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‘The First Floridians’ by Jordan Blumetti

— Andrew Sargus Klein

Florida, one of the weirder, sweatier, and anti-romantic corners of America, is having a bit of a run of late.

Last year, we had Kristen Arnett’s great essay ‘The Problem With Writing About Florida.’ Laura Groff’s short story collection, Florida, was long-listed for the National Book Award.

Most recently, we have Jordan Blumetti’s ‘The First Floridians,’ a deep dive into Fort Mose, a nearly forgotten historic landmark in St. Augustine, Florida. Founded in 1738, it was the first free black settlement in pre-Revolutionary America.

It’s story in and of itself is fascinating, in no small part because it is hardly, if ever, mentioned in high school history classes. But the story of the story—of the amateur archaeologist who dug through swamp marsh to find the site, the resulting struggle over the land with the state, and what we now know—is fascinating in its own right, albeit in a way that emphasizes this country’s tortured understanding of and respect for its own history.

In the distance, the Vilano Bridge stretches over the Intracoastal Waterway to a span of the Atlantic coast lined with beachfront homes — vacation homes that remain empty for most of the year. They waver over the ocean, ever perilous. After Hurricane Irma, their spindly wooden staircases and balconies were deposited in crumpled, contorted piles on the beach like giant dead spiders. One house altogether tumbled off of the dune and into the water. Every day, the dunes seem to lose a little more sand, and the tides creep that much closer to the tarmac. City officials want a bigger seawall to rescue this coastline, the edge of the New World, from a force intent on washing it away.

This is a great read that is ultimately, and unsurprisingly, forlorn.

The Bitter Southerner