Marriage in San Agustín de la Florida, 1784-1803 : Practical Application of the Real Pragmática de Casamientos

Karen Packard Rhodes

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Liberal Arts -- Florida Studies, College of Arts and Sciences, University of South Florida St. Petersburg, February 25, 2015.

Abstract

In 1776, King Charles III of Spain issued his Pragmatic Sanction on marriage, extending its provisions to Spanish America in 1778. Young persons were to ask parental permission to marry, and faced punishments if they did not. Any parental objections had to be “just and rational,” and an applicant had recourse to the courts if a parent’s objections were not reasonable. In the colony of St. Augustine, Florida, parental dissent did not meet with a sympathetic hearing. This thesis examines how the Pragmatic Sanction, with subsequent decrees and orders, was observed or ignored in St. Augustine. Marriage, as a life milestone, bears implications for the wider society, and the study of marriage in St. Augustine illuminates personal lives in the colony, shedding light on how courtship and marriage were conducted in Spanish Florida. An examination of marriage license petitions filed between 1784 and 1803 brought out social, economic, and racial concerns in St. Augustine. A literature survey revealed relevant points in the history and development of the Pragmatic Sanction, permitting an examination of whether or not the decree was successful in achieving its goals of reducing unequal marriages – a term undefined in the documents – and of strengthening the authority of the patriarchy at both the family and Crown levels. This research shows that equality, quality (character), and honor were the primary considerations in St. Augustine, ahead of religious and racial purity. This paper’s conclusions regarding implementation of the pragmática in St. Augustine challenge current scholarship concerning its application in the rest of Spanish America. In St. Augustine, at least, the Pragmatic Sanction failed to achieve its goals.