Dr. Andrew Turnbull's Smyrnéa Settlement at Edgewater and New Smyrna, Florida, 1766-1777
Dr. Andrew Turnbull's Smyrnéa Settlement at today's Edgewater and New Smyrna, Florida, a gigantic agricultural factory worked by indentured laborers and enslaved Africans, represents one of the most significant and controversial settlements in all of North American colonial history. The 1403 indentured laborers Dr. Turnbull recruited from Italy, Greece, Minorca, and other Mediterranean nations represent the largest importation of Europeans in a single settlement in any European overseas colony. When the approximately one hundred enslaved Africans Turnbull purchased are counted in the work force, along with European carpenters, overseers, managers, and their families, it is clear that the Smyrnéa Settlement rivaled St. Augustine, the provincial capital, in size of population. The laborers cleared brush and forest for indigo and provisions fields, drained massive swamps by digging miles of drainage canals, planted sugar cane, built canoes and ships, and erected stone wharves, sawmills, windmills, and a sizeable town of dwellings, artisan shops, and storage buildings. Cabins and gardens stretched along the Halifax River for more than seven miles. The great tragedy of the settlement is that more than half of the settlers and slaves died during the ten years it existed. Of the millions of dollars (in contemporary money) invested by Turnbull's influential partners in Britain, Sir William Duncan and George Grenville, all was lost in 1777 when the indented laborers abandoned their cabins and resettled in St. Augustine. Soon thereafter the Smyrnéa Settlement failed.
In the inevitable accusations and lawsuits that followed the settlement's demise, Dr. Turnbull was temporarily imprisoned when he was unable to post the security bond imposed by Governor Patrick Tonyn, who was acting as head of the Chancery Court. Following the trial, Turnbull moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where he lived out the remainder of his days. The Mediterranean laborers who survived the experience at Smyrnéa, became an integral part of St. Augustine's population. Their descendants continue to be an important component of life in the Ancient City.
Many able scholars have chronicled the history of Andrew Turnbull and the Smyrnéa Settlement, yet significant questions remain unanswered. The main problem faced by researchers has been the lack of evidence concerning Turnbull's recruiting activities in the Mediterranean and the day-to-day activities at the estate. Fortunately, two major collections of Turnbull-related documents have recently become accessible to scholars. Hundreds of letters written by the principal figures in the British East Florida colony, including Governor James Grant and Dr. Andrew Turnbull, are included in these collections. The documents that follow are transcriptions of portions of many of those letters.
The first collection, “Letters from Andrew Turnbull, to Sir William Duncan and Others: Together with Related Documents,” is part of the Farrar-Duncan Archive, the Papers of Sir William and Lady Mary Duncan, East Florida Papers, located at the Dundee City Archive, Dundee, Scotland. Sir William Duncan was one of Turnbull's partners in the Smyrnéa adventure. Handwritten notes and xerox copies of letters were collected in September and December of 2003 and subsequently transcribed. They are identified here as “Dundee City Archive” at the bottom of each document. The owners of the Farrar-Duncan Archive granted permission for use of the documents in this website.
The second major collection, “The James Grant Papers,” is part of the Macpherson-Grant Papers, property of Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Russell, Ballindalloch Castle, Banffshire, Scotland. The collection includes the American-related papers of the first governor of British East Florida, James Grant, and his letter books, business, and personal correspondence between 1763 and 1802. Grant was also a Member of Parliament, a major general in the British Army, and the laird of Ballindalloch. The papers are currently on loan to the Scottish Record Office, Edinburgh, and are used here with the permission of Mr. and Mrs Russell. The American materials in the collection were microfilmed in 2001 by the Library of Congress. Microfilm copies are available at the Scottish Record Office, the Library of Congress, and the Jay Kislak Foundation, Miami, Florida. Letters from this collection are identified as from the James Grant Papers.
Also included are a number of letters and other documents from the Colonial Office Papers, Class 5, Volumes 550-558, The National Archives, Kew, England.