Sneaky Serpents

In Florida’s Flatlands


Herbert G. Brown, who lived to be 100 years, 7 months, holding a Diamondback Rattler. Via Florida Memory.

“It is all very well for Northerners in a general way to talk about Southern snakes and their dangerous characteristics,” said an orange grower of Palatka to a “New York Times” reporter the other day, “but unless they are familiar with some particular locality, they do not know of what they are talking. There are spots in Georgia and the Carolinas where it would be impossible to find a snake of any kind in a radius of 50 or more miles. In scores of other regions there are a few perfectly harmless snakes, and in others only one poisonous species is found. But there is one stretch of country in our State where I’ll warrant the average man will find a dozen species of snakes, all poisonous, all well known to us, but which he cannot recognise or name. It is the real snake headquarters of all the States. I speak of the Florida Flatlands, as we call the great waste of prairie, swamp, and water which comprises the greater part of Southern Florida. In that wilderness dwell thousands upon thousands of really dangerous serpents. Many of our names will puzzle the scientists, but they designate the reptiles sufficiently well for us, and, as an old planter neighbour of mine puts it, “We uns ain’t havin’ enny too much time, I reckon, ter call er puff adder Latin names when he’s reachin’ for we uns with his eye full er mad!’

sneaky serpents. There is the thunder snake, blow adder (or puff adder), cotton-mouth moccasin, diamond-back rattler, prairie rattler, and spotted or ground rattler, pilot snake, milk sn


“In one big marsh where I hunt every autumn there are at least a score of different kinds of snakes. There is the thunder snake, blow adder (or puff adder), cotton-mouth moccasin, diamond-back rattler, prairie rattler, and spotted or ground rattler, pilot snake, milk snake, green-grass snake, whip snake, chicken snake, head snake, water moccasin, copperhead, flat-head adder, blue racer, prairie runner, king snake, corn snake, black snake, grass snake (many people don’t believe there is any such, but I’ve seen ‘em), and horn snake. This last is also doubted, but I know of three killed within a year in one patch of cane brake. The moccasins of different species are the most common tribe, and include what is probably the most deadly poisonous and wantonly vicious snake in the country – the cotton mouth. One of the greatest dangers connected with this variety is that they will lie close hid in a bunch of fern or under a big frond, and the passer-by may almost tread on them before he is aware of their presence. They strike like lightning and give no warning. As they dart forward, the head flattens and the jaws are opened until the upper is at a right angle with the lower, exposing the dull white throat lining which has given them the name. Like all the moccasins, they are very thick through the body, a snake five feet long being from seven to ten inches in girth at the largest part. Luckily, their fangs are very delicate and not so long as those of the rattlers, so that we hunters, wearing stout leather or rubber boots, never give them a thought. The only chance for a bite is in stooping to pick up a killed bird or to pluck a curious flower.

sneaky serpents. The only chance for a bite is in stooping to pick up a killed bird or to pluck a curious flower.


“Our rattlers are far larger around than those in the north and west. The largest, fiercest, and most deadly is the diamond-back. It is, very fortunately, quite infrequent, but one is equal to six of the little chaps. Generally the warning is ample to allow the traveller to prepare for or escape from the attack. The clear, loud, metallic rattle – a sound that always sends a chill to the vitals of even old hunters for an instant – can be heard several rods away. Specimens ten feet long have been killed in the Everglades, and weighing up to 20lbs. The low whites (and nothing is lower than the Florida low white, and the Georgia cracker not even being comparable) eat these big rattlers, and say the meat is white and sweet, and more delicate than chicken. When these diamond-backs strike, they lengthen out from a compact coil with an energy and force which often sends them at least six or eight feet. Some people insist that they never leap, but only stretch out, but I have seen them jump too often to believe any such trash. The little ground rattlers never grow to more than three feet in length, and their bite, though poisonous and apt to make a bad sore, is almost never fatal. Their social instincts make them most dangerous, for they love to crawl under a tent flap and sleep cuddled up by the hunters. They can’t be kept out either. Long ago the horse-hair lariat scheme was given up as a complete failure. It was for years said that no snake would cross one. But I’ve seen moccasins glide over one as easily as you please, just lifting the body enough at that one spot to clear the irritating hairs.

sneaky serpents. Their social instincts make them most dangerous, for they love to crawl under a tent flap and sleep cuddled up by the hunters.


“Really the most beautiful snake in the whole State is the green grass snake. It is small and absolutely harmless, very timid, and so shy as to be seldom seen. It is aided in concealing its presence by the fact that it can change colour almost as readily as the chameleon. Their colour is a greenish brown, varying to palest green when under full sunlight in the grass. They love damp meadows and woods, and will live by a spring for years. The blue racer is well known, and from his habit of running alongside a team or a man has earned his name. His bite is a bad one, but never fatal. The darkies dread them, and consider it an omen of approaching death to be ‘raced’ between ‘sun-up’ and ‘sun-down.’ Of course, snakes are seldom seen except in the daytime, being great sun lovers, so the racer is a continual source of fear. Glass snakes are very pretty, being of a bright green (but darker than the grass snakes), and resemble perfectly a semi-transparent green glass. The ridiculous stories about the pieces of broken glass snakes coming together again as good as new are only told by ignorant or romantic people. When a glass snake is broken, he is dead, and, what is more, he stays dead. Hit sharply with a switch, one of these fragile creatures will fly into a score of pieces and die at once. Of course, the muscles will twitch and the tail wriggle a little, but this is true of all snakes for hours after they are dead or practically dead. The old superstition is, you know, that a snake never dies before sun-down.”

marsanneMarsanne Petty conducts historical research about 18th century southern United States and environmental history. To get more great updates and original history, sign up at The Southern Sage. To get her to help you with your own research project, email mapetty[at]


Making a Fortune in Oranges

A Resident Who Objects to Any Implied Reflections on Florida

Postcard Collection
Oranges in Florida. Via Florida Memory.

He Holds His State Fully Equal to the “Glorious Climate of California.”

Admitting There Are Some “Tired” People There, the Majority Are Very Industrious.

To the Editor of The Inter Ocean.

KE-U-KA, FLa., May 18. – I have no time to write for the press, and am only driven to it now by a letter which appeared in THE INTER OCEAN recently from a correspondent in California. The objectionable portion of his letter is the following comparison: “The advantage of California over Florida is, the people of the former State do not lose any of their life, activity, or energy as they do who take up their homes in Florida.” This information must be valuable, as it comes from a person who has sojourned three whole weeks in the land he applauds, and no time or word shows that he had for a moment enjoyed what the most celebrated medical men in the world have repeatedly asserted and declared the most delightful climate in the universe.

I would shrink from anything that might undervalue the El Dorado State, for it has many blessings for the human family whose lot has cast them on its genial shores, but with equal pleasure I rise up before THE INTER OCEAN audience and deny – emphatically deny – that a residence in Florida robs a soul of the life, spirit, activity, or energy he inherited.

THE WRITER OF THIS HUMBLE DEFENSE has worked up fifty-four winters and has just started in on his fifty-fifth summer. He was brought up in a printing-office and editorial-room, and never worked outdoors a day in his life except on fishing excursions before coming to this State, yet last summer he worked every week day in his grove. Two years and a half ago the writer called to bid the editor of THE INTER OCEAN good-by. You will remember you said, with a wee bit of sarcasm in the northeast corner of your eye, “Florida is a magnificent lazy man’s country.” The writer agreed with you, as it was an expression universally used in the North; but he has never worked so hard in his life, nor is he the only one who works. This settlement, which is located nineteen miles west of Palatka on the Florida Southern Railway, is made up of people from Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, and Connecticut; and they all work, men, women, and children, building houses, making fences, cutting timber, setting out groves, cultivating flower, fruit, and vegetable gardens. They work as many hours and many more days than in the North. As an evidence of the mildness of our winters, one could pick ripe tomatoes on my place any day from November to date. So you see that the climate is in favour of your working every day in the year.

vertical sun. Florida is a magnificent lazy man_s country.

NOR ARE THE PEOPLE OF FLORIDA, the natives and long residenters, lifeless, lazy, or inactive. Of course there are people born tired in Florida as well as in Illinois, but the per cent is no larger.

As an illustration of the spirit and energy of the people, look at the city of Palatka. The sun went down on the night of the 7th of November, as was his custom. The bright red orb lit up one of the handsomest cities in the South, if not in the Union. The morning sun of the 8th rose on its ashes. Her immense hotels, with reputations co-extensive with the world; her large mercantile establishments, filled with the necessities and luxuries of life; her banks, her post-office, and the magnificent orange trees that lines her business streets had vanished into thin air. The morning was a chilly one, and the tired and begrimed citizen, who had through the long night fought the fire fiend, stood face to face with misfortune. It was a short acquaintance, quickly shook, for ere the sun went down the music of the saw and hammer was heard in every direction, and on the 7th of May, five months from the day of disaster, the city was nearly rebuilt. Forty-one stores, the buildings two and three stories high, built of brick and finished with plate glass and costly fixtures, wrought from our native woods, stand on the burnt district.

THIS DOES NOT INCLUDE the warehouse built of iron and a hundred wooden houses erected beyond the fire limits. What does this read like, as though the people became lifeless, inactive, or lazy by a residence in Florida. To my mind it displays activity, energy, and pluck, when compared to wealth and population, superior to Chicago or any other city in the world.

Three years ago when the Florida Southern Railway started westward from Palatka, it was twenty-five miles to the first house, now all along the line can be found prosperous villages, handsome houses, and charming groves and gardens.

Florida is a wilderness country. There is no mistake about that. It is the reverse of Illinois. In 1856 the writer located in Central Illinois. He rode all day looking on and over a broad expanse of treeless prairie. “A land, unbroken save by undulations as graceful as the waves of a peaceful ocean,” said some one – think it must have been “Siva.” One can ride all day in Florida amid stately pines, magnificent oaks, and fragrant magnolias. Look where you will, ride where you may, you are surrounded by a forest “unbroken save by clear lakes and as occasional orange grove.” It is to some a delightful land.

making a fortune. One can ride all day in Florida amid stately pines, magnificent oaks, and fragrant magnolias.

THEY SEE BEAUTY IN THE TREES, romance in the lakes and rivers, and comfort and enjoyment under the vine and fig tree. To others it is an abomination. It is too woody, too wild, too weird, too sandy, too hot, too wet, and last, that should have been first, too far from mother. The first class has industry and patience, the latter can not adapt themselves to circumstances, and are usually born tired. When we hear of a man talking of coming to Florida, yet is fearful that the climate will cause him to lose his activity, the community will have a brief season of prayer. Shortly afterward we hear of him in some other State, and publishing senseless verbiage about men losing their activity by taking up their residence in Florida. It seems to be natural for some persons emigrating to a new country to set down while the wife is getting the first meal to write to the home paper of the beauties and advantages of the newly found paradise. In most cases this is done because the emigrant feels lonely, sometimes done because he has an interest in that section and expects to increase the size of his bank account. After a residence of two years and a half I would hesitate to advise any one to come to Florida for the purpose of

MAKING IT A PERMANENT HOME until he first visits this land and examines thoroughly its climate, soil, products, manners, and customs of the people and the possibilities of securing a livelihood. Those who are troubled with rheumatism, catarrh, hay-fever, neuralgia, diphtheria, and throat and lung diseases can afford to make the change. But the man who has a large family dependent on him should move slowly and hesitate to go into any new country until he is satisfied that it is for the best.

Florida is full of inducements for energetic men as well as for men of means, especially to the class who prefer four months spring and eight months summer to eight months winter and four months summer. Some portions of the State have never been trod by the foot of the white man, but it will be. Railroads are being built in every direction. The slashes, the prairies, the rolling pines, and the hammocks will soon be pierced by the iron horse, and every section of the State will become accessible to the tourist and emigrant. This county, Putnam, has doubled in population in three years and double in assessed values in two years. Taxes last year was $1.40 on $100.

THE PRINCIPAL PRODUCT IN THIS COUNTY is the orange. According to the last United States census Putnam Country raised one-seventh of all the oranges in the State, and notwithstanding the low price of the past winter, a grove in bearing is a fortune. A full-bearing grove will yield from 300 to 500 boxes. At a dollar a box he can make both ends meet, especially when he is not compelled to spend any money for overcoats, mitts, and firewood.

making a fortune. he is not compelled to spend any money for overcoats, mitts, and firewood

Spears’ grove gave forth last year $9,000 and over, and this year $10,000. It contains six acres, but it is a very old grove. Hart’s grove does much better; last season it went $18,000. This one is opposite Palatka and is visited by thousands annually. Bishopp owns sixty acres in bearing, Harris 100, and there are others equally fortunate. We don’t know what they do with their money.

It is not an easy thing to make a grove. The land has to be cleared, fenced, plowed, and the orange trees set. The cost for this selecting average land, is about $125 per acre. If budded trees are used they will bear some the second year, and the fifth year sometimes pays the whole expenses. To do this, however, thrifty trees must be secured and kept growing by judicious cultivation. Mr. Boyd, of this county, came to this State nine years ago. He walked all the way from his home in Kentucky.

HE HAD CAUGHT THE ORANGE FEVER and came to seek his fortune. He says that if on his arrival whole counties were selling for a dollar a dozen he could not buy ten acres. But the spirit was born in him and he soon found work at 50 cents per day and board himself. As he had no other boarders the bill of fare was seldom changed; it consisted of Indial meal, salt, and water, the latter being cheapest; the two former were adulterated. By thus thinning his expenses he was enabled to pay for a small piece of land in two years. He then commenced to set out his young orange trees and seed, and now he has one of the finest young groves in the State. He has taken care of his grove and it will take care of him, as it places him in a position to enjoy the balance of his life in independence. Another friend picked up the seeds about the hotel that made the trees in his grove, and last year he shipped over 500,000 oranges. These two are not the only illustrations of life, activity, and industry in Florida. There are hundreds of them. All or nearly all of the wealthy orange-growers in the State came here poor, and had similar experiences to Mr. Boyd’s. There are other products besides the orange which promises to be profitable, Irish potatoes and all kinds of truck farming being in “big” pay. But it was not my intention to give the possibilities of Florida when I commenced to write this letter. TO do that would encroach too much upon your space, and am not satisfied that it would be agreeable to you and your readers.

making a fortune. HE HAD CAUGHT THE ORANGE FEVER and came to seek his fortune.

I have taken THE INTER OCEAN since its first issue. We receive it here the second day after its date, and it is more highly prized than when we got it red hot for breakfast.


marsanneMarsanne Petty conducts historical research about 18th century southern United States and environmental history. To get more great updates and original history, sign up at The Southern Sage. To get her to help you with your own research project, email mapetty[at]

Vertical Sun and Gilded Vallies

A gentleman spent several years in Florida

General Collection
Date palms and orange trees at the home of James E. Hendry in Fort Myers, Florida. Via Florida Memory.

A gentleman who spent several years in Florida, during the Indian troubles here, having collected his observations of the country in a manuscript, which has been obligingly lent to us, we extract from it some passages which we think the reader will find interesting:

“The southern extremity of Florida is over 1300 miles south of us, and the sun in the shortest day in the year has almost the same meridian altitude that it has here on the 1st of March, or the 10th of October. On the 20th of June its appearance in the heavens is nearly a vertical position, shines with a much more resplendent light that in more southern latitudes.

The climate there in the shortest days would be as cold as in this latitude in October; but for the following reasons:

First. They have no mountains or highlands in their vicinity.

Second. The protracted warm seasons have much an influence on the elements that during the short period of the sun’s declination to the south they do not become cold.

Third. Florida, being a peninsula, is nearly surrounded by water, and that too coming in from the Gulf Stream in a current tropical regions passing near the shore, keeps up a high temperature even during the winter months.

To these we may add the prevalence of southern winds, wafting air of high temperature from the vicinity of the equator.

From these causes the thermometer in the southernmost points is seldom seen below 60 degrees. As you move to the northward, the influence of the enumerated causes diminish and the gulf stream diverges from the shore, and yet on the northern confines of Florida most of the tropical fruits flourish, and many winters have passed without frost. At St. Augustine they seldom have more than two or three frosts in a year. Orange trees have never been seriously affected there except in the frost of 1835. Thus the climate of Florida is much modified by its proximity to the Gulf Stream is apparent from the fact that the south parts of Louisiana on a parallel of latitude with the northern portions of Florida are many degrees colder, and the Orange trees have been destroyed in New Orleans by winters that did not materially affect them in St. Augustine or on the same parallel on the St. Johns.

vertical sun. At St. Augustine they seldom have more than two or three frosts in a year.

The inland navigation of Florida lines of more than 4000 miles in the aggregate more than quadruples the inland navigation of New York, including our Canals. There is not a spot in the territory more than 30 miles from navigable waters. The highest ground is less than 200 feet-above the sea, and there is a chain of inland waters, cut off from the ocean by a succession of island, reaching most of the way round the whole of its coast, affording good steamboat navigation.

The soil of the country is peculiar; – you have doubtless heard much of the white sands of Florida. As you sail along the coast the shore and beach very much resemble a snow bank in the distance, and indeed, as you travel over the country much the same appearance is preserved; more than three-fourths of the soil is covered with white sand.

To northern eyes such a soil looks barren and dreary, – and if found on a northern coast, it would in fact be so; because on our coast the sand is mostly formed of sylex, and when mixed with other soil gives no enriching qualities. It will be remembered that the whole surface of Florida has been thrown up from the ocean, and all the sands of the ocean there are formed from the attrition of shells, and are therefore calcareous; when mixed with vegetable decomposition, or when decomposed they constitute a fertilizing substance, and will produce the most luxuriant growth.

The whole country is based on Lime Rock composed also of shells, which mostly preserve their original form. This rock lies in many places very deep, and in other cases near the surface; there is however above the rock a layer of clay, beneath the upper surface.

There is also a loamy soil in Florida found in many parts similar to our chestnut and red oak soil which produce in great abundance.

Another kind of soil is found along the banks of rivers, and at the wet hammocks, which is immensely productive; a soil equal to the Delta of Mississippi – This land lies on clay, then a layer of marl, on the surface of which is a deep vegetable deposit, such a soil is not scarce there; even in our climate it would produce immense crops. Take it altogether the soil of Florida is fully equal to Alabama and superior to Louisiana; but it is unfair to consider the soil of any country disconnected from its climate. Climate is everything with the vegetable as with the animal creation; and a sterile soil under the influence of a genial sun and a soft bland atmosphere will do more for the growth of plants than the most fertilising manure and the richest soil could do under the influence of an October breeze.

But it is not my purpose here to dwell upon the climate of Florida; with the blessing of Providence shed upon the land, a vertical sun to gild their vallies and to ripen their golden fruit with a generous soil and the gentle zephyrs of heaven floating over it, this same country has been, for the last 300 years the cost of rapacity, murder and conflagration, and the bloody footsteps of rapacious man have marked its highways and byeways, until there is scarce a hammock, grove or recess that has not witnessed horrors and cruelties at which humanity bleed.

vertical sun. the gentle zephyrs of heaven floating over it

In March 1822, Congress passed a law organizing East and West Florida into one territorial government. By this organic law a Governor, four Judges, four district attornies [sic] and four marshals were to be appointed by the President, a legislative council to be chosen by the people, which with the Governor, formed the law making power. Public lands were surveyed by the general government and Tallahassee an inland town, about midway between St. Augustine and Pensacola, was made, and still continues the Capital.

The district of Middle Florida soon became thickly populated; – the borders of the St. Johns, Apalachicola, and a country 60 miles west of the St. Johns, called Alachua, New Smyrna, and most of the southern points on the eastern coats were penetrated with settlements, so that in 1835 Florida contained 48000 souls and was increasing most rapidly.

But as the Seminoles possessed 5,000,000 of acres in the heart of East Florida, and along the Western Coast there was a reluctance to settle in their neighbourhood, and a large portion of East Florida remained a wilderness.

Numerous emigrants from the north were beginning the cultivation of the fruits, so that in the years 1835 and 1836 Florida exported more in amount of her own products than the State of New York. It was nothing strange to see $200 worth of sugar or $100 worth of cotton taken from an acre without more labor than is required to produce an acre of corn in the north. St. Augustine, from about 100 acres of Orange trees sold $100,000 worth of oranges; a single tree would produce to its owner $50. But in the winter of 1835 the unparalleled cold weather, which astonished and dismayed all in the north, extended its influence to this region, and on the 13th of February the thermometer sank to 8 degrees below zero. Such a frost was not within the memory of the oldest inhabitants; it cut down orange trees 100 years old, and left scarce a living fruit north of New Smyrna and Tampa Bay. But there was 300 miles south of these points that had not been injured even by this frost.

vertical sun. on the 13th of February the thermometer sank to 8 degrees below zero

The inhabitants at once replanted their groves, and at St. Augustine and on the St. Johns they already begin to export oranges.

But for the war which broke out in 1836, I cannot doubt that Florida would now be furnishing the Northern States with half the sugar they now consume, and in less than 5 years from this time, would have driven all the Sicily and West India oranges out of the market.

But alas! tales of horror and keen distress are yet to be told – War, bloody, brutal war, has ever since desolated the country, blasted its fair hopes, and spread mourning over the land. There are but three plantations in all East Florida that have not been ravaged and burned. There are no families out of St. Augustine and Jacksonville, that have not been forced to fly from the conflagration of their own dwellings or perish under the ruins. More than a thousand families have been driven from their homes and more than a hundred battles have been fought in the last 5 years.

marsanneMarsanne Petty conducts historical research about 18th century southern United States and environmental history. To get more great updates and original history, sign up at The Southern Sage. To get her to help you with your own research project, email mapetty[at]

The Land of Flowers Mid-century

Palatka hammock
Palatka hammock via Florida Memory

Florida 40 Years Ago


Beckoning of the Unseen Hand-staging Across the Peninsula – Chronicles of a Dead Village with a Living Memory

For The Times-Democrat.

Some months ago I picked up a census bulletin of Florida and curiously scanned the report from a little settlement or village called Bayport on the Gulf coast. If anything the population, which was a mere handful, nearly forty years ago, has diminished. My interest in Bayport is founded upon some youthful experience, and I am not apt to forget the spot “while memory holds seat in this distracted globe.” Once, a few years ago, when in transformed Florida I had a great desire to revisit the scenes of my boyhood in the Land of Flowers, but circumstance, “the unspiritual god,” prevented.

land of flowers. I had a great desire to revisit the scenes of my boyhood in the Land of Flowers

I happened, about 1858, when residing in Baltimore, my birthplace, to be consumed with a “grand discontent,” which presumably, impels so many persons, great and small, to seek fresh fields and pastures new, for African or Polar discovery, for gold or glory, for the love of self or for the love of God. The motives for such movements are multiform just as the impelling agencies are as varied as contradictory. I saw, or thought I saw, in my boyhood after leaving college, that my birthplace was not favourable for my material development. Perhaps I was, even then, like a hero of Guy Mannering, stirred to action by the voice mysterious which says we must not stay, and by the providential hand that beckons us away. About this restless period there came to Baltimore, on a visit, a relative of my mother, who had long resided in Florida, and, being something of a local politician, was enjoying a small government position at Bayport for headquarters. This gentleman and kinsman, Mr. C. T. Jenkins, stimulated my imagination about Florida and stated that, if I cared to go there, he would do whatever he could for me. Meanwhile I ransacked a public library for knowledge of the State and really absorbed considerable historic and other useful information on the subject. My mind was fired with stories of Ribault, Ponce de Leon, Osceola, Coachocee and other conspicuous persons, who had, in different times and varied fashions, illustrated the lands. Pending any final determination to discover Bayport, my cousin gave me a letter of introduction to the then “king bee” of the Commonwealth, Senator David L. Yulee, asking him, if possible, to secure for me a government office. I called promptly on the Senator, who lived in comfort and some style at Washington, for he was a rich man, what we call “a man of affairs,” and he grew richer and richer, I believe, in spite of political retirement, war, reconstruction and the multitude of schemes devised by the knowing ones to pluck the traditional goose. Senator Yulee, at his leisure, answered my card in person. He was a rather short, sturdy man, with decided Hebraic countenance of an Oriental cast. The face [botchered] serious shrewdness and an absence of sunshine or humor. he made quick, frank work with my business, gave me no encouragement at all and dismissed me with frigid politeness. I was much galled at the time by this jejune experience of the Washington politician, not expecting that, in years to come, when Mr. Yulee was practically forgotten, and much afflicted, in spite of opulence, at the Federal capital, my intercourse with much greater men there would come later on, after tarrying at Jericho for the growth of beard. Mr. Yulee’s name was originally Levy, and I think that Charleston was his native place. There used to be some story about one of his progenitors having played a notable part in the Kingdom of Morocco, but how much truth or fiction there is in this I do not know. He certainly looked like a man who had a swarthy Semitic ancestor.

land of flowers. I ransacked a public library for knowledge of the State

When Senator Yulee, much against my will and quite indifferently on his part, saved me from becoming at the outset of my career, in the working world, a department clerk, I resolved to make a trip, if possible, to the State he partly represented. My dear mother, with many misgivings and much sorrow, helped me on the way. She gave me a diamond ring, one of the few left of many, and permitted me to dispose of it. I did not see her dear face again for six or seven years. A German-American merchant friend advanced me $75 on the bauble, and, at the age of nineteen, in rather delicate health, I started for Bayport, via Savannah, on an old-fashioned steamship. Though I had previously gone thousands of miles, by sailing craft, on an ocean voyage, and escaped sickness peculiar to the sea, I experienced on that venerable tub, with its convulsive motions, a sharp attack of the malady that, while it lasts, permits the sufferer to fear life more than death. I understand that a dose of one teaspoonful of chloroform in a tumblerful of water, taken when one goes on board ship, and, if necessary, repeated an hour afterward, is a specific remedy. I was well, however, when we steamed off Tybee and up the muddy and then shallow Savannah river. Incidentally I heard that, far up the river, there was a city called Augusta, and I was tempted to visit it, but did not yield to the seduction. Indeed, when I presently boarded the steamboat for inland passage to Palatka, on the St. Johns river, nothing was remoter from my thoughts than the possibility of my ever seeing Augusta, to which I was curiously led after much tribulation and numerous vicissitudes interspersed here and there with some happy times and some romantic episodes in Florida and Louisiana.

My spirits lifted when I had snug passage on the steamboat, after escaping the wiles of an adventurous acquaintance, with small pecuniary loss. I was delighted with Savannah and the novel sights of semi-tropical slave States. I wondered what Providence had in store for me, and I built many castles in the air. In those days Col. Randolph Spalding was the great man most admired and talked about around the Sea Islands. Possibly he had just figured in some “affair of honor,” and I was gravely assured by some talkative gossip that in such matters Col. Spalding was a most valuable ally.

land of flowers. I was delighted with Savannah and the novel sights of semi-tropical slave States.

Our steamboat, despite occasional impediment, made very fair headway, and it was with a thrill of delight that I saw her nose pointed to the open sea and knew that the mouth of the St. Johns river was not far off. At sea I had a glimpse of the devil fish, a monster of those waters, and as we crossed the St. Johns bar marine birds of nearly every variety and incredibly numerous either darkened the air with their flight or had dress parade on the beach. Patent rifles or shotguns had not yet been invented for exterminating wild fowls and beasts, so Florida, a comparative wilderness, abounded superlatively in all manner of game common to this part of the continent.

land of flowers. In those days Palatka was a shabby village when contrasted with present splendour

The trip up the river to Palatka is still an enchanting one, and I, in that early period, hugely enjoyed my freedom and all the sights and sounds of nature calculated to stimulate a poetic fancy. In those days Palatka was a shabby village when contrasted with present splendour, and the tavern I slept at was a sorry barn compared with the palaces that have since replaced it. After breakfast next morning I was introduced to the stage driver, who also had charge of the United States mail. He was a young Irishman of stalwart frame and pretty well educated. He was a very amiable man, but resolute. He drove the stage, really a hack, from the St. Johns river at Palatka to Bayport, on the Gulf coast, a pretty long trip over sandy roads. I suppose that the tedious journey rather daunted me prospectively, but only for a moment, for I was young, eager and visionary and anxious to try what the world had in store for me. So Magrath and I started together overland, and what with my frequent questions and his gracious answers constituting time absorbing conversation, I managed to be patient. After travelling all day through a rather monotonous country, where settlements were few and far between, we halted for the night at the spacious cabin of a farmer near the Withlacoochee river and in the vicinity of Dade’s massacre. As we talked by the light of a pine knot fire hounds under the house emitted yelps of fear or excitement. I asked what was the matter and learned that wolves were prowling around. They had killed a calf in the cow-pen the night before, and had evidently returned for another bait. The hunting dogs did not evidently care to venture forth, and the farmer, though a keen sportsman, kept his place and preferred, apparently, to tell me his droll yarns and politely listen to some of mine. It was a pleasure in those days for people in the wilderness to meet strangers from outside civilization. Next morning the hack started early, and we expected to reach Bayport some time in the early nightfall. On the road we saw deer in some abundance, although many thousands had just died of the black tongue. Wolf and bear tracks were visible, I believe, to Magrath’s expert eye, but we saw none of these animals. Afterward, when I lived at Bayport, deer ran through the village, it was said betimes, panthers were killed or committed ravage in neighboring fields, and wagoners declared that they had to beat bear out of the road. We took dinner, I think, at Brooksville, which was the county site of Hernando, whose rolling, hammock lands, rich and productive, were then largely given to profitable cotton culture.

land of flowers. It was a pleasure in those days for people in the wilderness to meet strangers from outside civilization.

There is a railway belonging to my friend Mr. Plant that now terminates at Brooksville, but I suspect, unless the improbably should happen freakishly, steel track and locomotive will never, in our day, be pushed to Bayport, which, somehow, appears to be, even at the threshold of the tremendous 20th century, a hamlet that barely keeps from being actually dead.  Well, my spirits were somewhat dampened when I saw the poor place, in the gloaming, but I did not realize until the following day what was really in store for me, a child of civilization. My cousin, then an old bachelor, that is old to my youthful eyes, received me kindly. The one grand place was that of Maj. John Parsons who had accumulated a fortune during the Seminole war, and, being a practical as well as a highly educated man, was adding to it by stores and other commercial ventures on this coast. The Parsons house was a large one, substantially built, handsomely furnished and amply surrounded with a magnificent grove. The Major had married a niece of Commodore Decatur, a most estimable lady, whose brother and sister lived with her. Major Parsons had a nephew who was also one of the family. That night of my arrival there was a big party at the Parsons mansion. I went of course and had a fine time. I took for granted that all present were Bayport folks and, as some of the girls were very pretty and accomplished, I concluded that my lines had not fallen in such bad places after all. To my consternation, next morning, I had discovered that all of the bright young company had come from Cedar Keys and would take the steamboat to that place about noon. When they vanished my heart fairly sank within me. The whole prospect grew desolate, for, with the few exceptions I have mentioned, there was no congenial society at all and how I was to make a living, in such a quasi-barbarism, passed all understanding.

land of flowers. I interested myself in some rather remarkable persons whom I can never forget

However, I plucked up my courage by its drowning lock, and prepared for the best or worst. How I passed the time there, how I interested myself in some rather remarkable persons whom I can never forget, and how I emerged from the wilderness back again to civilization may be left to another occasion, when the reader, if he or she choose, after the manner of the serial novel, may continue the narrative, which, possibly, shall increase in interest. There was, all the time, a providential magnet drawing me to another sphere of action which largely determined the bent of my whole after existence in this world, and it may divert, if not instruct, some of my kind readers to learn how a fellow mortal was strangely, providentially guided in his earthly pilgrimage.



Marsanne Petty conducts historical research about 18th century southern United States and environmental history. To get more great updates and original history, sign up at The Southern Sage. To get her to help you with your own research project, email mapetty[at]

Encouragement for Prospective Florida Gardeners

Florida Photographic Collection
Colonel H.L Hart’s Garden via Florida Memory

Interesting letter from the South

Slave Labor and Slave ??? – Planting and Raising Cotton – Collection of the Sweet Potatoes – Climate, Soil and Productions of Florida – Sugar Cane – Tobacco – Fruit – Gardening, &c, &c

They have been planting cotton on this plantation since we have been here. My curiosity has led me, often, to go out and see the negroes work. They always seem pleased with our visits, and treat us with the greatest deference. The children appear to be special favorites with them. One was heard to say: “I wish Mistress would sell me to Miss Lizzie.” But I do not intend to write about the negroes this time, as I intend to tell how they raise cotton.

encouragement. They have been planting cotton on this plantation since we have been here.

The first thing that would attract your attention, would be the superficial manner of preparing the ground. You spend more labor in fitting one acre for wheat, than they do three for cotton. The soil is sandy, and easily cultivated. They first mark a field, or “list it,” as they call it. The lines are made with a how, about six feet apart: then turn a furrow on each side of the line with a plow, forming beds, on which the cotton is planted in hills, about six inches apart, so that the rows have a space of some five feet apart. You would think they might double the crop, by planting all the land, and planting the rows nearer together. I inquired why they left so much space. They gave several reasons; the first was, they have so much land there is no need of crowding. They do not use fertilizers, so they must allow more room for a given crop. Then there is a necessity for space between the rows of cotton and corn, so that the air may pass through freely, otherwise the hot sun would crisp the leaves, or “fire it,” as the negroes call it.

They tell me a cotton field requires attention from the time it is planted, in March, until it is all gathered, in October or November. The weeds must be all kept down with a hoe, as the side branches shoot out so near the ground a plow would injure them. The seeds of weeds will spoil the cotton, so they must all be destroyed before the bowls or buds of the plant begin to open. The bowls ripen first on the lower branches, and open successively, like the pods of the milk weed. We saw the short cotton in the Carolinas, as it was not all gathered when we passed through. The Sea Island, or long staple cotton, which they raise here, is far superior to that.

An agent of some of the manufacturing companies in England has been here lately. He says they consider the Florida cotton the best in the world. They use it for the finest fabrics, and the supply has never been equal to the demand. He urged the planters to raise more cotton, and to gather it in a perfect condition, and he said they could demand from seventy-five cents to a dollar a pound for it. One acre of good land planted to cotton, and well tended, will yield from three to four hundred pounds of the first quality, and as much more of the second. It will be very strange if the northern men leave Florida a wilderness many years longer.

encouragement. It will be very strange if the northern men leave Florida a wilderness many years longer.

I will tell you now how they cultivate  sweet potatoes – they are planted in the month of February in rows about five feet apart. The sprouts come up and run on the ground like a vine, from six to eight feet long. In June, their vines are cut off and laid on beds formed by turning two furrows together, as they do for cotton. The earth is then hoed on them in places about six inches apart. The potatoe vines thus covered take root, and make hills of large potatoes. The yield is astounding – often three and four hundred bushels in the acre.

I could tell you much more that would astonish you, for I observe something new every day. But I want to give you some condensed extracts from a report of the president of the Florida Railroad Company, Mr. [D. D. Yulee].

He gives information that is reliable and interesting – particularly that which relates to climate, soil and production. He says the meteorological statistics published by Surgeon General Lawson show that the climate of Florida is more equitable in temperature than any other part of the United States – that it even surpasses Italy. As regards healthiness, the vital statistics collected by the Government with the census of 1850, show that the Peninsula portion of Florida exceeds every part of the Union. The soil, he says, is generally very productive, and yields all the richest [staples]; that that portion of Florida lying east and south of Swanee River, he believes to be the most desirable planting country in the South. It produces the long staple, or Sea Island cotton of commerce, with a productiveness surpassing the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia. And for the cultivation of the sugar cane, he thinks the climate superior to that of Louisiana or Texas. He says there are sugar lands enough in Florida to supply a large part of the consumption of the United States.

The tobacco grown here, is peculiar to this climate and soil; and commands in market from fifteen to seventy-five cents per pound.

encouragement. ripe tomatoes and green corn in April and May, and ripe peaches and mellons in June!

A great variety of fruit can be grown here, and it is a very fine vegetable gardening region, in winter, as well as summer. The value of this capability of soil and climate, does not seem to be properly estimated here. There are but few gardens cultivated for market. If some of the industrious Dutch or English gardeners we have in Syracuse, would come here, they could make fortunes in a short time, sending early vegetables and fruits to Charleston and New York; green peas in January, new Irish potatoes in March, ripe tomatoes and green corn in April and May, and ripe peaches and mellons in June! to say nothing of the strawberries which blossom and ripen their fruit all winter. If the steamers ran directly from Jacksonville to New York without detention, you might see many of these Florida fruits and vegetables in Syracuse in good condition. – C.


Marsanne Petty conducts historical research about 18th century southern United States and environmental history. To get more great updates and original history, sign up at The Southern Sage. To get her to help you with your own research project, email mapetty[at]

Saving Florida From the Indians

timucua indian chief consults a sorcerer
Timucua Indians via Florida Memory

The late attack and murders committed on Indian Key

FLORIDA. – The late attack and murders committed on Indian Key by the Seminoles of Florida, is an additional and horrible item in the catalogue of woes to which it seems that ill fated country, is destined; and excites, as it should the wonder and astonishment of the people at the cool indifference of the Government in relation to this long pending and costly war.

There seems to be an impression on the minds of some people that every misfortune is attributable to the administration, and those who are opposed to the party in power, really hesitate to complain, for fear that unworthy motives may be attributed to these constant attacks on rulers; but we submit to the Secretary of War, who, as a citizen and a public officer long in the service of his country, has many warm friends, whether the whole manner of prosecuting this war – which is entirely under his direction – is not calculated to do serious injury to the character of his country, as well as his own personal reputation? A handful of savages in Florida has cost the people of this country, in a war of five years, nearly twenty millions of dollars; the arms of the United States have, in a great measure, been sullied by repeated discomfitures with the Indians; and what is worse, they gain strength and boldness, and massacres of a shocking character will render Florida a wilderness in a short time. There appears to be no energy, no activity, no zeal in the department in relation to the only war, and that a small war, which is now carried on in Florida. A few small vessels of war, cruising in the neighbourhood of the Keys, would have protected the inhabitants from invasion, and the division of the present army into squads of one hundred or more, spread over the country, would have kept the marauders in check. At all events, there should be a concert in action between the army and local authorities of Florida: the war never will end if it is the interest of one party to carry it on, and the interest of another party to terminate it. The most effective steps would be to require the Government of Florida to convene the Council, and to transmit to Washington the most efficient plan to terminate the war, and, if feasible, to invest the Governor with ample powers to carry it on to a successful issue. – If militia, or hunters, or marksmen from the West, or bush-fighters, are necessary, employ them and pay them liberally in money and land. Let the people of Florida, friendly to peace, take this matter in hand, and let the Governor come to their aid efficiently – let the entire system of managing this war be changed – recall the Commissaries who are making fortunes, and let the people of Florida procure the supplies at the cost of the Government, and the Indians will soon disappear.

saving florida. the war never will end if it is the interest of one party to carry it on, and the interest of another party to terminate it

The Secretary of War should not permit himself to retire from office, without doing something in this business, to retrieve the disasters we have met with in this contest with the Indians. –  N.Y. Star


Marsanne Petty conducts historical research about 18th century southern United States and environmental history. To get more great updates and original history, sign up at The Southern Sage. To get her to help you with your own research project, email mapetty[at]

Advice to Women in the Florida Wilderness

This letter is sensible

arch oak
Arch Oak via Shorpy

This letter is sensible, for the writer, Mrs. A. D. Hill, is carried by her sincerity into the perfectly practical advantages of the move:

“Eve up to Date – I advocate short skirts provided laced-up-at-the-side leggings are worn with them, something like the huntsman leggings ones sees in the gun-store windows, and as my husband wears on outing excursions, only they should be made from a softer fabric than canvas. While living on the Florida coast I wore such leggings on outing occasions and can vouch for their comfort and practical utility; besides, one’s shoes look much smaller peeping out from under the leggings; they are easily put on and fully protect the stockings and shoes from dust and wind, and can be made by any lady, by using one of her old stockings as a pattern, cutting away the foot, opening outside of the leg, and allowing for hem and lap, where it laces. The inclosed sketch gives my idea, as I have tried the short skirt with leggings, but only in the solitude of Florida’s wilderness, as I dared not brave the unchristian criticism of civilization. I found them pleasant to wear, cheaply made and above all other considerations, they are perfectly modest and proper.”


Marsanne Petty conducts historical research about 18th century southern United States and environmental history. To get more great updates and original history, sign up at The Southern Sage. To get her to help you with your own research project, email mapetty[at]

The Dangers of Steamboating

A Walk Along the Kissimmee River. Via South Florida Water Management District.

Florida Desperado

Desperate Fight with and Escape of a Cattle Dealer.

By United Press over Private Wire.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla., April 8. – A special from Kissimmee City to the Herald gives an account of the exciting events resulting in the capture of Ralph Willingham, a rich cattle owner and noted desperado of the Southern Florida wilderness. Willingham went aboard a steamer trading on the Kissimmee river and lakes and demanded of Captain Pearce by what right he ran a steamer on those waters. The Captain gave a civil answer, but was attacked by the gigantic Willingham who would have killed him with his bowie knife but for the interference of the crew. After a bloody struggle in which two of the crew were wounded, Willingham was overpowered and bound. Redding Parker, a brother-in-law of Willingham and also a desperate character, was asleep in the lower part of the boat during the struggle. On learning of Willingham’s capture he made a desperate effort to release his friend, and it required another fierce combat to subdue him. He afterward escaped from his captors, swam ashore and escaped. Captain Pearce took his prisoner to Galando, the county seat, to claim a standing reward of $2,500 for the outlaw. Willingham, who is known as the cattle king of South Florida, insolently boasts that his great wealth will enable him to buy his freedom. He is said to be guilty of five murders.

florida desperado. Willingham was overpowered and bound.

marsanneMarsanne Petty conducts historical research about 18th century southern United States and environmental history. To get more great updates and original history, sign up at The Southern Sage. To get her to help you with your own research project, email mapetty[at]

Ormond-by-the-Sea, 1897: A Yankee’s Paradise

ormond by the sea
Sailing on the Beach, Ormond, Florida. Via Shorpy

What a Connecticut Yankee Has Done.

Correspondence of The Courant.

Hotel Ormond, Ormond, Fla., April 14.

“Why don’t the northern papers say something about Florida?” inquired a gentleman from “The Hub” at the breakfast table of the Ormond this morning. “I come here every night, and naturally search my Boston papers for correspondence from Florida resorts, but I look in vain.”

“Perhaps,” we replied, “with the variety of weather they are having in New England at present, the North is a bit jealous of the South in the matter of spring climate, and thinks it just as well not to mention that farther down the coast there is an average temperature of 70 degrees, with balmy breezes, flowers in bloom and gardens at their best.”

ormond by the sea. an average temperature of 70 degrees, with balmy breezes, flowers in bloom and gardens at their best.

However that may be, the Boston man’s remark was a suggestion that perhaps the Connecticut people who have visited this charming spot, and the many more who would have come if they could, might be interested in a few lines from Ormond, and an accompanying story of what one Connecticut man has been doing down here for the past twenty years.

We have been a month in Florida, and have traversed the length of the east coast, 360 miles from Jacksonville to Miami. We have seen all the beautiful hotels of the Flagler system, stopping at the Moorish palaces in St. Augustine, the Royal Poinciana at Palm Beach, and the Royal Palm at Miami. And, lastly, at the closing week of the season, we have come to lovely Ormond, and find it the most home-like, the most restful and altogether enjoyable of them all.

Ormond-by-the-Sea, fifty miles south of St. Augustine, is also Ormond-on-the-Halifax, the town lying on the west bank of the Halifax, and the hotel on the peninsula, half a mile wide, between the river and the ocean. The Halifax is really an arm of the sea, a tropical lagoon, its banks fringed with groves of palmetto, orange, oak and pine. Hotel Ormond fronts the river, its yellow towers and balconies peeping through the picturesque groves and shaded pathways of its ample grounds. Its wide plazzas invite the visitor to “Cease to think, and be content to be,” and its doorways swing side to a home-like hospitality, dispensed by its courteous proprietors, Messrs. Anderson and Price, the one a New Englander, the other a Kentuckian. The lobby bright with pots of ferns, flowers and palms, with a big Dutch fireplace where an oaken log glows on cool evenings, is the favourite indoor resort. In the office hangs a portrait of James Ormond, an English officer in the Bahamas, to whom the Spanish government gave in 1790 a grant of land, covering the town which bears his name. Here he settled and cleared large sugar plantations. Two ruined chimneys, used for sugar boiling, mark the site of these plantations, and are objective points for one of the delightful drives for which Ormond is famous. The roads here are hard and smooth, of marl and shell deposit, and one may drive for miles through the shaded hammock or along the beach, without ploughing through any tiresome sand. The beach, one of the most beautiful on the Atlantic coast, is, at low tide, a broad, smooth boulevard, where the horses’ feet resound as on a pavement, and where the wheel hardly leaves a mark; an ideal stretch of twenty miles for the bicycle or the carriage drive.

ormond by the sea. The roads here are hard and smooth, of marl and shell deposit

En passant, Florida may give us a lesson in the use of the wide tire. All the carriages here have wheel tires from two to three inches in width, which roll smoothly without sinking in the track, improving rather than cutting up the roads. A picturesque drive takes us to Daytona, largely a New England settlement, seven miles to the south, and called the prettiest village in Florida, with its handsome homes and shaded avenues. Going south, the drive is through the hammock, shaded by oaks and palmettos, and pines so tall that their “tiny tops seem close against the sky.” Returning by the beach, the surf rolls in on our right, and wild ducks, flocks of snipe and little fiddler crabs watch for their pray after each receding wave. Near the hotel is a neat Episcopal Church, with a rectory adjoining. Here service is held weekly during the tourist season. The Rev. John T. Huntington of Hartford is a frequent preacher here. A favourite drive with the tourist is seven miles to the north to “Number Nine,” the plantation of C. A. Bacon, a veteran of the Seventh Connecticut Volunteers, wounded at Hilton Head and a living example of what Yankee pluck, brains and energy will do without other capital.

After the close of the war, Mr. Bacon took up a government grant of three-quarters of a mile front on the peninsula between the Halifax and the ocean. In 1876 he left New Britain for his new home, arriving in the Florida wilderness in March, with 50 cents in his pocket. He built a palmetto hut, five miles from a human habitation, and began clearing his ground, working all day, and often by moonlight. Deer, bears, possums, ‘coons and owls were his only companions. Mr Bacon named his camp “Number Nine,” from Jim Fenton’s camp in the story of “Seven Oaks” by J.G. Holland. His first house, to which he brought his wife, was covered with cypress shingles made by himself from logs brought ten miles on a raft. The frame of the house was built from the deck plank of the West India steamer Vera Cruz, wrecked off Ormond in 1880, and three of the doors are from the steamer’s cabin. Mr. Bacon gathered a large amount of useful stores from the wreckage, and buried the bodies washed ashore.

ormond by the sea. Deer, bears, possums, ‘coons and owls were his only companions

His first business venture was the setting of a half acre of seedling orange trees, which in two years netted him $1,600. He has kept on working and clearing, until now he has a fifteen-acre orange grove, under high cultivation, fine seedling nurseries, an established business in canned fruits, and a beautiful garden, with plants and shrubs from every corner of the globe. The late freeze made disastrous work with his orange grove, but, with his true wife for a help-meet, he works bravely on. His 50 cents has become $50,000 – counting property and yearly profits. He has just built a pretty new house, in colonial style, and as we admired the polished mahogany finish of hall and staircase, he told us that the wood was washed ashore from a South American vessel after a storm. He showed a field of Para grass from which he gathers a crop of eight tons to the acre, a crop maturing in six weeks. We also saw a Yankee apple tree, which, losing all reckoning in the Florida climate, was exhausting itself with two crops a year.

Mr. Bacon is still a New Englander at heart, with a genial manner, and an inexhaustible fund of stories. Visitors are all welcome, but especially those from his own state, to whom he is proud to relate that he fought for the Union under General Hawley, was in thirteen battles, three times wounded, and is still hale and hearty. – J.

marsanneMarsanne Petty conducts historical research about 18th century southern United States and environmental history. To get more great updates and original history, sign up at The Southern Sage. To get her to help you with your own research project, email mapetty[at]

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