Saturday, April 28, 2012

Don Juan McQueen…at last!

One of the most frequent questions of our visitors is about John McQueen, aka don Juan McQueen. He was one of our many colorful 18th and 19th century St Augustine residents and appears in Eugenia Price’s books on St Augustine, Maria, and, of course, Don Juan McQueen.

He spent much of his life in South Carolina and Georgia, where he was a land speculator, ship owner and captain…and Revolutionary War patriot, who had business connections with France and carried letters from Washington to Lafayette to enlist the aid of the French in the American Revolution. 

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After the war, he seems to have owned much of coastal South Carolina and Georgia, including places like Sapelow Island, but unfortunately his land deals went bad and he had to flee the new United States to avoid debtor’s prison…and ended up in Spanish Florida, specifically, in St Augustine. Here his career flourished and he became an important local citizen, the friend of people ranging from Fr. Miguel O’Reilly, first pastor of what is now the Cathedral, to the Spanish governor at the time (and don Juan conveniently arranged to live nearby, so that he could profit from any spare land grants that might be available!). 

He was in the process of building a house a few miles north of St Augustine, to which he wished to bring his wife and children after long years of separation, but he died suddenly of a fever.  His body was brought to St Augustine and he was buried at Tolomato Cemetery in 1805. A few years later, he was followed by his friend, Fr. Miguel O’Reilly, who died in 1812.

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But while Fr. Miguel O’Reilly had a vault, John McQueen had no marker, or at any rate, if he had had one originally, it had disappeared long ago.  So while we knew that he was buried at Tolomato, there was nothing to show people.

But the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) changed all that. Today they installed a very beautiful marker for him…right next to the vault of his old friend, Fr. Miguel O’Reilly, incidentally…and suddenly made our history visible!

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A group of about 80 people assembled, many of them from St Augustine and including people such as George Gardner and St John’s County Commissioner Cindy Stevenson, and of course DAR officers and members from the area and beyond.  It was a particular honor because this is the first DAR patriot’s marker in St John’s County.

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The current Chapter Regent, Lynne Cason, started with a few words and Father Ed Booth from the Cathedral did the invocation.  Former Regent Virginia Hassenflu told John McQueen’s never-dull story. Then, after a dignified ceremony, enhanced with an ROTC color guard (top photo), the marker was unveiled.  Above, Lynne Cason, Shirley Thompson and Fr. Ed Booth, who blessed the marker.

And here it is:

Marker

But just for you blog readers, here is the scene a couple of weeks before, while Lynne’s husband and other men from the Garrison were installing it:

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A beautiful job, a wonderful addition to both Tolomato and St Augustine…and, as Virginia Hassenflu said, we can just look at it and imagine the shades of don Juan McQueen and Fr Miguel O’Reilly playing checkers together on a warm evening…

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