On Monday, September 25, 2023, the former Executive Director of the St. Augustine Historical Society (SAHS, 2007-2016), Dr. Susan Richbourg Parker, received the City of St. Augustine’s Order of La Florida award. Established in 1975, The Order of La Florida is the highest honor bestowed by the City Commission of the City of Saint Augustine. It is awarded to individuals “who [have] exemplified the finest qualities of citizenship, and [have] contributed extraordinary services to the community.”
Dr. Parker has been a part of St. Augustine’s community most of her life. She has a Ph.D. in Colonial U.S. History from the University of Florida, with minors in Colonial Latin American History and Anthropology. She specializes in the former Spanish presence in what is now the Southern United States.
Her contributions to the historiography about St. Augustine include The Oldest City: The History of Saint Augustine (2019), SAHS’s second history book, and her column The Oldest City (1996-2022), originally published by The St. Augustine Record (SAR) until 2023, when she began writing it for SAHS. Additionally, Dr. Parker is a researcher, writer, editor, and historical projects consultant. Currently, her research is focused on epidemics in colonial Florida and on the Governor’s House Site.
Characteristic of her works is her ability to “put faces on the ordinary people who lived here.” Her method of writing engages readers and helps them see the bigger picture by connecting the past to the present. In the 2019 SAR article, “10 Who Make a Difference in St. Johns County,” renowned archaeologist, Dr. Kathleen Deagan, said of Parker’s writing, “the columns are remarkable in the way she connects current events to the comparable events in the past. And it reaches so many people (me included) who wouldn’t ordinarily have access to the documentary information that Susan shares. It really heightens everyone’s awareness of and pride in our town.” Parker is also an advocate of including Spanish La Florida as a fundamental piece of U.S. history.
In celebration of Dr. Parker’s achievements, we are honored to share her acceptance speech from her Order of La Florida award ceremony:
ORDER OF LA FLORIDA AWARD ACCEPTANCE SPEECH
Given by Dr. Susan Richbourg Parker, September 25, 2023, St. Augustine City Commission Chambers
What a thrill to be honored by a city which is without parallel in the United States.
I understand why the Oscar and Emmy winners thank so many persons. We all know that it took many others for this award to happen. So, I’m going to forego a long list of thank-yous. For me some who contributed my award were, or are, good friends. Others had died before I was born, but their research enabled me to delve into St. Augustine’s past.
The City Commission presented the first Order of La Florida award in 1975. Several of the recipients who are no longer living were treasured colleagues and I have relied on their work:
Two of them, Kathleen Deagan, who is here today, and Carl Halbirt, are still working in St. Augustine.
The Award criteria state that recipients are persons who have, “over a long period of time, unselfishly devoted their time and talent to the welfare and betterment of our citizens and heritage . . .. “
So, I want to focus on the idea of heritage. Heritage for me is not quite the same as history. Heritage is a feeling, a sentiment.
I grew up in St. Augustine. My parents arrived in this city as toddlers; I was born here. I grew up where the history was all around me. As I rode in my parents’ car, or the school bus, or my own bicycle, I passed ancient buildings and sites. I could hear the stories about the town’s history on the street. In this venue, how could my good friend and I not become explorers—conquistdoras?
Julie and I found all sorts of new places to discover on Davis Shores, our bicycles serving as our galleons. As we stomped the beach at the end of Oglethorpe Boulevard, in the days when Salt Run was still very much a beach, before the buildup of Conch Island, we saw a pelican skeleton and knew it was a sign that we should claim the land. We named it New Sandspurnia. I could go on and on about the naïve discoveries, but I bring it up to illustrate how the feeling for heritage and long ago was almost absorbed through the pores of our skins, as well as through our ears and eyes.
Later, for me, St. Augustine offered a wonderful tableau to delve into the records written so long ago—many of them written in St. Augustine and sent from here to Spain, Cuba, Mexico, London, Washington.
To see the handwriting of the persons whom I had imagined as a child was a riveting experience. For years I worked as a historian for the State of Florida with an office in the Governor’s House. Much of what we know from the St. Augustine perspective was written at that location. I could sit in my office and look out at the same Plaza and at the same parish church, now Cathedral Parish.
The history of St. Augustine IS the history of the United States and I have spent many years trying to make that point at any number of venues around the U.S., and to make it also in St. Augustine.
As I said, heritage is a sentiment, a feeling, but that does not mean it is not based on fact. Heritage is how we deal with the facts. It is the sentiment aspect of “heritage” that can give our view of history the heat and energy to pursue or defend or protect.
How fitting of the City Commissioners of St. Augustine to recognize efforts to preserve and publicize our heritage. Because The City itself has a long history of championing heritage.
Two centuries ago, in 1821, St. Augustine became a city in the United States. Florida had been transferred to the U.S. in July of 1821. Flags changed. The Spanish flag was lowered, the U.S. flag was raised. But the City Council continued on, with some unpleasantries, resignation, and upheaval.
American officials of the newly arrived U.S. government questioned our City’s claim to properties—to City or municipal properties. The City Council turned to its heritage. It reached back to the earliest days of St. Augustine.
The mayor’s response said “that it is sufficient to remark” that the City’s claim to the properties date from the time of the “laying out and establishment of Towns.” In 1822 the City drew on more than 250 years of history and invoked its heritage.
What other City could have done that?
Written by Nicole Diehm
Pope, Margo. “10 Who Make a Difference in St. Johns County: Susan Parker connects St. Augustine’s past and present”. St. Augustine Record. https://www.staugustine.com/story/news/2019/12/30/10-who-make-difference-in-st-johns-county-susan-parker-connects-st-augustines-past-and-present/1990961007/. Published December 30, 2019. Accessed October 31, 2023.
“City to recognize Dr. Susan Richbourg Parker with Order of La Florida Award”. City of St. Augustine. https://www.citystaug.com/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=418#:~:text=Augustine%20City%20Commission%20will%20recognize,research%2C%20influence%2C%20and%20understanding. Published September 19, 2023. Accessed October 31, 2023.
“City to recognize Kay Burtin with Order of La Florida Award”. City of St. Augustine. https://www.citystaug.com/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=413#:~:text=Augustine.-,The%20City%20of%20St.,welfare%20and%20betterment%20of%20St. Published September 7, 2023. Accessed October 31, 2023.
“Local doctor receives St. Augustine’s La Florida Award”. Yahoo! News. https://news.yahoo.com/local-doctor-receives-st-augustine-172523816.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAABkKfJUXc1NVNrPoH6O9F4SiBdT0f-jMrF03FT_A9OJyKebZJjLlWldQyQTGPWmsvquA5wdu7eqlRpm1DvFhDGRwsb7VS2GlId_V9GDp9ItkBQpz70epjjMhsjOc_zOvWriYud26N2MFYcTD_N8mNlHnw__c50KVEP7FlAerLp1F. Published September 23, 2023. Accessed October 31, 2023.
“Susan Parker, Ph.D.” Historic St. Augustine Research Institute at Flagler College. https://www.flagler.edu/information-for/community-members/research-institute/research-associates/susan-parker-phd/. Accessed October 31, 2023.