Florida was first to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, not Boston, says USF professor

- It turns out the first St. Patrick’s Day celebration in America happened in Florida -- not Boston, says a University of South Florida professor.

According to Britannica Encylcopedia, Boston held its St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1737, but newly uncovered documents indicate the first celebration of the Irish culture occurred a century earlier.  

J. Michael Francis, a history professor for the St. Petersburg campus, said the celebration originated in St. Augustine. He made the discovery while exploring the historic city’s Spanish background and came across gunpowder expenditures lists for the years 1600 to 1601. Cannons and other artillery were not only fired off to guide ships across the city’s protective sandbar, they were also shot off during public and religious festivities.

There was a single entry from March 1600 describing residents gathering together through the streets and firing cannons to honor of the feast day of San Patricio, which is the Spanish name for St. Patrick.

“It was certainly a surprise,” he said in a statement. “It did not register the first time I saw the name…After a few seconds it actually hit me that there was a St. Patrick’s Day parade/procession in St. Augustine in 1601. Even more surprising was that the document identified St. Patrick as the patron saint of the city’s maize fields.” 

For decades, Dr. Francis examined thousands of documents in Spain’s Archivo General de Indias, which includes information on Ricardo Artur, an Irish priest who possibly introduced the devotion to St. Patrick. He realized when Artur's name disappears from records in 1604, so do the references to St. Patrick.

His findings can be found in a new website of Florida history, called “La Florida: The Interactive Digital Archive of the Americas,” which was debuted this week.

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