The First Coast of Florida, in addition to being the first U.S. coast to be settled by Europeans, was the first coast to foster a commercial shrimping industry. Spreading from Fernandina to St. Augustine in the early 20th century, following the expansion of the railroad built by capitalist Henry Flagler, the nascent commercial shrimping and shrimpboat-building industries were dominated by a number of innovative families of Mediterranean descent–including the Salvador, Versaggi, and Poli families.
1947 photograph of the shrimp boat Silent Night cruising before the 17th-century Spanish fortification Castillo de San Marcos, taken during the annual blessing of the fleet celebration. Image courtesy of the Florida Photographic Collection, State Library, and Archives of Florida.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum has taken a particular interest in saving this unique maritime heritage and is engaging these descendant communities to help preserve and share their stories.
The Shrimpin’ Ain’t Easy exhibit details St. Augustine’s shrimping history and the lives of the people who brought shrimp to the world. The exhibit opened to the public on Saturday, May 1, 2021.
The St. Augustine Record previously posted a story on the Versaggi family and how they were some of the first shrimpers in the First Coast waters.
“These families built an industry that was instrumental in making St. Augustine a thriving commercial center and now they are helping us keep that story alive by sharing family memorabilia as well as their personal stories and memories. The vast and diverse story of the nation’s oldest port cannot be told without the histories of the shrimpers, boat builders, fishermen and others who saw the small industries they founded here grow and spread throughout the world,” said Kathleen McCormick, former Director of Museum Conservation, who is helping grow the Lighthouse & Museum shrimping exhibit/project.
John Versaggi, a descendent of the Versaggi family, has shared the following lists of shrimping boats and owners, and DESCO employees:
Click below to learn more about St. Augustine’s Shrimping and Boatbuilding Heritage, Marine Artisans Monument, and the families that made it possible.
Florida Frontiers TV created an episode on the Shrimping Industry of Florida, featuring several descendants of the Versaggi family. Click here to watch the video.
Please review our post from 2007 that discusses St. Augustine’s shrimping industry: Click here to view that post.