Beyond Tourism: Florida's Yesteryear

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The first white settler of Lake Worth July 16, 2010

A. Oswald Lang, first white settler of Lake Worth

Augustus Oswald Lang was the first white settler of Lake Worth. You first read about him on my blog in this post about Protecting Florida’s Coasts during Times of War. He was working as an assistant lighthouse keeper at Jupiter Inlet when the war broke out and he sided with the south and forced the head lighthouse keeper, Jose Francisco Papy aka Joe Papy to leave the lighthouse via his personal craft and return to Key West. He and his cronies then disassemble the lighthouse just enough to keep it out of commission and bury the parts.

Why were the parts not buried and the lighthouse only disassembled rather than

An Original First Order Fresnel Light

destroyed like other east coast Florida lighthouses? It is because it is a Fresnel light the best of it’s kind at the time. It’s light on a clear night could be seen all the way out to the Bahamas which was 20 miles out to sea. It costs $5,000 in 1830. If the same lens were bought today it would cost approximately $99,377.03. The missing parts were later found and sent to Key West for safe keeping until 1866 when it was sent back to Jupiter Inlet and put back into the lighthouse. The Jupiter Inlet lighthouse was out of commission from 1861- 1866 for five years.

He joined the Confederate Army in 1862. A little over a year later in 1863 he deserted. Wanted by the Confederacy for desertion and wanted by the United States for destruction of the lighthouses he went to the most isolated place he could think of to avoid both governments, Lake Worth. Lake Worth was named after Colonel William Jenkins Worth who is considered responsible for ending the Second Seminole War. It was so isolated due to the difficulties of reaching it by boat due to the serpentine river system that could only be steered by pole barge. During the summer,  mosquitoes made their home here due to plenty of standing water and the Florida heat, perfect conditions for the spreading of malaria and other mosquito carrying diseases.

While living along the shores of Lake Worth in a palmetto hut Lang returned to his old occupation of gardening. It is said that he used to be the former gardener to the King of Prussia and that he immigrated from Germany. It is here that he renewed his interests in gardening and came up with many exotic trees and plants that future settlers of the area would eventually use. He stayed there until 1866 when according to The First Arrivals on pbchistoryonline “Michael and George Sears of Biscayne Bay were sailing along the coast in 1866 when they discovered a new opening from Lake Worth. Sailing into the lake, they met Lang, who had dug the inlet. Reportedly, Lang was surprised to hear the war had ended, and soon left the area for St. Lucie to the north.” Once he left it was said that he returned to Lake Worth from time to time to check on his horticulture experiments.

Lang eventually married and had one child. His wife was just 14 and he was 35.  But it does not end happily for Lang. According to Mary Collar Linehan who wrote about Lang for the Lake Worth Pioneer’s Association Lang was murdered in 1874 two months before his only child was born and his wife not even 18.  Here is an account by witness named Hendry.

In a quarrel amongst Lang, Drawdy, and a man named Padgett, Drawdy and Padgett killed the old man Lang, and cut up the body and placed it in some alligator holes, the ‘gators destroying the corpse.

The two murderers were found and brought to trial in Ocala and served 8 years each.

To learn more about Lang click on the various link in this post. To learn more about the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and the history Jupiter Inlet read “A Light in the Wilderness: The Story of Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse & The Southeast Florida Frontier” by James D. Snyder.

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