Edited by ERSKINE CALDWELL
DESERT COUNTRY by Edwin Corle
PINON COUNTRY by Haniel Long
SHORT GRASS COUNTRY by Stanley Vestal
OZARK COUNTRY by Otto Ernest Rayburn
BLUE RIDGE COUNTRY by Jean Thomas
HIGH BORDER COUNTRY by Eric Thane
MORMON COUNTRY by Wallace Stegner
PALMETTO COUNTRY by Stetson Kennedy
BLACK JACK COUNTRY by George Milburn
DELTA COUNTRY by E. P. O'Donnell
COPYRIGHT, 1942, BY
All rights reserved, including
the right to reproduce this book
or portions thereof in any form.
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
FOLK IN GENERAL
EDITH IN PARTICULAR
C-,! <":p'' "-
Appreciation is hereby tendered Dr. Alton C. Morris
for making available a number of songs from his
collection of Florida Folksongs; Dr. B. A. Botkin,
Fellow in Folklore at the Library of Congress; Direc-
tion, The Crisis, and Opportunity magazines for per-
mission to republish certain stories; and the Florida
Writers' Project for access to its archives-particularly
material collected by Robert Cornwall, Lindsay Bryan,
Martin Richardson, Barbara Darsey, Zora Neale
Hurston, and Veronica Huss.
THE PALMETTO COUNTRY 3
Trembling Earth 17
Up from the Sea 23
Way-Way Down South 28
When the Sawgrass Blooms 32
UNDER SEVEN FLAGS 43
Fountains of Youth and Cities of Gold 43
Blood and Sand Dunes 46
San Augustin, the Ever Faithful 48
The Tories Take Over 52
Return of the Spaniard 55
STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER 59
Bad Characters 59
Statehood-with Liberty and Justice for All Whites 62
SLAVE DAYS 67
Mama Duck 67
Chips from the Smokehouse Floor 72
Slave-Breeding for Profit 74
New Names for Old Gods 75
The Man with the Branded Hand 77
"Whereas I Don't Give a Damn" 80
Rich Man's War, Poor Man's Fight 83
THE OLD ORDER CHANGETH, SOMEWHAT 89
The Net Proceeds 89
Lost: 40 Acres and a Mule 89
Carpetbaggers and Scalawags 93
Just Voters 97
Conservative Radicals 103
The Rising Tide of Demockkkracy 105
MEET THE FOLKS 109
A MAN IN FULL 121
Bullock County's Nine-Second Man 122
Captain Charlie Coker, Brute 124
Big John the Conqueror 127
Uncle Monday 131
Daddy Mention 133
Kerosene Charlie 139
Old Pete 141
Roy Sold His Car to God 144
STUFF AND SUCH 147
The Sea Serpent of Cape Sable 149
West Hell 153
How Folks Got Their Colors 155
Why Folks Aint Got Tails 157
Why the World Is so Wicked 158
Why Solomon Said, "Vanity of Vanities-" 159
Why Women Talk so Much 160
God and Moses 161
Samson versus Satan 161
BLACK MAGIC 163
Congo Talk 163
Cunjure Shop 166
Who's Who in Hoodoo 169
Father Abraham 169
Aunt Memory 172
"Deliverer to Satan" 172
The Prophet of Maaii 173
The Gods of Yoruba 175
The Fire Dance 179
JOOK TOUR 183
RED LIGHTS GLOWING 193
WAITING ON TIME 201
SOUTH ON THE RANGE 213
Cattle Kings 218
Hungry Land 222
Jackpot Herds 224
Tick Fever 225
To Burn or Not to Burn 226
Rolling Stock 228
The Spirit of Joe Stalin 228
Sacred Highway Cows 231
The Little Pigs Danced 233
Hog Wild 235
Conch Talk 243
"Wreck Ashore!" 246
Sponger Money 248
Conch Eats Conch and Grunts 252
"When the Blues Is Runnin" 254
The Story of Naval Stores 260
The Man 264
OUR CIGARS PUT FLORIDA ON THE MAP 269
"An Odious Spectacle" 274
The Cradle of Cuban Independence 277
"The Citizens Lost Their Patience" 279
"We Are Superfluous Here" 284
Gravy on His Grits 288
"Democracy Is Damned Foolishness!" 291
Gato Carried a Gun 294
Custom Reigns 295
Golden Jubilee 296
ALL FOR ONE AND ONE FOR ALL 297
The Bread of Instruction 302
"God Is Very Discredited" 307
"Cuba, Call Your Children!" 311
Lolita Likes Bolita 315
"Heck Yeah, I'm an American!" 317
An Unhealthy Place for Fascists 320
Shotgun Shacks 323
"I've Done My Duty by Uncle Sam" 325
"I Destroyed the Cigarmakers' Union" 328
"Man Should Not Be Enslaved" 331
THE PALMETTO COUNTRY
ANYONE who has seen the Deepest South-Florida and
the southern portions of Georgia and Alabama-knows
that there lies the Palmetto Country.
Folks outside the region usually think of the palmetto as the
tall palm which is locally called the swamp cabbage or cabbage
palm. Rearing its tawny head like a shaggy-maned lion on the
African veldt, this majestic palm gives the Palmetto Country
much of its tropical singularity. An old-timer once described
it in these glowing terms: "I tell you, there's no tree like the
cabbage palm. It never dies of old age, and you can't see the
end of it lessen you cut it down. The sun can't wither it, fire
can't burn it, and moss can't cling to it. Have you seen one
bend before the wind, lay all its fans out straight, and just give
so's the wind can't find nothing to take hold of?"
Growing slowly to a maximum height of eighty feet, the
cabbage palm readily adapts itself to salt marsh, fresh-water
swamp, or high ground. Its range through Florida and up the
coast to Cape Hatteras (North Carolina) has probably been
established by the dropping of its seeds by migratory birds.
There are several reasons why the cabbage palm has come
to be known as a palmetto to non-Southerners. One of the first
writers to refer to it as such was John Bartram, a Pennsylvania
Quaker whom Linnaeus called "the greatest botanist in the
New World." Of his travels in the Palmetto Country in 1865,
"We now (ame to plenty of the tree palmetto which the
inhabitants call cabbage tree and is much eaten raw and boiled.
We felled three tall palms and cut out the top bud, the white
tender part or rudiments of the great leaves. This tender part
will be three or four inches in diameter, tapering near a foot,
and cuts as white and tender as a turnip. This they slice into a
4 PALMETTO COUNTRY
pot and stew with water, then when almost tender they pour
some bear's oil into it and stew it a little longer, when it eats
pleasant and more mild than cabbage. Our hunters eat it raw
and live upon it several days. The long trunks when split in
two make excellent troughs or conduits to carry water above
These things were taught to the pioneer settlers by the
Indians, who not only ate the palm's bud, but also made mo-
lasses from its berries. When hard-pressed for bread-stuff, the
Indians managed to beat a kind of flour from the palm's foliage,
and from its trunk they obtained salt by a process similar to
that used in making potash.
Modern natives, both black and white, are still fond of swamp
cabbage. They also gather the buds for sale at three cents each,
and the buds are then canned and shipped to appear on Amer-
ica's ultra-swank menus as "Heart-of-Palm Salad," usually at a
dollar a plate. Nature-lovers and conservationists take alarm at
the fact that the removal of the bud causes the death of the
palm, which may have been a hundred years in the making.
The cut trunks of this and other palms are called palmetto
logs, both within and without the region. They attracted na-
tional attention during the Creek and Seminole Wars, when
they were used in the construction of fortifications-the spongy
wood absorbed bullets and even cannonballs without splinter-
ing. Before that, Indians and settlers had used the logs for all
kinds of construction. The fans are still used for thatching, and
the logs for pilings, as they are virtually immune to destruc-
tion by marine worms.
The word palmetto is probably derived from the Spanish
palmito, meaning diminutive palm, and is so used by South-
erners. Shrub-like saw palmetto underlies the pine flatwoods
from Florida northward into South Carolina and westward to
Louisiana. Originating in the swamplands, it eventually planted
its feet on higher ground, burying its reclining root-stem be-
neath the soil to escape destruction by fire. To folks who live
among them, palmettoes are a major problem in clearing land,
THE PALMETTO COUNTRY 5
while to non-residents they are merely an attractive or monoto-
nous feature of the landscape.
Yet even the lowly palmetto has its uses. Since the first dis-
covery of the region, palmetto berries have provided nourish-
ment for folks with no other visible means of support. In God's
Protective Providence, Jonathan Dickens relates how he and
his shipwrecked English companions, while trekking along Day-
tona Beach in 1699, "being nigh the shore, went thither and
found some ripe berries on the palm shrubs." The Minorcans of
St. Augustine soak the berries in wine and serve them as deli-
cacies, calling them "Minorcan plums."
Another low-lying palmetto-variously called the dwarf,
needle, porcupine, blue, or creeping palmetto-has an even
wider range than the saw palmetto, extending from Florida to
North Carolina and Texas. An inhabitant of low woods and
swamps, its recumbent trunk is surrounded by needle-sharp
spikes. This palmetto represents a very ancient form of plant
life, and its nearest relative lives in southeastern Asia.
Only four kinds of native palms, including the low palmet-
toes, are to be found throughout the Palmetto Country, but
Florida has fifteen native varieties, as well as 126 imported
species, some of which have "gone native." The coconut palm,
with pinnate fronds instead of palmate fans, grows as far north
as Daytona, thriving best along the coast. Sometimes reaching a
height of 1oo feet, it is noted for its slender trunk and graceful
curves. Together with the bathing beauty, it has become the
symbol of Florida resorts.
The coconut palm may have been indigenous to the Florida
Keys, but more likely its fruit floated to Florida from the West
Indies. Copra-dried coconut kernel-yields an oil used in the
manufacture of oleomargarine, cooking oil, soap, and candles;
the only place it is produced commercially in the United States
is on the Ten Thousand Islands along Florida's southwest coast.
Burnt coconut shells make the finest grade of charcoal, which
is indispensable in the manufacture of gas masks.
Falling coconuts are not always a laughing matter, as they
have been known to fracture skulls and even cause death. The
6 PALMETTO COUNTRY
growing coconut is encased in a thick fibrous husk which adds
greatly to its weight. Floridians prefer to pick their coconuts
when the custard is just beginning to form. At this time the
inner shell is soft, and the stem-end can be sheared off with a
knife; after drinking the sweet "milk," the soft custard can be
scooped out with a spoon. In Key West and Miami, delicious
ice cream is made with this custard, after a West Indian recipe.
Coconut milk is also used in the concoction of rum cocktails.
A native of surpassing beauty is the royal palm. Like the coco-
nut palm, it has pinnated fronds and reaches a height of 1oo
feet. Its trunk, however, is regally erect, and shines like polished
Besides being palmetto-fan provider for the nation, the Palm-
etto Country supplies the United States with most of its palms
for Easter observances. This use of palm fronds dates back to
the multitude's reception of Christ upon his triumphal entry
into Jerusalem; but the general idea-based on the palm fan's
resemblance to the human palm-was an integral part of much
Yet palms are only symbolic of the region, which is noted for
the variety of its soil and vegetation. Of the 500 native trees in
the United States, more than 330 are to be found in the Pal-
metto Country, and too of these occur exclusively in Florida. A
great deal of the plant life in the frost-free southern part of the
peninsula grows nowhere else in the United States. Throughout
the region the vegetation is extremely sensitive to topography;
in the pine flatwoods, poorly drained hollows give rise to "bay-
heads" and clumps of cypress, while sandy hills are usually
topped with scrub oaks.
The predominant growth is long-leaf and slash pine, which
blankets the flatwoods from Lake Okeechobee northward and
constitutes the backbone of the lumber and naval stores indus-
tries. Next in extent are the hardwood hammocks which thrive
on the richer upland and bottom soils. Oak, hickory, gum,
maple, bay, ash, basswood, and magnolia are the outstanding
hammock trees, and are often woven into a jungle of vines,
creepers, and briars. Chinaberry trees grow near many old
THE PALMETTO COUNTRY 7
dwellings, where they were planted in the belief that they
would dispel fever-spreading "miasma."
The mangrove, "the tree that walks on stilts," borders much
of the peninsula's tide-washed sand and mud flats, especially
along the southern coasts, Florida Keys, and Ten Thousand
Islands. Its elongated floating seeds fall into the water and
take root in the shallows, sending up root-stems that bear foliage
above the waterline. As the tree grows it lets down adventitious
roots from its branches, and these send up new stalks. The
result is a gradual coalescence of adjacent thickets, and the
spreading network of roots becomes a lodging place for all
manner of flotsam and jetsam, gradually building up a foun-
dation of debris and thus extending the shoreline.
The rolling sand hills which extend over much of the north-
ern part of the region and down through the center of the
peninsula as lar as Lake Okeechobee support a stunted growth
of scrub oaks and pines. It is in the Big Scrub of Florida's cen-
tral ridge section that Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings has staked out
her literary domain. The life of the folk who live there is aptly
epitomized in the prayer she recorded in South Moon Under:
Good God, with a bounty
Look down on Marion County;
For the soil is so poor, and so awful rooty, too,
I don't know what to God the poor folks gonna do.
Because the scrub has so few distinguishing landmarks, it is
easy to become lost in it. In some sections there are not yet so
many roads that a man cannot become lost for days and days,
and this danger has made a place for itself in the folklore of
the region. A "Song Ballad of the Lost Boy" still recalls how
in 1880 in Polk County (Florida), three-year-old Aaron Hart
was lost in the scrub for four days and nights before being
found by a party of sixty searchers.
Cleo Wynn O'Berry, an old-time cracker fiddler of Sebring
(Florida), tells a similar story about the origin of a fiddle tune:
'Collier in the Scrub' was composed by Uncle Bunk Collier
about eighty years ago. The story goes that Uncle Bunk got
8 PALMETTO COUNTRY
losted in the scrub down around Lake Okeechobee. Come
nightfall he got caught in a hard rain and lightnin-storm, and
to keep hisself company he started to whistle. Pretty soon he
was whistlin a particular tune which pleased him so much
he kept right on whistlin it and plumb whistled hisself out
of the scrub and back onto the road afore he knowed it. Soon
as he got home he played the tune over and over on his fiddle
until he had it by heart; and he called it 'Collier in the Scrub.'
"Another story told about the same piece is that Uncle Bunk
was accused of cow-stealin and was a-hidin in the scrub from
the sheriff. To keep hisself in spirit he began to whistle and
made up that tune.-But that story never did seem just right
to me. A man hidin from the law aint likely to do much
One of the Palmetto Country's most valuable trees is the
cypress, which grows in fresh-water swamps, often rising out of
the shallow water itself. Its trunk is buttressed at the base for
greater support, and the extensive root system sends up gnarled
"knees," presumably for aeration. Some poor folk eke a living
by fashioning these knees into handcraft articles.
Dating back more than a million years to the ice age, the
cypress is also the oldest living thing on earth, sometimes reach-
ing an age of 6,000 years. They grow very slowly-about one
inch in radius in thirty years. The oldest remaining cypress in
the Palmetto Country is the Old Senator at Longwood (Flor-
ida), estimated to be 3,500 years old. Excavations of ancient
rock strata have revealed pieces of cypress that were neither
petrified nor decayed-pretty good evidence that it deserves its
title, The Wood Eternal.
The boggy habitat of the cypress often requires that it be
snaked out by means of oxen and two-wheeled carts. Worm-
eaten "Pecky" cypress was once used only for fencing and stakes,
but during the Boom it became popular and expensive as "an-
tique" interior trimming. Though Pecky cypress is never less
than one hundred years old (the borers do not attack younger
trees), its aged appearance can be artificially enhanced by sand
blasts, acids, and charring by furniture makers.
THE PALMETTO COUNTRY 9
Big Cypress Swamp, a vast morass covering 2,400 square miles
west of the Everglades, is the largest wooded swampland in the
United States. Its dense stands of cypress are studded with air
plants and draped with festoons of Spanish moss. Undrained
and largely inundated, the Big Cypress is inhabited only by a
small band of Seminoles and, in season, by a few trappers and
SLumbering has been one of the main attractions of the
'Palmetto Country since its discovery. Menendez built a ship at
St. Augustine that sailed to Spain half a century before the
Pilgrims made their appearance in the New World. Sizeable
lots of timber were shipped by the early Spanish and British
colonists, and a sawmill was operating at Cow Ford (Jackson-
ville) during the Revolutionary War. Many of the first towns
were established near sawmill sites, and the early history of
the whole region is in large measure a history of lumbering
The live oak, with its thick trunk and long spreading
branches, is one of the most handsome of the region's ever-
greens. Great live-oak forests, long held in reserve by the United
States Government for naval construction during the days of
wooden ships, were extensively cut during the 183o's. John
James Audubon, in his Delineations of American Scenery and
Character (1831-39), described the "Live-Oakers" as being
"mostly hale, strong, and active men from the eastern part of
the Union." With the outbreak of the Civil War, the Confeder-
ates set fire to huge stores of live-oak logs which the Federal
Government had buried along river banks to season. When
Florida lands were opened to homesteading in 1885, many other
live oaks were felled to make way for agriculture.
A. G. Van Schaick, a prominent lumberman from the Amer-
ican Northwest, "was never more surprised in his life" than
when he visited Pensacola in 1890 and saw no less than ninety-
five square-rigged vessels loading lumber for foreign ports. Dur-
ing the previous year Pensacola had shipped 350 million feet
of lumber by boat, and seventy-five million feet by rail. The
orgy of cutting increased in tempo. Vast tracts of land were
10 PALMETTO COUNTRY
leased to be stripped under the "cut out and get out" system.
For the most part these despoiled lands were then left idle and
returned to the state via the delinquent-tax route.
One of the region's timber-land agents inserted this novel
advertisement in a Pensacola paper in 1889:
W. J. Van Kirk, Pensacola, Florida, USA
His Royal Highness, the Mighty Mikado, Son of the
Moon and Favorite of the Oriental Constellations, is
fully persuaded that you are the YELLOW PINE KING
of the United States, and cordially invites you, when
you have sold Florida, Alabama, and Birmingham, to
come to Japan and we will allow you a liberal com-
mission to sell our Empire.-The Mikado of Japan.
It is interesting to know that there has been a precedent for a
Mikado seeking to dispose of his empire.
The comparative extent of the various types of surviving
woodland in the Palmetto Country are indicated by the follow-
ing figures on Florida: long-leaf and slash pine, fifteen million
acres; hardwood hammock, three million acres; and one and a
half million acres each of scrub oak and scrub pine. These fig-
ures would be considerably higher-because of the region's ex-
ceptionally favorable conditions for rapid timber growth-were
it not for the cattlemen's annual custom of "greenin up the
woods" with fire. They are responsible for seventy-five per cent
of the 20,000 forest fires which sweep the Palmetto Country
each year, causing an annual loss of more than ten million
dollars. Yet the region is still one of the most densely wooded
areas in the United States, and lumbering continues to employ
more folk than any other industry.
A new market for the Palmetto Country's second-growth
pines was opened by Charles H. Herty, a Georgia chemist whose
experiments at Savannah in 1933 proved that pulp made from
S'these pines is admirably suited for the manufacture of kraft
paper and rayon. Since then almost a dozen large pulp mills
THE PALMETTO COUNTRY 11
have been established in the region; representing an investment
of $40,ooo,ooo, they give employment to 5,000 people.
For the past couple of centuries some very poor folk of the
Palmetto Country have gleaned a meager income by gather-
ing Spanish moss. Equipped with long bamboo poles tipped
with wire, whole families range through the hammocks and
gather the moss, which they sell to processors for a few cents
per pound. The processors suspend the moss on racks in the
sun and allow it to cure for six months. Some moss-gatherers do
their own curing, and it is a common sight to see moss strung
out on fences to dry. Ginning then removes the outer husk,
and the finished product-highly resilient and unattractive to
vermin-is used in upholstering furniture and automobile seats.
In 1940 the income from the industry amounted to over a mil-
Spanish moss received its name when the region was Span-
ish territory. It is not a true moss, but a seed-bearing air plant
related to the pineapple. Nor, contrary to popular belief, is it
a parasite; once anchored, it grows very well on telegraph poles
and wires. Its very bulk, however, often harms trees by cover-
ing their branches and cutting off sunlight.
Many of the Palmetto Country's streams and lakes are ob-
scured by rafts of purple hyacinths. Though delicate enough
to be mistaken for orchids, the lavish blooms wither quickly
when plucked. The plant is not a true hyacinth, but is related
to the pickerel weed. Equipped with bulbous floats, they mat
their thick roots together to form rafts so dense that they will
sometimes support a man. The plant also has the ability to
drop its floats and take root in boggy ground.
They were cultivated by the Dutch in the sixteenth century,
but did not exist in the United States until 1884, when they
were brought from Venezuela and exhibited at the New Orleans
Cotton Exposition. Samples were distributed, and within four
years the hyacinth had spread through many of the streams of
Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas. In 1890 a woman living on
the St. Johns River near Palatka (Florida) introduced them to
her fish pond. They increased rapidly, and she opened a veri-
12 PALMETTO COUNTRY
table Pandora's box by tossing the surplus into the St. Johns-
in ten years they had covered fifty million acres of the river and
its tributaries. Seeing that cattle fed on the hyacinths, cattlemen
distributed them to lakes and streams all over the region. It
was later discovered that the plants contain so few solids that
they have little value as stock feed.
By 1897 they had become such a hindrance to navigation
that Congress authorized an investigation into ways and means
of controlling them. Poison was tried, but was discontinued in
1905 because it endangered cattle and fish. A temperature of
twenty-eight degrees will kill the hyacinth tops, while a few
degrees less will kill the entire plant; consequently they are less
numerous after severe winters. Apparently they have no para-
sitic enemies, and the secret of their success is that one square
yard of them can increase a thousand-fold in six months.
In the past forty years the Government has expended one
million dollars on hyacinth control. The Jacksonville office of
the United States Engineers is spending about $200,000 an-
nually for control work throughout the peninsula, and esti-
mates that without such work many of the region's rivers would
be utterly impassable in ten years. The Engineers employ what
they call "destroyers"-fifteen-foot boats equipped fore and aft
with circular saws which slash through the hyacinths (and
moccasins) at the rate of ten acres per day.
Another symbol of the Southland is the mockingbird, whose
liquid trills and skillful mimicry have inspired volumes of
poetry and prose. The old argument as to the relative singing
ability of the mockingbird and nightingale was settled in 1931,
when European nightingales were imported to the Bok Tower
sanctuary near Lake Wales (Florida). The mockingbirds in the
neighborhood immediately added the songs of the nightingales
to their own repertoire. After being selected by school children
as Florida's State Bird, the mockingbird was so designated by
the 1927 State Legislature.
Folklore has it that no mockingbirds are to be seen on Fri-
days, and the story goes like this: "Once there was a man who
was very bad. He robbed and stole and was always getting in
THE PALMETTO COUNTRY 13
fights and killing people. But he was awful good to birds, and
mockinbirds was his favorites. At last when somebody killed
him he went straight to hell. The birds hated to see him in hell,
and they tried to get him out. But the fire was too hot and
pretty soon they give up-all except the mockinbirds. They got
together and decided to tote sand until they squenched the
fire. So they set a day and all agreed on it. And that's why
nobody don't never see a mockinbird on Friday. They aint on
earth that day-they all gone to hell with a grain of sand in
Even this old lullaby, as sung in the Palmetto Country, has
had a mockingbird verse added to it:
Hush, little baby, don't say a word,
Papa's gonna buy you a mockinbird;
If that mockinbird don't sing,
Papa's gonna buy you a diamond ring;
If that diamond ring turns to brass,
Papa's gonna buy you a looking glass;
If that looking glass gets broke,
Papa's gonna buy you a billygoat;
If that billygoat runs away,
Papa's gonna buy you a horse and dray.
There is a superabundance of insects in the Palmetto Coun-
try, and many of them exert a terrific influence on the life of
the region. The malarial mosquito, for example, gives Florida
a 20.3 incidence of malaria-six times higher than the national
The Mediterranean fruit fly, discovered in Orlando in 1929,
enjoyed a brief year of notoriety at the expense of the Federal
Government, which appropriated $4,725,000 for its eradication.
Squads of eradication workers invaded groves and backyards,
spraying all trees and cutting those which were infected. Many
Florida folk resented these activities, and even tried to turn
back the squads at the point of a gun. On the highways, Na-
tional Guardsmen stopped all cars and gave them a perfunctory
spraying, and searched luggage for hidden fruit. Since the cam-
14 PALMETTO COUNTRY
paign ended, the fruit fly has been the subject of many jokes.
Some folks say the flies have always been present, while others
assert that the sole specimen to reach Florida is in a bottle at
the Plant Inspection Bureau. The general belief is that the cam-
paign was a gigantic boondoggling project. As late as 1942,
Florida congressmen were making political capital by trying to
get Congress to consider an appropriation of ten million dol-
lars for the compensation of grove owners.
In fact, natives refuse to take any insects seriously, except the
boll weevil. As the cracker said to the bugologist, "What's the
us in namin all them bitin and stingin critters? I've lived here
all my life and aint run up agin nary one of em, ceptin of
course redbugs and skeeterss and scorponiums and sich trash
that don't count, only to make a feller scratch and cuss."
The old saying, that once folks get Florida sand in their shoes
they always come back, should include a footnote about some-
thing else often acquired in the Palmetto Country. The
Conchs have a riddle for it: "A man was goin along a road not
looking for nothing but he found something, picked it up, carried
it along, but didn't see it. Then he put it down again and went
on without it. What was it?" Answer: a sandspur.
Florida's Everglades occupy a nearly level plain which slopes
from fifteen feet above sea level at the southern shore of Lake
Okeechobee to sea level at the tip of the peninsula. Covering
4,472 square miles, it is by far the most extensive swampland in
the United States. Pay-hai-o-kee the Seminoles call it, meaning
iGrass-Water, and for the most part that is what it is. The whole
drowned plain is blanketed with tall growths of sawgrass, and
differs from most swamps in that trees are generally confined to
small clumps or islands.
It was in this remote region that the final chapters of the
Seminole Wars were written. The chieftains established strong-
holds on hidden islands in its interior, and one of them, Sam-
Jones-Be-Damned, sent word to the American commander that
THE PALMETTO COUNTRY 15
"he had never signed a treaty and never would; that he and his
people would fight it out forever." When the American forces
sought to invade the 'Glades, the Seminoles led them on a
disastrous chase, tauntingly marking their trail with palmetto
fans traced with two muskets point to point. After much suf-
fering from the sun, water, sawgrass, snakes, and mosquitoes,
the soldiers found the Seminoles had taken a stand in a cypress
hammock fronted by a deep sawgrass slough. The soldiers at-
tacked, but were completely routed.
Other expeditions met with only minor military success, but
served the purpose of partially exploring the 'Glades. One
force of 1oo American soldiers captured a chief and five war-
riors, and proceeded to hang and scalp them. Bloodhounds were
imported from Cuba at $150 each, but they had been trained
to trail Negro slaves, and made no headway at all in following
Seminoles. Though all intercourse with the tribes was forbid-
den, they continued to receive supplies by a secret water route
into the 'Glades which was not discovered until many years
Although the Seminole Wars officially ended in 1843, after
thirteen years of peace a group of Americans under Lieutenant
Hartsuff destroyed a banana grove upon which big chief Billy
Bowlegs had lavished years of care. When Bowlegs accused
the men of the outrage, they said they had done it "just to see
how old Billy would cut up." This touched off further hostili-
ties, and in 1858 the Secretary of the Interior had to admit that
"these Seminoles have completely baffled the energetic efforts
of our army to effect their subjugation and removal."
But in that year a delegation of forty-six Indians from
Arkansas was brought in and persuaded Bowlegs and 164
of his followers to go West. About one hundred Seminoles re-
fused to leave, and remained hidden in the 'Glades under the
leadership of Sam Jones. This band, which now numbers more
than 6oo, has never formally concluded hostilities with the
In 1850, when Congress deeded to the states all unsold swamp
and overflowed lands within their boundaries, the grant to
16 PALMETTO COUNTRY
Florida was the largest ever made by the United States to any
Thirty years later, a Philadelphia capitalist named Hamilton
Disston saved Florida from bankruptcy by purchasing four mil-
lion acres of land in the 'Glades area at twenty-five cents per
acre. He had agreed to drain 15,000 acres, and some canals were
dug, but the work was discontinued after Disston's death. Drain-
age plans were carried on, however, by the Everglades Drain-
age District in 1905, and the Okeechobee Flood Control District
in 1929. After a total expenditure of twenty-two million dol-
lars, thousands of acres of muckland were reclaimed and are
now producing truck crops for Northern winter markets. More
than 30,000 acres are planted in sugar cane.
But the drainage of the 'Glades has also resulted in periodic
muck fires which have destroyed more than 500,000 acres of
valuable farm land. Most of the fires have been set by alligator
hunters in order to locate the 'gator caves. In dry weather the
peat-like muck burns deep beneath the surface, and it is some-
times weeks and months before the fires are extinguished by
heavy rains. Thick palls of smoke rise in the air, turning the
sunsets red over Miami and other coastal cities. The smolder-
ing fires are hard to locate, except at night when dim glows
show from crevices. It is dangerous to approach the vicinity, be-
cause what appears to be safe ground may suddenly collapse
into a pit of fiery ash.
Stretching in almost a straight line across the 'Glades, the
Tamiami Trail is one of the great memorials to the workers
and engineers whose labor and skill have provided America
with highways across regions where not even foot-travelers
could pass before. The Trail's name was derived by compound-
ing the names of Tampa and Miami, the major cities it con-
nects, and was completed in 1928 after the expenditure of thir-
teen years of labor, thirteen million dollars, and three million
pounds of dynamite.
Seminoles guided the first surveyors of the route, and a con-
tractor observed that it would take three "m's" to build the
road-"men, money, and machinery." A newspaper paraphrased
THE PALMETTO COUNTRY 17
this to "muck, misery, and moccasins," and someone said the
project present ed a perfect example of what was meant by "hell
and high water."
A canal was blasted ninety miles across the limerock of the
'Glades and this material was used to build the road beside it.
Advance guards preceded the work crews, destroying all mocca-
sins in sight. To keep from losing their way, laborers moving
from one labor camp to another had to build smoke signals.
The construction company could only maintain communica-
tions with Miami by radio. At night the tired workers slept in
the open around campfires, and many of them were killed by
dynamite, drowning, fever, and snakebite. Slowly they hacked
their way with ax and machete. When things went well the
highway progressed at the rate of two miles per month.
A frequent cause of delay was the sinking of heavy machinery
into the mud, requiring days to extricate it. It was here that the
"swamp buggy" was evolved, a contraption that moves with
equal facility on water, highway, or bog. An armored version
of the swamp buggy is seeing service with the United States
The Tamiami Trail affords motorists an awe-inspiring pano-
rama of Grass Water, beside which the road and canal seem
insignificant. Over all is the vast dome of the sky and the loud
silence of remote places. Occasionally a Seminole is seen poling
his dugout along the canal, but the only other signs of life are
the circling and wading water birds, and such animals as the
raccoon, opossum, and swamp rabbit.
In 1934 Congress authorized the formation of the Everglades
National Park, which will embrace 1,3oo,ooo acres of the only
tropical wildlife habitat in the United States. Already the Royal
Palm State Park is affording protection to a large part of the
The Okefenokee Swamp-locale of Vereen Bell's Swamp
Water-is about forty miles long from north to south, and
18 PALMETTO COUNTRY
twenty miles wide. Covering 660 square miles, seven-eighths
of it are in Georgia, while the remainder lies in Florida. Oke-
fenokee is a corruption of the Indian name Owaquaphenoga,
meaning Trembling Earth. Like most Indian names, it is ap-
propriate. Swamp i folE drop the last syllable, calling it the
Okefenoke, and this was also done on a map of 1810 which
labeled it the Eckonfinook.
A major portion of the Okefenokee consists of water-covered
"prairies" choked with marsh grasses, lilies, and bonnets. The
stretches of prairie are interspersed with "bays" of cypress, and
islands or "houses" of trembling earth which support a variety
of trees and other plant life. There are about twenty-five larger
islands of white sand-such as Cow House, Billy's, Bugaboo,
Black Jack, Floyd's, and Honeybee-which support heavy
growths of gum, oak, bay, and pine. Smaller islands have such
names as John's Negro Island, Roastin Ear Island, and Soldier
Camp Island. The latter got its name by serving as a haven for
some of the Palmetto Country's menfolk who felt no urge to
fight for the Confederacy.
The swamp lies on what is geologically known as the Oke-
fenokee Terrace, which was formed some seventy million years
ago and now lies from loo to 130 feet above sea level. It is
dotted with innumerable lakes which vary in depth from two
to forty feet and in length to more than three miles. Two rivers
rise out of the swamp-the famous Suwannee flows southward to
the Gulf, and the St. Mary's, forming part of the Georgia-
Florida border, winds 175 miles to reach the ocean which is but
sixty-five crow-fly miles from its source.
Both rivers are noted for the purity of their water. The
Suwannee is the color of light coffee because of suspended or-
ganic matter, but contains little sediment. In the old days, sail-
ing vessels ventured up the St. Mary's to take on water, and for
a time the river's water was also hauled to Fernandma (Florida)
and sold to ships at one cent per gallon. Much of the Okefeno-
kee Swamp water is also drinkable, and "swampers" have a trick
of deftly plunging a tin can an arm's length beneath the surface,
and bringing it up full of cool water. And anyone can obtain
THE PALMETTO COUNTRY 19
drinking water by digging a shallow hole almost anywhere in
The Okefenokee has always attracted men as a hunting
ground and place of refuge. Burial mounds reveal that the
swamp was inhabited by prehistoric tribes whose men were well
over six feet tall. Their pottery, tools, and weapons show their
culture was definitely superior to that of the tribes which came
A Spanish map of 1765 made this note of the region: "Lagoon
and Island of Ocone, in which there is a village of Indians of
the Nation of Timuquanos, whose forebears were all Catholics.
In the first years of the present century, when the British at-
tacked St. Augustine, these Indians moved to the Lagoon area
where they have since lived without Catholic communion. All
that is known of them is that they retain the Catholic faith,
wearing large Rosaries around their necks."
William Bartram, writing in 1791, reported: "There is a
story concerning the inhabitants of this sequestered country,
that they are the posterity of a fugitive remnant of the ancient
Yemassees, who escaped massacre after a bloody conflict be-
tween them and the Creek nation, and here found an asylum,
remote and secure from the fury of their conquerors."
Bartram also related a legend about the swamp which is still
current in wide variety. His version was as follows: "This vast
accumulation of water contains some large islands of rich land,
one of which the present generation of Creek represents to be
the most blissful spot on earth. They say it is inhabited by a
peculiar race of Indians, whose women are incomparably beau-
tiful. This terrestrial paradise has been seen by some of their
enterprising hunters, who, lost in the inextricable swamps and
bogs, and on the point of perishing, were unexpectedly relieved
by a company of beautiful women, whom they called 'Daugh-
ters of the Sun.' These women kindly gave them oranges, dates,
and some corn-cakes, and then enjoined them to fly for safety
to their own country, for their husbands were fierce men and
cruel to strangers.
"The Creeks further say that these hunters had a view of the
20 PALMETTO COUNTRY
women's settlement, situated on an elevated promontory in a
beautiful lake, but in their endeavors to approach it they were
involved in perpetual labyrinths. Like enchanted land, it
seemed to fly before them, alternately appearing and disappear-
ing. At length they resolved to leave the delusive pursuit. When
they reported their adventures to their tribesmen, their young
warriors were inflamed with an irresistible desire to invade and
make conquest of so charming a country, but all their attempts
have hitherto proved abortive, never having been able to again
find that enchanting spot. Yet they say they meet with frequent
signs, such as the building of canoes and the footprints of men."
The Seminoles were the last Indians to inhabit the Okefeno-
kee. When they made raids on surrounding settlers in 1830 a
detachment of Georgia militia pursued them into the swamp;
but the militiamen were no match for the Indians in traveling
over the trembling earth, and had to abandon the chase. Other
raids occurred in 1838, and this time a "corduroy" road was
built into the swamp by laying cypress logs side by side. The
Seminoles attacked, but were defeated, and since then the
swamp has seen no more of red men. The corduroy road is still
Until 1889 the Okefenokee was the property of Georgia, but
in that year it was sold to the Suwannee Canal Company for
fourteen and a half cents per acre. The company set out to fell
the valuable timber, and to reclaim part of the swampland for
agriculture by digging drainage canals. Swamp folk insisted that
the latter project could never succeed because in many places
there was more water below the trembling earth than there was
above it. Prime mover in the drainage project was Captain
Harry Jackson, an Atlanta financier. At a cost of many thou-
sands of dollars, a main drainage canal fourteen miles long, and
a branch canal eight miles long, were scooped out. Then in
1893 Jackson died and the project expired with him.
While compiling a history of the Okefenokee, A. S. McQueen
searched at length for an explanation as to why the drainage
plan was not carried out. Finally he got the answer from an
old Negro who had been on the spot as cook for a steam-shovel
THE PALMETTO COUNTRY 21
crew. It seems that after the canals were dug it was discovered
that the water was not moving toward the near-by St. Mary's,
but was running slowly back through the swamp toward the
far-off Suwannee. Completion of the canals might have raised
the water level instead of lowering it. The last of the company's
buildings was destroyed by fire in 1923, and now only the plant-
choked canals remain.
Some of the swamp's islands have interesting histories. Cow
House Island, the largest, received its name during the Civil
War when settlers hid their cattle there from foraging Federal
forces. A colony was established, and the island became the
headquarters of some of the Okefenokee's most famous hunters
and trappers. Billy's Island, in the heart of the swamp, was
named after Billy Bowlegs, who encamped there with his band
before leaving for the 'Glades. After that the island was unin-
habited until Dan Lee settled there with his wife in 1833. He
raised corn, sugar cane, and potatoes, and fished, hunted, and
trapped. Occasionally he made trips to the mainland to sell his
furs and lay in a few provisions. He and his wife raised fifteen
children without benefit of a doctor.
In 1908 all of the Okefenokee in Georgia was sold to the
Hebard Lumber Company, which proceeded to strip the swamp
of its timber. Some forty miles of railway were built on pilings,
and a community of workers' shacks, a school, church, and even
a motion-picture theater sprang up on Billy's Island. All this
was too much for the Lee family, and they moved away; but
within the year they were driven back by homesickness. At the
peak of the lumbering activities 1,500 men were working in the
swamp. After seventeen years the job, so far as it could be profit-
ably pursued, was done. The buildings on Billy's Island were
torn down, and the wilderness moved in. Today only a fisher-
man's lean-to and the wooden markers of Dan Lee's family
burial ground remain. Through the swamp, rotting cross-ties
and rusting rails are silent reminders of the days when the ring
of the ax and whistle of the locomotive mingled with the cry
of the water-bird, the scream of the panther, and the bellow of
The swamp continued to attract swampers-kinfolk of the
neighboring people-who made a living by fishing, hunting,
and trapping. Bears, deer, wildcats, raccoons, opossums, mink,
otters, and foxes were plentiful, and the swampers sold their
hides for cash money in Waycross. More than fifty kinds of
fishes, including the large-mouth black bass, war-mouth bream,
pickerel, and speckled perch abound in the swamp waters.
Transportation through the Okefenokee is accomplished in
flat-bottomed "weed-boats" or bateaux. From ten to sixteen feet
long and drawing only a few inches of water, these craft are
propelled from the stern by a pole tipped with two prongs to
prevent it from sinking in the spongy bottom. A great deal of
skill is required to snake them through the winding passages
between the cypress trees and over the clinging grass beds.
Hamp Mizell, a typical swamper, says: "My father was one of
the first to try a boat to get through the swamp instead of the
old way of wading and jumping from one clump of bushes to
another, all the time bogging from knee to armpits. He built a
boat with just enough room for two men, dogs, guns, blankets,
sweet potatoes, and a side of bacon. He always carried a small
pole about eight feet long with an old bayonet on the end which
was used to fight off the 'gators that would attack the boat in
an attempt to drag out the dogs. Bacon and sweet potatoes were
carried because they keep in good shape, wet or dry. When it
was time to cook, a board was placed across the end of the boat
and covered with wet mud or muck, and upon this a fire was
Swamp folk usually got their fish by "striking" them at night
from a boat poled slowly through the shallows. The fish were
sighted by pine-knot torches, and impaled on a spear. The
swampers also had their own method of deer hunting, which
was to hide their boat in tall reeds and wait for the deer to
wade far out into the prairie to feed. Then the hunters would
pole their boat swiftly between the deer and the trembling
earth "houses," and the frightened deer, with its escape cut off,
would flounder in the prairie and be overtaken by the men in
the boat. Communal bear hunts were frequently held at night
THE PALMETTO COUNTRY 23
along the swamp's edge, and attracted men and hounds from
the farms for miles around.
Hunters tell amusing stories of encountering bears far from
their swamp fastnesses, "staggerin around like a man, gruntin
like they was talking to themselves, and not payin nobody no
nevermind." After killing the staggering animals, the hunters
would find them reeking with the odor of fermented mash
which the bears had devoured at some moonshine still in the
The folkways of the Okefenokee swampers are similar to
those of swamp folk everywhere, though one belief which seems
to be peculiar to the region is that stuttering can be cured by
eating mockingbird eggs. It is also believed that a screech owl
can be made to stop screeching by turning pockets inside out,
turning shoes upside down, or tying a knot in a corner of the
In 1937 President Roosevelt set aside most of the Okefenokee
as a wildlife refuge, and since then hunting and trapping have
been forbidden. About the only occupation remaining for the
swampers is to sell their services as guides to fishermen, camera-
men, and nature students. The United States Biological Survey
is making numerous improvements so that the Trembling Earth
will be more easily accessible to visitors.
Up from the Sea
At the bottom of any region's culture and way of life are its
natural resources. Climate, soil, minerals, water-these are the
things that primarily determine how folk live, and usually these
elements were themselves determined by the manner in which
the land came into being.
"The world is as ignorant of the geology and topography of
Florida as of Central Africa," it was written in 1885, and the
observation continues to be quite true in spite of the fact that
much has since been said on these subjects and even though
millions of tourists have explored the coastal regions. To add
to the general confusion, some folk have made a practice of
24 PALMETTO COUNTRY
ridiculing the Palmetto Country's physical aspects. For example,
Carl Dann, a prominent citizen of Orlando, opens his chamber
of commerce speeches with this story, "just to show how im-
portant the Danns are."
"My grandfather drove down to Florida in a covered wagon
in the 186o's, but bein born and raised up in Kentucky, he
didn't like such a flat country. So he got down on his hands
and knees and scraped up the sand and built all the hills you
see scattered around. Sometimes he scared me with his diggin,
and I said, 'Grandpa, you better not dig up all that sand-you
know there are a lot of places down here where you have to use
a ladder to climb up to the ocean.' But he wouldn't pay no
attention to me, and went right on with his hill-makin.
"Bein born and raised up in Wisconsin, another thing
Grandpa didn't like about Florida was the scarcity of rivers
and lakes. So he hitched up his ox team and went over to the
coast, dipped up some water with gourds, carted it back and
filled up all those holes he had dug. That's how he made all
these rivers and lakes with the unmentionable names-the Ca-
loosahatchee, Withlacoochee, Oklawaha, Tsala Apopka, Weo-
hyakapka, Thonotosassa, Okonlockhatchee, Hickpochee, Locka-
pepka, Hatcheneeha, Econlockhatchee, Tildepucksassa, Peaatle-
cahah, and Istokpogayoxie."
SThe Palmetto Country rests upon what is geologically known
as the Floridian Plateau, which, compared to the rest of the
continent, is a mere infant of some forty-five million years.
Contrary to popular belief (founded upon superficial examina-
tions of early geologists), the Floridian Plateau was not built up
out of the sea as a coral reef. For ages the entire Plateau rested
beneath the sea-as much of it still does-and the foundation
rock was covered with successive layers of limestone skeletons
of microscopic marine life.
After reaching a thickness of 4,ooo feet, these layers rose
above the surface to form a large island. Winds and waves built
up protective coastal dunes, and the island's interior became a
vast fresh-water lake, teeming with aquatic plant life. Lake
THE PALMETTO COUNTRY 25
Okeechobee is the remnant of this lake, and the 'Glades muck-
lands owe their existence to the lush flora of those prehistoric
ages. At length the island became joined with the mainland
(whose coastline had roughly corresponded with the northern
boundary of the Palmetto Country). The peninsula thus formed
extended only as far as the bottom rim of Lake Okeechobee,
while the land and islands below this were later built up as
coral reefs on top of the limestone layers-a process which still
Layers of sand, and red, black, and white clay were washed
down over the region from the mountains of Georgia and Ala-
bama. The low hills of the Palmetto Country were not up-
heaved, but generally stand out because the surrounding terrain
has settled or eroded away. The coastal lowlands comprising a
great part of the region are for the most part less than one
hundred feet above sea level, and the highest hill in Florida has
an elevation of only 330 feet. The region's largest commercial,
industrial, tourist, and port cities are along the coast, but other-
wise the coastal lowlands are thinly populated. Most inland
towns are marketing centers for agricultural areas, though a few
inland Florida towns attract tourists.
It was during the Pleistocene era-the Age of Man-that the
glacial ice sheet advanced from the North Pole to cover the
northern part of what is now the United States, driving great
hordes of animals southward into the Palmetto Country. Among
those present were camels, horses, oxen, swine, hippopotami,
rhinoceroses, elephants, mastodons, sloths, mammoths, and such
carnivorous animals as saber-toothed tigers, lions, and wolves.
Fossil remains of these animals are frequently found in the
region, and in the underlying marine deposits there are shark
teeth, whale bones, and fossil oysters two feet long.
The spotty nature of the region's soil has resulted in extremes
of exaggerated folksay. "Things grow big around here," it is
said in one area. "My old man planted sweet potatoes one year,
and when it come 'tater-diggin time, one of em was so big we
had to make a sawmill job out of it. He built the sawmill and
put a lot of men to work cutting up that potato. That year every-
26 PALMETTO COUNTRY
body had houses made out of sweet potato slabs. And what you
reckon they ate? They all lived off potato pone made from the
On the other hand there are stories like this: "The land is so
poor around Ocala my old man had to give away a piece a land
he bought there. It was so poor he couldn't get nothing but a
church to take it. Well, they built a church and called a
preacher, but that land was so poor they had to telegraph Jack-
sonville for ten sacks of commercional fertilizer and spread it
on the ground before they could raise a tune."
The limestone strata which crop to the surface in many places
vary somewhat in their composition and appearance. Some are
almost pure lime phosphate, and the surface wash-mining of
this phosphate employs about 2,000 men. About two and a half
million tons-sixty per cent of the world's supply-are produced
in the region each year. Other types of limestone are widely
used for road beds and surfacing, while still others are mixed
with cement and molded into construction blocks. Additional
non-metallic minerals mined in the Palmetto Country include
Fuller's earth, kaolin, titanium oxide, diatomite, and silica.
The solubility of the limestone accounts for much of the
region's pitted topography, sinks, potholes, and 30,000 lakes.
It also provides underground reservoirs that hold an abundant
supply of potable water. Underground waterways often cause
the land surface to cave in, exposing streams like the Santa Fe
and Alapaha Rivers, which disappear into the earth to reappear
miles beyond. Enormous underground caverns have been
washed out of the limerock, and a few of them have been par-
tially explored. Names and dates carved into the walls of some
of these caverns testify that they served as a hideout for Con-
federate draft dodgers.
The region has more coastline and surface water than any
other in the United States. Florida's coastline alone-including
islands, bays, estuaries, and other tidal reaches-extends 3,751
statute miles. Lake Okeechobee, with an area of 717 square
miles, is the second largest body of fresh water lying entirely
THE PALMETTO COUNTRY 27
within the United States. Altogether, three million acres of
Florida's surface are under water.
The Palmetto Country is dotted with springs, the largest of
which is Silver Springs near Ocala (an Indian name meaning
water's edge), with a daily flow of 800 million gallons. Next in
size are Rainbow Springs near Dunnellon and Itchetucknee
Springs near Lake City. Such springs either form or swell the
region's rivers, about fifty of which are navigable. The Apalachi-
cola, Escambia, and Choctawhatchee Rivers have their sources
in the hills of Georgia and Alabama, and were important ar-
teries of travel to the Gulf during ante-bellum days. The entire
Atlantic coast of the region is bordered by a series of lagoons,
through which winds the Intracoastal Waterway; a popular
scenic route for pleasure craft, the Inland Waterway was used
during World War II as a safe means of transporting petroleum
The disappearance of lakes is a periodic phenomenon, the
best explanation of which is that debris clogs the openings in
limestone lake bottoms, and from time to time rots away, allow-
ing the water to drain off underground. When the holes again
become clogged the lakes refill. Lake Neff in Hernando County
(Florida) has gone through this process three times since 1917,
and Payne's Prairie near Gainesville (Florida) has often been a
lake. Its water drained off suddenly in 1823, 1870, and 1892,
and on the latter date a small lake steamer was left high and
dry. The Great Alachua Sink derived its middle name from
the Indians; it means Big Bottomless Jug. Folks who live in the
vicinity of disappearing lakes look forward to the opportunity
to scoop up stranded fishes by the basketful, and salt down the
surplus for future use.
Another characteristic feature of many lakes in the Palmetto
Country are floating islands (see those in Orange Lake, Flor-
ida). These islands are formed when decaying masses of vege-
tation lying under water generate enough gas to force them to
the surface. The buoyant roots of bonnets, which grow as large
as a man's leg, are also said to play a large part in setting and
keeping the islands afloat. When the masses break loose from
28 PALMETTO COUNTRY
the bottom they come "boiling" to the surface. Resembling
muck, they protrude several inches above the water, and range
in size up to several hundred square feet.
Soon their fertility gives rise to a heavy growth of trees and
shrubs which sometimes reaches a height of twenty-five feet,
and whose weight either anchors the mass or causes it to sink.
The islands have every visible semblance of solidity, but trem-
ble or sink underfoot. Often the vegetation acts as a sail, caus-
ing the islands to drift about-but the birds which nest on them
somehow manage to keep track of their particular island. The
Indians often buried their dead on floating islands, believing
that when the islands sank they took the departed souls on a
short cut to the Happy Hunting Ground.
The Palmetto Country has not been without its geological
mysteries. One occurrence which caused much speculation was
the appearance of a column of smoke and a red glare over
Florida's Wakulla Swamp in August of 1886, and its disappear-
ance immediately after the Charleston earthquake. The pre-
sumption is that lightning had ignited a flow of natural gas, and
that the vent was closed by the quake. Less spectacular are a
series of "chimneys" near Brooksville (Florida). About thirty-
six inches in diameter, and filled almost to the top with sand
and humus, their rims are blackened at the top, yet show no
indications of ever having undergone volcanic heat.
Way-Way Down South
I'm goin where that chill wind never blows,
Lord, I'm goin where the climate suits my clothes,
And I aint gonna be treated thisaway.
That song of the migratory farm workers who move down
into the Palmetto Country each winter reveals something of
the relation between climate and life. Geographically, the Pal-
metto Country is the Deepest South. The northernmost part of
Florida is farther south than the southernmost part of Cali-
fornia, Jacksonville lies in the same latitude as Shanghai and
THE PALMETTO COUNTRY 29
Cairo, and the entire peninsula is hundreds of miles nearer
than Rome to the Equator.
With the exception of a few spots in Florida, the region is
also psychologically the Deepest South. Even Florida is not so
sophisticated as she pretends to be. Recently when a prominent
speaker opened his address at the University of Florida by say-
ing "Down here in the sticks-" he was interrupted by an in-
dignant howling, hissing, whistling, booing, and stomping that
could not be quelled for fifteen minutes. As a university pro-
fessor observed the next day, "If there was any doubt about
Florida being in the sticks, there was none whatever after that
For a long time the Gulf Stream was given much of the credit
for the region's mild climate, but its reputation in this respect
has now fallen into disrepute. Ponce de Le6n was the first to
record encountering the current around the tip of Florida. In
1771 it was labeled the Florida Stream by an English map-
maker, but it was later named the Gulf Stream by Benjamin
Franklin. It is actually an enormous river whose volume exceeds
that of all other rivers in the world combined. At times the
waters of the Gulf of Mexico are three feet higher than in the
ocean; forming a mighty stream 350 fathoms deep and fifty
miles wide, they push through the Florida Straits and up along
the Atlantic coast. Vessels traveling southward keep close in-
shore to avoid the current, while northbound ships take ad-
vantage of it.
The quantity and quality of the region's sunshine have been
over-exploited, and there is no reason for flaunting the chamber
of commerce school of writing on this particular subject. With
a daily average of more than six hours of sunshine, Florida
calls herself "The Land of Sunshine," while Miami is "Where
the Summer Spends the Winter," the Florida Keys are "Where
the Tropics Really Begin," and the 'Glades area is "The Em-
pire of the Sun."
St. Petersburg has spent no less than a million dollars adver-
tising itself as The Sunshine City, with such effectiveness that
letters so addressed promptly reach their destination. Since
30 PALMETTO COUNTRY
1910 the St. Petersburg Independent has given away its entire
edition each day the sun failed to shine before its 3 P.M. press-
time. In twenty-six years this has only happened an average of
five times per year. The city's green benches, which have won
such wide fame in fiction and in the proceedings of swindle
and divorce cases, have become an institution whose contours
are standardized by ordinance.
According to the American Meteorological Society, "Florida
has the sunniest winter climate in the eastern U.S. The Flor-
ida peninsula not only has the highest percentage of possible
sunshine-over 60 percent in winter and over 70 percent in
spring-but also the most intense sunlight of any lowland east
of Texas. In December the intensity of sunshine exceeds that
in the North by over 50 percent."
There may be some connection between this and the fact
that the process of making artificial ice was worked out in the
Palmetto Country. The inventor, Dr. John Gorrie of Apalachi-
cola, built his ice-making machine in 1845 to cool the rooms
of fever patients. He is one of the two Floridians who have been
given a niche in Statuary Hall at Washington, D. C.
During tourist season the sea breezes become laden with the
heavy sweet scent of sun-tan lotion. Hotels, apartments, and
even cabin camps feature roof sun-decks, and solariums for
nude sun-bathing attract numerous patrons and 'planes. These
modern sun-worshipers are following in the footsteps of the
Indians of the Palmetto Country, who gave pre-eminence to the
sun god, as contrasted to the Plains Indians who worshiped a
July and August, with an average temperature of about 81
degrees, are the warmest months in Florida; thereafter the
temperature declines to an average of 59 degrees in December
and January. Even in South Georgia the temperature only falls
below freezing an average of 22 days each year. All this does
not mean that the Palmetto Country is never cold; severe
freezes have changed the way of life in whole areas, and many
poor folks suffer terribly each winter.
In 1766 a freeze killed the orange groves in North Florida,
THE PALMETTO COUNTRY 31
where the inhabitants referred to the light snow as "an extraor-
dinary white rain." By 1835 new groves had been planted, but
in that year the temperature dropped to seven degrees below
zero, permanently driving the citrus industry out of the north-
ern part of the state. Another "Big Freeze" in 1895 killed the
groves deep into the peninsula. A bright landowner in the
Miami area sent a bouquet of unharmed orange blossoms to
Henry M. Flagler, head of the Florida East Coast Railway. Im-
pressed, Flagler visited Miami-then a few sand trails through
the palmettoes-and was enticed by large land grants to extend
his railroad there in 1896.
Colonel V. E. Stolbrandt, one of the first graduates of West
Point and an old Indian fighter who was "transferred two days
before Custer's Last Stand," told his high school classes in Jack-
sonville, "After spending three years in Alaska where the tem-
perature went to 30 below zero, I came to Florida and almost
froze to death." It is the Palmetto Country's excessive humidity,
arising from its countless lakes and encircling waters, that causes
a damp coldness which penetrates clothing and flesh in a man-
ner not known in cold dry climates.
Yet the summer heat is greatly mitigated by a general atmos-
pheric drift from ocean to gulf-the region is really "The Land
of Ocean Breezes" and "Down Where the Trade Winds Play."
Ever since the Fountain of Youth myth was associated with
Florida, miraculous curative properties have been ascribed to
the region's sunshine, salt air, pine groves, and springs. In 1885
the Florida Investment Company proclaimed, "Here is a land
of open pine forests studded with crystal-clear lakes, and marked
by an absence of fever, mosquitoes, and negroes." In 1941,
W. T. Couch of the University of North Carolina said, "I hardly
know what to say when a Southerner tries to tell me the South
is not the Nation's Economic Problem No. i. It makes me feel
as though I were wading through a ditch with a man who in-
sists we are standing on a mountain top." Geography and people
are mixed up in more ways than one.
When the Sawgrass Blooms
One of the most widely believed bits of folksay about the
natural phenomena of the Palmetto Country is that when the
sawgrass blooms in the Everglades, the Seminoles interpret it
as a sign that a hurricane is coming, and so migrate to higher
ground until the danger has passed. This story, dramatically
retold each year by the Associated Press, never fails to create a
flurry of excitement. As a matter of fact, the sawgrass blooms
every year, and the Seminoles simply have sense enough to leave
the lowlands during the hurricane season.
Superstitious folk also think there will be a hurricane when:
animals become restless; sand crabs migrate from mangrove
thickets; ants are unusually busy storing food in their nests;
ants invade a house; horseflies infest beaches in spring; cats
perch on high furniture or fences; the summer is wet; the sum-
mer is dry; there is a good mango crop. On the other hand, a
good citrus crop is said to indicate that there will be no hurri-
Florida editors, with their weather eye focused intently on
the tourist trade, once bent their talents to subduing the howl-
ing hurricanes into gentle zephyrs, but they now render the
public (and themselves, through added circulation) a service
by giving headline prominence to "tropical disturbances," as
they still prefer to call them. The University of Miami has even
gone so far as to proudly name its football team the Miami Hur-
ricanes. Most hurricanes are bred in that incubator of ill winds,
the Caribbean, and Florida editors register legitimate kicks
when a hurricane that has never been near the Florida coast
sweeps northward and in on New England, to be branded by
newspapers all over the country as a "Florida hurricane."
A popular bit of doggerel defines the hurricane season thus:
June-too soon. July-stand by. August-look out you must.
September-remember. October-all over.
The hurricane season actually includes August, September,
and October. It is then that Florida's south Atlantic coast and
THE PALMETTO COUNTRY 33
Keys are most hurricane-conscious, and storm-insurance sales
reach their peak. The windows of tourist hotels and other estab-
lishments which remain closed during summer are tightly
boarded. Radios and barometers are frequently consulted, but
hurricane warnings give rise to little action until it seems cer-
tain that the storm is headed for the mainland. Then shop-
owners take down their signs and board their windows. The
windows of homes are likewise boarded, or metal storm shutters
-like outside Venetian blinds-are tightly closed. Chimneys are
capped, trees and shrubbery are braced.
Bath tubs are filled with water as a precaution against failure
of the piped supply, and oil stoves, lanterns, and candles are
made ready for emergency service. People in outlying districts
often come into town to camp in churches, schools, libraries,
auditoriums, and other substantial public buildings. Liquor
package houses do a rushing business as folk stock up for "hur-
ricane parties." Before the hurricane strikes, electric power is
shut off to eliminate the danger of fallen live wires.
A heavy sky blacks out the sun, and torrential rain is driven
by lashing wind. The hurricane proper is in the shape of a
doughnut, with a body of wind rushing at high speed about a
center of calm air. Fortunately, the forward speed of the whole
averages about twenty miles per hour or less, giving ample time
for protective preparations. Places in the direct path of a hur-
ricane experience three phases of it: the racing wind in one
direction, the dead calm, then the same circling wind, but com-
ing from the opposite direction. These characteristics are re-
sponsible for much loss of life among those who leave their
shelters during the intervening calm.
The damage wrought by hurricanes is not done by the wind
alone, however; the accompanying tidal waves and torrential
rains are even more destructive of life and property. In the
1926 hurricane, for example, an eleven-foot tidal wave covered
Miami Beach, and Miami was inundated by eight feet of water.
More than 150 persons were drowned when the same winds
forced the waters of Lake Okeechobee through its dikes to wash
34 PALMETTO COUNTRY
out the town of Moore Haven. Tidal waves were likewise re-
sponsible for most of the death and destruction in the blows
of 1928 and 1935.
When the hurricane is over it is sometimes days before com-
munications, except by short-wave radio, are re-established with
the rest of the world. The National Guard is usually called out
to maintain order, the Red Cross leads in rehabilitation work,
and public and private agencies co-operate on the job of recon-
struction. Material evidence of the damage is speedily re-
moved, with the exception of long stretches of leaning trees
and gaunt trunks which point the path of the hurricane.
But there is no erasing the vivid impressions left on the minds
of the folk who go through the storms. The oral tradition of
the region is filled with tales of the hurricanes' fabulous feats
of destruction. As the Negro bean-pickers in the 'Glades say
about the big blow of '28, "It blowed so hard it blowed a well
up out of the ground, blowed a crooked road straight, and scat-
tered the days of the week so bad that Sunday didn't get around
till late Tuesday morning Another delightfully Negroid anec-
dote has it: "The hurricane met the storm in West Palm Beach,
and they ate breakfast together. Then the hurricane said to the
storm, 'Let's breeze on down to Miami and shake that thing!' "
There is scarcely a place in the whole region that does not
have its true local legends about boats blown far inland and
automobiles blown out to sea; boards driven through trees;
railway tracks stood on edge like a picket fence; two-ton bridges
lifted from their moorings; cows, horses, and pigs carried away
on the wings of the wind, never to be heard of again; and houses
lifted from their foundations to be turned in mid-air and set
down intact again on the same foundations, but facing the op-
One story tells of an incident in the hurricane of 1906, when
Miami was a frontier settlement. Judge Robert R. Taylor was
reputedly playing pool in Hill's Place, when the sky suddenly
took on a pinkish glow. The terrified Negro population thought
Judgment Day was at hand. When the hurricane struck, Judge
THE PALMETTO COUNTRY 35
Taylor ran for his office in the Fussell Building. Across the hall
he found Judge George A. Worley down on his knees praying.
After listening apprehensively for a few minutes to Judge
Worley's praying and the hurricane's howling, Judge Taylor
cried, "Get up from there, George-you aint doin a damn bit
of good! Let me try it!"
Hurricanes have left their marks not only upon the folkways
of the region, but also upon its literature. Examples of this are
Theodore Pratt's Big Blow, Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes
Were Watching God, and Laurie Havron's Hurricane Hush.
For the past half-century Florida has been damaged by an
average of one hurricane per year. The three most disastrous in
recent years were: the 1926 hurricane which affected the Miami,
Okeechobee, and Pensacola areas, causing the death of 327, in-
juries to 6,327, and property damage estimated at $150,000,000;
the 1928 hurricane over the West Palm Beach and Okeechobee
areas, which killed 1,81o, injured another 1,849, and did $o1,-
ooo,ooo wortil of damage; and the 1935 Florida Keys hurricane
which caused about 8oo deaths and the partial destruction of
the Oversea Railroad. Most of the above estimates are by the
arch-conservative Red Cross, whose death figures are largely
limited to bodies found, and do not include all missing persons.
The whereabouts of these missing persons is clarified from time
to time as skeletons are discovered in remote places.
The sea-level barometer reading during the Keys hurricane
was 26.35, the lowest ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere.
The direct path of this hurricane was forty miles wide, and its
wind velocity probably reached 200 miles per hour. The 1926
hurricane had a velocity of 115 m.p.h., and the 1928 hurricane
brought winds of 150 m.p.h.
For a combination of reasons, the 1926 Miami blow is known
as Florida's Great Hurricane, even though the loss of life and
velocity of wind were considerably less than in '28 and '35. First
among the causes of the '26 hurricane's pre-eminence was the
enormous property damage affecting many people in all parts
of the country. Then there was the twenty-four-hour blackout
36 PALMETTO COUNTRY
of all communication with the area, and the dramatic break of
the news. The scarcity of real news gave rise to sensational but
false reports that the entire city had been flattened, that looters
were being shot, and that the whites were lynching the blacks.
The national campaign for relief funds also played an enor-
mous part in publicizing the hurricane, as indicated by the
public contribution of $3,818,281 to the Red Cross-the second
largest such fund ever raised in the United States. (Largest:
1905 San Francisco earthquake and fire: $9,279,953.) After the
hurricane the Governor of Florida visited the area and declared,
"The damage is not as bad as has been reported"; whereupon
the national director of the Red Cross complained that his state-
ment had hindered the collection of relief funds, and intimated
that the Governor and real estate agents were trying to cover
up the situation.
Though not as bad as some reports, the situation was ghastly
enough. Most notable wreck was the Meyer-Kiser Building,
eighteen stories high, which was laid open and virtually
stripped of the wall facing Biscayne Bay. Countless other large
buildings were seriously damaged, and whole blocks were con-
demned. Scarcely a plate-glass window was left intact. The
flimsily constructed Boom buildings, usually made of stucco
or light concrete blocks, were, for the most part, damaged, de-
roofed, and demolished. Many pioneer wooden dwellings came
through almost unscathed, and this was attributed to the sound-
ness of their timbers as well as their low, solid construction.
One such building had long been condemned as unsafe; it with-
stood the blow while the Boom buildings around it were flat-
All vessels in Biscayne Bay and the Miami River were either
sunk, carried out to sea, or tossed far inland. Among those sunk
was the Nohab, a luxurious yacht given by Bertha Krupp to the
Kaiserin; for a nominal admission charge it had been opened
to the public, which seemed most intrigued by the silver bath-
tubs in which the German nobility had bathed.
Among the freaks of the storm were two beach umbrellas left
THE PALMETTO COUNTRY 37
standing in the open amid the ruins of demolished buildings;
a steel flagpole bent into a triangle; and a man who complained
for several days about a "crick" in his neck until it was found
to be broken-he didn't even know how it had happened. A
sudden jerk would have killed him.
For the first few days following the hurricane the National
Guard and American Legion were on guard to prevent looting,
and a curfew required everyone to stay off the streets after
6 P.M. Profiteering in foodstuffs was rigidly prohibited by a city
proclamation which pulled no punches. It read:
"Anyone found guilty of profiteering in food supplies will
be subject to immediate arrest, their places of business closed,
license revoked, and all food supplies on the premises confis-
cated. Citizens are urged to report any violations of this procla-
Cuba sent a relief mission aboard one of her battleships, with
250 tons of supplies, 50,000 typhoid inoculations, a $6,000 con-
tribution, and a corps of doctors and nurses. The Chicago Her-
ald-Examiner, in a special train donated by the Illinois Central
Railroad, sent a mercy expedition of about one hundred doc-
tors, nurses, and X-ray technicians, together with chlorine for
disinfecting water, clothing, and other supplies. Trainloads of
used clothing poured into Miami-far more than was needed.
Several thousand persons who wanted to leave the area were
given free transportation by the railroads.
Fifteen thousand persons were homeless, and five tent col-
onies were established to care for them. Tents, cots, blankets,
and other supplies were provided by the Army and National
Guard. The Red Cross rendered assistance to 60,000 people,
and administered 50,000 typhus inoculations which not only
prevented an epidemic but lowered the normal incidence of
the disease for many months to come. No less than 60,ooo letters
and telegrams were received and handled from people request-
ing information about friends and relatives.
The Great Hurricane is commemorated by the following
folksong which is still widely sung in the area.
The rich white folks and well-to-do
Were playing five-up and pool;
God-Amighty got angry, and glory-
They forgot each other's move.
Some was floatin on the ocean,
And some was floatin on the sea;
And some was cryin on bended knee,
"Lord, have mercy on me!"
Ships swam down that ocean,
It was most too sad to tell;
Ten thousand peoples got drowned,
And all but twelve went to hell.
And the lady left Miami,
She left in lightning speed;
Ev'ry time the lightning flashed,
She thinks bout her dirty deeds.
Yon stands the lady,
Standin in the back door
Singin, "If I get back to Georgia,
I won't go to Florida no more."
God-Amighty moved on the water,
And the peoples in Miami run.
The 1928 hurricane is less renowned than its predecessor be-
cause the property damage was less and also because the great
majority of those killed were Negro migratory agricultural
workers, many of whom were natives of the Bahama Islands.
After passing over West Palm Beach the hurricane swept a
tidal wave from Lake Okeechobee over the 'Glades mucklands
where the workers were caught in their flimsy shacks with no
means of escape. Said to be a public-health menace, the bodies
THE PALMETTO COUNTRY 39
of the victims were hastily piled, drenched with kerosene, and
There is also a folksong which tells of this storm.
THE 1928, OR WEST PALM BEACH, STORM
On the sixteenth day of September,
God started ridin early;
He rode till very late.
He rode out on the ocean,
Chained the lightning to his wheel;
Stepped on land at West Palm Beach,
And the wicked hearts did yield.
I tell you wicked people,
What you had better do:
Go down and get the Holy Ghost,
And then you live the life, too.
Over in Pahokee
Families rushed out at the door,
And somebody's poor mother
Haven't been seen anymore.
Some mothers looked at their children,
And they began to cry;
Cried, "Lord, have mercy,
For we all must die!"
Out around Okeechobee
All scattered on the ground,
The last account of the dead they had
Were twenty-two hundred found.
South Bay, Belle Glade, and Pahokee,
Tell me they all went down,
And over at Chosen,
Ev'rybody got drowned.
40 PALMETTO COUNTRY
Some people are yet mission,
And haven't been found, they say;
But this we know: they will come forth
In the Resurrection Day.
When Gabriel sounds his trumpet,
And the dead begin to rise,
We'll meet the saints from Chosen,
Up in the heavenly skies.
In the storm, oh, in the storm,
Lord, somebody got drowned.
Another variation of this song centers about a localized dis-
aster of 1936:
THE GAINESVILLE STORM
On April 6, 1936,
God swept through Gainesville, Georgia,
And left the people in a fix.
God got tired the way some people do,
So he went sweeping through there
And left only a few.
People were running and hollerin-
Oh, what a mighty sound!
Ev'ry time God give a whirl,
The building hit the ground!
When God began his work,
The telegrams fell down;
People there in Gainesville,
Couldn't get no news from town.
So all you people who want work to do
Can go to Gainesville, Georgia,
Where God prepared plenty good work for you.
THE PALMETTO COUNTRY 41
In some respects the 1935 Keys hurricane was saddest of all.
Of the 800 victims, more than half were World War veterans
-Depression "hunger marchers" on Washington. The Govern-
ment had put them to work on the Overseas Highway on the
mosquito-ridden Florida Keys. The veterans had no shelter but
the small board shanties in which they were housed, and these
were smashed flat by the first gusts. Some of the men lashed
themselves into the low mangrove trees, while others tied them-
selves to the railroad tracks. But the eighteen-foot tidal wave
which swept over the Keys covered everything. Most of those
who saved themselves did so by clinging to floating debris.
Although some food was dropped by plane, it was several days
before the survivors could be reached by boat. Funeral pyres
were again ignited, in spite of the protests of Miami morticians
who said that cremation was motivated only by the desire of the
Government to save an embalming fee of about fifty dollars
An official Congressional investigation was held in an effort
to fix responsibility for the tragedy. Survivors testified that
camp officials had refused to let them leave in several trucks
that were available. After much delay, the camp had sent a
request for a special evacuation train; the request marked hours
of precious time in Miami and St. Augustine (headquarters of
the railroad) before it was granted. Because it was Labor Day,
more hours were lost in Miami rounding up a train crew. The
train eventually departed, but was overturned before arriving.
Official verdict: "The disaster was an act of God."
Most of the deaths and much of the destruction caused by
hurricanes has been due to flimsy housing, the inability and
failure of people to get out of danger zones, inadequate pub-
licizing of storm warnings, and a lack of public instruction as
to precautionary measures. Improved methods of charting
storms, greater prevalence of radios, and the construction of
more hurricane-proof buildings have helped decrease the dan-
ger, but there is really nothing to prevent the recurrence of
such "acts of God."
The Negroes have a story which comes about as close to the
42 PALMETTO COUNTRY
truth as the "act of God" verdict. "It was the day before Christ-
mas, and God was on his way to Palatka. It happened the Devil
was traveling the same road, and when he seen God coming he
jumped behind a stump.-He wanted to catch God 'Christmas
gift' so God would have to give him a present. God was sorta
busy in his mind, counting over how many new angels he had to
buy presents for, so he wasn't payin no attention to stumps.
When God passed by, the Devil jumped out and hollered
"'You done caught me for once,' God said, looking back over
his shoulder. 'Take the East Coast.'-And that's why the Florida
East Coast has so many hurricanes-it belongs to the Devil."
UNDER SEVEN FLAGS
Fountains of Youth and Cities of Gold
THE tall tale about Ponce de Le6n discovering the North
American continent while searching for a miraculous
Fountain of Youth is a legend often accepted as historical fact.
The legend of a fountain whose waters bestowed eternal youth
was current among the Indians of Puerto Rico, and it was they
who reputedly passed it on to Ponce de Le6n. The fountain
was said to be in Bimini, as the Indians called the land to the
north, and from time to time Puerto Rican Indians set out in
their canoes to find it. Fontenada reported in 1580 that there
were whole villages of West Indians in South Florida who had
come there in search of the magic spring; their descendants
were observed by explorers as late as 1722. One West Indian,
Andreas the Bearded, told the New World's first historian,
Pedro Martyr, that his father had actually found the fountain
at some time before 1524, and had returned home with renewed
youth and vigor.
The idea of such a fountain existed among the folk legends
of many parts of the world, including Europe. Prester John,
the mythical king of central Asia, was alleged to have written
the Christian Pope that in his realm "at the foot of Mount
Olympus bubbles a spring, just three days' journey from Para-
dise, out of which Adam was driven. If any has tasted twice of
the fountain, from that day he will feel no fatigue but will as
long as he lives be as a man of thirty years." When the first
maps of the New World were drawn they showed the Americas
as part of Asia, so it was natural for the explorers to think they
might find the fountain. Whether or not Ponce de Le6n was
seriously searching for it is a question. At any rate, tourists are
now able to take their choice of several Fountains of Youth,
where they may imbibe freely of sulphurous waters.
44 PALMETTO COUNTRY
Ponce de Le6n embarked upon his voyage of exploration in
1513, and sighted the mainland on March 28. He named the
land La Florida because of its cool level woodlands and also
because the discovery was made during Pascua Florida-Flowery
Easter. Leonardo da Vinci's map of 1513 used the name Terra
Florida, and so the entire continent was known for more than
two hundred years. A typical map of 1560 showed Florida as
extending from the Rio Grande indefinitely up the Atlantic
Coast to the Polar Sea.
Ponce de Le6n returned in 1521 with a group of colonists,
but their preoccupation with searching for cities of gold, and
their disdain for agricultural pursuits, soon led to trouble with
the Indians. Ponce de Le6n was wounded in a battle with the
natives, and when he prepared to leave for Cuba his entire
colony insisted on going along.
The cities of gold idea was based upon a legend which was
very widely believed at the time, to the effect that during the
eighth century seven Christian bishops and their followers had
fled Moorish persecution in Spain, and had sailed across the
unknown western seas to a new land where they founded seven
cities of fabulous wealth.
In another attempt to find wealth in Florida, Spain dis-
patched an expedition under PAnfilo de Narvaez in 1528, which
landed with 300 soldiers in the vicinity of Tampa Bay. At first
the Indians thought the Spaniards were gods. Like the Mexican
Indians, their religion' included a belief that some day white
men would come to rule them wisely and well. The Spaniards
seemed to have abundant signs of divinity: they came in great
cloudlike ships from over the water; they carried miraculous
death-dealing sticks that spoke with thunder, fire, and smoke;
they were clad in shining armor, and some of them (on horse-
back) seemed to have four legs and two heads. Narvaez himself
was a one-eyed giant of a man with flaming red hair-the symbol
of the sun god.
The Indians soon discovered, however, that the Spaniards
were more inhuman than superhuman. Learning of their greed
for gold, the Indians told them that to the north they would
UNDER SEVEN FLAGS
find the Ocalis-men so powerful that birds on the wing were
felled by their shout. Such strength, they said, had brought the
Ocalis great riches in gold, silver, and pearls. Narvaez and his
men speedily set out for Ocali-land. Their tortuous trek carried
them through many difficult swamps and jungles, but eventually
they reached the land of the Ocalis.
Dunchanchellin, their chief, met Narvaez with great pomp
and ceremony. The latter was disappointed to learn that the
Ocalis had lots of corn, but no gold, silver, or pearls. Dunchan-
chellin quickly caught on, and told Narvaez that the city of gold
he had in mind was farther to the west, in the land of the Apa-
lachees. Their country, he said, was so rich that its southern
boundary, the Guasaca-Esqui (River of Reeds-now the Suwan-
nee), flowed over beds of gold. Again the fairy tale worked like
a charm, and the Ocalis were soon rid of the troublesome Span-
iards. Dunchanchellin personally conducted them to the ter-
ritory of his rivals, the Apalachees, and then, like the Pied Piper,
One-third of Narviez' men fell victim to Indian arrows, fever,
hunger, and privation. When the survivors finally came out on
the Gulf they built boats and attempted to sail down the coast
to their ships, but most of them perished in a storm. Among the
survivors was Alvar Nifiez Cabeza de Vaca, two other Span-
iards, and Estebanico-a Moorish Negro slave from the west
coast of Moro(co, who was probably the first Negro to reach
the North American continent. This group wandered eight
years before reaching Mexico. Later, in 1539, Estebanico acted
as advance agent for Fray Marcos de Niza who preceded the
Coronado expedition into the American Southwest.
It was also in 1539 that Spain sent Hernando de Soto to look
for the cities of gold which lured Narvaez to his doom. De Soto,
having spent seventeen years in Peru, was thoroughly enamored
of the metal. Like Narviez, he landed in the vicinity of Tampa
Bay and marched northward. Traversing the length of the pen-
insula, he marched through Georgia, cut the corners of the
Carolinas and Tennessee, and entered Alabama to fight a dis-
astrous battle with the Indians in the vicinity of Mobile. Going
46 PALMETTO COUNTRY
on to discover the Mississippi River, he was stricken by fever
and buried in its waters. Four years after the beginning of the
expedition, its remnants reached Mexico-without having
found any cities of gold.
Blood and Sand Dunes
The French put in a claim to the region in 1562, when an
expedition led by Jean Ribaut landed at the mouth of the
St. Johns River and erected a stone pillar engraved with the
French King's coat-of-arms. Ribaut made a good impression on
the local Indian chieftain by presenting him with a robe of
royal blue embroidered with the fleur-de-lis in gold, plus as-
sorted trinkets for the tribesmen. When the Frenchmen sailed
away the Indians treated the stone pillar with reverence, adorn-
ing it with boughs and placing fruit and corn at its base. A
Spanish Captain Hernando Manrique de Rojas came searching
for the pillar in 1563, but the Indians hid it from him.
In reporting on his expedition, Ribaut wrote, "We inquired
of them [the Indians] for a certain town called Cibola-whereof
some have written not to be far from here-and they showed us
by signs that they might go there with their boats by rivers in
twenty days. It is said there is a great abundance of gold, silver,
and precious stones, and that the people tip their arrows with
In 1564, Ren6 de Laudonniere, who had accompanied
Ribaut, set out from France with 300 colonists, most of them
Huguenot Protestants, but there was no minister along because
the settlement was to be nonsectarian. They also landed at the
mouth of the St. Johns, and were welcomed by the Indians.
With the colonists were four women-probably the first female
Protestants to reach North America.
A fortification was built, which they called Fort Caroline, but
too many of the colonists were adventurous young sons of
wealthy French Huguenots. Like the Spaniards, they were more
interested in looking for gold than in procuring food. When
the Indians grew tired of feeding the colony, Laudonnibre made
the mistake of imprisoning their chief.
UNDER SEVEN FLAGS 47
In 1565, Sir John Hawkins, homeward bound after a slave-
trading trip to the West Indies, stopped at Fort Caroline to take
on water. The custom of smoking tobacco, now an international
folkway, was noted in Hawkins' ship's log as follows: "The
Floridians when they travaile have a kind of herbe dried, who
with a cane and an earthen cup on the end, with fyre and dried
herbes put together, doe suck through the cane the smoke
thereof, which smoke satisfieth hunger, and therewith do live
four or five days without food or drinke."
Hawkins offered to transport the discontented French col-
onists back to Europe, but they declined, rightly suspecting him
of coveting the land in which they had gained a foothold. Yet
he was scarcely out of sight before the Frenchmen began mak-
ing their own preparations to depart. But then Jean Ribaut
made an appearance with seven vessels and about 700oo colonists.
A week later, however, a Spanish fleet under Pedro Menendez
de Aviles attacked the colony. The French vessels slipped their
cables and outdistanced their pursuers, and when Men6ndez
returned to the attack on Fort Caroline he found the French
artillery read) for him. Consequently he retired to the nearest
harbor, in the vicinity of St. Augustine.
Ribaut manned his returning ships and sailed down the
coast to look for the Spaniards, but a violent storm drove his
ships ashore. When Men6ndez learned that the French fleet had
been driven southward, he moved overland through the storm
and took the remaining defenders of Fort Caroline by surprise.
One hundred and thirty-two of the French, including women
and children, were killed in the battle. Thirty French survivors
were hung by Men6ndez to oak trees, "not as Frenchmen, but
as Huguenots." A few Frenchmen escaped by ship and even-
tually made their way to France.
Upon returning to St. Augustine, Men6ndez was told that
the French fleet had been wrecked and that the survivors were
gathered on the beach a few miles to the south. Taking forty
soldiers, Menendez surrounded the 150 Frenchmen, and "prom-
ised them solemnly under the pledge of his word that if they
surrendered themselves to his mercy, he should do with them
48 PALMETTO COUNTRY
as his Lord commanded him." This sounded like a Christian
offer, so the shipwrecked Frenchmen accepted. Men6ndez then
tied them in bunches of ten, ferried them across the inlet-since
called Matanzas (Massacre)-and slaughtered them all behind
the sand dunes.
Twelve days later he learned that 2oo more survivors of the
French shipwreck had gathered at Matanzas. This time he took
150 soldiers with him. Finding Ribaut in charge, he offered
them the same proposition of dealing with them as God com-
manded him. Knowing nothing of the previous massacres, the
Frenchmen again placed themselves at Mendndez' mercy. On
the march to St. Augustine they were suddenly halted, and
Men6ndez suggested that they make their confessions. Ribaut
replied, "From earth we come, and unto earth we must return;
twenty years more or less are of little account. Do with us as
you wish." The massacre began and the sand dunes were again
drenched with blood. Ribaut and about seventy other French-
men were slain, while the remainder escaped into the woods,
never to be heard of again. Men6ndez spared four men who
professed to be Catholics, and several musicians.
When news of all these events reached King Philip of Spain,
he wrote, "As to those Menindez has killed he has done well,
and as to those he has saved they shall be sent to the gallows."
In 1568, a Frenchman named Dominique de Gourgues out-
fitted three ships at his own expense and set out to avenge the
massacres. He captured the Spanish Fort San Mateo which had
been erected on the site of Fort Caroline, deliberately killing
all of the Spaniards except thirty, whom he hanged on the same
oaks on which Menendez had hanged the thirty Frenchmen.
Over their bodies Gourgues hung a tablet reading: "Not as
Spaniards, but as traitors, thieves, and murderers."
San Augustin, the Ever Faithful
St. Augustine, the oldest permanent white settlement in the
United States, was founded by Menendez in 1565. He remained
in Florida until 1572, ruthlessly suppressing all further efforts
UNDER SEVEN FLAGS 49
of the French to settle in the region. The Spaniards established
four settlements of import: St. Augustine and Fernandina on
the north Florida coast, and St. Marks and Pensacola on the
Gulf; and also an extensive system of missions and trading posts.
They were indefatigable in their efforts to catholicize the In-
dians, and also taught them farming and stock-raising.
At first Indians were used as slaves, but they proved so in-
tractable that they were gradually replaced with Negro slaves,
who were required to "accept Catholicism" before being ad-
mitted to the colony. Probably there were a few Negro slaves in
St. Augustine from the very first. It is known that in 1581 the
Spanish King sent Negro slaves to erect platforms for the artil-
lery of St. Augustine's Fort San Marco, and that a Negro slave
was attached to the friary in 1589. In 1594 the Spanish Gov-
ernor of Florida asked the Governor of Cuba for a detachment
of soldiers "and a few slaves"; and in the first hospital built in
North America, completed at St. Augustine in 1597, a Negress
slave in the royal service "tended the sick-soldiers, Indians,
and Negroes." By 1603 there were thirty-two Negro slaves in
the city, five of whom were women.
The old city of gold tale cropped up again in 1586 when
Sir Francis Drake sacked and burnt St. Augustine. Nicholas
Burgoigne, one of the French musicians spared by Menindez,
rowed out to Drake's ship playing the Protestant "March of
the Prince of Orange," to show that he was a friend. He told
Drake that twenty days' journey northwest of St. Augustine,
among mountains of gold and crystal, there was a great rich
city. But the British freebooters were never taken in by the
folklore of Florida's riches, and mockingly referred to it as
"Stolida, the Land of Fools," and "Sordida, the Land of Muck-
worms." English tars carousing in taverns often made this toast:
Have you not herd of floryda,
A Coontre far bewest,
Where savage pepell planted are
By nature and by hest,
50 PALMETTO COUNTRY
Who in the mold
Fynd glysterynge gold
And yet for tryfels sell?
Yet all along the water syde,
Where yt dothe eb and flowe,
Are turkeyse found and where also
Do perles in oysteres growe,
And on the land
Do cedars stand
Whose bewty dothe excell.
The defeat of Spain's "Invincible Armada" in 1588 paved
the way for England's efforts to colonize the Atlantic coast of
North America. Despite violent Spanish protests, Jamestown
(Virginia) was settled in 1607. In 1665 the British Crown boldly
defined its Carolina colony as including northern Florida,
Georgia, and all land westward to the Pacific Ocean. By that
time Spain's grip on Florida had slipped to such an extent that
British sources described St. Augustine as "a place where 200
Spaniards and Indians are in hiding." In a treaty of 1670, Spain
officially conceded for the first time England's right to colonize
a portion of North America, and an immediate result was the
founding of Charleston.
In the following years an interesting association of Indians
and Negroes took place in Florida. Negro slaves, as well as
Creek and Yemassee Indian slaves, escaped from their British
owners in the Carolinas and Virginia and made their way to
Florida. The Spaniards of St. Augustine helped them build a
fortification-Fort Moosa-a few miles north of their own Fort
San Marco. Completed sometime between 1687 and 1695, Fort
Moosa became the center of a prosperous agricultural and stock-
raising colony of Indians and Negroes. Those Negroes who
associated with the Indians, intermarried with them, and spoke
their language, came to be known as Maroons (probably an
Anglicized rendition of the Spanish word morenos-browns).
The outbreak of war in Europe in 1702 put an end to a
brief period of amicability between Spanish St. Augustine and
UNDER SEVEN FLAGS 51
British Charleston. Co-operating French ships from Mobile and
Spanish ships from St. Augustine attacked Charleston, but failed
to capture it. Governor James Moore of South Carolina then
laid siege to St. Augustine by land and sea, aided by 600 Yemas-
see Indians. After three months the approach of two Spanish
ships frightened Moore away. Arrotomakaw, chief of the Yemas-
sees, scornfully told Moore's abandoned soldiers: "Though your
governor leaves you, I will not stir until I have seen all my men
before me." The land forces carried back many Florida Indians
and Negroes for sale in the Charleston slave market, and this
inspired Moore and other Carolinians to make periodic raids
into Florida which carried them as far west as Tallahassee and
southward to Lake Okeechobee.
In 1719 the French of Mobile, no longer friendly with the
Spanish, destroyed Fort San Carlos which the Spanish had built
at Pensacola in 1698, and it was four years before Spain re-
gained control of the place. Then in 1725 the British Colonel
George Palmer led an attack from Georgia against St. Augus-
tine, and though he captured many slaves, he did not succeed
in taking Fort San Marco. The British again encroached on
Spanish territory in 1733 by establishing Savannah below the
boundary agreed upon in the treaty of 1670.
The continuing escape of slaves from the British colonies
led to the establishment of Georgia in 1738 as a colony where
slavery was forbidden; the idea was to get the runaways to stop
there, and not make a clean getaway into Spanish Florida. But
the prosperous colony of Indians and Maroons around Fort
Moosa continued to attract new refugees, and in 1740 Governor
James Oglethorpe of Georgia launched an attack on it and St.
Augustine. Colonel Palmer, leading a band of eighty Scotch
Highlanders, captured Fort Moosa, but it was soon retaken;
Palmer was killed, and the twenty survivors of his garrison were
stripped and incarcerated in the dungeons of Fort San Marco.
The siege of the fort lasted thirty-eight days before the British
Three years later, Oglethorpe tried again, but with no more
success. San Marco seemed impregnable, and the Spanish King
52 PALMETTO COUNTRY
gratefully bestowed the title of The Ever Faithful on the city
of St. Augustine. To the British, however, St. Augustine was
"a den of thieves and ruffians, a receptacle of debtors, servants,
and slaves, thevbane of industry and society."
A scant eight years after Georgia had been set up on a non-
slave basis, the rapid spread of cotton plantations caused its
conversion into a slave-holding colony.
Havana fell before a British attack in 1762, and by the Treaty
of Paris (1763) Spain traded Florida for the return of the Cuban
capital. And so the Spaniards who had defended the peninsula
for 200 years prepared to depart. The entire Spanish popula-
tion of Pensacola was transported to Vera Cruz, Mexico, and
the Spaniards of St. Augustine left in a body for Cuba, taking
with them many of their Indian friends. When the British
Tories occupied St. Augustine they found that scarcely five
Spaniards remained, and these were said to have missed their
boat because they were so long in rounding up their horses.
The Tories Take Over
The Tories brought steep gabled roofs to St. Augustine, but
coquina rock (pulverized sea shells naturally cemented with
limestone) continued to be the most popular building material
for both fortifications and dwellings. The newcomers also
moved the living rooms in the Spanish-built houses down to
the first floor, and installed fireplaces.
The British Crown, anxious to promote the settlement of its
new colony, offered generous land grants as an enticement, and
Florida began to experience her first boom. Promoters and
land agents bestirred themselves in England, and published the
first of the extravagant line of literature that has made Florida
"the best lied-about state." In 1765 the famous King's Road
(now State Highway 4) was completed from New Smyrna be-
low St. Augustine to Colerain, Georgia, thus establishing over-
land communication with the other British colonies.
In the same year Denys Rolle, a member of Parliament, hav-
ing personally surveyed much of the peninsula, finally selected
UNDER SEVEN FLAGS 53
his 2o,ooo-acre royal grant near the mouth of the St. Johns.
There he brought a group of derelicts, prostitutes, and other
unfortunates from the slums of London, with the aim of re-
habilitating them. They established Rolletowa, called Char-
lotia by its founder, but disease and dissatisfaction among his
colonists soon put an end to his hopes of founding a Utopia.
Rolle, however, continued to purchase land, and eventually
controlled 80,000 acres. After adopting slave labor he managed
to ship considerable quantities of rice, corn, beef, lumber, naval
stores, and orange wine.
The first of a series of schemes to colonize Florida with
Mediterranean peoples was launched in 1765 under the leader-
ship of Dr. Andrew Turnbull, who brought in 1,500 colonists
of Spanish, Greek, and Italian descent. About 1,200 of them
came from the Spanish island of Minorca, where they had just
undergone a severe famine. Lord Grenville, First Lord of the
Treasury, was an ex-officio backer of the colony, and the Brit-
ish Government provided land grants exceeding 1oo,ooo acres,
4,500 in cash, and a sloop of war for transportation.
Turnbull's colonists were landed at New Smyrna, and their
status was that of "indentured servants" (debt slaves) who were
under obligation to work until the "cost" of their transporta-
tion had been paid. For ten years they toiled, clearing the
dense underbrush, raising indigo, digging drainage canals, and
building roads (some of which are still in use). They endured
many hardships, chief among which was cruel treatment at
the hands of overseers who had been accustomed to handling
Negro slaves, and who did not even speak the language of the
Minorcans. When some of the colonists protested, they were
beaten and executed. Privation and disease finally reduced their
number to 600; they revolted, burnt the plantation, and
moved to St. Augustine, where many of the men joined the
British militia. The story of the Minorcan colony formed the
basis of Stephen Vincent Benet's novel, Spanish Bayonet (1926).
When news of the American Declaration of Independence
reached St. Augustine, John Hancock and Samuel Adams were
burned in effigy in the public square. Four years later, three
54 PALMETTO COUNTRY
signers of that document-Arthur Middleton, Edward Rut-
ledge, and Thomas Heyward-were sent to St. Augustine as
prisoners and placed in the dungeon of the old fort.
There were about a thousand white Floridians at the time,
and some 3,000 Negro slaves. Mostly newcomers from the
British Isles and recipients of land grants, the whites were
generally loyal to the Throne. The Revolution caused more
than 7,000 Tories to flee to Florida from the American colonies.
Some came overland by wagon, while others made the journey
in small coastal vessels.
Among them were Thomas Browne-a large planter from
the Savannah River who had been given a tar-and-feathering
by the "Liberty Boys" of Augusta-and Daniel McGirth of
South Carolina. McGirth had been a scout in the American
Army, but had been court-martialed after a row with an officer
who had appropriated his favorite mare, Gray Goose. McGirth
escaped and came to Florida with his brother and Gray Goose.
He was instrumental in organizing the loyal East Florida
Rangers, and became as noted for his pillaging as for his
St. Augustine was crowded with refugees, and feeling against
the "rebels" ran high. When an army of 3,000 Americans in-
vaded Florida in 1778 they were repulsed by a force of 1,210
British regulars, Indians, and backwoodsmen. Most of the orig-
inal "Spanish" Indians of north Florida had by now been re-
placed by Creeks from south Georgia, who were allies of the
A noteworthy result of the Revolution was the establish-
ment of the Scotch firm of Panton, Leslie and Company in
Pensacola. William Panton, the senior partner and North
America's first millionaire, planned to monopolize the Indian
trade of West Florida. This he succeeded in doing by aligning
himself with Alexander McGillivray, the son of Lachlan Mc-
Gillivray (of a good Scotch family) and a French-Indian mother.
Educated in Charleston, he became the chief of 6,ooo Creek
warriors, not to mention the fact that from time to time he was
a colonel in the British Army, a colonel in the Spanish Army,
UNDER SEVEN FLAGS 55
and a brigadier-general in the American Army. Through him
the firm of Panton, Leslie and Company extended its trade as
far as Tennessee, and became more powerful than any govern-
ment in the territory.
After the American colonies had won their independence,
Florida remained the only loyal British colony on the mainland
south of Canada. Britishers and Loyalists who had fought in
the war were offered land grants in Florida according to their
rank, and many of them accepted. The colony prospered until
Spain seized Pensacola in 1781. With increasing American
pressure from the north, Spanish pressure from the south, and
Spanish-French encroachments on the west, England decided
she could not afford to try to hold Florida.
So in 178;8, after two decades of British rule, Florida was
ceded back to Spain. At the time there were about 15,000
Britishers in the colony, and the majority of them packed up
their livestock, Negroes, and other movable property and went
to the Bahamas, Jamaica, or some American state. Only the
Minorcans, looking forward with pleasure to Spanish Catholic
rule, remained in St. Augustine.
Return of the Spaniard
Spain encountered little but trouble during her comeback
in Florida. Since few Spaniards were willing to return, generous
land grants were offered to American settlers who would swear
allegiance to the Spanish King. Thomas Jefferson, then an
American cabinet member, wrote President Washington: "I
wish a hundred thousand of our inhabitants would accept the
invitation. It may be the means of delivering to us peaceably
what may otherwise cost a war. In the meantime we may com-
plain of this seduction of our inhabitants just enough to make
them [the Spaniards] believe we think it very wise policy for
them and confirm them in it."
Quite a few Southern folk-mostly woodsmen and cattlemen
-took advantage of the offer, but there were few planters of
means among them. Even those Americans who swore alle-
56 PALMETTO COUNTRY
giance to Spain did so with their fingers crossed-most of them
were descended from Spaniard-hating frontiersmen who had
taken part in Oglethorpe's raids into Florida. The Seminoles,
who hoped for a return of British rule, also remained aloof
from the Spaniards.
The first treaty made under the Constitution was concluded
with the Georgia Creeks on August i, 179o, and bore the signa-
ture of President George Washington. It set aside certain lands
for the Creeks, and required them to return all runaway slaves.
Since they had few if any such slaves among them, the Creeks
began making raids into Florida to capture Maroons to be
turned over to American slavers.
The importation of additional slaves into the United States
was prohibited after 1808, but as they could still be brought
into Florida under Spanish law many Americans began smug-
gling them across the border into Georgia and Alabama. The
slavers who landed their human cargoes in Fernandina had to
first run a gauntlet of American gunboats, and then such pirates
and hijackers as Pierre and Jean la Fitte.
As the War of 1812 became imminent, President Madison
took steps to forestall British seizure of Florida. He sent an
agent, General George Mathews, to Fernandina to foment a
"Patriots' Rebellion." Two hundred "patriots" were rounded
up, and under the leadership of John McIntosh they obtained
the surrender of the Spanish garrison without bloodshed, and
the Republic of Florida was proclaimed under a white flag
bearing the figure of a soldier with fixed bayonet and inscribed
with the motto: Salus Populi-Suprema Lex. Mathews had
promised McIntosh payment and protection, but at the vigor-
ous objections of Spain and England the "patriots" stepped
down and Fernandina was again Spanish.
In the latter part of 1817 a chain of exciting events took
place in Fernandina. Gregor MacGregor, a thirty-one-year-old
Scotch promoter of South American independence, put into
port with five vessels. The Spanish garrison surrendered, and
MacGregor set up a government composed of men from Savan-
nah and Charleston. Then he proceeded to offer his cargoes for
UNDER SEVEN FLAGS 57
sale. When the Spaniards finally mustered a striking force,
MacGregor sailed away. Thereupon Jared Irwin, who had been
a congressman from Pennsylvania, gathered together the priva-
teers of Fernandina and defeated the Spaniards.
After a few weeks, Luis Aury, a pirate of French ancestry,
arrived with thirteen ships and loot worth $60,ooo. He took
possession ol the town, appointing Irwin his "Adjutant-Gen-
eral." Having been the first Governor ofTexas under Mexican
rule, and still being a Mexican official of sorts, Aury raised the
Mexican flag. In December an American ship under secret or-
ders from President Monroe made its appearance, and Aury
hauled down his Mexican flag and sailed away to resume his
career as a pirate. The Americans stuck around, and Spain
granted "local autonomy" to the northeast corner of Florida.
This is said to have been the first time representative govern-
ment was granted a Spanish colony.
Things were also happening fast in West Florida, which
declared itself independent in 18o1. John H. Johnston, mem-
ber of a West Florida convention, said that "after annexation"
the territory would submit in all things to the Federal Consti-
tution, but suggested that a general amnesty be granted to all
Tories, deserters, and fugitives from justice.
Meanwhile there had been a noteworthy strengthening of
the bonds between the Seminoles and Maroons. Many of the
latter were now several generations removed from the original
runaway slaves, and had built up prosperous villages along the
Suwannee and Apalachicola Rivers. Living a communal, unsu-
pervised existence, they raised crops and livestock, paying an-
nual tribute to Seminole chieftains.
In 1814 the British were permitted by the Spanish to land at
Pensacola, where they began drilling Seminole recruits in the
public square. A spectator wrote: "Such scenes of preposterous
costuming, tripping over swords, and mad marching can hardly
be imagined. The British might as well attempt to drill the
alligators of the Florida lagoons." The British also built the
Maroons and Seminoles a fort, mounted it with guns, and
stocked it with powder. This inspired General Andrew Jackson
58 PALMETTO COUNTRY
to take it upon himself to lead a force of volunteers into Florida,
which drove the British from Pensacola.
Two years later Jackson returned, and this time he gave
orders to General Duncan Clinch to attack the Negro fort,
blow it up, and "return the niggers to their rightful owners."
After a four-day siege by land and water, a heated cannonball
pierced a powder magazine inside the stockade, and all but
sixty of the 334 persons inside were blown to bits. Only three
escaped injury. Two of the survivors, one Maroon and one
Indian, were executed as "leaders."
In 1819 Spain ceded Florida to the United States, and the
latter merely assumed responsibility for $5,000,000 in damage
claims which Americans had filed against Spain during the
troublous "Republic of Florida" period.
STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER
W HEN the American flag was raised over Florida in 1821
the territory had a population of about 8,ooo whites,
most of whom were Spanish. The number of Anglo-Saxons in
the peninsula was considerable, however. For the most part
they were backwoodsmen, who from time to time had been
subjects of Great Britain, the United States, and Spain; but
since none of these governments had bestowed any particular
benefits on them, they naturally "didn't give a damn" what
flag they lived under. These citizens led Surveyor-General
George Clark to report in 1821: "The St. Mary's River has
long been a jumping-off place of a large portion of bad char-
acters who gradually sift southwardly; warm climates are con-
genial to bad habits." A similar opinion was expressed by Gov-
ernor W. C. Claiborne of New Orleans, who wrote in 1810,
"My impression is that a more heterogeneous mass of good and
evil was never before gathered in the same extent of territory."
These "bad characters" were the forerunners of American
civilization, and it was they who acquired the name "cracker"
which even then was applied to the poor white folk of Florida,
Georgia, and Alabama. Probably the true story about how the
crackers got their name is that when their "bad character" fore-
bears first began to filter into Florida they were quite naturally
called cudcaros (Quakers) by the Spaniards, and it was a simple
matter, phonetically, for the Anglo-Saxons to conclude that
they were being called "crackers."
There are two other stories about the origin of the term.
The most popular has it that crackers got their name from their
skill at cracking the whips used to drive their cattle and the
oxen which were long the source of haul-power in the region.
60 PALMETTO COUNTRY
The other story says that they got their name from the crack-
ing and grinding of corn to make grits and meal, their chief
Crackers are mainly descended from the Irish, Scotch, and
English stock which, from 1740 on, was slowly populating the
huge Southern wilderness behind the thin strip of coastal civi-
lization. These folk settled the Cumberland Valley, the Shenan-
doah, and spread through every Southern state east of the Mis-
sissippi. That branch of the family which settled in the Deep
South was predominantly of Irish ancestry, and their modern
cracker descendants still sing songs in which their immigrant
ancestors expressed hope for a better life in America:
Come to my arms, Norah darling,
Bid your friends in old Ireland goodbye,
And it's happy you will be,
In the dear land of the free,
Living happy with your Barney McCoy.
As is the custom of folk everywhere, the newcomers were
subjected to good-natured ridicule by songs like these:
Larry went out to plow in his corn,
Wishing to his soul he'd never been born;
Weeds was so thick he couldn't get through,
Saying, "Haw, haw Paddy, this will never do."
Now it's I must finish my song:
All the blamed Irishmen ought to have been hung;
They come to this country and done as they please;
They stocked it all up with their damn lice and fleas!
Whoa, whoa, whoa Larry, whoa!
My mother and father was Irish,
And I am Irish too.
They kept a pig in the parlor,
And that was Irish too.
They had a bottle of whiskey,
And that was Irish too.
STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER 61
The early crackers were the Okies of their day (as they have
been ever since). Cheated of land, not by wind and erosion,
but by the plantation and slavery system of the Old South,
they were non-essentials in an economic, political, and social
order dominated by the squirearchy of wealthy planters, and
in most respects were worse off than the Negro slaves.
To these crackers the opening up of Florida brought a prom-
ise of dirt-cheap land, most of it free to homesteaders, and so
they poured into the peninsula from all parts of the South-
land. The first settlements grew up at the natural deep-water
harbors, and then along the inland waterways which served as
the main arteries of intersectional transportation. Cow Ford
became Jacksonville in 1822, Quincy was settled in 1825, Mon-
ticello in 1828, Marianna and Apalachicola in 1829, and St.
Joseph in 1836. The latter was later changed by yellow fever
from a thriving port with 4,000 inhabitants into a ghost town.
But the crackers were not the only ones who came to Florida
to seek their fortunes. With them came many wealthy planters
whose slaves raised cotton, corn, sugar cane, rice, and tobacco,
creating new wealth for their masters. In a very short time
the region was marked by the same wide class disparities which
characterized the rest of the South, and the poor folks con-
tinued to eke a living from their garden plots, firearms, and
All of the settlers, rich and poor alike, proceeded at once to
the pleasant and profitable business of robbing the "pesky In-
juns" of their lands and herds. The Seminoles fought back
with admirable fortitude from 1835 to 1842, when the major-
ity of them agreed to emigrate to Western reservations. The
campaigns, which were marked by repeated treachery on the
part of the Americans, cost the lives of some 1,500 American
soldiers and the loss of $40,000,000 in expenditures and prop-
erty damages. It was the longest war ever waged by the United
SMany Florida cities still bear the names of the forts which
were erected along the navigable waterways. The first Florida
62 PALMETTO COUNTRY
railroad-Tallahassee to St. Marks-was chartered in 1831, and
in spite of the Seminole Wars the territory's population in-
creased more than fifty-six per cent in the following decade.
Statehood-with Liberty and Justice for All Whites
In 1845 Florida was admitted to statehood along with Iowa,
in accordance with the national policy of admitting an equal
number of slave and free states. According to a writer of the
times, "There was no hope of anything like a comfortable main-
tenance then, but what a change came over the country before
1860." The census of that year revealed that there were 78,000
whites in Florida, 25,00ooo of whom were slave-owners. Of these,
250 owned more than fifty slaves, and forty-seven owned more
than o00 slaves. There were seventy-seven plantations of more
than 1,ooo acres each. Approximately half of the population
was native born, twenty-two per cent was from Georgia, eleven
per cent from South Carolina, and five per cent from North
The preponderance of settlers from Georgia was reflected in
the lyrics of such fiddle dance tunes as:
I WANT TO Go BACK TO GEORGY
The coon he takes a ringy tail,
The possum takes a slick un;
Oh, the coon he eats my new-ground corn,
And the possum catches chicken.
I wouldn't have you to save your life,
Because you are my cousin,
And I can get a-plenty more,
For eighteen cents a dozen.
The higher you climb the cherry tree,
The riper is the berry;
The more you court that pretty li'l gal,
The sooner she will marry.
STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER 63
I want to go back to Georgy,
And I want to go back to Georgy.
There has always been keen rivalry between Florida and
Georgia, in everything from country-cured "ham-what-am" to
football. Florida crackers often seek to put Georgia crackers
in their place by telling them, "You may have been born and
bred in Georgia, but you're nothing but a crumb here."
In the ante-bellum period the north-central Florida counties
attracted the most settlers, who were said to have been a "mod-
erately cultured and eminently forceful lot of people." Accord-
ing to Verdad, an anonymous correspondent writing from
Gainesville in 186o, "The first settlers of middle Florida were
generally enterprising, educated gentlemen who emigrated
there some 40 years ago from Virginia, North and South Caro-
lina. The population which has flowed into East Florida in the
last 15 years has emigrated chiefly from Georgia, Alabama, and
the Carolinas, and the proportion of first-class planters which
it embraces forms a large and controlling element in the society
of that section."
Tallahassee had changed somewhat since 1827, when Ralph
Waldo Emerson described it as "a grotesque place, selected
three years since as a suitable spot for the capital, and since
that day rapidly settled by public officers, land speculators, and
desperadoes." Along with Madison, Monticello, and Quincy,
Tallahassee became a center of "a new Southern aristocracy"
(and the headquarters for the Methodist and Episcopal conver-
sion of the section).
The "Tournament of Love and Beauty" was an annual Tal-
lahassee affair in the '6os and '7os, and was usually held at
Christmas time. Three posts were erected about fifty yards
apart, an arm extended from each pole, and from these a hinged
slat held lightly a small iron ring wrapped with red flannel.
The rings hung at shoulder height of a mounted man, and
gaily costumed "knights," riding at top speed, sought to pick
them off on the tip of a slender lance. Each knight "rode at
64 PALMETTO COUNTRY
the rings" three times, and occasionally someone scored nine
ringers. He who scored highest won the privilege of crowning
the "Queen of Love and Beauty," while runners-up named her
maids of honor. The events were climaxed by a gala ball dur-
ing the evening.
From Jefferson County came such gallants as the Knight of
Ravenwood, Knight of the Border, Roland of Avenel, and the
Knight of the Golden Fleece; while James Fitz James, the Un-
known Knight, and the Knights of the Red Cross, Malta, and
Greenwood came from Leon County. In a word, the uppercrust
society of the section was medieval.
The crackers who made up the mass of the white popula-
tion were of a different sort, and their folksongs and ways re-
flected their predominant Irish and Scotch background. Some
were recent immigrants who had been driven overseas by the
Irish potato famine of 1848. The grim memory of that event is
perpetuated in this folksong:
THREE GRAINS OF CORN
Give me three grains of corn, Mother,
Only three grains of corn,
To keep the little life I have
Till coming of the morn.
I'm dying of hunger and cold, Mother,
Dying of hunger and cold,
And half the pain of such a death
My lips have never told.
I dreamed of bread in my sleep, Mother,
The sight was Heaven to me,
I woke with eager, hungry lips;
But you had no bread for me.
What has poor Ireland done, Mother,
The rich man and the great?
O give me just three grains of corn,
Before it is too late!
STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER 65
Come closer to my side, Mother,
Come closer to my side,
And hold me fondly, as you held
My sister when she died.
I cannot see you now, Mother,
My breath is almost gone;
This breath I have will never last
Till coming of the morn.
Once in America, the Irish immigrants were able to look
back on their sufferings with admirable humor, as in this song:
Oh, they raise potatoes small, over there,
Oh, they raise potatoes small
And they dig them in the fall
And they eat tops and all, over there.
Oh, they chew tobacco thin, over there,
Oh, they chew tobacco thin
And it runs down on their chins
And they lick it in agin, over there.
Got a gal named Dinah, over there,
Got a gal named Dinah
And her cheeks are painted China,
You can have her if you can find her, over there.
Before the Civil War, crackers were often called "sand-
lappers," because their children "contracted the habit of eating
dirt." This "habit," now known to be a symptom of hookworm
infection, has by no means disappeared; in many counties the
entire rural population is infected at some time during life.
A hard-drinking, hard-fighting, hard-loving lot, the crackers
are nevertheless ferociously addicted to piety. Mostly Baptist
and Methodist fundamentalists, their favorite hymnal has been
the folksy Original Sacred Harp, as contrasted with the sedate
hymn-books of the big planters. They hold frequent singing
66 PALMETTO COUNTRY
festivals where they try to "sing each other down" with the
-largest repertoire, and at periodic square dances they "dance
the pigeons off the roof." They are also fond of such festivities
as family reunions, fence raising, cane grindings, taffy pulls,
corn huskings, bear hunts, chicken pileus, barbecues, and the
IWANTA tell you all I can about slave days," said Mama
Duck, "and I wanta tell it right. I done prayed and got all
the malice out of my heart, and I aint gonna tell no lies for em
or on em.
In 1935, at her shack in "The Scrub" on the outskirts of
Tampa, Mama Duck claimed she was lo years old. She com-
plained that when she first took over the abandoned shack she
had trouble driving off young couples who had been using it
as a "courtin-house." She complained further that the relief
office had blacklisted her because she refused to go to the poor
house without her trunk of "valuables." But let her continue
her story about slave days:
"My whippin-boss was Mister Joe Sylvester. He had his pets
among the women, and let em off light. The worst he ever
give em was a bop over the head with a battlin-stick.-You
know what a battlin-stick is: to stir clothes in boiler pots. He
had his pets among the menfolks, too, and sometimes he would
only strap em over a barrel and give em a few licks with a
bull whip. But those who tried to run away got frammed-out
plenty. He would tie a rope around their wrists and hoist them
up until only their toes touched the ground. Then he beat em
all over the back and rump with a heavy wooden paddle drilled
full of holes. Every hole made a blister. Then he made em lie
down on the ground and he taken a rawhide whip and busted
them blisters one at a time. After that he throwed salt brine
all over em."
Besides flogging, there was the "buck-and-gag" method of
punishing slaves, whereby they were doubled about a hoe,
shovel, or board, and left to lie in the hot sun. Stocks with
apertures for the neck, wrists, and ankles were used in the
same way. An ingenious device was a cabinet so contrived that
68 PALMETTO COUNTRY
the slave enclosed in it was prevented by its small dimensions
from either standing erect or sitting. Slaves with a propensity
for running away were often fitted with connecting iron bands
around their waist and neck, with a bell attached to the neck
Gangs of "patrollers," composed of thrill-seeking hoodlums,
plied a lucrative trade of capturing, punishing, and returning
runaway slaves. These predecessors to the Klansmen were espe-
cially active during the Civil War, when most of the white
man-power was away from home. A former slave named "Par-
son" Andrews recalled an incident in which a party of patrollers
entered a slave cabin and accused a group of visiting slaves of
having run away. One of the "runaways" reached into a bed of
hot coals and threw them into the faces of the patrollers, and
in the resulting confusion the slaves escaped and returned to
their own cabins.
Some patrollers were slave-raiders in disguise. Florida Clay-
ton, the daughter of a white father and Negro mother, recalled
that a large covered wagon made periodic visits to the section
around Tallahassee. In it came a band of men who told white
folks they were patrollers, and told Negroes they were aboli-
tionists, and thus succeeded in kidnapping many slaves whom
they sold in Alabama. The leaders of the outfit were widely
known and feared by the Negroes as "Mister Nimrod and
Slaves reacted to cruelty in different ways-by running away,
openly rebelling, or by passive resistance and sabotage. One
woman, tired of being beaten by her overseer, turned on him
and hacked him to death with a hoe.
The pursuit of slaves provided a popular theme for folk-
songs like the following one from Micanopy, Florida:
RUN, NIGGER, RUN!
That nigger run, that nigger flew;
That nigger tore his shirt in two.
Nigger and white man running through the field ;
Couldn't see nothing but the nigger's heel.
SLAVE DAYS 69
White man run like a railroad car;
Nigger run like a shooting star.
I run that nigger, I run my best;
I run my head in a hornets' nest.
Nigger and white man playing seven-up;
Nigger beat, but the white man wouldn't give up.
Some folks say that niggers don't steal;
But I caught one in my corn field .
Some folks say that gals don't climb;
But I caught seven up a short-leaf pine.
I went down to my pea patch,
To see if my old hen had hatched.
When I got there, she'd fell in the stream,
And MAellie was beating on the tambourine.
Run, nigger, run!
The patterole'll ketch you!
Run, nigger, run, it's almost day!
White labor was more widely employed during slave days
than is generally realized. Planters were especially anxious to
employ whites to do dangerous work that might cause the ill-
ness or death of their slaves. But the competition with slave
labor led the whites to monopolize certain occupations, and
their skilled craft unions barred Negroes from membership,
just as they do today. The growing political strength of the
laboring whites was reflected in laws enacted between 1845-60
restricting the activities of free Negroes. Nevertheless, a con-
siderable number of Negroes became proficient at skilled trades
and found employment in the larger towns. In most cases, how-
ever, it was impossible for a free Negro to earn more than ten
dollars per month, while free Negro children were paid five
dollars per month for farm labor.
70 PALMETTO COUNTRY
Such conditions led many free Negroes to enter servitude
voluntarily. One free Negro in St. Augustine became indebted
to the amount of $850, and entered a three-year period of
slavery to liquidate it. Cato Smith, a free Connecticut Negro
traveling in Florida, became a slave for seven years in order
to obtain the freedom of the woman he wanted to marry.
George Proctor, a free Negro who came to Tallahassee from
the Bahamas, entered business as a contractor and built many
of the city's finest homes, including those widely known as
"The Three Sisters." In 1849 he resolved to go to California
to look for gold. He did not have enough money to make the
trip, so he mortgaged his wife and six children. When he failed
to find gold the members of his family were sold as slaves to
George Rutgers, a banker. Proctor died before the outbreak of
the Civil War, without having seen his family again.
One of his sons, also named George, was still living in Talla-
hassee in 1942. George was born free, sold into slavery, eman-
cipated, served six years as a member of the Florida Legisla-
ture, and at the age of ninety-four was subsisting on an old-
age pension of ten dollars per month. "When Pa left to go to
California he never meant for us to be sold. We was born free!"
he declared. Asked about his memories of slavery, he replied,
"It didn't seem much different from any other time-I've al-
ways had to work hard to live." He had never attended a mo-
tion picture, but had read rather extensively; at the time he was
rereading Pilgrim's Progress. As for his thoughts about the War
for the Four Freedoms, John said, "I don't think of it-I don't
have much truck with wars."
Curfew ordinances for Negroes were common. In Key West
in 1840-when there were ninety-six slaves and seventy-six free
Negroes in the town-an ordinance forbade any slave to be on
the streets after sundown without written permission from
his owner, and free Negroes were required to have permission
from the mayor or an alderman. Negroes were also forbidden
to play fiddles, beat drums, or make any other noises after the
five-minute ringing of the curfew bell. Every white citizen was
empowered to apprehend any Negro who failed to reach home
SLAVE DAYS 71
before the bell stopped ringing, and take him before the mayor
or an alderman and obtain an order committing him to jail.
The penalty was optional with the victim: a whipping, or three
days' work on the city streets.
By 1850 this ordinance was being enforced by James Filor,
the provost marshal. He locked his victims in the "market
house," a sweat-box frame building twelve feet square with a
single barred window overlooking the ocean. Townspeople
who saw Negroes running for home would taunt them by
Oh, Filor's sly as a mouse-
Locked the niggers in the market house;
Kept them there till half past nine-
Five dollars was their fine.
Run, nigger, run! Filor will get you!
Run, nigger, run! Filor will get you!
Wish I was in Filor's place,
To give them niggers a longer race!
The Florida Legislature of 1853 passed a law prohibiting a
Negro or mulatto from purchasing more than one quart of
liquor at a time, and then only with a written order from a
white person. Later in the same year the Legislature amended
the law, prohibiting the sale of liquor to a Negro under any
circumstances. Through an oversight, mulattoes were not men-
tioned in the amendment, and so were still allowed to pur-
chase one quart under the original provision. This situation
was protested by Mayor W. C. Maloney of Key West, who
addressed a letter to James Filor, then representative of Monroe
County, in which he said:
"Such a state of things, if desirable elsewhere, must be in-
tolerable here. The inequality between the owner of a negro
and the owner of a mulatto, on the same errand, is certainly
surprising. This will suggest to you the necessity for legislation
on the subject."
Education for slaves was strictly vocational, and was designed
72 PALMETTO COUNTRY
to increase their value to their owners. On a plantation in
Pensacola, slaves caught attempting to write had their fingers
chopped off. A former slave named Annie Trip said, "The
white folks sure didn't like no nigger what could read and
write. Miss Jane used to teach us Sunday school, but she never
would let us look at the book or touch it with our hands."
"I remember old Uncle George Bull could read and write,"
recalled another one-time slave. "They used to take him and
beat him just because of it. They would beat him and take
him down to the lake and put him on a log and shove it out.
Uncle George couldn't swim, but he always managed to get
back somehow. Sometimes they beat him till the blood ran out,
then throwed him in a ditch and covered him up, head and
all. After they had gone away I would go dig him out and
he would say thank you, brush off the dirt, then get his hoe
and go on back to work."
In spite of such treatment, a mulatto named Robert
Meacham went about the plantation of his white owner-father
near Quincy, and-secretly by candlelight-taught many of the
slaves to read and write. Such efforts were generally regarded
by slave-holders as connected with the abolition movement.
Chips from the Smokehouse Floor
White man kill muscogee duck;
Give the nigger the bones to suck.
A cold cup o coffee and the meat's mighty fat;
The white folks growl if we eats much of that.
White man in the dinin room, eatin cake and cream;
Nigger in the kitchen, eatin good old greasy greens.
The food afforded slaves was extremely meager; their sub-
sistence diet consisted very largely of the cheapest commodities
and least desirable and left-over portions of meat. When the
work signal sounded early in the morning, many slaves had to
"grab it and run," that is, snatch a sandwich or hunk of corn
bread and eat it on the way to the fields. The lunch period
SLAVE DAYS 73
was likewise brief, and the slaves had to eat rapidly in order to
get a few minutes' rest.
Supper was eaten in the slave's cabin with whatever family
he might have. Salt pork, fresh vegetables, potatoes, and corn
bread were the usual fare. The corn bread was sometimes
cooked in an "iron spider," a large pan with a compartment
for hot coals. Potatoes were wrapped in tannion leaves or green
corn husks, and baked in an open fire. "Coffee" was made from
parched corn or corn meal, or even from okra seed or burnt
A former slave named Hattie Thomas, residing in 1942 in
Miami's slums, recalled that, "They used to pour milk into a
wooden trough and throw corn bread in it; then us children
would line up at the trough and those who could eat the fastest
got the fattest."
The slaves' Sunday menu showed but slight improvement
over their week-day fare. A frequent addition was potato bread,
made of boiled sweet potatoes, which were mashed, mixed with
grease and corn meal, and baked until brown. Few slaves of the
Palmetto Country were given sugar; their usual "long sweeten-
ing" was molasses.
Salt was another rare commodity among slaves. On many
plantations the slaves scraped the smokehouse floor at every
opportunity to get salt, and when they scrubbed the smoke-
house floor they saved the scrub-water and used it for season-
ing. The floor boards were also chipped, and the chips when
used for seasoning imparted a flavor of both salt and meat.
The slaves' wardrobe was invariably limited and plain. The
indigo plant provided blue coloring for cloth, and the poke
berry made an attractive red. Oak bark provided various shades
of brown, and walnut made a fadeless dark brown. Colored
clothing was a rarity among slaves, however, and they carefully
preserved such "Sunday-go-to-meetin" garments for special
A description of slaves at work was given by a traveler in the
South in 1856: "They were dressed in coarse grey gowns, gen-
erally very much burned and dirty. On their legs were pieces
74 PALMETTO COUNTRY
of blanket or bagging lashed with thongs, and they wore heavy
shoes. The overseer rode about among them on a horse, carry-
ing in his hand a rawhide whip. I had never before witnessed
anything more revolting than the whole scene." Yet the slaves
somehow managed to keep alive their sense of humor, as evi-
denced in work songs like the following from Fernandina:
I knocked a man from the eastern shore,
Ho, ho, come along;
I heard him fall in Baltimore,
Ho, ho, come along.
Mosquito eat a bellyful of buckwheat dough,
Ho, ho, come along;
Then turn right 'round and beg for more,
Ho, ho, come along.
Slave-Breeding for Profit
Many slaves were married by the simple process of "jumping
over the broom," a ritual probably imported from Africa. A
broom would be placed on the floor, the bride would leap over
it, then the groom, and so they were married.
It was customary for slave-owners to encourage or force the
marriage or breeding of their slaves, for the same reasons they
bred their livestock. To increase the number of one's slaves was
to increase one's wealth and prestige. Besides those who bred
slaves for themselves, there were others whose business was
the breeding of slaves to supply the market; this industry
boomed after the importation of slaves was forbidden.
The strongest and most intelligent Negroes were selected as
"breeders," and some slave-holders saw to it that their strongest
Negro man fathered the children of all their woman slaves.
The women selected as breeders were maintained primarily for
that purpose, and often were required to do only light house-
work. The white slave-owners and overseers also mated with
the breeders, and their mulatto offspring were valued as house
SLAVE DAYS 75
Another plantation job was that of the "suckler," a woman
with an abundant supply of milk whose duty it was to nurse the
babies of slave mothers who worked in the fields. Many pros-
pective slave mothers were not allowed to leave the fields un-
til their labor pains started. Their babies were taken from
them and given to a suckler when only a few weeks old, so that
they could return to the field work.
New Names for Old Gods
For a long time there was a suspicion among slave-owners
that proponents of religion for Negroes were abolitionists in
disguise. The intensive Catholic teaching among the Negroes
of St. Augustine during the Spanish reigns had such lasting
effect that Protestant missionaries who later appeared among
them were severely beaten. In many places slaves were forbid-
den to attend or conduct religious services. At the hamlet of
Sixteen (Florida), a slave mother saw her son killed for attend-
ing church, and was threatened with death herself if she did
not cease her weeping.
But the slave-owners were not long in recognizing that reli-
gion had a practical value in increasing the productivity of
their slaves, and by 1856 religious services for slaves were com-
pulsory on most plantations. "The preachers, white and col-
ored, was all the time tellin us to mind our masters and not
steal, and we'd be saved; but they never told us nothing about
Jesus," said a former slave. The slaves were assured of heavenly
bliss if they followed the prescribed code; if they did not, they
were given to understand that they faced an eternal damnation
of fire and brimstone, not to mention the more immediate and
familiar forms of punishment at hand.
Judging from the response of the slaves, they were sadly in
need of some form of religious outlet and consolation, no mat-
ter how remote and ephemeral the benefits. Something of the
compensation psychology created by these religious teachings
is revealed in the following slave work song from Fernandina:
76 PALMETTO COUNTRY
We have a just God to plead our cause,
Plead our cause,
We have a just God to plead our cause,
For we are the chillun of God.
Come along, I tell ya, doncha be afeard,
Doncha be afeard,
Come along my people, doncha be ashamed,
For we are the chillun of God.
There were many slaves, however, whom the spirit failed to
move. One such individual, who was still living in 1942, com-
plains that "After we had done worked in the fields from 4:30
in the morning to 6:3o at night for six days in the week, we had
to get up at seven o'clock Sunday morning to listen to the
preacher." Another ex-slave reported that a full-time preacher
on his plantation was exceedingly unpopular with the other
slaves "cause he wore a big high hat and was all the time
snoopin around and tellin the master everything we done."
A few white churches permitted slaves to enter by a separate
door and sit in a separate section, while other churches con-
ducted a "special" service for slaves after the regular service for
whites was over. But for the most part the slaves conducted
their own meetings, usually in the open air around a camp-
fire. In some instances, pliable young saplings were trimmed to
serve as "jerkin poles" to which the "prayin brethern and
agonizin sister" could cling during their spiritual convolu-
Baptismal ceremonies were frequently held at near-by lakes
and streams. The candidates, robed in dress-like garments, were
led in a singing procession down to the water's edge. The
preacher and his assistants remained in the water about waist-
deep, and the candidates were led out one at a time for sub-
mersion. Some candidates resisted, and had to be forcibly
ducked; and sometimes the reluctant ones succeeded in duck-
ing the preacher.
Meanwhile the congregation on the bank sang and the wait-
ing candidates worked themselves into real or simulated seizures
SLAVE DAYS 77
of spiritual frenzy, many of them "falling out" unconscious.
When all candidates had been immersed, a triumphant proces-
sion marched back to the quarters. This entire baptismal pro-
cedure has survived without change in many rural communities
of the Palmetto Country.
But the Negro merely accepted the external form of the reli-
gion of his masters, and unconsciously used it as a cloak for his
inherited paganism. In reality, he stood before new altars and
called upon his old gods by new names. The Christian concept
of the heavenly triumph of the meek and submissive combined
easily with the paganistic acceptance of might as right; and
the two together admirably served the purposes of the institu-
tion of slavery.
The Southern Negro did not long retain his organized Afri-
can religious cults, but he did preserve an elaborate body of
superstitious beliefs that affected every aspect of his life. An
interesting sample of such beliefs is provided by a former slave.
"My Uncle July mixed some graveyard dust and lightwood
splinters and smeared it on his feet before he ran away, and
that kept Mister Bob Amos' bloodhounds from ketchin him.
And while he was hidin in the woods he sprinkled cotton-seed
on the ground to keep the cold away."
Other beliefs widely held by the slaves were that hogs could
see the wind, and that it appeared blood-red to them; that every
Christmas morning all animals could speak fluently; that a
pearl button or watermelon rind worn around a child's neck
would eliminate pain during teething; that a concoction made
of boiled wasps' nests and vinegar would help a child learn to
walk; that occasional breast nursing of older children would
help build sound bones and teeth, and that so long as a woman
was nursing she would not become pregnant.
The Man with the Branded Hand
Then lift that manly hand,
Bold ploughman of the wave;
Its branded palm shall prophesy,
Salvation to the slave.
78 PALMETTO COUNTRY
Hold up its fire-wrought language
That whoso reads may feel
His heart swell strong within him,
His sinews changed to steel.
Those lines penned by Whittier in 1846 have immortalized
Jonathan Walker, the Man with the Branded Hand, but the
events which led to his being branded are not so widely known.
Born a free Negro on Cape Cod in 1799-the year George
Washington died-Jonathan Walker spent much of his early
life at sea. In 1835 he went to Mexico to assist in colonizing
Negroes who had escaped from slavery in the United States.
The "underground railroad" had been established about 1832,
and Walker served as one of its "conductors." During the six
years prior to 1844 he lived with his family in Florida.
In that year he took on board his small open boat seven run-
away slaves from Pensacola, and set sail on an 8oo-mile journey
to the British Bahamas where the slaves could find freedom.
They succeeded in rounding the Florida Keys, but then Walker
suffered a sunstroke. The slaves, believing him to be dead, cov-
ered his body with canvas. Not knowing anything about navi-
gation, they drifted helplessly for days. Meanwhile a reward
of $1,700 had been offered for their capture and return; the
announcement was accompanied by the comment that Walker
had been absent from his family for two years "without appar-
ent necessity," and that "he seems to have had no reasonable or
proper business here."
As Walker later wrote his wife, "We were overhauled by a
wrecker, the sloop Catharine from Key West, and by force
taken to that port. I was carried before a justice of the peace,
and thence to jail where I was kept for four days. Then I was
put into the hold of a steamboat, among rubbish and filth, the
heat being extreme, placed in heavy irons both hands and feet,
and kept six days in which time the vessel steamed to Pensacola.
There I was taken to court, and again to jail, where I now am,
secured to a large ring-bolt by a chain made of half-inch iron
and with a five-pound shackle around my ankle."
SLAVE DAYS 79
The Pensacola Gazette reported Walker's arrival as follows:
"The U.S.S. General Taylor arrived Thursday evening bring-
ing as a prisoner Jonathan Walker, charged with recently hav-
ing abducted the seven negro slaves. When the prisoner landed
on the wharf the crowd was immense. As he was escorted to
the court-house the crowd thronged the streets and sidewalks,
and the court-room was filled to overflowing by a highly ex-
cited mass of people. No doubt Walker's punishment will be
Actually, Walker was saved from lynching by the sheriff and
deputy who held the mob at bay with drawn revolvers. His
boat was confiscated, and the slaves were returned to their
owners. Unable to post bond, he spent four months in jail
awaiting trial. About this imprisonment he later said, "My sick-
ness and the treatment I had received had reduced me to a
skeleton. Many times I grasped around my leg above the knee,
over the trousers, with one hand so that my thumb and fingers
met. The hungry mosquitoes tried hard to draw a little support
from my emaciated form."
The United States District Court sentenced Walker to be
taken from the prison, placed for an hour in the pillory on
the public highway and pelted with rotten eggs; from thence
to be returned to his cell, to the bars of which his right arm
should be lashed, and in the palm of it be branded with a red-
hot iron the letters "SS," signifying "Slave Stealer." In addition
he was sentenced to one year in prison for each of the seven
slaves and also fined $600 for each slave, plus the costs of the
During the egg-pelting someone removed a covering that
had been placed over Walker's eyes, and a boy who cried shame
at the act was arrested and fined. The first blacksmith who was
asked to make the branding iron is reported to have replied,
"I make irons to brand horses, mules, and cattle, but to burn
the flesh of a fellowman-by the living God, I will not!" An-
other blacksmith made the iron, but refused to heat it at his
forge. "There is only one fire in the universe fit to heat such
an iron," said he.
80 PALMETTO COUNTRY
From 1845 to 1849 Walker went about the North lecturing
against slavery, and his branded hand came to mean "Slave
Savior." When he died in 1878, Photius Fisk, chaplain of the
United States Navy, erected a monument at his grave which is
engraved with the branded hand and Whittier's lines. Frederick
Douglass, the leading Negro emancipator, paid tribute to
Walker, saying, "I knew him well. He was a brave but noiseless
lover of liberty."
"Whereas I Don't Give a Damn!"
"Whereas I am of sound mind and disposing memory and
know what I am doing, and whereas I know perfectly well that
it is against the laws and conventions of life to marry a colored
person, and whereas this is my property and it is not anybody's
damn business what I do with it, and whereas I have an African
wife, and believe that the amalgamation of the white and col-
ored races is to the best interests of America, and whereas I
know that what I am about to do is going to bring down tre-
mendous criticism, but I don't give a damn; now therefore I
give to my wife, Anna Madgigiane Jai Kingsley, one-twelfth
of my estate, one-sixth to our son John Maxwell Kingsley, and
one-third to our son George Kingsley; also one-sixth to Flora
H. Kingsley and her children who I acknowledge are mine, and
one-twelfth to Micanopy, my son by Sarah Murphy Kingsley.
I further leave ten thousand dollars to each and every child
which my wife might have by a white husband after my death.
"I do hereby order and direct that my body be buried in the
nearest and most convenient place without any Religious cere-
mony whatsoever, and that it may be excused from the usual
indiscreet formalities and parade of washing, dressing, &8c., or
exposure in any way.
"I do hereby authorize my Executors to allow any of my
slaves the privilege of purchasing their freedom at one-half the
price of their valuation, on consideration of their migrating to
Hayti, if they cannot be allowed to stay as free in this Territory.
"I do solemnly enjoin my children, that seeing the illiberal
SLAVE DAYS 81
and inequitable laws of this Territory will not afford to them
and to their children that protection and justice which is due
in civilized society to every human being: Always to keep by
them a Will, ready-made and legally executed, directing the
disposal of their property after their death until they can re-
move themselves and property to some land of liberty where the
conditions of society are governed by some law less absurd than
that of color.
"This I strongly recommend, nor do I know in what light
the law may consider my acknowledged wife, as our connubial
relations took place in a foreign land, where our marriage was
celebrated and solemnized by her native African custom altho
never celebrated according to the forms of Christian usage; yet
she has always been respected as my wife and as such I acknowl-
edge her, nor do I think that her truth, honor, integrity, moral
conduct, or good sense will lose in comparison with anyone."
The foregoing may not be a true and exact copy of the last
Will and Testament of Zephaniah Kingsley, but it was pub-
lished as such in the Florida Times-Union. Certain it is that
most of its provisions are correct.
Born in 1765 in Scotland, Kingsley spent his early manhood
in Brazil and the West Indies amassing a fortune as a coffee
merchant and slave-trader. He acquired Fort George Island in
the mouth of the St. Johns River in 1817, and for over twenty
years it was the headquarters of his slave-trading. In time he
came to own some 5,000 acres in East Florida.
On the north end of Fort George Island he built a comfort-
able home, now known as the "Homestead," and a crescent of
coquina slave huts. He operated his own fleet of slave ships,
building many of them at Fort George and near-by Mayport.
He had contracted with an African tribal king to deliver slaves
to his partner, a man named Reuter, at the mouth of the Congo.
After bringing them to Fort George, he put the slaves through
a rigorous course of vocational training and conversational
English. Kingsley spoke a number of African dialects, and his
graduates, known throughout the South as "Kingsley's niggers,"
brought premium prices at the slave marts. His slaves cost him
82 PALMETTO COUNTRY
from fifty cents to fifty dollars per head in Africa, and he sold
them for $1,ooo to $1,500 each.
It was on one of his African slaving expeditions that he mar-
ried Anna Madgigiane Jai, daughter of a Senegalese Negro
tribal chief. He brought her to Fort George, where she was
mistress of his home and plantation and was served by many
slaves. They had four children: George, John, Martha, and
Mary, the last of whom married John S. Sammis, a Scotch
ship-builder and owner of a plantation at Arlington (Florida).
Rumor has it that Kingsley gave Sammis a handsome dowry,
and that the wedding was performed on the high seas to remove
it from the jurisdiction of the Territorial laws.
Sammis and his wife also had four children: Egbert, Edwin,
George, and Martha. Sammis provided a private school for his
children, and permitted the children of free Negroes to attend
with them. Later he sent his children to New York for higher
Kingsley's other daughter Martha married a well-to-do white
man named Oran Baxter from Cold Springs, New York. They,
too, settled on the St. Johns River, and were frequently visited
by "Ma'am Anna," as Kingsley's wife was called.
At the height of his career Kingsley wrote a book, The Patri-
archal System of Society, in which he extolled the merits of
slave-holding as a means of disseminating certain benefits
among uncivilized peoples. The book ran through four editions.
When the "Patriots' Rebellion" took place, Kingsley was
asked to contribute $250 to the cause, or have some of his prop-
erty sold to raise that amount. After Florida became a part of
the United States he was paid $73,222 for the damages he
claimed to have suffered during the rebellion.
Kingsley's son George married a wealthy French woman
named Anatoile V. Travers, and their four children were
named Georgiana, Estoile, George, and Zephaniah, all of whom
were born in the United States except Zephaniah, who was
born at Yorsica, near Puerta Plata, Dominican Republic.
In 1839 Ma'am Anna and her sons John and George went to
SLAVE DAYS 83
Haiti to live, taking with them George's family and Micanopy,
Kingsley's child by the Negress Sarah Murphy. Kingsley died in
New York City at the age of seventy-eight in 1843, and eight of
his collateral kin petitioned that his will be broken on the
grounds that the beneficiaries were slaves and were residing
outside the United States. But the Duval County (Florida) court
ordered confirmation of the Will, charging the petitioners
$14.06 court costs. The courts later sustained the attack on the
document on the grounds that it was "against the public policy
and institutions of America." The case went to the Florida
Supreme Court, and a settlement was finally reached.
George Kingsley spoke for the members of his family in op-
posing the collateral kin. He wrote his brother-in-law Sammis,
"I wish you to hold out that if ever there is a likelihood of my
losing my property I am going straight to Boston where I can
be near the family of Kingsley." These Boston Kingsleys were
most prominent, and George's presence there would have been
But in one way or another Kingsley's collateral kin gained
possession of much of his property, and thus were established
the fortunes of some of the region's most prominent families.
Rich Man's War, Poor Man's Fight
Jeff Davis rides a big white horse,
Abe Lincoln rides a mule;
Jeff Davis is our president,
Abe Lincoln is a fool!
With an agricultural economy dependent upon slave labor,
and with its legislature dominated by wealthy planters, it was
to be expected that Florida would go along with the secession
movement. A Democratic convention held in Tallahassee in
1860 resolved that "negro slavery is a necessary institution, and
it is the duty of Congress to protect slavery and to enforce the
fugitive slave law." A celebration at Madison voiced the same
84 PALMETTO COUNTRY
sentiments. The "toast" of the day was, "A seceder in '32, the
same in '51; may peace be our motto until war is inevitable.
In consequence of Northern fanaticism, if the irrepressible con-
flict must come we are prepared to meet it; we would sacrifice
our lives before we would submit to a black Republican Party."
Florida was the third state to secede from the Union, the
ordinance being passed by a vote of sixty-two to seven on Janu-
ary lo, 1861. The population at the time was about 77,000
whites and 66,ooo Negroes. Though some 15,000 Floridians
served in the Confederate armies, the sentiment that the con-
flict was "a rich man's war and a poor man's fight" was more
widespread than has been admitted, and many of those who
served had to be conscripted. To poor white folks, Negro slav-
ery meant cut-throat competition. Large slave-holders were ex-
empt from conscription on the ground that they were vitally
needed to supervise the production of crops.
Though no decisive battles were fought on the peninsula,
the Federals captured many port towns and made a number of
inland penetrations in an effort to cut off the cotton, salt, beef,
turpentine, lumber, and other products which Florida supplied
the Confederacy after the imposition of the Federal blockade.
This blockade not only affected the Confederate armies, but
also prevented the home folks from living in the style to which
they had been accustomed. The ladies glorified their predica-
ment by adapting this old folksong:
THE HOMESPUN DRESS
Yes, I know I'm a Southern girl; I glory in the name,
And that I prize far greater than glittering wealth and fame.
I envy not the Northern girl her robes of beauty rare,
Though pearls bedeck her snowy neck, and diamonds fill her
My homespun dress is plain, I know; my hat is palmetto, too;
But now you see what Southern girls for Southern rights can do.
We sent the bravest of our land to battle with the foe,
And we lend a helping hand; we love the South, you know.
SLAVE DAYS 85
Our Sunny South's a glorious land, and ours a glorious cause,
So here's three cheers for Southerners and for our Southern
We sent our sweethearts to the war, but dear girls never mind,
The soldier boy will not forget the girl he left behind.
Now Northern goods are out of date since Old Abe's blockade;
We Southern girls can get along with those by Southerners
We scorn to wear a bit of silk or a bit of Northern lace,
But make our homespun dresses up and wear them with much
Hurrah! hurrah! for the Sunny South so dear;
Three cheers for the homespun dresses the Southern ladies
Salt was so scarce it often sold for a dollar a pound, and rich
and poor alike resorted to the Negroes' method of scrubbing
the smokehouse floor to obtain brine. Those whose smoke-
houses had dirt floors actually boiled the dirt and evaporated
the brine. Along the coasts, sea water was evaporated in boilers
and iron kettles such as those used in boiling sugar cane juice.
Men engaged in this business were exempt from conscription,
with the result that the coastal population boomed. Each fall,
inland folks from all parts of the Palmetto Country drove their
ox carts to the coast to boil down a supply of salt and brine.
The Confederate Government at length had in operation
$3,000,000 worth of salt distilleries along the Florida Gulf
coast. Federal forces sent into the St. Andrews Bay region to
destroy the mills reported, "The sky was lit up for miles, the
glare being reflected from fires of countless salt works along
On another occasion when the Federals marched from Jack-
sonville to Baldwin, a popular Confederate song was localized
to fit the event:
I CAN WHIP THE SCOUNDREL
The Yankees came to Baldwin,
They came up in the rear;
They thought they'd find old Abner,
But old Abner wasn't there.
So lay ten dollars down,
Or twenty if you choose;
For I can whip the scoundrel
That stole old Abner's shoes.
The Yankees took me prisoner,
They used me rough, 'tis true;
They took from me my knapsack,
And stole my blankets, too.
The Yankees took me prisoner,
But if I could get parole,
I'd go right back and fight them,
I would, upon my soul!
Negro volunteers, many of whom had been slaves in the
Palmetto Country, comprised a major portion of the invading
Federal forces, and were particularly valuable because of their
knowledge of the territory. Eventually there were three Negro
battalions stationed in Florida. An interesting picture of these
Negro soldiers was given in 1865 by Colonel T. W. Higgenson,
a white Northerner who commanded the first force of Negroes
to be employed against the Confederacy.
Even the North had been taken in by the Southern propa-
ganda that the use of Negro troops would result in unspeak-
able atrocities, and was apprehensive. In their first encounter
with their former masters, along the St. Mary's River, the
Negroes showed their eagerness to fight for freedom. "It was
difficult to make them cease firing," wrote Colonel Higgenson.
"One of them was heard to mutter indignantly, 'Why the
Cunnel order cease firin when the Secesh keep on blazin away
at the rate of ten dollars a day?' "
SLAVE DAYS 87
A colored Corporal Adam Ashton later recalled, "When I
heard the bombshells a-screamin through the woods like Judge-
ment Day, I said to myself, 'If my head gets took off tonight,
they can't put my soul in the torments unless God is my enemy.'
And when the rifle bullets came whizzin, I cried, 'God help my
congregation! Boys, load and fire!' "
Higgenson gave a vivid description of another of his colored
corporals, Robert Sutton. "He was a Florida man, and had
been employed in lumbering and piloting on the St. Mary's.
Down this stream he had escaped in a dugout, and then re-
turned to bring away his wife and child. 'I couldn't leave my
family, Cunnel,' he said. He yearned and pined for intellectual
companionship beyond all ignorant men whom I have ever
met. I believe he would have talked all day and all night, for
days together, to any officer who could instruct him. His mind
was at work all the time, even when he was singing hymns, of
which lie had an endless store."
The meeting of Sutton and the wife of his former owner at
Woodstock was described as follows by Higgenson: "Calling
up my companion, I said I believed she had been previously
acquainted with Corporal Robert Sutton? I never saw a finer
bit of unutterable indignation than came over the face of my
hostess, as she slowly recognized him. She drew herself up, and
dropped out the monosyllables of her answer as if they were
so many drops of nitric acid. 'Ah,' quoth my lady, 'we called
him Bob.' Corporal Sutton simply turned from her, touched
his hat to me, and asked if I would wish to see her slave-jail.
"At Fernandina I found building after building crowded
with costly furniture, just as it was sent from St. Mary's when
that town was captured. And here were my men, who knew
that their own labor had earned for their masters these lux-
uries, and that their own wives were still sleeping on the floor,
yet they submitted, almost without a murmur, to the enforced
Later, when Federal troops occupied Jacksonville and some
of them got out of control and indulged in rioting, a Confed-
erate observer reported, "It gives me pleasure to state that the
88 PALMETTO COUNTRY
Negro troops took no part in this vandalism, and were merely
silent spectators at a sad spectacle."
A story about one of these Negro troopers at Jacksonville has
been given wide currency. While shooting his way through
some "Debatable Land," as the Negroes called it, he captured
a fine domestic goose. Unwilling to forego his prize, he clamped
its head between his crotch and continued to advance and fire,
with the goose hissing and squawking at every step.
More pathetic was Higgenson's account of his men's recep-
tion of the Emancipation Proclamation. "When we received
a printed supply of the Proclamation the colored men seemed
overjoyed. Though very few of them could read it, they all
seemed to feel more secure when they held it in their hands."
The whole history of the war was succinctly summed up in
this Confederate soldiers' song:
JOHNNIE, FILL UP THE BOWL
The cruel war had just begun.
We all had enough to do.
Old Lincoln swore the niggers was free.
We drove em back to Baltimore.
Scarcely a Rebel was left alive.
Old Marse Jeff was in a damn bad fix.
So come up boys and we'll all take a drink.
We'll give Marse Jeff the one-eyed wink,
And we'll all drink stone-blind.
Johnnie, fill up the bowl!