Thursday, July 28, 2011

Rufus K. Sewell and the Minorcans

The offending page. Click photo to enlarge.

In 1848, travel writer Rufus King Sewell turned his sights on the city of St. Augustine, writing a book of the sort that was proving popular as Florida was becoming known as a health retreat, a place where the chronically ill could find some respite. It is titled Sketches of St. Augustine with a view of its History and Advantages as a Resort for Invalids.

The book, a copy of which is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA, contains the usual chapters on history, geography, climate and so forth.

Sewell also shares the story of Dr. Andrew Turnbull, a Scottish physician who tried to establish the agricultural colony of New Smyrna in 1768, using 1,500 Minorcan settlers he had recruited from the Mediterranean. Turnbull mistreated the settlers and they rebelled, eventually ending up in St. Augustine, then the seat of British government in the region.

With an apparent degree of skepticism, Sewell's account of the beleaguered Minorcans, and their arrival in St. Augustine, is followed by his opinions about the industriousness -- or, lack -- of the Minorcan descendants still resident in the city.

As might be expected, Sewell’s criticism of Minorcans brought consternation to his publisher, but apparently not before the book was in print. In most copies, the offending passages (on pages 39 and 40) have been neatly excised. Rare copies, including the one at Lighthouse, contain those pages.

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