Beyond Tourism: Florida's Yesteryear

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Florida and the American Revolution January 11, 2011

British Colonies of East and West Florida remained loyal during the American Revolution

The Loyal Colonies

In 1776, Britain had fifteen American colonies. On July 4th of that year thirteen declared independence and began the Revolutionary War. One colony that remained loyal to Britain was East Florida and its capitol St. Augustine. The other colony was West Florida with its capitol Pensacola. It remained a British stronghold and a haven for Tories fleeing the rebellious colonies until 1781 when Spain invaded Pensacola. Florida was then ceded back to Spain by the British.

West and East Florida were invited to send delegates to the still forming Continental Congress. Both colonies being

strong loyalists declined the offer and remained with Britain. When the war started, for most in the southern colonies including Florida, the Revolutionary War wasn’t a war for independence but a Civil War against King and Country. According to the National Park Service, East Florida was protected by the local militias which were made up of Loyalists that fled from Georgia and the Carolinas. Their was a professional regiment of British regulars but they were ineffectual due to their small number mixed with the large territory they were assigned to protect. Even here much like most of the rest of the Revolutionary War the battles were mostly won by local militias and not the professional armies.

The Battle of Thomas Creek

While there were numerous incursions and raids made by the American rebels into East Florida all mostly repelled by the joint of militia and the British Army there was only one actual battle. That was the Battle of Thomas Creek.

According to the Historical Florida’s Marker Program the Battle of Thomas Creek took place in what is now the county of Nassau just south of the city of Callahan on U.S. 1 highway and Thomas Creek. On May 17, 1777, Lt. Col. Samuel Elbert led a mix of troops from the Continental Army and Georgia militias on a mission to capture and occupy St. Augustine. They were stopped by Maj. J.M. Prevost of the British Regular Army and Col. Thomas Brown of the East Florida Rangers, a militia calvary. These groups were aided by Indian allies. The American forces were throughly routed and fled in retreat due to a lack of supplies, morale,  the oppressive heat and superior numbers of the enemy troops. Some Americans in their rush abandoned their horses and fled into the swamp. According to the National Park Service American losses were eight killed, nine wounded and thirty-one captured. Of the thirty-one captured fifteen were killed by Indians before the British were able to stop them. Only forty-two American soldiers escaped to the safety of Georgia.

After the War

When the Revolutionary War ended with the British defeat. Most of the loyalists left the country of America for either Britain or the West Indies because Florida ceased to be a British colony and was ceded back to Spain after they captured and occupied St. Augustine in 1783. This was a sad day for Loyalists because just like the American Patriots they were born in America and thought of it as home.



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Today in Florida’s History April 27th April 27, 2010

1863 Major General Dabney H. Maury was placed in command of the Confederate District of the Gulf today by the Confederate War Department.

1864 The U.S.S. Honeysuckle captured the British schooner Miriam in the Gulf of Mexico today.

1865 The U.S.S. Pontiac was dispatched to the eastern coast of Florida today to prevent Confederate President Jefferson Davis from escaping to Cuba.

Orange Blossom - State Flower of Florida

1909 The Florida House of representatives approved the orange blossom as the official flower of Florida today.

1929 Barbara Bancroft, the first licensed woman airplane pilot on the East Coast of Florida, today visited her hometown of Melbourne.

1929 The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union was chartered today in Jacksonville. The organization had first been organized in 1883.

 

Before Walmart there was Webb’s City Drug Store April 5, 2010

During the Florida Land Boom of the 1920’s a man in his twenties, by the name of James Earl “Doc” Webb, moved to St. Petersburg and opened a drug store in 1925. It would become huge before the store closed in 1979. The drugstore would cover 7-10 city blocks.

According to Holly Atkins, James got the nickname Doc because he made his own drugs such as Sorbo-Rub, Indian Wahoo Bitters and Doc Webb’s 608. This was only the beginning. His store eventually had 77 different departments including prescription department, surgical supplies, cosmetics and toiletries, Furniture City (covering seven floors!), a florist, a dry cleaning plant, a service station and automobile association, a bank service, a dance studio, an ice cream plant, a coffee roasting plant and, of course, Doc’s Original Drugstore.

When the land boom ended in Florida, a forerunner to the Great Depression, that didn’t stop James. He kept his store open and had deep discounts to keep his customers. He even held circuses and small fairs in his parking lot. He dropped some of his prices so low that Bristol-Meyers took James to court for selling their toothpaste below retail price. It went all the way to the  Florida Supreme Court where it was ruled in James favor. A few years later some distilleries also took him to court for the same reason. The court again ruled in his favor.

The drug store survives the Great Depression but according to Florida’s Lost Tourist Attractions it just wasn’t enough. St. Petersburg was losing it’s status as Florida’s tourist capital and began a long slow spiral downward. In 1974 James sold all his shares in the drugstore and retired. The company went bankrupt in 1979. What did Webb’s City Drug Store leave us with? They invented the 10 items or less speedy check out lane. I’m sure there were plenty of people with a cartload of items in the speedy checkout though.

 

Living History with Food – Key Lime Pie February 17, 2010

Basket of Key Limes

In order to avoid infringing on copyright and having gourmetsleuth contact me and say please remove our recipe from your blog. Which I’ve had happen with other information on another blog I used to write. I’m going to leave links to different Key Lime Pie recipes. So you’ll have to go directly to the site to get the recipe.

Gourmet Sleuth Key Lime Pie

Kermit’s Key Lime Pie

Anniversary Key Lime from Mel Goes Mennonite

Key Lime Pie VII from Allrecipes.com

So what makes key limes and key lime pie special to Florida? According to Kermit from Kermit’s Key West Lime Shoppe Key Limes only grow well in a small number of zones and the Keys are one of those places. Key Lime trees grow all over the Keys and at least one is in almost every yard. As Key Limes grow they start out green and turn yellow as they ripen.

Egg yolks are used to make Key Lime Pie so instead of a soft pudding texture you’ll end up with a custard consistency instead. The yellow Key Limes and the egg yolks give Key Lime Pie it’s yellow color so if the pie is green you know it’s not a key lime pie. Also when making Key Lime pie make sure to use actual Key Limes. They are more acidic and bitter than regular limes and will give your pie a more tart taste than regular green limes.

Condensed milk is used because when Key West was founded fresh milk was difficult to acquire being that the only way at the time to reach Key West or any of the other keys was by boat until railroad was built and after that the seven mile bridge, also known as the Overseas Highway.

Enjoy your pie and if you ever visit Key West remember to have a piece of pie while watching the Sunset at Mallory Square.

Slice of Key Lime Pie

 

The Celestial Railroad of Jupiter and Lake Worth February 6, 2010

This railroad connected Jupiter and Juno a distance of only 7.5 miles

According to Allen Morris in his book, Florida Place Names: Alachua to Zolfo Springs, the Celestial railroad served the cities of Galaxy, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Juno and was in operation from 1889-1895. At only seven and a half miles long it was the smallest railroad in the world. It was a narrow gauge railroad at only eight feet wide. It serviced a population of 861 residents and 134 Indians and linked steamboat landings on the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Worth. Due to the names of the cities the railway service it was soon dubbed by passengers the Celestial Railroad and replaced the original name, Jupiter and Lake Worth Railroad. It was sold at public auction in 1896. It eventually fell out of use and all that is left now according to Jupiter Kids History are some railroad spikes left in the sand dunes of Jupiter and Juno.

Nearly 100 residents showed up for the grand opening and given a free train ride from Jupiter to Juno which took a half-hour. Once the train reached Juno it had to go backwards the whole seven and a half miles since there was no way for it turn around. It enjoyed six years of service hauling freight and passengers.

According to William G. Crawford, Jr. who wrote, Florida’s Big Dig: The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway from Jacksonville to Miami 1881-1935, when Flagler decided to build the Royal Poinciana Hotel in Palm Beach County he used the Celestial railroad to haul his building materials and other freight. When Flagler tried to buy the railroad the owners set the asking price so high that eventually he bypassed the railroad by building a bridge across the Loxahatchee River. This led to the railroad’s end in 1895 and was sold at public auction in Jacksonville.

 

Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine October 13, 2009

Civilians and Soldiers alike would take refuge inside the fort during sieges

Civilians and Soldiers alike would take refuge inside the fort during sieges

The Castillo de San Marcos was built by the Spanish to protect Florida from their English enemies. Construction began in 1672 and was designed by Engineer Ignacio Daza using the bastion system as its main design feature.  It was finally completed 23 years later in 1695. The bastion system eliminated blind spots and created a crossfire system so that all areas are covered by at least two cannon.  While the Fort did change hands five times it was only during peace time and was never defeated in battle.

During the first British siege in 1702 they would fire upon the fort  and the cannonballs would either bounce off the coquina walls of the fort or be absorbed into the walls and re-enforcing them. During the night the Spanish soldiers would come and repair the plaster and repaint. Coquina is extremely resilient to bombardment because it is filled with air pockets and made it more compressible. You can find more information on the construction of the fort at the National Park Service Website. was able to withstand more than one siege due to the thickness of the walls which ranged from 12 to 19 feet. This made the fort look like it received no damage and led the British to believe that the fort was self repairing. The British finally surrendered when the Spanish fleet came to the fort’s aid and trapped them in the Bay of Matanzas. 1500 civilians plus the soldiers stayed inside the fort for 51 days. During this siege the town itself was burned to the ground but the Fort stood and remained in Spanish possession. The fort during this time had only one source of water which came from a well inside the Plaza de Armas which is pictured. The well itself is now filled in and covered now. The doors you see lead to soldiers quarters, storerooms, and armament rooms, a chapel, and holding cells for prisoners.

When the United States bought Florida from Spain in 1819 for five million dollars it was the last time that Castillo de San Marcos changed hands. The United States already in possession of a fort named St. Mark changed the name to Fort Marion after the famous Revolutionary War hero the Swamp Fox of South Carolina, Francis Marion. Fort Marion became a National Park in 1933. In 1942 Fort Marion’s name was changed back to its original name of Castillo de San Marcos to better represent its Spanish history.

Before it became a National Park the United States used the Castillo de San Marcos to hold prisoners such as Confederates during the Civil War. While Florida did secede from the Union St. Augustine remained a Union stronghold. They also used it to hold Native American prisoners from the West and during the Seminole Wars held the famous Native American Chief Osceola. Today you can visit the Castillo de San Marcos and at night various ghost tours make it a regular stop as a part of their program. It is said that the fort is haunted by a headless man who is thought to either be Osceola or a Spanish soldier who died when a cannon blew up.

 

Today in Florida History September 16 September 16, 2009

Finally getting back into posting now with things beginning to calm down. I thought I would start things off with a Today in Florida History. It is taken from The Florida Historical Society. There is also a link to the site in my Links to the Past list.

1565: From the account of Pedro Menendez’s expedition to Florida in 1565 by Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales, the chaplain to the expedition.  This account is taken from Charles E. Bennett, Laudonniere and Fort Caroline:  History and Documents (Gainesville:  University of Florida Press, 1964).  [We will continue with portions of this account in the coming days and will simply cite it as Laudonniere and Fort Caroline.  In today’s account, Father Mendoza recounts the beginning of Menendez’s expedition against the French at Fort Caroline.–moderator]

“Sunday, September 16, he [Menendez] departed with 500 men with many arquebuses and pikes, each one of the soldiers carrying a twelve pound sack of bread on his shoulders and a bottle of wine for the road.  They took two Indian chiefs who were great enemies of the French, so that they might show the way.  According to the practice of those Indians and by the signs they made, we understood that it was five leagues to the fort of the enemies, but one the road it appeared to be more than fifteen and a very bad road in the very hot sun.  But all have traveled it, according to the letter we received from the General [Menendez] today, the 19th of said month.”

1853: House Speaker A. K. Allison proclaimed himself Acting Governor of Florida when the governor, Thomas Brown, and the Senate President, R. J. Floyd, were both out of the state.  Allison served until October 3 when James E. Broome was regularly inaugurated as governor.

1863: The U.S.S. San Jacinto, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Ralph Chandler, seized the Confederate blockade-runner, Lizzie Davis, off the west coast of Florida.  She had been bound from Havana to Mobile with a cargo that included quantities of lead.

1864: An expedition from the U.S.S. Ariel, with Acting Master Russell in command, captured over 4,000 pounds of cotton in the vicinity of Tampa Bay.

Zora Neale Hurston is the author of Their Eyes were Watching God

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) is the author of "Their Eyes were Watching God"

1928: The Belle Glade and Palm Beaches area was devastated by a hurricane. This was the culmination of the Great Lake Okeechobee Hurricane struck Florida as a Category 4 storm, with winds pushing lake waters to a storm surge of more than 15 feet.  The area surrounding the lake’s south end, occupied primarily by migrant agricultural workers, flooded.  The Red Cross’s death toll count reached 1,836, but additional bodies and skeletons were discovered after the end of the Red Cross count.  In response to this disaster, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built dikes around the lake to prevent a recurrence.  Florida author Zora Neale Hurston recorded the impact on this hurricane on migrants in her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God.  (See September 6, Today in Florida History)

1968: The first classes convened at Warner Southern College in Lake Wales.  The college was founded by the Southeastern Association of the Church of God.