TAMPA: ITS ORIGINS - 1821-1885

January 22, 1824 � Colonel GEORGE MERCER BROOKE and two others entered Hillsborough Bay in a small yawl after picking up a muslin message on a stick planted in a beach that became Gadsden’s Point. The message from James Gadsden was to meet at the northeast bank of the mouth of the Hillsborough River to set up a military post, as prescribed by the TREATY OF MOULTRIE CREEK, to distribute supplies to the Indians.

Gadsden expressed other interests: such an outpost would promote Southern settlement along the coast and could be used to halt the flow southward of escaped slaves from Georgia and Alabama. While Monroe’s plan called for an Indian reservation in south central Florida, Gadsden and friend WILLIAM POPE DuVAL, former Kentucky Congressman and second Territorial Governor, hoped the fort would lead to the removal of the Indians from Florida.

Al Robson drawing of Fort Brooke in 1840'sGadsden’s engineering of the Treaty at Moultrie Creek assured that Tampa Bay and the Manatee River was outside reservation area. He even got Brooke (to his embarrassment) to oust a competitive lumbering venture by Robert Hackney from the mouth of the Hillsborough.

With 200 men from the Fourth Infantry out of Pensacola, Brooke set up a tent city at Spanishtown Creek (Hyde Park) and ferried men across the river to clean the dense woods. Hackney’s home served as officer�s headquarters as the quarters were built. Brooke, who later brought his wife and three kids to the fort, allowed families and even some women to  settle into the complex. Massachusetts-born A. LEVI COLLAR and his family were the first to arrive.

Fort Brooke in 1846The wealthier soldiers obtained slaves to do labor in Fort Brooke. The most notable slave was LOUIS FATIO PACHECO, raised on a farm on the St. Johns River and skilled in French,   Spanish, English, and Creek. He became an official interpreter to the military. Brooke was sympathetic to Creeks and Seminoles who came to the camp one mile northeast of the Fort (Government Spring, Ybor City) and resentful of slavecatchers and wayward settlers.

The death of two of his children to bilious fever convinced Brooke to transfer from the isolated fort. In July of 1832, the fort was abandoned with no assignments.

The departure of Brooke allowed more Middle Florida civilians like Hector and Joseph Braden, John and Robert Gamble, and John Addison to enter the region, but it was Augustus Steele, a bankrupted newsman, who settled into the Village and promoted a post office and The Gouger newspaper. The settlers allied with the Hackley family whose Spanish deed gave the civilians authority over the land of the sixteen mile square Fort Brooke Military site.

Postcard of last Fort Brooke building in 1880.In 1834 Steele convinced his Tallahassee friends to establish 8,580 square miles of West Coast wilderness to be declared Hillsborough County.Steele got Tampa as a county capital even though there was no seperate village.


In 1833, the dubious Treaty of Fort Gibson (Arkansas), calling for the exodus of the Florida tribes to Oklahoma, was signed by some Seminole leaders. When younger members and the tribes in the Peace River area opposed the forced migration, Indian Agent Wiley Thompson called for the return of troops to Fort Brooke.


The next months were chaos as events in the interior was filled with violence and terror, while Indians arrived at Fort Brooke for shipment to Oklahoma. A treaty backer Chief Charley Emathla was killed by Osceola and his Red Stick Creeks.� General Clinch ordered two companies of troops to reinforce Fort King (Ocala). The recently arrived MAJOR FRANCIS L. DADE, who had already gained a reputation of conflict with the Seminoles.

Hillsborough County's 1886 courthouse in Tampa.

Dade was actually warned by a friendly chief that his presence would cause the militants to mobilize. Ironically, at the last minute before his march to Fort King, Dade recruited Louis Fatio Pacheco to serve as interpreter for his troops. Dade did not realized Pacheco had already sent a warning message to his Indian friends or Dade�s march.

On December 27, 1835, Major Dade and his one hundred troops marched into an ambush, in which a couple of wounded men and Pacheco survived. There was panic at Fort Brooke, where Major Francis Belton, anticipating an Indian attack, destroyed most of the houses to erect a small triangular fort with blockhouses. The civilian homes were ruined. No attack came for the Indians concentrated on attacks to the north. The Indian�s victory was also the source of their demise as Northerners in Congress were forced to send more troops to a �future� slave state.


On February 9, 1836, GENERAL EDMUND GAINES arrived from Pensacola with 450 regulars and 600 Louisiana volunteers. The added protection boosted Steele’s plans for Tampa but by 1840, Tampa had just seventy-seven whites, ten slaves, and five free blacks. Across the river in what became Hyde Park was Spanishtown Creek, a small spring with several homes of Cuban fishermen and straw basket makers.


An 1841 law allowing 160 acres of land for $1.25 per acre and a law offering land to Seminole War vets would bolster population growth once the Seminole War fighting ended.

Remains of Fort Brooke garrison in 1880s.

The soldiers treated the small civilian population as another burden, but on March 3, 1845, Florida gained statehood and the departure of soldiers for the Mexican War shifted the politics of Tampa toward private development.

The people who developed Hillsborough County in the late 1840’s and 1850’s were mainly from Georgia and the Carolinas. The dream of developing a railroad to Olustee to the north promoted investment, although Yulee�s railroad went across the state to Cedar Key. A more significant development was the growth of small plantations and cattle ranches in the interior. This increased the area’s African-American slave population until it reached 25% at the time of the Civil War.


By 1860, Tampa had become a market town for the entire inland region - its protected river location on the West Coast’s largest harbor made in a good location for trade. The coming of the Civil War ended that situation, and with Union gunboats entering Tampa Bay, Tampa became a semi-deserted town as townsfolk headed into the interior for protection. Federal forces used Egmont Key as a port to blockade the region and while smugglers like John McKay sailed to Cuba, Tampa’s usefulness was ended.


When the Civil War ended, Tampa’s condition was slowed by the conflict of Reconstruction and lack of funding. Tampa was open to development, particularly by railroad. Tampa still resembled most Deep South ports: agricultural by nature; Anglo and African-American by population; and Protestant by faith. All of that would soon change in Tampa.