Sherry Johnson


In late June 1791, St. Augustine captain Don Antonio de Alcantara sailed into Havana harbor at the helm of his schooner, the Santa Catalina. As the captain and master of his own vessel, he was held in high esteem, and Spanish customs officials acknowldged his status by prefacing his name with the honorifie title "Don" (Sir).1 A decade earlier, his arrival would have been unthinkable. His port of origin was in British hands in the early 1780s, and Britain was at war with Spain. Even after the conflict ended in 1783, commerce with Cuba remained restricted.2 More important, Alcantara would not have been granted a gentleman's status because he was of humble origins.3 In the intervening years, however, St. Augustine returned to Spanish rule, commercial regulations were relaxed, and Alcantara and several other families enjoyed unprecedented social advancement because they were the conduits that linked cities in Florida, Cuba, and the Atlantic world. Sadly, though, Alcantara's meteoric rise to prominence was short lived. Just day after unloading his cargo, he set sail for home in East Florida unaware that the fifth-most-destructive hurricane in history wa poised to strike the northern coast of Cuba and the Straits of Florida.4 At home in St. Augustine, Alcantara's wife and Santa Catalina's namesake, Catalina Costa, waited in vain for her husband to return. What remained of th schooner probably washed ashore on the Florida peninsula south of St. Augustine, while the fate of her captain and crew was never officially determined.5