On Saturday, July 17, the 200th Anniversary Commission hosted an event celebrating Florida’s Territorial Bicentennial and Escambia County’s 200th Anniversary at the Historic Village, Museum Plaza, near 330 S. Jefferson St. in Pensacola.
A sunrise “Mvskoke Mekusvpkv” prayer by the Santa Rosa Creek Tribe began the festivities, followed by a formal program, exactly 200 years after the exchange of Spanish and American flags.
“There were a wide range of events taking place this weekend to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the transition of Florida from being a colony of a foreign European country to a Territory of the United States,” said 200th Commission Committee Chair Dr. Judy Bense. “There was something for children, teenagers and adults of all ages. Our program included patriotic music, statements by current leaders, a flag raising, children’s scavenger hunt, live reenactments of the Battles of Pensacola and live performances by Hispanic and African-American dancers. Embedded in each event was the significance of the historic moment of transition on the exact same day and place that it occurred two centuries ago right here in Pensacola.”
The formal program began at 10 a.m. in Museum Plaza. Remarks were made by the following speakers:
Collier Merrill, Chairman of UWF Historic Trust
Dr. Judy Bense, Committee Chair and former UWF president
Pastor Freddie Nathan Tellis, SgtMaj U.S.M.C. (Ret), Allen Chapel Church
Chief Dan “Sky Horse” Helms, Santa Rosa Creek Indian Tribe
Dr. Martha Saunders, UWF President
U.S. Sen. Rick Scott
Capt. Timothy Kinsella, NAS Pensacola commanding officer
Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee
Florida Sen. Doug Broxson, District 1
Florida Rep. Michelle Salzman, District 1
Florida Rep. Alex Andrade, District 2
Escambia County Chairman and District 4 Commissioner Robert Bender
City of Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson
Collier Merrill, Chairman of UWF Historic Trust said, “We are proud to have has such a celebration for this important event in Florida’s history. As in most port cities, Pensacola has many diverse communities, who all come together to honor of our past, present and future. Our rich history continues to be a highlight of our community, a wonderful complement to out beautiful weather and white beaches. Special thanks to Commission co-chairs, Dr. Judy Bense and Margo Stringfield, as well as the entire commission and events committee. We were honored for Secretary Laurel Lee, Senator Rick Scott and guests to be a part of today’s historic event, helping us to celebrate Florida’s Territorial celebration.”
Pastor Freddie Nathan Tellis said, “I want to extend my congratulations to the county of my youth and my retirement on this, its 200th anniversary. Escambia county has seen historic changes in public policies, educational gains and sports heroes unlike any other county I know of. My military service has taken me to many states and counties across this country and the old saying ‘there’s no place like home’ holds true for me.”
Chief Dan “Sky Horse” Helms, Santa Rosa Creek Indian Tribe said, “You have just heard the Muscogee Language spoken openly and publicly here in Pensacola for the first time in 191 years.” He said in translation: Hello. How are you. I am Chief Sky Horse. I have deer hides I want to trade.
“The Indian Removal Act of 1830 not only banned our language from being spoken, but it would have banned our sunrise Muscogee Blessing. This great city was founded by people of varying heritage and culture. They come together in harmony and unity of purpose. That purpose was to create a better life for themselves and their descendants.”
UWF President Dr. Martha Saunders said, “Congratulations to all who made this celebration a reality. It has been an honor to partner with our community on this Bicentennial Celebration. UWF takes great pride in our role in preserving the eight-acre area known as Historic Pensacola in the heart of our vibrant downtown.”
U.S. Senator Rick Scott said, “It’s great to be here. We are going to put in one of my Navy hats in the time capsule signed by my wife, Ann, and me. Congratulations, it’s wonderful to be here on a beautiful, hot Pensacola day.”
Florida Representative Michelle Salzman remarked, “As a native of the community, it is my distinct privilege to be a part of this historical cultural occasion. Commerce by trade has made Pensacola a viable settlement, and as we move beyond our 200 years, we must continue to focus on diverse and sustainable growth while continuing to respect our heritage and history.”
“I could not be prouder to celebrate Escambia County’s 200th anniversary,” said Florida Representative Alex Andrade. “Celebrating our history, warts and all, is the only way we can continue to progress without losing what makes our region, state and country so special.”
Captain Timothy Kinsella stated, “There has been a continuous military presence on the grounds of NAS Pensacola since Fort San Carlos de Austria was built here in 1698. Ever since Florida’s entry into the Union in 1821, the United States Military has had a continuous presence in Pensacola through the Navy Yard, Fort Barrancas and the Navy’s first air station. During those 200 years of sometimes tumultuous, but often joyful history, the City of Pensacola and the military community have been inextricably linked, and it is our privilege to continue that legacy into the future.”
“Florida is rich with history and culture and the Territorial Bicentennial commemoration in Pensacola inspires us to reflect on the lasting legacy of all who have called Florida home,” said Florida Secretary of State, Laurel M. Lee. “I am honored to have participated in the commemoration of this major historical turning point in Florida’s history and look forward to continuing to preserve and share the history and heritage of our great state.”
Florida Senator Broxson said, “When I made the proclamation in the Senate, I told the story of Escambia County. There was a battle between Escambia and St. Johns County to a point that we were alternating which would be the capitol each year, Pensacola or St. Augustine. We decided we would meet at a central site and headed toward Tallahassee to be our capitol. Dr. Bense legitimized that Pensacola is really the oldest settlement in the state of Florida and not St. Augustine. What a great time it is. What an honor to be here. My family has been here for over 200 years and many of your families, the streets were named after them. On behalf of the State Senate of Florida, I want to give this proclamation to Dr. Bense and thank you, Pensacola, thank you Escambia, thank you Florida for such a great place to live.”
Escambia County Chairman Bender said, “Although Escambia County has grown with development and population over 200 years, in many ways it has remained the same. We still get to enjoy the clear water it was named after, the best beaches in the world and the abundant sea life. Spanning 200 years, there has been continuous improvement to provide efficient, responsive services that enhance our quality of life, meet common needs and promote a safe and healthy community. I’m proud to call Escambia County my home, and I hope you are too. It’s nice to take the time to pause and celebrate how far we’ve come in 200 years!”
“It is an exciting day to celebrate the rich history of Pensacola, Escambia County and the State of Florida, and to celebrate all who came before us to pave the way for creating the thriving community we see today,” Mayor Grover Robinson said. “We are fortunate to have such a diverse blend of cultures and rich heritage in our community. We truly are Florida’s first and Florida’s future, and I’m excited to see what the future has in store for Pensacola as we continue to grow and prosper.”
After remarks, Caitlyn Moore from Sacred Heart Cathedral School read her winning essay, “What it means to me to be an American.” Leo Day sang “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America.”
The formal program concluded with UWF bands playing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” while there was a reenactment of an exchange of flags from the Spanish flag to the American flag. There was a Navy flyover, a special historic marker dedication by Robinson and Bender, and the storing of a time capsule at the UWF Historic Trust to be reopened in 25 years.
Programing was structured to reflect our community’s rich and diverse heritage and the collective influences that make our community what it is today. Pensacola’s Historic Village remained open until 4 p.m., featuring a performance by the Ayoka Afrikan Drum and Dance Ensemble on stage and a history and archaeology scavenger hunt for kids. Various other demonstrations, re-enactments, live music and dance routines wrapped up the bicentennial at Historic Village. A keel boat was at Pitt Slip Marina, and on Friday two historic Battle of Pensacola war re-enactments unfolded at Fountain Park, 300 E. Zaragoza St.