Robert L. Gold


The story of Jesse Fish has long been obscured by rumor, contradictory reports, and confusion. He lived more than half a century in St. Augustine under both Spanish and British authority, and his long residence probably helped in the formation of the “Fish Legend,” which has lasted until the present day. Generally, he emerges as a sinister figure, an insidious schemer characteristically involved in contraband commerce, sedition, and illicit land transactions. Fish reputedly made money as an hacendado, land dealer, slaver, smuggler, usurer, and cunning crook. His critics also accuse him of performing espionage for England and Spain, and claim that he served as a double agent during the Seven Years’ War. Fish’s name conjures up lucid images of money, land, and commercial enterprise. In such imagery, he becomes a successful but unscrupulous businessman, a swindler of St. Augustine property, and Florida’s first orange exporter. He is also known as the “savior of St. Augustine” in 1762-1763. Since there is validity to the pro and con arguments and since Fish’s story yet evades description, his spectre continues to haunt Florida historians.