal needs. Some of the local attorneys included Henry Breckenridge, Richard Keith Call and Horatio Bigalow, who advertised that he was able to translate from Spanish to English. This was an important service for the English-speaking Americans newly arrived in the former Spanish and French speaking colony. The Spanish and French speakers also were relying on translators and tutors to learn English.
The U.S. government required Spanish land claims to be proven. Surveyors were needed to plot out the land. One surveyor who advertised in the local paper was J. Montrose. The deed books of Escambia County bear the fact of land transfers soon after the transfer of Florida to the United States. Peter Alba advertised as a land broker. Later he would be accused of attempting to assassinate Colonel White, the government official who oversaw land claims.
Hotels and boarding houses are not specifically noted in the 1820 census, but during this time, taverns often offered rooms to travelers. Pensacola had a number of taverns prior to 1821 and more were established to serve the growing population. One such place was the Fisher Tavern. Another was the Eagle Tavern, which offered hot and cold baths and meals. Antonio Collins also operated one of the early hotels in downtown Pensacola. Other hotels and boarding houses sprang up around the area as the need for housing and temporary quarters increased.
More from the series:What a typical Pensacola home looked like during the Spanish colonial period
Forts and bricks: How the military and industry evolved in early Pensacola
With the coming of more people to the area, entertainment expanded. Traveling theater companies and musicians toured the southern circuit, and balls, always popular, were held on a regular basis. A Mr. Pippin brought in a circus from Havana, Cuba.
More people meant more goods were needed. F.H. Nisbit and Company, located on Main Street, provided food and clothing. P.H. Gerrish advertised that he sold children’s clothing, food, chocolate and gunpowder. Commission merchants brokered a wide variety of goods, from bricks and lumber to fine rye whiskey.
Miss Talmon sold parasols, while William Saltonstall sold furniture. R. Clapp was involved in lumber sales. Much lumber would be needed to build houses in the new Florida. Sawmills cut the lumber and ships transported the lumber to other locations. The opening of one type of business often leads to the need for other types of businesses.
Newspapers opened. The Floridian was first published in Pensacola on Aug.18, 1821 — about one month after Florida became a U.S. territory. The start of the newspaper created the need for someone to sell papers and ads. Nicholas and Tunstall provided this service.
There were already physicians in Pensacola and this area of community service also grew to meet the needs of new Americans. Christopher Y Fonda advertised as a local physician. Midwives were available for birthing and taking care of the health needs of women. Physicians were required to make sure that arriving ships were free from yellow fever and other diseases.
Blacksmiths repaired buggies and made tools for local farmers and merchants. Livery stables and buggy makers set up shop. Wagons were used on farms and for transporting goods to market. All of these needed regular maintenance.
Many businesses were owned by free people of color. These included shoemakers, brick masons, carpenters, seamstresses, laundresses and store owners. In 1821, Pensacola was a diverse community with people engaged in a variety of trades and services. The shift from Spanish to American rule opened the door to many opportunities for new and existing businesses to thrive in our area.
Virginia Shelby is a family researcher and past president of West Florida Genealogical Society. Margo Stringfield is an archaeologist at the University of West Florida Archaeology Institute.
Catch up on the rest of the series
Part 1:Setting the stage: Our Pensacola is fifth Spanish settlement on Pensacola Bay
Part 2:How did Pensacola end up back in Spanish control for a second time?
Part 3:How Andrew Jackson set up a ‘good government’ for Pensacola and Florida
Part 4:From newspapers to circuses, Escambia County and Pensacola have many ‘firsts’
Part 5:How early Pensacola treated disease outbreaks and the role of health care
Part 6:Cultural survival on the run: Pensacola’s history shaped by Native Americans
Part 7:Life in 1820s Pensacola was primitive, but cosmopolitan. A look at our early years.
Part 8:How the Sampler project aims to connect us with our Pensacola ancestors from 1821
Part 9:Dances, Patgo and ‘Star-Spangled Banner’: How early Pensacola embraced entertainment
Part 10:How the mail was (and often wasn’t) delivered in early Pensacola
Part 11:More than a name: Meet a few of Pensacola’s residents from 1821
Part 12:Historic St. Michael’s Cemetery in Pensacola holds paradise of memory
Part 13:A deeper look at Pensacola’s fascinating Spanish colonial heritage | Part 1
Part 14:What census data and land records tell us about Spanish West Florida | Part 2
Part 15:Food that early Pensacola settlers ate reflected the region’s diverse cultures
Part 16:What a typical Pensacola home looked like during the Spanish colonial period
Part 17:Forts and bricks: How the military and industry evolved in early Pensacola
Part 18:Archaeological traces of late colonial buildings linger throughout Pensacola
Part 19:How indigenous laborers from Mexico built and rebuilt Pensacola
How you can get involved
What: A web-based interactive mosaic of faces from our modern community honoring the 1821 community.
Why: To celebrate our rich and diverse heritage through a reflection of our modern community.
Who: Area residents, all ages, ethnicities and genders.
How: Fill out the form at 1821sampler.com. and upload your photo to represent a member of the 1821 Pensacola community (use an uncluttered background, clearly showing face and shoulders, no hats please, and names optional.
So far, researchers with the West Florida Genealogical Society have identified more than 2,000 individuals who were here when Florida passed from Spain to the United States. These were more than just names; every person had a rich life and history. By honoring a member of the 1821 community, you are participating in this celebration of our rich and diverse Florida heritage.