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Portrait of a Cuban Revolutionary

The Cuban Revolutionaries

Before the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, St. Augustine was a haven for Cuban refugees, and on one notable Sunday in September 1896, the old city was the scene of an extraordinary meeting at which the Republic of Cuba was born.

It was the custom of the Cubans to meet each Sunday for breakfast, so the gathering held at an unpretentious cottage in North City did not excite the suspicions of the Spanish spies, who infested the town. While they were getting breakfast ready, other events were taking place nearby.

Two freight cars marked "explosives" arrived in town and were put on a siding very near the San Sebastian River.

A steamer on its way down the coast put a boat over the side, which a sailor cleverly maneuvered onto a wave and beached, high and dry, on North Beach.

One of his passengers was the famous Dr. Jose Marti, who had come to be the guest of honor at that breakfast being held in town. Two Americans, were also present, among the flower of the Cuban patriots, the mayor of St. Augustine, F. B. Genovar, and Captain Henry Marcotte, who has left us an account of that day. Dr. Marti was named president of the new republic of Cuba, and a cabinet was chosen.

Among the many other things decided at this meeting of the Junta was the design of their flag, the first of which was sewn by the Misses Ann, Amy, and Alice McMillen of St. Augustine, a trio of Betsy Rosses for the new nation.

At noon on the same day, a tramp steamer off the inlet signaled it needed a tow into the harbor, and when it was brought in the supercargo came ashore to hire mechanics to repair the boilers. But next morning the ship was gone, boilers unrepaired; so was Dr. Marti, and so were most of the Cuban refugees, many of whom had come to town claiming to be cigar makers. Also missing were the contents of the two freight cars. By then, the tramp steamer, the "Bermuda," was many miles to the south with 200 well-armed men aboard, off to fight the Spaniards. An involuntary member of the group was a Spanish spy, who had been spotted in town and was taken along, securely locked in the ship's brig.

The shipping of explosives was not an isolated incident. In an interview long after his retirement, an FEC engineer told how on every southbound run during this period, his train carried several cars marked "Company Coal" which were always left on a siding near the water at Eau Gallie. They were unloaded and the contents picked up, always before daylight, by a big tug, the "Three Sisters." Since the practice stopped when the United States entered the struggle for Cuban liberation and secrecy was no longer necessary, he is sure the cars contained contraband for the Cuban guerillas.

When hostilities between the United States and Spain erupted, the city fathers became nervous when they reflected that Spanish gunboats could easily lob shells into the city from offshore, and might decide to do so, since the city had once been a Spanish capital. They petitioned the Secretary of War for a shore battery on the hills of Anastasia Island to forestall such an attack.

The same F. B. Genovar, who was present at the Junta meeting in 1896, signed the petition as did Bartola Genovar, S. E. Davis, W. S. M. Pinkham, D. B. Usina, P. S. Arnau, A. J. Watts, L. A. Colee, M. R. Cooper, Albert H. Mickler, A. L. Rogero, H. Gaillard, and John T. Dismukes.

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