St. Augustine is known as the “Oldest Continuously Occupied European Settlement in North America.” Pedro Menéndez de Aviles and his fleet landed on August 28, 1565, the Catholic feast day of St. Augustine of Hippo. Here, Spain established a presidio, military outpost, and staked claim to la Florida as a colony. Centuries later, St. Augustine celebrated its Quadricentennial, or 400th birthday. To kick-off the celebrations, the United States Postal Service released a commemorative stamp and a series of collectible first day covers. The United States Post Office Department partnered with the National Park Service (NPS) to sponsor a special “First Day of Issue” ceremony at the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument on the morning of August 28, 1965.
The Saturday ceremony was “attended by a large number of persons who sought out the shadows of the castillo courtyard on one of the hottest mornings” that summer. The St. Augustine Royal Family sat in the front of the platform while the 536th Air Force Band from Patrick Air Force Base started the festivities with a performance. Assistant Postmaster General Tyler Abell followed with a dedication speech. Abell noted that the significance of St. Augustine’s postal past as “it was here that the first mail service was inaugurated, even though it was only twice a year by slow packet.”
Abell then presented stamp albums to a number of dignitaries, including Herbert E. Wolfe (chairman of the National Quadricentennial Commission), Congressman D. R. Matthews, St. Augustine Mayor John D. Bailey, Jacksonville Mayor Louis Ritter, Elbert Cox (regional director of the NPS), Governor Haydon Burns, and Juan Ramon Paralleda (consul general of Spain in New Orleans). The first album was reserved for President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was not in attendance. After the hour-long ceremony, the stamps went on sale at the Castillo and St. Augustine’s post office (now Governor’s House Cultural Center and Museum) – other Florida post offices followed on Monday.
The “First Day of Issue” ceremony received more than just cheers. In the years leading up to this event, local and national Civil Rights demonstrators protested the Quadricentennial Commission and celebration. For the federal commission along with the celebration lacked representation and participation by the city’s Black residents. While the United States Post Office Department employed desegregated teams for the commemorative postage sales, the Florida Star reported that “this is definitely not enough to lend ‘color’ to the occasion.” Local leader Dr. Robert Hayling called for the picketing of the event. About 12 members from the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference picketed the ceremony from across the street.
The commemorative stamps along with the first day covers will be on display in the exhibition First Day of Issue: St. Augustine’s Quadricentennial Stamp that opened on May 12, 2022. This exhibition is curated by Governor’s House Library and made possible by the donation of Martin Severe, a philatelist from Rockville, Maryland.
Governor’s House Cultural Center and Museum – located at 48 King Street, St. Augustine, Florida 32084 – is free and open to the public Wednesday-Sunday, 10 AM – 5 PM.