Viva Florida 500 GreaterJax™ is a series of occasional pieces about Florida history and this year’s celebrations of 500 years of same in and around northeast Florida.
If you’ve paid attention to the newspaper this past week, then you know about Nick Koutroumanos and his fight with officialdom in Atlantic Beach to fly his Greek national flag outside the restaurant he owns and runs.
Hard as it is to believe, it’s not the first screwjob a Greek has been handed by some Florida politician.
Greeks & GreaterJax™
If you’ve studied your Florida history, then you know how long Greek people have lived in Greater Jacksonville.
In fact, St. Augustine is home to one of the largest ethnic Greek populations in the United States and St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine.
The St. Photios Chapel is the only one like it in the Western Hemisphere – decorated with Byzantine style fresceos peopled by the saints and apostles and gilded in 22-karat gold leaf.
This year, St. Photios celebrates the 247th anniversary of the Greek landing at St. Augustine on June 26, 1768, when the very first colony of Greeks in North America arrived.
After getting a royal screwjob at the hands of the British government, the survivors headed back to St. Augustine to found a new colony and their shrine.
Here’s what happened …
Greek people were recruited to found an agricultural colony at New Smyrna Beach – by Scottish physician Andrew Turnbull – that was to be the single largest attempt by the British Crown to colonize the New World.
Turnbull and a partner, Sir William Duncan, each received a grant from the King with the stipulation that the land be settled within ten years.
Turnbull recruited about 1,500 ethnic Greeks, Italians and other Mediterraneans from Minora, Majorca, Ibiza, Santorini, Crete, and Sicily to work as indentured servants growing hemp, sugar cane, indigo and making rum.
The expedition left Mahon, Mincora, in eight ships on March 28, 1768.
The stories about the crossing sound like the pilgrims’ journey to America on the Mayflower – bad weather, too many people and too little room, poor sanitation and not enough food and water.
Of the original colonists, only about 1,200 survived the crossing to land at St. Augustine and head for New Smyrna.
But GJE, there aren’t any Greeks in New Smryna Beach
Dr. Turnbull didn’t know anything about Florida’s climate.
- He assumed that because the colonists were from a warm climate, that Florida’s extreme heat and humidity would suit.
- The colonists had no supplies for their own maintenance, only those which could be used on the plantation to grow crops.
- They suffered from our subtropical heat, from mosquito-borne diseases, from over-work and starvation, but most of all from Turnbull’s own neglect.
About the time the British returned St. Augustine to Spain, Turnbull tired of New Smyrna and abandoned the colonists for life in Charleston, S.C.
At the end of almost nine years and after two revolts, only about 600 colonists survived to march on St. Augustine during May and June of 1777 demanding better treatment from the new British governor.
Back to our story …
For four and half years, Koutroumanos, 59, has operated his Nick the Greek restaurant in peace.
A tiny little place, Nick the Greek is always busy, and times are so good that Koutroumanos is making plans to expand to a full-scale restaurant.
But now Koutroumanos, who emigrated to the United States 40 years ago, has been ordered to “cease flying the Greek flag” in not one but two citations for violating the Atlantic Beach city code.
The restaurant was served by city Code Enforcement Officer Debbie White, who started her job in August, as part of a routine search for illegal banners.
The reasons that Koutroumanos and his Greek flag have been cited are many:
- The city at first contended that his Greek flag isn’t authentic.
- The city now contends that Koutroumanos’ Greek flag is a banner or streamer, which cannot be flown legally in the commerical district.
- The city contends that the flag hangs in the city’s right of way.
- The city contends that only American flags can be displayed outside businesses for advertising purposes.
City Manager Jim Hanson and a city attorney have determined that the citations were issued properly.
City Commissioner Maria Mark says that Koutroumanos can legally fly his flag on another part of his building.
So – for the moment – Koutroumanos has resigned himself to his very own personal screwjob and removed his beloved Greek flag.
Even though to date, as White admits, no complaints about the flag have been filed with the city.
Nick the Greek
- Open 7 days
- 10 Donner Rd. at Mayport Rd.
- Atlantic Beach, Fla. 32233
- Phone: 904-241-0070
St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine
- 41 St. George Street (between Orange & Cuna Streets)
- St. Augustine, Fla.
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OFFICIAL BIO: K Truitt is a second-generation, native Floridian born in Jacksonville. Truitt worked in public higher education for 25 years, most recently in Texas, is a successful grant writer, knows newspaper publishing, printing and graphic design and wants to work in the public sector. Contact: email@example.com