John Madison Caldwell was born as an only child to parents William Henry Caldwell and Lamendar/Lamnier Tarpley Strickland on November 21, 1846.
On August 25, 1867, John Caldwell married Mary Jane Goolsby (Jennie) in Hamilton County before the County Judge, Henry J. Stewart. Mary Jane Goolsby was the child of William Goolsby. She died on December 4, 1828, and is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Jasper.
Of this marriage, eight children were born:
1) Annie, born July 10, 1868.
2) Mary Frances. Died September 22, 1872.
3) Infant boy, born 1873. Died at birth.
4) Infant boy, born July 24, 1874. Died shortly after birth.
5) Charlie, born 1873. Died August 30, 1877.
7) Stafford, born October 13, 1888. Died April 20, 1960. Buried at Evergreen Cemetery, Jasper.
8) Pearl, born 1891.
On the 1910 United States Census, John Caldwell was found living in Hamilton County, employed as an editor of the newspaper, with his wife, Jennie; his son, Stafford, employed as an attorney of law; and his daughter, Pearl, employed as a teacher at a public school (1910 Census).
John Madison Caldwell died on February 26, 1923, and is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Jasper.
This letter from Jno. M. Caldwell to his son, Stafford, was found in some old files in the office of the Jasper News. I have transcribed it here. As there are a lot of pertinent details concerning Jno. Caldwell’s life, I felt that it would be beneficial to show the letter in its full capacity. As additional information is found, I will add it accordingly. This particular letters covers a large amount of the time between the years 1846 (birth year) to 1878.
February 10, 1920
The principal events in the history of our family, so far as I know, and of my own life are as follows:
According to a genealogy of our family, which twenty years ago was in the possession of David A. Caldwell of Cocoanut Grove, but who now, if alive, lives in Sanford, our family 400 years ago were French and resided in France.
They were sea merchants; that is, they owned ships and would load them with merchandise, sail to some country in which there was a demand for their cargo, dispose of their wares, load there and go to another country and dispose of them, and so on indefinite.
On one occasion they made a voyage to Ireland and was so pleased with that country that they purchased homes there, sailed back home and moved their families to their newly acquired homes. Their descendants married and intermarried with the Irish laddies and lassies till the French blood became extinct and we became Irish.
A long time before the Revolutionary War, the date I have forgotten, three Caldwell brothers emigrated from Ireland to the United States. One of them settled in New Jersey, one in Virginia, and one in North Carolina. From the one that settled in North Carolina we have descended.
During the Revolutionary War there were two Caldwell brothers who bore the same given name, and were Captains in the same regiment. To prevent confusion in orders the Colonel of their regiment designated one of them to have his name spelled Coldwell. The one thus designated greatly distinguished himself and his descendants have since retained the spelling of the name.
My great grandfather moved from North Carolina to Laurens district South Carolina (counties were then called districts in that State) and there my grandfather, William Henry Caldwell, was born. He seemed to be a great sport, fond of horse racing and convivial company. He married a wealthy widow by the name of Martha Bailey. She had two sons by her first husband, Madison, after who I take part of my name, and James.
When Madison became of age he received his portion of his father’s estate, came to Madison, in this State, and bought a plantation two miles east of Madison. It was then a large plantation, but, it has been divided and subdivided until the fact that a large plantation was ever there is not now recognizable.
When James received his portion of his father’s estate he went to Greenwood in Abbeville district, S.C. and engaged in merchandising. My grandfather, also, moved near Greenwood, because, as I suppose, his wife wanted to be near Jimmy. Jimmy was a sanctimonious, religious kind of a chap and an Elder in the Presbyterian Church. Madison never professed any kind of religion, although he lived an upright, moral, life, and he never married.
To my grandfather, William Henry Caldwell and his first wife, Mrs. Martha Bailey, four children were born, Elizabeth who lived to be grown and married, but, I have forgotten her husband’s name; Alexander, who became in sane at 19 years of age, was sent to the State Insane Asylum at Columbia and a few years later died there; William Henry, my father, and Robert.
My father was born in Laurens district, S.C. August 18, 1822. Was born and reared on a farm and did nothing but farm work till he was 20 years of age, except, for a short period he carried a horseback mail between Greenwood and Newberry, S.C. a distance of sixty miles. When he was 20 years old his half brother, Madison Bailey, made a business trip to South Carolina and was anxious for father to return home with him and oversee his plantation. My grandfather consented and made father a present of the additional year’s service that he owed him. Sons and daughters at that period were required to work for their parents, as servants, till they were 21 years of age. It was near the close of the year 1842 that father came home with his half-brother, Madison Bailey, and assumed the position of overseer at his plantation.
My mother, Lamendar Tarpley Strickland, the daughter of a local Methodist preacher, was born in Tattnall County, Georgia, four miles from Reidsville, the county seat, on April 10th, 1817. There were fourteen children in her family; viz. Jacob, who in middle life became blind; Abraham, Baloney, James, Jimmy, Martha, Betsey, Nancy, and Lamanier, my mother. The other five children died in infancy, or early childhood. Jenny married Matthew Dees, a militia Major, and moved to the western part of Hamilton county; Martha married John Langford and they moved to Madison county and settled a little more than a mile south of Madison; Betsey married Ephraim DeLoach and remained in Tattnall county; Nancy married a man named Newmans and moved to Bryan county, Georgia.
As the years passed on my mother’s father, Rev. Lewis Strickland, died at the age of 63, or 64; two years later her mother died at about the same age (her name was Martha) and my mother came to Madison county to make her home with her sister, Martha Langford, who in the meantime had become a widow. It was in 1844 that mother came to sister, Martha. Her and father were thus only about one and one-half miles apart, they became acquainted by one of father’s particular friends, John Anderson, a Justice of the Peace.
Father took his bride to the home of his half-brother, Madison Bailey, for whom he was overseeing, till he could build a house, which he did on a hill two miles east of Madison on land adjoining his brother’s plantation.
There in the log house which father had erected I was born at 2 o’clock p.m. November 21st 1846. I weighed 1 ½ pounds and it was not supposed that either myself or mother would live an hour. Our cook was a healthy, buxom negro wench named Mary, who had a girl baby four weeks old, and I was consigned to her care.
About a year afterwards my uncle sold his plantation and bought a large tract of land in the fertile Patterson hammock, four miles from Greenville, to which he removed and on which he remained till he died at the advanced age of over 80 years. My uncle Matt was anxious for father to go with him to his new home and continue in his employ; my mother was equally so, but father turned a deaf ear to all their entreaties, sold his home, moved near Columbus and became a wanderer for the balance of his life. Note: Columbus was on the east bank of the Suwannee river, opposite where Ellaville is now.
No other children coming to the family I was mother’s pet and idol. I am told that I talked fluently when but little more than a year old and mother taught me to read. I don’t remember this, for I was reading at the time of my first recollection. When I was nearly five years old and weighing 20 pounds, I was taught to write. Father was an expert in making pens and I well remember the goose quill pen he made for me and the copy he set for me to imitate, “The cat sat by the fire.” The ink I used was pokeberry juice and I thought it was one of the prettiest things in the world. I was going on eight years old when I went to school the first time. It was to a man by the name of McMillain and in the old St. Johns Academy in Alligator, now Lake City. Father went with me to the school and introduced me to the teacher. He examined me along several educational lines and gave to father a list of books to purchase for me. I went with father up town, received the books, etc., and returned to the Academy. I well remember the list: Here is it: Webster’s Speller and Definer; Smith’s Arithmetic; The New York Reader; Smith’s History of the United States; Smith’s Grammer; Mitchell’s Geography and Atlas, slate and pencil, copy book; pen and bottle of ink. The school teacher also edited the county paper, the name of which was, “The Advertiser.” It was published in a small two story house which stood on the corner now occupied by the Methodist church. I had attended this school about four weeks when on starting home one afternoon, when school had closed for the day, one of my schoolmates, a boy about one year older than I and twice as large, came and put one arm around me and in a very polite manner invited me to go and spend the night with him. When I politely declined he stabbed me with his pocket knife, which he held in the hand he had around me. It was with great difficulty that I reached home. A doctor was called, who said that had the knife penetrated a small fraction deeper the wound would have been fatal. Before I recovered the term of the school closed. This was in the year 1854.
In 1855 I started to school again, this time to a teacher by the name of W. M. Christy, a Northern man. His wife taught music. They were a childless couple and were faithful teachers. This was a three months school and I attended the full term. In August of this year father sold our home in Alligator, (Lake City) went to Tallahassee, riding a mule there and back, as there were no railroads in those days, and entered 160 acres of land in Madison county; the southwest corner of this tract of land is a little distance southeast of Macedonia Baptist church, four miles east of Madison on the Ellaville road. In September (1855) we moved to it, father put up a tent, which he had previously constructed, we moved in and were “at home.” Father went to work and build a board shanty for us to live in till he could build a house. We used water from a spring a quarter of a mile away in a northeasterly direction from our shanty. The next thing was to dig a well. It was a tedious, tiresome operation, but, the clear, cool, sparkling water was a rich regard for all the labor expended in reaching it.
It was here that the greatest event in my life occurred. There are few days when I do not go back, in memory, to the time and place of its happening. It was in October. My father and some of his religious friends had been discussing “the unpardonable sin,” but, I had not been able to gather from their discourse what that particular sin was. So, I asked mother, “what is the unpardonable sin?” At her answer I was perfectly horrified. She said it was to curse God. I distinctly remembered that when I was about four years old a certain Sunday had been set as the day we were to visit Aunt Patty (Martha) Langford. It was the place, of all places to me; the place I would rather go than anywhere else in the world and when the day arrived there was a steady downpour of rain which prevented. I was grievously disappointed; testified to the sincerity of my disappointment with a flood of tears, and finally had gone out and in a sheltered nook, with the rain falling thick and fast, cursed the Lord for permitting it to rain on this particular day. I asked mother if she was sure that cursing God was “the unpardonable sin.” She answered “yes” and I took to the woods. I was in agony. No criminal condemned to death felt more guilty; more wretched; more sure of destruction and damnation than I. I felt that I had sinned away my day of grace. With my first oath I had damned myself eternally. I tried to pray and couldn’t. I was already condemned, what was the use? But, still I’d try. The words I uttered seemed to fall from my mouth to the ground. This state of mind continued for some two weeks. I couldn’t eat. I was wretched, hopeless and miserable. I spent the greater part of the time in the woods trying to pray. In the woods I was accompanied by a dog that I had raised from a small puppy. He was my inseparable companion. Could I have done so I would gladly have swapped places with Tip (the dog) and would have given the world to boot, had it been mine to give. Mother was alarmed about me and was continually asking father to get a doctor to me. One afternoon, after having spent several hours in the woods, I started home. The sun was about half an hour high. I had given up all hope, long ago. Nothing for me remained, but, death and hell. I got within about 100 yards of our shanty when I thought, well I’ll try to pray just one more time, though I know it is no use, and then I’ll just wait for death and damnation. I dropped to my knees and before I had uttered a single word – O, Glory! the burden was gone; I leaped to my feet and high in the air and shouted, “thank God, I’m out of that scrape.” My soul was filled with a joy that was unutterable and full of glory. The dog looked at me curiously he was astonished at my changed demeanor. The sun seemed gloriously bright and beautiful. The very trees seemed as though they were waving congratulations and I started to sing and continued my way to our shanty. Mother heard my song with gladness and came to meet me and inquired what had happened to me. I told her that “I just feel better than I have for some time.” How strange, that I did not tell her the whole story, but I never did.
In January, 1856, the fever to move seized father and he consulted a map to find a place to move to. He found a place named Jeffersonton in Camden county, Georgia, and resolved to move there. He sold his land to a man named Latner and we packed our effects in a three mule team wagon and started. The first night it turned bitterly cold. The ponds and creeks were all frozen over with ice. One day about eleven o’clock we reached Traders’ Hill, Georgia, a small village on the St. Mary’s river and which was, then, the county seat of Charlton county. Father stopped the wagon, said we would have dinner there and went to the village to purchase some necessaries. When father returned he said this place suited him, that he had rented a house and we would stop there. At this mother as rejoiced, because, her sister, Aunt Patty (Martha) Langford and all the family had moved, just one day ahead of us, to a point twelve miles away on the Okefeenokee swamp. Her youngest brother, James S. Strickland, also, lived near where the Langfords had settled and she had not seen him in 12 or 13 years. A man by the name of Alexander was teaching school here, I was started to school and went four weeks when the term closed.
The Langfords soon became dissatisfied with their new home and decided to move to Jacksonville. In March they moved and we all moved with them. We found William Goolsby, Jennie’s father, and family in Jacksonville and we joyfully renewed our acquaintance. One day Jennie, her twin brother, Cab, myself and some other children were playing on the railroad embankment, work on the railroad having begun but a short time before, when I ran against Cab and shoving him, harder than I intended, he rolled down the embankment, some twelve feet, to the bottom. He was not hurt, but he came up shimpering and it made Jennie as mad as blazes. She rushed up to me and popping her fist, which was not much larger than a hickory nut, in my face angrily exclaimed, “You shan’t push my buddy, Sir, you shan’t push my buddy.” The little, round, angry face and formidable fist were then, and there, stamped incellibly on my memory. I, of course, made the most abject apology of which I was capable. Little did I then dream that our fortunes and misfortunes were then, “according to the foreknowledge and predeterminate counsel of God” linked together for life.
The Fall of that year, 1856, found us, again, living in Alligator where on January 17, 1857, my oldest sister, Martha Jane, Walter’s mother, was born. I will pause here long enough to say that, if I have ever loved any one on this earth, she is the one I have loved the most; and when I cross “the narrow stream called death,” which I shall soon she is the one I want first to see.
Skipping many moves and incidents, the Spring of 1858 found us living in Madison. Here I went to school one month to a man by the name of Moseley. Here on Sept. 2nd, 1858, my youngest sister, Mary Louisa was born. About midnight on the 14th of that month the winds began to blow and by morning, Wednesday the 15th, a fierce hurricane was sweeping the country. As the gusts became harder our house began to shake and about 11 o’clock it turned to an angle of 35 degrees, or thereabouts, and stopped. The wind was blowing so hard that we had to go out of the house on the side it was falling. We all luckily escaped and a few minutes thereafter the house was levelled with the earth.
I find that I omitted to state, in the proper place, that in Alligator in the Fall of 1856, I went to school four weeks to a Primitive Baptist preacher named Brinson. At the end of four weeks Brinson was discharged by the trustees, because, of an alleged intimacy with one of the young lady students, who was a member of my class. The scholars all loved him like a father and when he gave us his farewell talk our tears ran like rivers down our cheeks and our lamentations fairly rent the skies.
In 1859 we lived at two different places in LaFayette county (we had lived there previously) and I went to school two months to a man by the name of Alex McLeod. There I graduated and never went to school any more. Nine months in all.
Passing over many incidents, the latter part of April, 1860, found us in Lake City and father building a house for us on an acre lot in the northwestern part of town. Just as the house was ready for occupancy he cut his right foot with an axe, splitting the big toe, big toe joint and on toward the ankle. He had spent his last dollar in the building of the home and we didn’t have a week’s provision in the home. Mother cooked some ginger cakes, put them in a basket and I sold them on the streets. In this manner the family was supported for several months.
One day James L. Bowin, owner and editor of The Advertiser, made me a proposition to enter his printing office. I accepted. In a short time, thereafter, because, Jennie Smith refused his offer of marriage, he blew his brains out with a four barreled derringer.
The paper passed into the hands of the W. H. Christy, one of my former teachers, who changed the name of the paper to The Independent Press and I remained in the office. The Civil War came on and Christy, who was a yankee, wishing to go within the Federal lines, sold the plant and paper to Wm. W. Moore, who changed the name of the paper to the Lake City Press, and I still remained in the office.
The country was now ablize with war, men were falling over themselves to join the army and father joined the company commanded by Capt. John C. Hately, of Jasper, and the company was stationed at St. Marks. He did not serve long, however, for not being able to drill, nor march on his crippled foot he was discharged and sent home.
Finally, I left the office, in which I had risen to the rank of foreman and joined the army. I served awhile in Florida, then was sent to Virginia, where our battallions were organized into regiments. This done, I was a member of Company H. 9th Florida Regiment; Finnegan’s Brigade, Mahome’s Division; A.P. Hill’s (3rd) Corp; Army of Northern Virginia. My command participated in the following engagements in Virginia: Cold Harbor, Gaines’ Farm, Turkey Ridge, Reams’ Station, First Battle Petersburg, Battle of the Crater, Weldon’s Railroad, 9th night of Sept. 1864, Belfield, Hatcher’s Run, besides months of service in the trenches in front of Petersburg where bullets were whistling and shells bursting at all hours of the day and night. I perceive that I have not given the dates of above battles; Cold Harbor was 1, 2, & 3 of June, 1864; the next four battles were during the same month; battle of the Crater, July 30/64; Weldon Railroad, 19th 20th and 21st August, Belfield, Dec. 10th 1864 and Hatcher’s Run Feb’y 7th, 1865. These battles with their consequent death, suffering and sorrow, being now in the eternal past, I reached home from Virginia May 17th, 1865.
On leaving for Virginia I left with my parents for the support of the family about $1000.00 in State money and nearly $2000.00 in Confederate money. These poor, old people had scrimped and saved and, with the exception of about 500, or 600 of the Confederate money, had it on hand when I returned home – and it all dead as Hector.
Omitting many incidents, the year 1866 found us living in Madison and I serving an apprenticeship on the Pensacola and Georgia Railroad – running from Tallahassee to Lake City – under a section foreman named Joe Bailey. By the last of October I had completed my course and secured a job on the Atlantic and Gulf Railroad – on the Live Oak Branch – and given charge of the Live Oak Section, which reached from Live Oak to the Suwannee river with a salary of $40.00 a month. I again met Mary Jane Goolsby, whom I have always called Jennie, my third cousin, and we became engaged to be married. In the Spring of 1867 I was offered $50.00 a month and rations to take charge of the Callahan section on the Florida Railroad – Fernandina to Cedar Keys. I accepted and went there. In August I got leave of absence, came back to Hamilton county and at 10:15 o’clock A.M. Sunday, August 25th, 1867, Jennie and I were united in the bonds of matrimony by Hon. Henry J. Stewart, County Judge. A short time thereafter the road official of maintenance and way underwent a change, the new official, Craig, coming from S.C. His first act was to discharge the section foremen and fill their places with me he brought with him from South Carolina. I immediately obtained a job on the Florida Atlantic & Gulf Central Railroad – Jacksonville to Lake City and was given charge of the Baldwin section. In four weeks I was promoted to Road Master, a job I did not want. I served till the end of the year, quit and went to Lake City. In all these wanderings my parents and sisters kept with me.
Here, within a short time, I entered the law office of Warrock and Broome as a law student. They were to teach me the law and give me $20, a month to serve as their clerk. Jno. A. Warrock the senior member of the firm, was State Attorney for the Third Judicial Circuit. In a little more than two months Warrock suddenly died while sitting in a chair. Broome gave up the office and I was without a job. But, in a very few days I secured the same kind of job with Bryson & King at a salary of $25, a month, subsequently raise to $30. King was now appointed State Attorney. I stayed with Bryson & King till I was ready for admission to the bar. The Judge, Thos. Telfair Long, offered to issue a license to me, but, I declined. I had no money to buy books, no money to support my large family while gaining a practice and I had to work at something that would give me bread and meat right now. I omitted to mention in proper order that father died this year, 1868, on January 25th, in the 47th year of his age and Annie was born July 10th. This brings my narrative to the close of 1868 and I will now make a digression and speak of the religious life of our family during my childhood.
As before stated, mother’s father was a local Methodist preacher; father’s mother was a Methodist; not long after my parents married, father joined the Methodist church, and when I was about four years old he was licensed to preach. The Methodists of those days were very different from those of today. They were on the order of the early New England Puritans. They wore no jewelry, not even a watch chain; Sunday was regarded as a day to be kept holy to the Lord. Nothing secular was permitted. On Saturday wood was cut and stacked in the house to last till Monday; food enough was cooked, even coffee, to last till Monday; all my toys were took from me Saturday night, for “it was a sin to play on Sunday.” My pocket knife was, also, turned over to mother, for “it was a sin to whittle on Sunday.” In fact, every physical motion, “was a sin on Sunday,” except to go to church and warm the cold coffee, which had been prepared on Saturday. Sunday morning we went to Sunday School at 9:30 o’clock; then listened to a sermon, sometimes an hour and a half long; back home to eat a cold dinner; then father read several chapters in the Bible; then to church at 3 o’clock, p.m. to hear another long sermon; back home, more Bible reading, a cold supper at sunset, and then back to church “at early candle lighting,” another long sermon and then home and to bed. Every Tuesday evening we attended prayer meeting, Thursday evenings class meeting and frequently there would be a “love feast” to attend. It kept one’s time about filled to be a Methodist in those days. At home, family prayer was held three times a day, morning, noon and night. In the morning and night, prayer would be preceded by a reading a chapter from the Bible. I was always overjoyed to see Sunday – gone.
When I was three months old I was baptized into the Methodist church by the most eminent preacher in the conference, Thomas Gardner, it being expected that this act would be ratified by me, on arriving at the years of discretion, by formally joining the church. Nor, did I disappoint them. In the summer of 1854 in Alligator, the Methodist pastor, John M. Hendry, began a protracted meeting – it would have been considered blasphemous to have called it a revival meeting in those days – in the court house, where all denominations held their services, there not being a church house in the village. The Methodist church numbered about a baker’s dozen; the male members of the Baptist church were three white men and two negroes and the popular church, the Universalist, numbered some fifty members. Bro. Hendry continued his meeting more than two weeks without any results and on the second Sunday, at 11 o’clock he announced that the meeting would close that night. In concluding the evening service only one went forward for prayer, a sailor named Croom. The doors of the church were then opened and I went forward and gave Bro. Hendry my hand. He placed a hand on my head and said, “God bless this little boy.” I weighed only about 40 pounds and several of the congregation laughed, whereat the preacher said, “We are taught in the Scriptures “not to despise the day of small things,” at which they laughed immoderately. The preacher then announced that the meeting would be continued as long as the Spirit seemed to direct. The meeting continued two weeks longer and resulted in 53 accessions to the church.
Returning to the close of the year 1868: There was a man named George W. Wadkins, whom I had known as a railroad section foreman, who was anxious to engage in a small mercantile business in Lake City. He applied to his brother-in-law, James McNeill, to loan him the necessary money. McNeill told him he would loan the money, provided he could get me to manage the business. McNeill and I were boyhood chums and classmates. Wadkins secured my services, McNeill turned the money over to me and business began. I managed the business till McNeill was paid and the business $5000.00 ahead when Wadkins took a notion to go into the crosstie business. As roadmaster on the Florida Central Railroad it was part of my business to inspect crossties and give check for them; I knew the financial conditions of every tie cutter on the road, and I told Wadkins there was no money in it and endeavored to dissuade him from it. But, he would not listen; he had it all figured out on paper, and, like Mulberry Sellars, he was “millions in it.” I then told him to get another manager, that I had helped him to make some money and I’d be hanged if I’d help him lose it. I quit; he employed his half brother, James Sealey, in my place; went into the crosstie business, and in a few months was as broke as a convict and had to resume his former occupation of railroad section foreman.
When I came home out of the army, I borrowed, and afterwards bought, a few medical works which were recommended by a friend of mine, Dr. Hicks, and studied them at nights and every leisure moment till I dropped them to study law. Now, out of a job, this study, which I thought was wasted, turned to good account. A pharmacist was wanted in Lake City in the drug store of Dr. P. A. Holt and I applied for the position. I told him I was not a pharmacist, but, I had studied medicine at nights for a long time and I thought I could soon learn. He gave me an examination, said I was good enough and gave me the job. Here I continued for several months, but, the wages were small and we were forced to eat only the plainest food, wear the cheapest clothes and practice the most niggardly economy. Finally an opportunity was afforded to me to study photography. I gladly embraced it and in a short time was on the road as a travelling picture man. The real life was not altogether as rosy as it had been painted. In some places I would make a pocket full of money, but, in many others I would not make expenses. I worked at this business with varying success till January, 1873 found me and my family in Apalachicola. My mother and two sisters were, of course, members of my family. Here I took to boating. Sometimes I would make a trip with some boat owner, but the greater part of the time I was the master of the boat I ran, leasing the boat from the owner, to whom I gave a certain per cent of the profits of each trip. One day in passing along a street in Apalachicola I saw a crowd collected in front of the custom house. On inquiring the cause I learned that applicants for positions as light house keepers were being examined. G. W. Askew, a friend, was with me and he proposed that we make application and receive examination. The proposition was made by Askew, and accepted by me, purely in the spirit of fun. We went in, took the examination, went our ways and thought no more about it. Sometime afterward, returning home from an extended absence, some one told me that the Collector of Customs, Major Daniels, had been looking for me for several days. Going to see about it he informed me that I had been appointed Assistant Lighthouse Keeper at Dog Island light, on Dog Island, 30 miles northeast of Apalachicola and to get there as soon as possible. The day after this, a little boy was born to us and died. When it was buried I went to Dog Island. This little boy was our third child. Our second child, Mary Frances, was born on the place where Jim Scaff now lives, that is, at the south end of the plantation – which then belonged to Jennie and her twin brother, Wm. Cabell Goolsby, and died on the Ocklocknes river, 18 miles north from Tallahassee, on Sept. 22nd, 1872. We called her “Fannie,” and her death nearly broke my heart.
After your mother got well, joined me at Dog Island and I had become accustomed to the daily routine, I was perfectly happy. I had a job that would last as long as I lived and made good; I was on the sea, where I had always longed to be and I considered myself settled for life. But, I was doomed to an early disappointment. On Thursday sought refuge in the hills, and when the hurricane subsided at 2 o’clock p.m. the next day, the lighthouse was gone; one mile of the land it had stood on was under water; hills 40 feet hight, before the hurricane, were leveled; a fine sloop I owned was wrecked and carried to sea; your mother’s clothes were torn from her, except one chemise; my shirt was gone; the fresh water on the island was salt, because, the high tide, 16 feet above high water mark, had overflowed the fresh water ponds. We were left naked and without food and water. Fortunately, my mother, two sisters, Annie and the other lighthouse keeper and his wife were in Apalachicola. I say fortunately, because, had they all been with us we would have remained in the lighthouse and lost our lives. Jennie and I being there by ourselves gave me a lonely feeling and prompted me to seek refuge in the hills. We were on the island till Saturday afternoon, trying to dig for water, when I found an old batteau. I caulked its seams with the rags of our torn up clothing and palmetto grass, got Jennie and two dogs in it and paddled it to main land, 6 miles landing just south of the river, south of where Carrabelle now stands. Between 9 and 10 o’clock that night we were rescued by a sloop sent out from Apalachicola to search for us. That was one time that something to eat tasted good. Our last meal had been supper of the Thursday evening before.
I regarded then, and have ever since, this disaster as a chastisement from the hands of my Heavenly Father. And here is the reason: When I returned home from the Civil War I went to our Methodist pastor, told him I had not been living the life a church member should and asked him to erase my name from the church roll. He endeavored to persuade me to remain, but, I was inexorable and quit. Afterwards I felt it to be my duty to join some church and decided to join the Baptist church, but, an obstacle was presented to my mind. I felt that should I join a church, the church would force me to preach and the thought was abhorent to me, because, I felt that my life had been the opposite of what I thought a preacher’s should be; I would occasionally have to address those of superior education, and would only make a laughing stock of myself. But, finding myself in Apalachicola where no one knew me, nor anything about me, I reasoned that there would be no danger of my being assigned to any such office. I furthermore, persuaded myself that there would have been no likelihood of any such thing had I joined the church back at home; that the idea had entered my head, because, the preachers who visited our home, when I was a little boy, would pat me on the head and tell me that I would “be a preacher some day.” Thus assured in my own mind I went to the Baptist church one Sunday night and joined the church. I was baptized one Sunday morning in the Gulf of Mexico, on the beach south of where the Apalachicola river enters the gulf. The Wednesday after I went to the weekly prayer meeting and was called upon to pray. Their custom was at the close of the prayer meeting to appoint some brother to act as leader and conduct the next prayer meeting and I was appointed. I thought this was rubbing it in pretty thoroughly, but, I had joined with the determination to do my duty as a member and to the best of my ability I conducted the next prayer meeting. This state of things continued three, or, four weeks when the Deacons came to me and said they come to inform me “of the mind of the church.” Thinks I to myself, they are going to turn me out about something. But, no! “the mind of the church” was, that I ought to preach, I was to be licensed next Sunday and the Deacons were giving me timely notice to prepare a sermon to be delivered that day. I protested vehemently, but, the Deacons were inexorable. They said “that the mind of the Lord was with His people, that the mind of the church was the mind of the Lord and I must withdraw my foolish opposition, lest I be found fighting with the Spirit.” Now, all this was good advice, but, I didn’t have sense enough to know it. The intervening days between then and Sunday I passed “in fear and trembling” and perturbation. Saturday afternoon came, some decision had to be reached and I walked down the beach to think it out. When at length I noticed my surroundings I found that I was three miles from home, I sat down on a large cottonwood log and finally came to this conclusion: “I know that the Lord has all the power in Heaven and earth, He can wipe me out in the twinkling of an eye, and may do it, but, I am not going to preach, I’ll die first.” I hurried back to town, went to Bro. Wentworth’s (the Senior Deacon) shop, told him I was not going to preach, that I was raised a Methodist and didn’t know Baptist rules, nor, how to get out of a Baptist church, but, I had quit then and there, and to look for me in their meetings no more. And in a short time thereafter, when I thought I was settled for life, a hurricane destroys everything I have in the world and sets me adrift without a shirt to my back. Thinks I, “this is a chastisement from the Lord, but, I am not going to preach, that is one thing certain.”
The lighthouse yacht was wrecked in the hurricane and driven ashore. I repaired it, got it in the water, sailed it to Apalachicola, provisioned it, put in necessary tools, etc., took your Mother with me, because, I was too poor to hire a sailor, and sailed down the Coast on a wrecking trip, that is, going to wrecked vessels and cutting the copper out of them and selling it. Before we reached our first wreck the yacht capsized. I had to swim 1 ½ miles, your mother brought ashore by a passing vessel and everything I had was lost again. I got the yacht righted again and Jennie and I sailed it empty back to Apalachicola. I felt the hand of the Lord was against me and I sought to leave and go somewhere else. About this time I received my last pay check, $50.00, I hired a sloop, put the family and our very few belongings aboard and sailed for Milton. Two friends, Wm. A. Brannon and Ed Jordan, took passage with me. We reached Milton one Sunday morning in Jan’y, 1874.
I rented a house, got a job as a carpenter next day at $2.00 a day. In a short time I was offered $2.50 a day to keep books for the Canoe Mills, 18 miles a way, on Yellow River. I accepted, moved there and remained till the mill, with a large number of others, suspending operations on account of the panic of 1893, which the mill companies were able to combat no longer. At this mill my sister Jane married Wm. A. Brannon.
Omitting many details, November of this year (1874) found me on Holmes Valley in Washington County, 2 miles from Vernon, the county seat. Here I worked as a carpenter and wheelwright and would have done well, had not the hand of the Lord been against me. Beef at 2 to 3 cents a pound, delivered to your home, mutton 3 cents a pound and goats 50 cents apiece regardless of size. Here I made good wages, enjoyed fine health and from a human standpoint should have prospered, but, everything I touched blighted; myself and family just could live, and that was all. While I was working at the Canoe Mills, William Andrew Brannen, who went from Apalachicola to Milton with me and continued with me, married my oldest sister, Martha Jane, in April, 1874. On Monday, July 27th, 1874 a little boy was born to us and died soon after birth. As before stated, nothing prospered with me on Holmes Valley, I became discouraged, gloomy and blue. I determined to quit the county and go to Texas. But, Jennie had not seen her mother in four years and I determined to carry her to visit her people, before starting to Texas. This, I did, carrying our two children, Annie and Charlie, with us. When we reached Jennie’s mother’s house everything was ready to receive us; every prospect seemed pleasing. An 80 acre farm within one-half miles of Jennie’s mother was for sale cheap; arrangements could be easily made for its purchase; it was better than going away off amoung strangers, etc., etc. I bought it (the place where Ed McGhin now lives) and leaving Jennie and the children with her mother I started back to Holmes Valley, 225 miles, with two ox teams to bring the balance of the folks to our new homes, namely, Mother, my sister Louisa, sister Jane, her husband, W. A. Brannen, & child Walter. It was 22 days before I returned with them, we set up housekeeping and went to work. I bought a young crop in the field and cultivated it and Brannen worked with the neighboring farmers.
It was here in the month of August 1876 that I learned a spiritual lesson which I have never forgotten, namely, you can’t dodge God Almighty. He “will do all His pleasure and His counsel that shall stand.” One day in this month my mother-in-law was at my home and told me that two Baptist preachers, Ward and Reid, were going to preach that night at John Does; who lived across a valley about a quarter of a mile away, and asked me if I were going. I replied that I was not. After supper than warm evening I sat down in a chair under a hickory tree in the yard, to enjoy the evening breeze and smoke my pipe. Directly I heard singing across the valley at John Does’ and knew that the services were about to begin. Without any thought, just mechannically, I got up, put on my coat and started there. Near the house, I came to myself and asked myself the question, “What am I going over here for?” I stopped, but after a little consideration concluded I would go on and not go in, but, look in at the door. Reaching there I stopped outside in the piazza and standing in the darkness observed the proceedings through the open door. When the sermon, which was preached by Reid, was concluded he gave an opportunity for all who felt the need of prayer to give him their hand. A few went forward; I remaining outside. After prayer he gave an opportunity to any wishing to so unite with the church and this to be indicated by giving him their hands. An impression seized me at one, “Now is your time, go on.” Mentally I said “I’m not going to do it.” The impression came, “you had better.” These impressions, and my same mental answers were repeated several times, when suddenly to my great astonishment I found myself in front of the preacher with my hand in his. I had not dreamed of doing such a thing; I had steadfastly determined that I would not, and yet, here I was, doing that which I had predetermined not to do. I was motioned to a seat and when the preacher began the usual questions I arose and related my baptism at Apalachicola, acknowledged that I had not lived a Christian life and felt sure that I had been expelled. I was particularly careful, however, to make no mention of the preaching matter. I was accepted and then and there I became a member of the New Hope Baptist Church, which is still in existence and situated two miles east from Westlake in this county. The following Saturday and Sunday were the regular monthly meeting days at New Hope church and accordingly I attended. When I reached the church Saturday morning I felt ill at ease. I was troubled and knew not what about. Could I have left unobserved I would have done so. After a while the congregation began singing in the church and the preacher Reid called out for all to come in. I was the last to enter and the house was well filled. I saw a vacant seat on one of the extreme rear benches and started to get to it when I saw the preacher beckon to me. I pretended not to see him, but, a zealous brother laid hold of my coattail and pulled on it like it was a bell rope. I had to turn and look at him and he pointed to the preacher who was still beckoning to me. My thought was, “O, Lord, he wants me to preach.” I went to the pulpit and leaned toward him when he made way on the pulpit seat and invited me to be seated. I did so when he handed me a Bible and hymn book and told me to “go ahead and discharge my mind.” My thoughts flew forward and backward, faster than a weaver’s shutter. “I won’t do it.” “You had better.” “I can’t.” “Yes you can.” “Well, I just won’t.” “Well, do you want to continue a life of trouble, disaster, misfortune and God’s displeasure a while longer?” These were the thoughts and impressions which flew rapidly through my mind. I arose, gave out a hymn to sing, tried to pray and announced my text. “Peter followed afar off.” I made no mention of myself, or my past experiences, but my discourse was from the depths of my own miserable experiences. I don’t know to this day how long I spoke; somehow I seemed to touch a sympathetic chord among the brethren. When I concluded the preacher made no additional remarks. He went down upon the floor and opened conference. When the routine business was transacted the preacher said: “Brethren, when brother Caldwell joined the church a few nights ago at brother Dees’ I felt that God had sent to you a preacher. I have scarcely thought of anything else since and it became such a burden on my mind that I determined to put the matter to the test at the first opportunity. I have done so and am satisfied of the correctness of my impressions. Now, if you are satisfied you know your duty.” One of the Deacons at once arose and moved that I be licensed to preach. The motion received several seconds and was adopted unanimously. A brother mounted the bench and announced that I would preach next Wednesday night at brother Robinsons. The pastorate of Rev. J. K. Reid expired at the next regular conference (September) and on that day he told the church that they needed him no longer, for they now had a preacher of their own. Thereupon, I was unanimously called to the pastorate of the church. At the next conference (October) my ordination was called for and a Presbytery invited to ordain me to the full work of the ministry. My ordination took place the next month (November, 1876). While living at this place, Willie was born, about 10:30 o’clock in the morning on Monday, June 11.
Next year I was engaged to teach the Orange Lake school, three miles Northeast from Welborn and was called to the pastorate of Mount Zion church, four miles from Welborn, a mile beyond the school house. I moved to Welborn and here on August 30th, 1877, little Charlie died, aged 3 years, 3 months, and 5 days. I had petted and fondled Fannie and she died; I had made a pet of Charlie, and now he is dead – and my heart nearly broken, and I resolved never to pet another of my children. This resolution has been kept with the exception of Nellie. When she got big enough to notice things she just made me pet her, but her every indisposition alarmed me. Education, nor anything else can effectually eradicate all the superstition that finds lodgment in our brain.
In the Fall of 1877 my pastorates of Mount Zion church in Columbia county and New Hope and Howard Grove churches in Hamilton county expired. I was unanimously recalled to serve another year by each of these churches, but I declined. My reaon was, that giving my time to the churches and having no income, except the meagre salary of a three months school taught at Orange Lake, my family was deprived of even the common necessaries of life, and if I ever believed anything in my life it was that on me devolved the duty of supporting my family. I, therefore, determined not to accept the pastorate of any church, but to travel around the country, make pictures and preach on Sundays wherever I might happen to be. The Suwannee Association convened in October of that year with Mount Pleasant Church two miles southeast from Welborn. My intention was to attend the association and at its close start at my picture making business. When the association convened the delegates appeared, stating that they represented Piquet Lake Church, a new church organized on the shores of Piquet Lake, under a brush arbor, three miles from Troy in Lafayette county, and seeking admission into the association. They were admitted. These delegates, also, conveyed to me a call from their church to become its pastor. I declined. They were insistent. I gave my reasons in full, as above stated. Then one of the delegates asked me how often I intended to go home from my picture business. I replied, once a month. “All right then” says he, preach to our church then, that once a month, you can come by our church on your way home, or go by it as you are starting off on a month’s work. The delegates insisted so strenuously that I at length consented and agreed to be at their church on the next Second Sunday and the Saturday before.
I now sent out notices to places where I intended to make pictures, beginning at Fort White on Tuesday after my Sunday appointment at Piquet Lake Church, giving myself one day, Monday, to journey there from Piquet Lake and set up my apparatus. On Sunday at Piquet Lake Church, just before services began, Bros. Serales and Roberts rode up. They informed me that, because they lived 15 miles on the road I would travel that next morning they had taken the liberty of giving out an appointment for me to preach at their school house that night. I will here remark that these brethren lived in a neighborhood many miles distant from any Baptist church and rarely had an opportunity to hear Baptist preaching, so I went with them joyfully. I would give them an opportunity which they seldom enjoyed and would be 15 miles near to Fort White next morning.
At the Association, mention of which I made a while ago, I was authorized by it to act as its missionary, baptise, constitute churches, etc. When I was about to conclude the services that night brother Robarts informed me that there were some persons present who wanted to be baptized and united with a church and to please give them the opportunity. This was a bombshell in my camp. I was anxious to be at work to support my family, my appointment to make pictures at Fort White had been publicity and this meant a days delay. After a terrible struggle with myself I gave them the opportunity and three came forward for baptism. To make a long story short, I stayed right there and preached day and night for ten days and wound up by constituting a church with 36 members under the name of New Hope and promised to serve as their pastor for that year. The morning after constituting this church I proceeded towards Fort White. I had not gone far before I was attacked by fever. It increased in intensity till I became unconscious and remained so for several hours. When consciousness returned I stopped my horse and endeavored to ascertain my location. I was bewildered and could determine not where I was. Seeing a house some two hundred yards away I drove up to it to find out my location. Reaching the gate a hearty, “get down, brother Caldwell” greeted me and a man came out to meet me. It was brother Joe P. Terry, a deacon in Mount Eliem church which stood only a short distance away. It was between 12 and 1 o’clock. My horse was taken care of and I was put to bed. I was treated with every kindly consideration. I was in a semi conscious condition a great part of the afternoon. During the night my brain cleared. I had passed Fort White and was east of the place some two miles. Next morning after breakfast, too sick to work, I started home, reaching there near sunset. Nearly dark my mother called me to supper. Seeing nothing on the table but some loaves of cornbread I asked a blessing and sat waiting for supper to be put on the table. Mother poured a cup of coffee for me and took a seat. I inquired why did she not put the balance of supper on the table and she replied, “Son, that is all we have.” “Why,” said I, “didn’t you go to Spencer’s, or Gresham’s (grocers) and get something?” I asked. “Because,” said she, “I heard that you were engaged in a big revival in the fork of the rivers (Santa Fe and Suwannee); I knew making nothing and I know how you worry when you are in debt and have nothing to pay with and so I thought that we would make out the best we could till you came home and let you make your own arrangements.” I couldn’t eat, but I did drink the cup of coffee and asked mother for another cupful. She said, “Son, we have no more; we have been without several days and I saved enough to make you a cupfull, for I knew that when you got home you would need it. This remark was “the last straw that broke the camel’s back with me.” “My Lord!”
Our house faced West. From the yard fence, a field fence built of rails extended North about 100 years and at right angles, turned east. At this corner was a swamp and in the edge of the swamp a large log, but very near the corner of the fence. At this last remark of mothers, I said, “My Lord” got up walked out at the gate and walked up the fence to the corner. It was a beautiful clear night and the moon was shining brightly. I sat down upon the log and groaned in agony of spirit. Mentally, I saw a billboard 100 yards long and 30 yards wide and inscribed thereon in box car letters the following scripture: “But, if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel.” “O, my Lord,” I groaned in spirit, that is I. I’m a pretty preacher; out preaching to others and I, myself, worse than an infidel and my family at home starving. I sat on that log and upbraided myself till a late hour, eleven o’clock, probably, and started home. Reaching there, all the family were in bed and I sat down on the doorsteps. Here a new assortment of upbraidings came into my mind and I walked back to the log at the corner of the fence, sat down and viewed the billboard with disquietude. In fact, that billboard, denouncing me as an infidel, just kept before my eyes, it mattered not which way I turned, and to make it worse with me, I acknowledged the accusation. I plead guilty to the indictment. Somewhere between 12 and 1 o’clock the query presented itselt to my mind, “Well, what are you going to do about it.” My decision and answer were instantaneous. I’ll go to the first store that opens in the morning, buy a month’s provisions; (my credit was good) write letters to my churches I had promised to serve, not to look for me anymore. I’d quit trying to preach and I’d go to work and support my family – and get that miserable billboard from before my eyes. Reaching this decision, I thought day would never come. I’d sit on the log awhile; then a while on my doorsteps; then back to the log , then back to the steps, and so on the balance of the night. At daybreak, although I knew that the stores would not open till after sunrise, I could wait no longer and put out for the stores. I reached Spencer’s store, on the North side of the railroad and sat down. I didn’t sit there long before I went to Gresham’s store on the south side of the railroad and sat down there. These were the only stores that sold groceries and I didn’t care which came first; I only wanted one of them to come so that I could buy a month’s rations for the family; write letters to the churches to look for me no more and get to work. When it at last seemed that I was growing old in waiting Spencer opened his store door. At the time I was sitting on the piazza of Mallory’s drugstore, across the street from Spencer’s. I went across the street in a hurry. I didn’t have time to go to the steps; I elevated one foot to the piazza floor threw one hand to a piazza post to pull up by when somebody shouted, “Brother Caldwell!” With one foot on the ground, the other on the piazza, and my hand clasping the piazza post, without changing my position I turned my head and looked. It was brother Jake Ellis, Clerk of Mount Zion church seated on a two-horse wagon beside a negro driver. When I turned my head he shouted, “Come here.” I was never as sorry of an interruption before in my life. I didn’t want to be bothered by anybody, but brother Jake was one of my best friends and just had to be treated with courteous consideration. I turned loose that post and it seemed as though I had left my heart hanging to it, and went towards him. He dismounted from the wagon and met me. He was glad to see me, inquired as to the health of the family generally, and each one, individually. And I wishing he would cease and let me go. Then he had heard of the revival meeting in which I had been engaged and I had to tell him all about that. Then when I felt that if I didn’t get rid of him I’d die right there in the street of old age he said, “Bro. Caldwell, at our church conference Saturday the good news of your meeting reached us and the brethren considered that you were giving all your time to the ministry and receiving no compensation and, consequently, they have made a little contribution towards your support and it is in the wagon. I have some business to attend to and want to get back home as soon as possible. Show the negro where to unload and I’ll tell you goodbye; be sure to come and see us as often as you can.” “Goodbye Bro. Jake” and now I looked at the wagon. I saw nothing but fodder, but I supposed that some corn was under it. Really I would rather have done without the corn and fodder than to have the carrying out of my purposes postponed, besides, I would, after the wagon was unloaded have to go back to the store and buy something for breakfast and breakfast would be late. I had the negro to drive before the barn door and he began unloading. First he threw off some hundred bales of fodder, then flour, rice, coffee, sugar, bacon, eggs, some sausage and I don’t know what all; my eyes grew so dim I couldn’t see clearly. I got the stuff to the house by the help of the women folks and took off to the swamp again. Here I beheld another billboard; it read: “Weighed in the Balances and found Wanting. O ye of little faith, therefore didst thou doubt?” I got down on my knees and promised God Almighty to trust him hereafter. My eyes were opened and I knew, and KNOW that the support of ourselves ad families is not our job. That is God Almighty’s business and he is sure to attend to it. Our job is to do that which the Lord gives us to do whether we like the work or not.
Did I write to the churches to look for me no more? Did I quit preaching? I should say not. With the large increase of faith which I gained from this experience, I didn’t make another picture; I gave my whole time to the ministry. I had a prosperous year and my family lacked nothing. That year, 1878, I served Piquet Lake and New Hope churches as pastor and went out in destitutions (7) and, as missionary for the Suwannee Association, baptized converts in sufficient members to constitute Bay Creek and Oak Grove church in Columbia County; Long Branch in Hamilton county and Mount Pisgah in Suwannee county. I went on and preached eighteen years longer, serving many churches, among which are Lake City, Starke, Bellville, Statenville, Jasper, Mt. Pisgah and many others. I never asked a church for a salary, nor, requested any one to contribute one cent towards my support, but, trusted the Lord to supply all my need – and He did it.
From my spiritual experiences I have learned:
1. The Lord He is good, for His Mercy endureth forever.
2. That “He has been my friend all the days of my life and no power on earth can make me believe that He will become my enemy in eternity.”
3. That it is impossible to dodge God, that when He has a work for us to do there is no need to escape from it.
4. That to feed and clothe ourselves and families is not our job. Our work is to do that which the Lord gives us to do and He is sure to “supply all our need.”
In addition to preaching I have been a farmer, a printer, merchant, barkeeper, carpenter, wheelwright, lawyer, clerk of the Circuit Court, County Treasurer, clock repairer, bridge builder, section foreman, railroad road master, and photographer, as well as pharmacist.
I have had many and varied experiences; grave and gay; sad and mirthful; pathetic and humorous, which if written would fill a large volume, but, I feel that I have written enough, for I believe that even as simple a thing as this little narrative, is in accord with some purpose of Almighty God. I acknowledge Him in all my ways. But, feeling that enough has been written – I stop.
“The Lord bless and keep thee;
The Lord make his face shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee and give thee peace.”
Your Loving Father,
Jno. M. Caldwell
The Lighthouse at Dog Island was completely destroyed during the 1873 hurricane, on September 18th. The lighthouse that Jno. Caldwell served at was a 40 foot brick tower built in 1851, with a lantern added on the roof of the dwelling in 1872, although there were two other lighthouses built on the site previously. After the destruction in 1873, the lighthouse was replaced with another, the Crooked River Lighthouse (Lighthouse Depot).
“Dog Island Light.” Lighthouse Depot. Retrieved from: http://www.lhdepot.com/database/uniquelighthouse.cfm?value=961.
Transcription of Evergreen Cemetery, Jasper, Hamilton County, Florida. Retrieved from: http://ftp.rootsweb.com/pub/usgenweb/fl/hamilton/cemetery/evergreen.txt.
1910 United States Census. Series T624; Roll 161; Page 19. Retrieved from: http://persi.heritagequestonline.com/hqoweb/library/do/census/results/image?surname=caldwell&series=13&state=33&hitcount=92&p=1&urn=urn%3Aproquest%3AUS%3Bcensus%3B4780334%3B38402101%3B13%3B33&searchtype=1&offset=51.