|The First Year of American Rule
Capt John R. Bell and St. Augustine Citizens
Observations on the Floridas
John R. Bell, Esq., Captain of the United States Artillery.
St. Augustine, December 21, 1822
When a people receives from its rulers the protection due to the persons and property of the individuals who compose
it, when such rulers cause the laws to be observed, and when their actions are guided by the general good, so that their
fulfilment of their august charge, is consonant with the duties imposed on them by society, they make themselves at the
same time, worthy of the esteem and gratitude of that community over whom they have presided.
The Floridians call to mind with pleasure the short but satisfactory period, when in you sir were united the civil and
military command of this province, wherein we are aware you acted as far as was practicable for the public welfare, in
the administration of justice; and consequently it was not with an ear of indifference that the sentence given by the court
of this country was heard, amercing you in the sum of three hundred and seventeen dollars and four reals, for a
proceeding, in which your sense of equity could not allow you to act otherwise than you did. It is not to be understood
however, that the award of the court is called arbitrary or unjust; the people are too well aware of the respect due to all
tribunals to attempt to trench upon their prerogatives: but they however know, that under the circumstances in which you
gave the order, in consequence of which this fine has been laid, such a measure was necessary for the tranquillity of
this place. In a country recently taken possession of by another government different in its laws, language and customs,
wherein the new authorities have no definite knowledge of its inhabitants, its necessities, in a word of any thing, there
must naturally result in the changes from one administration to the other some defects which are consequences of the
confusion reigning upon the establishment of a new system. What a vast field was there not opened for felons to commit
in this state every species of crime; and who is there that doubts the propriety of rigorous measures being adopted
against them in the very outset?
Under these views, the inhabitants and the proprietors of this city have been pleased to appoint us the subscribers to
express to you their sentiments; and we therefore, have the satisfaction of being their organs, for the purpose of
offering the just tribute of gratitude to merit; and they beg that you sir, will condescend to allow, that the damages be
paid by them, we being authorised to deliver the amount immediately.
This is a general wish of the people, who can duly appreciate men, who, like yourself, have gained the esteem of many
adherents, among whom are ranked.
Your most obedient and affectionate servants.
Gab. G. Perpall
Joseph M. Hernandez
F. M. Arredondo,
St. Augustine 22d December, 1821.
I received your letter of this morning. The various emotions it has excited it is impossible for me to express. The
language of feeling is brief; and I must reply to it with the bluntness and sincerity of my profession.
I was called upon to exercise the undefined and dangerous powers entrusted to me by the governor of the Floridas. I
would willingly have evaded this invidious trust, but I was commanded, and it was my duty to obey. I was not promised,
have not expected, nor have I received any benefit for my services. I found myself called upon to protect a virtuous and
industrious people, from the rapacity and violence of adventurers from every part of the world who looked for
redemption from punishment, form the absence, as they supposed, of all law and government. I was actuated by a
sincere desire of protecting the rights of the citizens of Florida, committed to my charge, without any regard to their
being Spanish or American. I did not think it necessary to ascertain with legal precision, whether my powers were to be
measured by the limits imposed by the old or new constitution of Spain. The good of all, the peace of the whole
community were my only rule of conduct. I had no antipathies to indulge in, no resentments to satisfy. I was a stranger to
all. If I have erred, if the verdict of a jury of my countrymen should at some future period, be brought up in array against
me when circumstances are forgotten, I will powerfully appeal for my acquittal to your affectionate letter, and challenge
the world to pronounce the person guilty of tyranny and oppression, who has received so unanimous a testimonial of
approbation of his administration, from a people so feelingly alive to a sense of injustice, so warm hearted and so
generous. I cannot therefore decline your offer.
The time is not far distant, when under the favoring influence of the American constitution, the virtues of the antient
inhabitants and proprietors of Florida will be duly appreciated, when they will have to claim and will assert their right to
the exercise of government, and when the base individuals, who now endeavour to set one portion of the community in
array against the other, will receive due execration.
Be pleased to present my affectionate regard to the gentleman whose sentiments of approbation you have conveyed,
and for yourselves, receive the gratitude for the feeling language in which it has been expressed.
I remain your affectionate servant.
[signed] Jno. R. Bell.
To Messrs. Perpall, Hernandez, Smith, Arrendondo, Segui and Travers.
On the part of the inhabitants and proprietors of the city of St. Augustine.