Alumna, faculty member discusses St. Augustine’s Birthday and her work with the St. Augustine Historical Society

Jeanette Vigilotti with students in downtown St. Augustine, Florida
September 8, 2022
As we recognize the 457th birthday of St. Augustine on September 8, 2022, we talked with alumna, faculty member and St. Augustine Historical Society member Jeanette Vigliotti.

At Flagler, Vigliotti works as the associate director of lifelong learning and contract training, honors program coordinator and instructor of humanities. Vigliotti has worked with the Historical Society for 10 years and currently serves as the education outreach coordinator, museum research support and editor-in-chief of the society’s history journal.

We asked Vigliotti about the history behind the celebration of St. Augustine’s birthday, what we should be mindful of in our celebration of the occasion and what it means for St. Augustine residents today:

What are we talking about when we refer to St. Augustine’s birthday?

 “When we talk about St. Augustine’s birthday, we are talking about when Menendez arrived in St. Augustine. And really what this did, for people that maybe aren’t as familiar with St. Augustine’s history, was signal the start of, not the oldest city in the United States, but the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the continental United States. That difference is really important. Menendez’s arrival wasn’t the origin point of history in this area, but it is the inflection that we put on it.”

How do we do our best to make sure we know the whole history of St. Augustine while also still celebrating its past?

“I actually really love this question a lot. I think that there are lots of costs and affordances that are present in our history. And I think that the way we can best celebrate is to actually take time to have difficult conversations and talk about some of the really hard subjects. Like what did enslavement look like here? What did the Timucuan settlement look like here? What did the interaction between all of these different people look like? And rather than shying away from those subjects, we actually just lean fully into them. I think that organizations like the Historical Society and other cultural heritage organizations around town are currently trying to work, especially with places like Flagler College, to make sure that history isn’t swept under the rug. There’s space for those stories of resilience and buoyancy and joy and the stories of violence and harm. Both are always true and really good historians, really good cultural heritage organizations shed light on both of those things.”

What does the birthday of St. Augustine mean for residents of St. Augustine?

“I think that the celebration of the birthday of St. Augustine as a settlement is a really good reminder to be curious about local history and about the interactions between both people and land and the different groups that have actually called this place home and made this community. There are just so many stories in St. Augustine and I like to think of this celebration from a local perspective as just an occasion to remember there’s so much more to learn. There are so many more stories that we haven’t really been paying attention to. Just when we think we know everything about the founding of St. Augustine, people like J. Michal Francis’ work comes and upends all of that. Because he’s just done this really cool project where he made the Spanish colonial documents accessible digitally. It allows people, just like normal people, to sort through that information and take these Spanish colonial documents, read them in English and understand the connections between people. It’s totally changing what we think we know about those initial years. I think that this is just a good time to get curious.”