Today marks the first day of National Hispanic Heritage Month, so we’re taking a #FlashbackFriday look at the first Hispanic person to serve in Congress.
Joseph Marion Hernández was born in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1788, when it was still under Spanish rule. He became an American citizen when Florida became a US territory in 1822. A prominent plantation and slave owner, Hernández was chosen to serve as a delegate for the remainder of the 17th Congress.
During his brief tenure in the House — he only served for about five months — Hernández pushed to develop infrastructure in Florida, insisting it would benefit the military. It would also make Florida a more attractive candidate for statehood, which eventually came to pass in 1845.
Before running a failed campaign as a Whig for the US Senate in 1845, Hernández served in the territorial legislature and in the US military during the Second Seminole War. His career in politics wasn’t over, however. According to his House biography, he served as the mayor of St. Augustine in 1848.
“His complex life and career as a slave-owning, Indian-fighting politician cut from Jacksonian cloth embodied conflicting attitudes toward statehood, representation, and territorial conquest,” his House biography reads in part.
Hernández settled in Cuba, where he died at his family’s sugar farm in 1857.