On September 30, 1822, Joseph Marion Hernández becomes the first Hispanic to be elected to the United States Congress. Born a Spanish citizen, Hernández would die in Cuba, but in between he became the first Hispanic American to serve at the highest levels of any of three branches of the American federal government.
Hernández belonged to a St. Augustine family that came to Florida as indentured servants. Despite these humble beginnings, records show that his family eventually became wealthy enough to own property and several slaves, and that Hernández was educated both in both Georgia and in Cuba. Throughout the 1810s, the United States made a variety of efforts to take Florida from the Spanish, finally succeeding after Andrew Jackson led an army through the territory in the First Seminole War. What Hernández did during this time is unclear, but he was either very savvy or very lucky—he fought the Americans during the war and received substantial amounts of land from the Spanish government, but then pledged loyalty to the United States and was allowed to keep his three plantations when the territory changed hands in 1819. It was then that Hernández changed his name from José Mariano to Joseph Marion.
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