Submitted by Descendants: Marguerite Jule Pacetty BROWN; Frances Mordina Brown EVANS; David William, Marguerite Marree Evans, and Robert Thomas MATHEWS
Joseph Bonelly, son of Tomas Bonelly & Maria Mariano, was born about 1757 in Livorno, a port city on the western coast of Italy. He was one of those 110 Italians, husbandmen, recruited by the Scots physician-land developer, Andrew Turnbull, to work on an indigo plantation project at New Smyrna, Florida. In the spring of 1768, the indentured Minorcans, Italians, and Greeks sailed in eight caravels from Mahon, Minorca to New Smyrna, Florida. After arriving at Mosquito Inlet, first priority wa to clear the landscape of pines, cabbage palm, palmetto scrub and drain the swampy marsh. Conditions were wretched and never improved: unbearable heat and humidity, scant time to gather food, inadequate clothing, palm-thatched huts for living quarters, disgusting stench of indigo culture, unending tending crops for export, miserable sanitation, hunger, disease, cruel treatment by overseers. Amid oppression and suffering, life goes on and in 1776 in New Smyrna. Joseph Bonelly married Maria Moll, a girl from Ciudadela, Minorca. Their first child, a son, was born in New Smyrna that same year. After nine years of broken promises and exploitation the New Smyrna colony failed. They appealed to the English governor for help. The entire group, dubbed The Minorcans, walked the King’s Highway to freedom in St. Augustine.
In 1784, Joseph Bonelly, his wife and his family, lived in St. Augustine proper but he cultivated plots outside the city limits. It was in 1784 in St. Augustine that their daughter, Maria Catalina Antonia Bonelly was born. (Joseph Bonelly & Maria Moll had ten documented children!) In 1787, he and his family lived near the St. Johns River. He received two 600 acre land grants and one for ten acres: in 1796 for 600 acres at Turnbull Bay and for ten acres at North Wharf; and in 1799 for 699 acres at Matanzas Bar. In January 1802, while Joseph Bonelly was away on business, the Bonelly plantation at Matanzas was raided, pillaged and burned by Miccosukee Indians. His eldest son, Thomas, was scalped on the spot – later the Indians danced over his scalp. His wife, Maria, and the five younger Bonelly children were captured and taken to the Indian Village in West Florida, where they were held for ransom. Joseph Bonelly was forced to sell his Matanzas grant in order to generate the amount of money demanded by the Miccosukee Indians to release his family. The Indians deemed the sum insufficient; after seven months they released only Mrs. Maria Bonelly and the three younger Bonelly children: Theresa Mary, Catherine, and John. The Indians detained his son, young Joseph Bonelly, and his daughter, Antonia Paula Bonelly. Meantime, young Joseph escaped. Antonia Paula became a ward of the Miccosukee Indian Medicine Doctor and was kept another fifteen months, until in November 1803, Joseph Bonelly mustered additional money and negotiated her release.
Joseph Bonelly owned property in St Augustine – a wooden house in Block No. 3, Lot No. 2, located north and south between Hypolita Street and Baya Lane and east and west between the Bay (Avenida Menedez along the bay) and Charlotte Street.
Joseph Bonelly died at age fifty-four in 1811 in St. Augustine and was buried in the Catholic Parish Church Cemetery.
Joseph Bonelly was first established as a Florida Pioneer in 2005