Beyond Tourism: Florida's Yesteryear

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Protecting Florida’s Coasts during times of War March 2, 2010

Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse was dismantled instead of destroyed because it was be too expensive to fix if destroyed

Florida is a peninsula that lies between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. According to State of Florida.com it has 1,800 miles of coastline and of that 1,200 miles are sand beaches.  That’s a lot of shoreline to protect. How does Florida protect all it’s shoreline. While perusing Florida Memory I came across two original documents that the organization posted for public reading. The first one is from the Civil War and the second document is from World War II. Both documents speak about how attempts of Florida’s coastline was protected during these wars from the enemy.

Florida was the third state to secede from the Union on January 10, 1861.  While it was controlled by Yankees it’s civilian population was full of secessionists and southern sympathizers.

Report on the Dismantling of Florida Lighthouses Upon the Outbreak of the Civil War, 1861 is a four page letter signed by James Paine, A. Oswald Lang, and Francis A. Ivey who were southern sympathizers. It was written to the governor of Florida Madison Starke Perry. They tell him how they walked “a journey of about 140 miles. 90 of it on foot, being exposed to a burning Sun and drenching rains, and with a very scant allowance of food– ”

They did this because they felt it was their duty to the south to try and stop the north as much as they could and to do that they dismantled the Jupiter Inlet lighthouse and destroyed the Cape Florida lighthouse.  According to the letter A. Oswald Lang was the Assistant lighthouse keeper of the Jupiter Inlet light house and resigned when he found that the Keeper was a Yankee posing as a secessionist.

There are much more interesting bits to this short four page letter. While the handwriting is very clear there is no need to worry about being able to read the original document as a typed text is included along with it.

Blackout orders for Palm Beach, Florida

This is a short one page document issued by the governor of Florida, Spessard L. Holland, who was governor in 1942 and the commanding officer of Key West. They are blackout orders for Palm Beach so that the lights from the town, beach, and amusement parks do cause Allied merchant ships to become targets of German U-boats. It goes into detail that all lights within two miles of the beach were either to be turned off or screened so as not to be seen from off shore.

An interesting note about both of these documents is that it doesn’t mention the west coast of Florida at all. In fact in the Blackout orders for Palm Beach, Florida it says,

It is requested that you immediately take steps to have extin- guished all street lights on water front streets and highways at once, and those actually on the ocean front, not those on the west side.

I’m not sure if this is talking about the west coast or just the west side of Palm Beach. No matter with the east coast facing the Atlantic it is much more vulnerable to attack and hurricanes than the west coast which faces the Gulf of Mexico and is much more sheltered.

Perhaps this is why there is a difference in cultures between the east coast and the west coast. Do you readers who have visited Florida or live in Florida think that the culture differences between the east coast and west coast is partly due to the west coast being more sheltered against storms and naval attack than the east coast?

 

Today in Florida- June 24, 1863 June 24, 2009

Background about Florida during the Civil War:

Florida was the third state to secede from the Union on January 10, 1861. They were only preceded by South Carolina which seceded from the Union December 20, 1860 and started the American Civil War and Mississippi which seceded the day before Florida did on January 9, 1861.

At the time right before the Civil War Florida was divided into three separate sections which was based on geographical features. East Florida along the East Coast. West Florida which was along the Gulf Coast and the Panhandle. Then Middle Florida which was the plantation belt and what people commonly think of when they think plantations and the Civil War.

Fourth Governor of the state of Florida October 5, 1857 - October 7, 1861

Fourth Governor of the state of Florida October 5, 1857 - October 7, 1861

East Florida has always been strongly influenced and the Spanish had different policies with their slaves than did Americans. So they were more lax. West Florida which was more cut off and isolated from the rest of Florida due to geography and so slaves were more trusted and even given guns in order to hunt for food. Both of these regions were largely anti-secessionists and pro-union.* It was Middle Florida with it’s traditional view on slavery and being a part of the plantation system along with the rest of the of the South that was secessionist.

Governor Madison Starke Perry who was a plantation owner in Alachua county set up a Secessionist Convention and with most of the political being held in the hands of the plantation owners Florida seceded from the Union. The anti-secessionists who wanted to put it to a popular vote of the people were left out of the convention and did not have the political power to have their voice heard.


1863: U.S.S. Tahoma today captured a confederate flatboat in a bayou near the Manatee River. The flatboat was carrying cargo of sugar and molasses.**

Commissioned December 20, 1861 Decommissioned August 27, 1867

Commissioned December 20, 1861 Decommissioned August 27, 1867

During the first six months of 1863 it blockaded the west coast of Florida. During this time it captured seven blockade runners one of which was the Confederate flatboat carrying sugar and molasses near the Manatee River. It also captured the Silas Henry, the British schooner Margaret, the schooner Crazy Jane, the schooner Statesman, and the British blockade runner the Harrington. It also destroyed the Mary Jane.*** With the capture of of these schooners and sloops the Tahoma acquired along with the flatboat’s sugar and molasses it also acquired cotton and turpentine.

During its time cruising the west coast it also destroyed some important salt works. Salt was a major export of Florida for the CSA. Salt was used in preserving food and kept it from spoiling in a time before refrigeration when was only accessible in winter and only by the rich in summer.

*Gannon, Michael. The New History of Florida. University Press of Florida. 1996. Brown, Jr., Canter. “The Civil War, 1861-1865

**Florida Historical Society

***Washington Civil War Association