University of North Florida History Professor J. Michael Francis will serve on the St. Augustine 450th Commemoration Commission be-cause of his expertise in early-colonial Spanish Florida history.
That nomination came after he received the 2010-11 Jay I. Kislak Fellowship, an eight-month residential scholarship at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Francis received the award to continue his research on 16th century Spanish Florida history.
Francis is a San Marco resident and has taught at UNF since 1997. He received his doctorate in history from the University of Cambridge and he is a native of Calgary, Canada.
What will your role be in the St. Augustine Commemoration Commission?
My role will be to work closely with my fellow commissioners to help plan, develop and promote a series of events to commemorate St. Augustine’s 450th anniversary. These commemoration celebrations will give us the opportunity to share Florida’s rich, yet often overlooked, history with the general public.
What sparked your interest in Spanish Florida?
My interest in Spanish Florida history dates back to the fall semester of 2006 when I offered a course at UNF to teach students how to read 16th century Spanish documents. In preparing for one class, I stumbled across a remarkable document written in St. Augustine in July of 1598. It told a story that launched my research interest in Spanish Florida history.
What was remarkable about that document?
The document recorded the tale of five Franciscan friars murdered by Guale Indians, as well as the rescue of a sixth friar who had spent 10 months in captivity. I was so captivated by the story that I partnered with one of my graduate students to write a book on the subject, entitled “Murder and Martyrdom in Spanish Florida: Don Juan and the Guale Uprising of 1597.”
What is the most interesting historical surprise about the area?
Perhaps the one thing that has surprised me most is the ethnic and racial diversity that characterized St. Augustine from its earliest days. Since its foundation, St. Augustine was a place of encounters (at times violent) and exchanges between peoples of different nations, races, cultures and religions.
How much time do you spend exploring the area, especially St. Augustine?
St. Augustine is one of my favorite places in the entire world and I visit regularly. This year I intend to devote much more time to explore other parts of the state as well.