URBAN LIFE IN EARLY FLORIDA
PART TWO OF TERRITORIAL FLORIDA
TOWN FOLK:. In contrast to the rural Cracker were the
townfolk, who provided centralized services in small towns cross the farming
belts and in the port cities. There were few towns of large size. The Spanish
military centers of Pensacola, St.
Augustine, and Key West, were soon
surpassed by Jacksonville, the Eastern gateway,
as key towns.
Andy Jackson, as a Southerner, wanted Florida to remain two territories, but Northerners
controlling Congress opposed the development of two slave states. They insisted
upon one slave state, and both Pensacola and St. Augustine made bids to
be the capital city. . The logical solution was a new, more centrally located
town, and, in 1823, Governor DuVal sent John
Williams of Pensacola and William Simmons of St. Augustine to select a spot halfway
between their port villages. Fortunately, their selection was in the
Tallahassee Hills, the most fertile plantation region.
and the shipment of farm goods determined the growth of most Florida towns. Jacksonville grew out of the
King's Road crossing near Cowford, a boat transfer spot of the St. Johns River. Middle Florida
was soon dotted by cotton markets: Quincy
(1828), and Marianna (1829). Apalachicola (1830), at the mouth of the river of
the same name, became the third largest seaport on the Gulf
of Mexico. It was temporarily rivaled by a man-made port, St. Joseph (1836).
was the least industrialized region in the agricultural South. The townsfolk
remained professional and service people. The major industry was still the
lumber industry with its related naval products of tar, pitch, turpentine and
resin. Lack of railroad services did not allow this asset to complete
successfully with forestry industries closer to the urban North. In order to
increase the price of local cotton, Tallahassee
constructed small cotton mills, but there was no attempt to build cotton cloth
factories, a more expensive investment.
Towns in Florida gained their
status as central market centers and political headquarters. Florida's few
public and private schools were located in towns, but the wealthiest of the
planters and merchants choose to ship their children to schools in Savannah and Charleston.
It cost nine to twenty dollars per year for the tuition of rhetoric, botany,
Latin, geometry, surveying, moral philosophy, chemistry, and algebra. Rural
children could not afford this tuition let alone boarding their kids in town,
so basic reading and writing by someone who could read was the school system
for the working farm child.
TOWN LIFE. Recreation in town centered around the church and official celebrations. With few
theaters and no opera houses, simple entertainment like supper, parties,
picnics, and dances prevailed. An occasional drama company from New Orleans or Charleston,
or a traveling orator, filled the cultural docket of Jacksonville
The townfolk and the farmers favored amusement of a more physical nature, such
as cockfighting, horse racing, and jousting tournaments.
large community had its own festivals. St
Augustine's Minorcan minority maintained the Spanish
custom of holding a Posey Dance once a year. Single girls lit a candle in a
window to summon potential suitors to ask them for a date. Each gentleman left
a small gift. At midnight, the men-folk left and the girl choose her date by
placing all but the chosen man's gifts outside on the front doorstep.
Pranksters, however, enjoyed taking the objects of the ugliest bachelor in
town, thereby creating an unfortunate conflict of interest the night of the
held a festival known as the paud-gaud, or paper turkey. The turkey was a rifle
target made of hard cypress root and decorated with dozens of ribbons each
representing gifts from the town's single ladies. Bachelors attempted to shoot
off their favorite maiden's ribbon, thus winning a picnic date the festival.
The town's worst shot not only got the ugliest girl, he and his date were
chosen the king and queen of the paud-gaud as the last matched couple. Equally
unusual was the popular harassment known as the sherivaree, where locals
celebrated the marriage of a widow or widower by clanking pots and pans under
their honeymoon suite. If the newlyweds were clever, they fled town.
communities were more reserved about such rowdy activities, which required a
congested population and a few taverns for good measure. Pastors forbade
drinking and horse racing in many fundamental churches. Despite bans on
gambling and ten pin bowling, the growth of towns diluted some of the organized
opposition to these wilder amusements.
PROVINCIAL WALLS. Even without the development of organized
opposition to slavery in the Northern states, there was a wall of provincialism
and anti-intellectualism across the Florida
frontier. The small farmer was too busy in surviving than reading books or
debating politics. Libraries were non-existent, and a large segment of the
population resented anything that smacked of elitism or change.
In the 1840's when romanticism in the North
fostered societal dreams for a better world and reforms for society, Florida's
educated population viewed the romantic movement as a way to look at the past
for a verification of its institutions. . Ministers and writers in the South
reinforced this version of romantic thought. Few women in the South were
educated past finishing schools, and even they spoke for management estates and
families, not for more women's liberties and opportunities. Because most
feminist leaders in the North supported abolitionment of slavery, women's
rights were not strong issues in Florida.
Of all the
reform movements spreading across the country by the 1840's, only the
temperance movement developed strong support in Florida. Most Church leaders
beloved the attack on alcohol was imperative to purge their flock of bad
habits. Even here, Northern temperance leaders were not welcomed, since many of
them accepted abolitionism.
Florida was unfortunately an ideal environment to
crush any intellectual movement. There were few towns and schools. The
communications media was controlled by the planters and their allies.
Agrarianism was conservative by tradition and time-consuming by life style. It
was impossible to renounce the basic institutions without attacking the
political and economic leaders. There were a few radicals even in Florida as noted by the efforts of Quaker Jonathan Walker of Pensacola
who was caught smuggling slaves to the Bahamas. Until 1845, most
Floridians were consumed by the goal of making Florida a state.
COUNTY (Florida) in 1850
What was the Cotton Kingdom of Florida
like in 1850? Using data compiled from the Census of 1850, Elizabeth Sims
included this data in her fine A History of Madison County, Florida (Madison
County Historical Society, 1986)
: Population: 2,802 whites 2,688 blacks
farmers (76%) 6 shoemakers 1 saddler
laborers 5 public workers 1 engineer
carpenters 5 tailors 1 stage driver
8 physicians 4 teachers 1 painter
bookkeepers 4 blacksmith 1 bootmaker
4 ministers 1 harness maker
merchants 3 brickmen 6 carriage makers
in Georgia; 34% born in South Carolina; 5% born in Florida
with 35 farms over 500 acres; 16 farms over 1,000 acres
had milk cows
had only one horse
had no horses
EVENTS PROMOTING STATEHOOD
RAILROADING. Since the wealth
of Territorial Florida was centered in the hills of Middle Florida, the
desirability of building a transportation system extending to the Atlantic port
of Jacksonville as well as southward to the Gulf of Mexico was imperative to
bolster the state's population. As early as 1826, Southern politicians had
proposed a Federal cross-state canal, connecting the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico. Northerners would only finance the
necessity of developing a lighthouse syetm from Amelia Island to the Florida
Keys, a plan that also benefitted Northern shipping firms.
In 1831, Florida's first railroad
was chartered. The state government gave on-half million acres to the Tallahassee Railroad Company to
construct a mule-driven tram between Tallahassee and Port Leon on St. Marks
Bay, a distance of only 22 miles. The tiny firm did make Tallahassee an ideal ready port for cotton
and lumber products.
significant was the Lake Wimico and St.
Joseph Canal Railroad, nine miles of track connected the Apalachicola
River to St. Joseph Bay. Overnight St. Joseph,
now part of Port St. Joe, stole river trade from the older port of Apachicola
at the mouth of the river. These railroads only benefited limited reas.
It was Senator David L. Yulee's work in Washington that fostered the Federal Swamp
Land Act, which granted
thousands of acres to the Florida
Internal Improvement Commission to promote transportation. The gift of 29
million acres helped the Florida,
Atlantic, and Gulf Central Railroad connect Jacksonville
with Lake City. Yulee's greatest political success
was his Florida Railroad Company, which gained over three million dollars in
guaranteed bonds from the F.I.I.F. Yulee needed only
$345,000 to complete his cross-peninsular railroad from Fernandina to Cedar
ARMED OCCUPATION ACT.
than even good transportation was more population, necessary to gain Florida statehood. The United States
Congress helped this cause with the Armed
Occupation Act of 1842. This law granted 160 acres of land in the
unoccupied regions of Floirda to any settler willing to bear arms to defend the
property for five years. While the program was not the major cause of southern
migration from Georgia and Alabama, it certainly
provided a needed incentive. The Act remained in force only nine months, but
1,184 homesteading permits were issued. many of them
to the first pioneers to Central Florida. The
end of the Seminole Wars would be the other vital factorn making Florida a state.
The 1842 Act was short-lived. not due to Northern opposition, but due to the resentment of
planters and land speculators who feared the Act would foster an unmanageable
land boom. The planters hoped to convert the Florida swamplands into rice and sugar
plantations once the Seminole menace was silenced. The arrival of thousands of
small farmers, few of whom owned slaves, was a hindrance to the overall
development plns of the planter aristocracy.
statehood appeared years distant, the planters supported a liberal immigration
policy, but now that Florida was nearing its ultimate achievement, the planters
revised their assessment of the the demographic situation. An influx of poor
small farmers might oppose and would delay needed taxes for transportation
projects favored by the planters..
ISSUE IS STATEHOOD. Aside
from the Seminole Wars, covered in Chapter 9, no event so divided Territorial
politics more than the battle for statehood. It was more a question of
"WHEN", not whether. The planters wanted to unite Florida
to the economic and political interests of neighboring Georgia and Alabama, but this required a massive
building program of railroads and canals. The interests of
the small farmers, the cattlemen in the peninsular, and many Northern investors
was to delay statehood, until they had better control of their political
the planters prematurely passed a bill to obtain a census and referendum for
statehood. It was discovered the state did not yet have enough population for
two representatives to Congress, an original planter promise. Nevertheless, enough
Floridians voted to set up a constitutional convention that the first statewide
meeting for a new government met in the boom town of St. Joseph. The meeting, in December of 1837,
revealed the division over statehood, taxes, and land development.
much hope over Florida statehood, since at
that time it was expected that Kansas would
soon be ready as a free state.
The small farmers delayed the main vote to bring up all their serious
oppositions. They wanted a revision of Florida's bank charters to offer loans
for small farmers, since they claimed the state's three existing banks - the Union Bank of Tallahassee, the Bank of
Pensacola, and the Southern Life Insurance and Trust Company - were owned and
operated by planters, Europeans, and Northerners. When the planters brought up
bank financing of a new railroad project, the small farmers tried to utilize
anti-bank sentiment to delay Florida's
of 1839, the first Constitution for the State of Florida
was passed at St. Joseph,
but only after some realistic compromises on the issues of bank policy and
state loans. In the statewide referendum later that year, the Constitution
passed by a vote of 2,070 to 1,953. The large planter population of Middle Florida barely offset the negative vote from Pensacola and Jacksonville.
Enough small farmers were tempted by compromises on banking and stricter laws
against the freedmen to modify the results of their vote.
The vote on statehood
did not grant Floridians their immediate wish. Six years would pass as the United States Congress considered Florida's application
for statehood. There was a reevaluation of the census data. Territorial
Delegate Levy was a strong proponent against Northern opposition. In March of
1845, Florida's application for statehood was
accepted, in part, because Iowa
was prepared to enter the nation as a state. Thus, Iowa
and Florida became sister states in the continual game of
sectional politics in Wa