• Enrique A. Cordero

A Time Travel Through Florida - Part 4 of 5

Updated: Nov 14, 2020

Late 19th Century Florida

We learned in Part 2 of this series that the Italians first arrived in Florida with the Spanish explorers during the 16th century through the early 19th century. The Italian migrants added so much to the growth and development of Tampa that I cannot begin to outline their contributions in these brief snapshots of our local history. Instead, I will highlight interesting aspects that allowed the Italian, Spanish, and Cuban settlers to work together.

One of our Tampa streets bears the name Taliaferro. In 1836, Major Lawrence Taliaferro was said to have repelled a band of Native Americas on the outskirts of Tampa. Administering to the sick and wounded was Dr. L.J. Trotti, possibly a descendant of Gaspar Trotti who lived in St. Augustine around 1773. In 1830, James F. Trotti, a possible descendant of Dr. L.J. Trotti, petitioned President Andrew Jackson for Florida’s statehood.

During the Cuban War of Independence from Spain (1880 – 1890s), many Cubans migrated to Florida, first settling in what is now Key West and then moving further north. Cubans settled in relatively large numbers in Ybor City and Tampa, and as far north as St. Augustine. In 1885, Vicente Martinez Ybor, a native of Valencia, Spain, settled in Cuba. Taking advantage of the growth in Tampa, Mr. Ybor, an industrialist and cigar manufacturer, relocated to Florida and settled in South Tampa. Thus, our historic Ybor City was founded as an independent town and by 1887, was annexed by the City of Tampa.

Many of the original settlers in Ybor City were from Sicily and migrated from the area known today as Kissimmee. Barely making a living working in the local sugar plantations, and having heard of the Cuban boom town of Ybor City, they decided to settle in the area—an easy decision for the Sicilians since they had been under Spanish rule for over four centuries, and during that time, the Spaniards were never treated as enemies or considered as foreign by most Sicilians. In fact, marriages between Spaniards and Sicilians were commonplace, and the official language of administration and social life was Catalan and Castilian.

The result of those four hundred years of Spanish influence is that the Sicilian dialect contains many Spanish words, and many Sicilian names were Spanish. Furthermore, a large number of settlers in Ybor City came from the town of Santo Stefano Quisquina, Province of Agrigento, Sicily. Among these first migrants were the three Cacciatore brothers. They established themselves, and their legacy continues until the present with the Cacciatore Brothers Italian Specialty Store. They started their first business in 1896.

The incredible enrichment resulting from the Italian, Spanish, and Cuban settlers in the Tampa Bay area is truly amazing. They have enriched our community through language, music, food, dance, and so much more.

Next week we will arrive at our final destination of this brief time travel through Florida and realize the richness of our local history and the mutual aid societies created by these three cultural groups.


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