Wednesday, April 17, 2024

General Joseph Marion Hernandez: Legendary Entrepreneur and Statesman in Old Florida

By Antonio (Tony) Flores

Florida had changed hands many times since Juan Ponce de Leon first landed in Northeast Florida in 1503. However, amidst these changes, General Joseph Marion Hernandez emerged as a legendary Spaniard who served Old Florida in many ways. Hernandez was a general of the Florida militia, mayor of St Augustine, entrepreneur and farmer, the First Territory Commissioner, and the first Hispanic and Catholic member of US Congress. At the time, there were only two political parties: the Democrats with strong Jacksonian followers, and the smaller Conservative Whig Party that later became the Republican Party in the 1850s.

Joseph M. Hernandez lived during a time of significant change in the history of Florida, which had exchanged ownership three times since the Spanish first occupied the state in 1521. Despite this turbulence, Hernandez became a legend in those early days, having served under Spanish, British, and American rule. As General of the Florida militia, he navigated Indian wars, territorial conflicts, and racial inequalities that marked this era. Joseph was educated, talented, and had a pleasant demeanor that allowed him to serve the people well. He held many titles, including General, Mayor, Businessman, Catholic, and bilingual Congressman, through which he left his mark in US history as an agricultural business leader, rural planner, and politician. Born a Spaniard, he became an American citizen under Florida statehood.

On September 30, 1822, Joseph Marion Hernandez became the first Hispanic to be elected to the United States Congress, and he remains the first Hispanic American to serve at the highest levels of any of the three branches of the American federal government. As Mayor of St. Augustine in 1848, Hernandez served in the shadows of Pedro Menendez de Aviles, the Spanish explorer who established St. Augustine, now known as America’s oldest city and a destination for millions of tourists from around the world. During his time in Florida politics, Joseph advocated for infrastructure improvement of canals and roads to make the state more attractive for admission to the Union, which Florida achieved as the 27th state on March 3, 1845. Hernandez’s contributions to Florida’s early history and development have left a lasting legacy in Northeast Florida.

Joseph M. Hernandez is a notable figure in the history of Florida, known for his successful plantations and land grants. Among his famous properties was Mala Compra, which primarily grew cotton, while Bella Vista was dedicated to growing oranges, and St. Joseph focused on producing sugar. Hernandez also obtained land grants on the St. Johns River, including approximately 10,000 acres surrounding Salt Springs, which is now part of the Ocala National Forest.

Mala Compra, a plantation owned by Joseph M. Hernandez, was a topic of conversation back then and still remains a popular tourist attraction on the Atlantic Intracoastal. It is located in The Hammocks section of Palm Coast, near Bings Landing, as featured on an old map. The site is now a museum featuring the ruins of Mal Compra plantation that was burned by Seminoles during the Second Indian Wars. Families and school children visit this location to learn about early American history in Old Florida, which highlights early Hispanic American entrepreneurial individuals, like Gen. Hernandez. See more by visiting Mala Compra.

Joseph Hernandez spent a lifetime accumulating his fortunes in agricultural real estate in Spanish Florida and the US Territory of Florida. In those early days, the main dirt routes were old Kings Road that extended north of Duval county to Volusia county along the coastline to beaches and fishing places both on the Matanzas River and the Atlantic Ocean.

Overall, Joseph M. Hernandez made a significant impact on Florida’s development and history, particularly in agriculture and land ownership. Mala Compra is a testament to his success and is an important piece of Florida’s past that still draws in visitors today. General Joseph M. Hernandez was a true trailblazer and a remarkable figure in Florida’s history. His impact on the state’s agricultural industry and early Hispanic American entrepreneurship cannot be overstated. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn about his life and legacy during my travels in Florida.

Antonio “Tony” Flores
As an avid traveler, I have had the pleasure of visiting the agricultural counties of St. Johns, Flagler, and Volusia numerous times over the past decade. While on the road, I often get a feeling of familiarity and a sense that I may have lived here in a past life. One historical figure that has caught my attention during these travels is General Joseph M. Hernandez. His entrepreneurial accomplishments in Florida as a young man are well-known, and his legacy is still evident today. In the picture you can appreciate the Mala Compra Plantation Historical Site.

During a visit to the Flagler Government Center in Bunnell, I was able to view a small exhibition of paintings featuring personal items of General Hernandez. Similarly, a mural at the Wells Fargo Bank in Palm Harbor Shopping Center in Palm Coast showcased his impressive achievements in Florida.

Today, we are celebrating the growth of counties such as St. Johns and Flagler, which are among the top five fastest-growing counties in Florida in terms of new construction and wealth. The progress along Florida’s historic coastline, from Flagler beaches to St. Augustine and Palm Coast, is truly remarkable. This is why wants to share the wonderful things and economic success of Flagler/Volusia Counties. We invite you to visit our family-owned restaurants, museums, fantastic parks, and beautiful beaches along the A1A scenic route, including St. Augustine, Anastasia Island, Crescent Beach, Marineland, Painter Hill, Flagler Beach, Ormond by the Sea, Ormond Beach, Holly Hill, and the world-famous Daytona Beach.

In conclusion, welcome! Hispanic Point, LLC hopes that you will embrace Florida’s multicultural offerings by visiting these unique places and let them know that Antonio “Tony” Flores, a SCORE Certified Mentor in Flagler Volusia Counties and an unofficial ambassador, inspired you to go.


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