Mardi Gras in the Sunshine State

Think Mardi Gras is something that only happens in New Orleans? Think again! Mardi Gras, French for “Fat Tuesday,” has been celebrated in many parts of the world at one time or another, including right here in Florida. And it isn’t a recent phenomenon. Some Florida towns were holding Mardi Gras celebrations over a hundred years ago.

Mardi Gras celebrants in Milton in Santa Rosa County, complete with royalty. Milton celebrated its first Mardi Gras 100 years ago this year (photo 1916).

Mardi Gras celebrants in Milton in Santa Rosa County, complete with royalty. Milton celebrated its first Mardi Gras 100 years ago this year (photo 1916).

Mardi Gras, for all its characteristic decadence, actually stems from religious origins. It is the final, culminating day of the Carnival season on the Christian liturgical calendar. Carnival season extends from Epiphany (also known as Twelfth Night or Three Kings’ Day) to the beginning of the Lenten season on Ash Wednesday, which occurs about six weeks prior to Easter Sunday. Since the Lenten season typically involves a sober regimen of self-denial and penance, Carnival season and Mardi Gras serve as an opportunity to eat richly and celebrate joyously (hence the “fat” part of Fat Tuesday) before things get more serious.

Mardi Gras in Pensacola (1977).

Mardi Gras in Pensacola (1977).

A wide variety of colorful rituals and traditions have developed around this basic concept, many unique to the cities in which they were born. Common Mardi Gras activities include parades, costume balls, colorful decorations, and the designation of “royalty” to preside over the festivities. When Apalachicola celebrated its first Mardi Gras in 1915, for example, the event was reigned over by King Retsyo. Ten points if you can guess the significance of King Retsyo’s name!

King Retsyo ascends to his throne during Apalachicola's first Mardi Gras celebration in 1915.

King Retsyo ascends to his throne during Apalachicola’s first Mardi Gras celebration in 1915.

Apalachicola Mardi Gras parade (1915).

Apalachicola Mardi Gras parade (1915).

Lester Buer and Myra Franc Kaplan dressed in costume for Mardi Gras celebrations in Pensacola (circa 1916).

Lester Buer and Myra Franc Kaplan dressed in costume for Mardi Gras celebrations in Pensacola (circa 1916).

Pensacola was perhaps the first Florida city to observe Mardi Gras, holding its first celebration in 1874. A group of leading local socialites formed a Mardi Gras “krewe” called the Knights of Priscus Association to organize the festivities. The tradition fizzled after a few years, but was revived with gusto in 1900. Pensacola continues to celebrate Mardi Gras annually.

Pensacola's Mardi Gras celebration of 1900 included the crowning of King Priscus, better known as local attorney Alexander Clement Blount, II.

Pensacola’s Mardi Gras celebration of 1900 included the crowning of King Priscus, better known as local attorney Alexander Clement Blount, II.

Today, Mardi Gras is celebrated in cities all over Florida, featuring a blend of time-honored traditions and new ideas. Apalachicola, for example, recently instituted a Mardi Gras parade featuring both citizens and their pets. The event is spearheaded by the Krewe of Salty Barkers, adopting themes like “Barkaritaville” and “Woofstock” to guide both two- and four-legged participants in their costume choices.

One of the merrymakers at Apalachicola's Mardi Gras parade organized by the Krewe of Salty Barkers (2015). Photo courtesy of the Krewe of Salty Barkers.

One of the merrymakers at Apalachicola’s Mardi Gras parade organized by the Krewe of Salty Barkers (2015). Photo courtesy of the Krewe of Salty Barkers.

Farther down the peninsula, Orlando’s Universal Studios theme park offers an annual Mardi Gras event patterned after the popular New Orleans version of the festival. Hollywood also holds an annual Mardi Gras celebration titled “Fiesta Tropicale.” It originated in 1935 as the “Festival of Nations.” These are just a few examples; Florida towns from Dunedin to Lake Wales to Leesburg regularly celebrate Fat Tuesday with enthusiasm.

Mardi Gras celebration at the American Legion in Tampa (1926).

Mardi Gras celebration at the American Legion in Tampa (1926).

Does your Florida community do something special to celebrate Mardi Gras? If so, we want to know about it! Leave us a comment below, and don’t forget to share this post on Facebook and Twitter!

Not on MY Biscuit!

Do you use butter in your home, or do you prefer margarine? The stakes involved in this question may seem rather low, but that’s not how dairy farmers saw things when margarine came on the scene in the 1870s. They were accustomed, after all, to selling most of the nation’s butter that wasn’t being produced at home. In Florida and elsewhere, the question of whether and how to regulate margarine ultimately fell to lawmakers to decide, resulting in a real 19th century “bitter butter battle.”

Edvis Newton stands with a Kraft margarine display at a Jitney Jungle store in Tallahassee (1947). Who knew such a popular product had such a contentious history?

Edvis Newton stands with a Parkay margarine display at a Jitney Jungle store in Tallahassee (1947). Who knew such a popular product had such a contentious history?

A French chemist named Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès invented margarine in the 1860s in response to a contest sponsored by Emperor Napoleon III to develop a suitable substitute for butter. The emperor hoped the winning substance could be used by the lower classes and the French military. Mège-Mouriès called his solution “oleomargarine.” The “oleo” part came from the Latin oleum (oil), since one of the major components of the product was beef tallow. The “margarine” part of the name came from the margaric acid used in creating the compound. The term “margaric” is adapted from the Greek word márgaron, meaning “pearl” or “pearl-oyster,” since the fatty acid naturally forms small white pearl-shaped droplets.

Mège-Mouriès patented his new product and marketed it under the trade name “margarine.” The idea caught on well enough to cross the Atlantic Ocean, and by 1871 inventors were already seeking patents for margarine production processes in the United States. Meatpackers were some of margarine’s most enthusiastic proponents, since the new product gave them something profitable to do with the animal fats leftover from processing meat. Dairy farmers, on the other hand, saw margarine as a threat to their hold on the butter market. They were joined in their opposition by others who were concerned that improperly concocted margarine could be dangerous to human health.

The question of what to do about butter and its imitators began landing in state legislatures across the nation, and in 1881 it was Florida’s turn to debate the matter. The following law passed the Senate and Assembly and was approved by signature of Governor William D. Bloxham on February 17, 1881:

AN ACT to prevent the selling as Butter of Oleomargarine or any Spurious Preparations purporting to be Butter.

The People of the State of Florida, represented in Senate and Assembly, do enact as follows: SECTION 1. That any person or persons who shall knowingly and willingly sell or cause to be sold as butter any spurious preparation purporting to be butter, whether known as oleomargarine or by any other name, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction shall be fined in a sum not to exceed one hundred dollars, or be imprisoned in the county jail for a period of time not to exceed thirty days, or by both fine and imprisonment, at the discretion of the Court.

SEC 2. Any keeper of any hotel or boarding house who shall knowingly and wilfully, without giving notice to guests at the table, supply oleomargarine or other spurious preparation purporting to be butter, for the use of guests, shall be subject to the same penalty.

That’s a stiff punishment for passing fake butter!

No margarine here! Young Margie Davis is seen here churning butter the old-fashioned way (date unknown).

No margarine here! Young Margie Davis is seen here churning butter the old-fashioned way (date unknown).

Taken in context, Florida’s treatment of margarine was not so unusual. Congress adopted a law in 1886 regulating the definition of butter and imposing a tax on oleomargarine at two cents per pound. State governments developed a whole range of solutions to the butter battle, including restricting producers from coloring margarine to resemble butter. Without coloring, margarine typically has a whitish tint, resembling lard more than butter. Delaware, Illinois, and Michigan all passed laws establishing this sort of color restriction. New Hampshire opted for the opposite tactic. Its legislature required margarine producers to color their products pink, so consumers would realize they weren’t eating real butter.

Despite all the fuss, consumers gradually warmed up to the idea of using margarine, especially in situations when meat, milk, and butter were in short supply. City dwellers who lacked easy, inexpensive access to farm-fresh butter tended to favor the margarine substitute, and it served as a vital commodity during both world wars. By the 1950s, most of the earlier restrictions on margarine had been dropped.

Margarine has also served at times as creative inspiration. Census and Social Security Death Index records indicate that Florida has been home to many people with some variant of the term “oleomargarine” in their names over the years. The words “Oleo” and “Margarine” were quite common by themselves as names in the early decades of the 20th century, while our research has turned up one case in Duval County of someone with “Oleo Margarine” as their full given name.

These days, butter and margarine get along living side by side in refrigerators all across Florida. Even this recipe card for Florida Orange Meringue Pie offers the cook a choice of which to use (circa 1950s).

These days, butter and margarine get along living side by side in refrigerators all across Florida. Even this recipe card for Florida Orange Meringue Pie offers the cook a choice of which to use (circa 1950s).

If this hasn’t convinced you of food’s vital role in history, check out our new primary source set for teachers titled The History of Foodways in Florida. Its purpose is to empower teachers to use food traditions as a lens for studying history with their students, but anyone is welcome to enjoy the historic documents and media it provides.

Florida’s First Civil Governor

What do you know about territorial Florida’s first civil governor, William Pope DuVal? If you aren’t familiar with the governor’s backstory, you’re in luck. James M. Denham, Professor of History at Florida Southern University, has recently released a biography of DuVal entitled Florida Founder William P. DuVal, Frontier Bon Vivant. Moreover, Dr. Denham will be speaking about Governor DuVal and the book at Mission San Luis in Tallahassee on Friday, January 29th at 7:00pm. Admission is free; the details may be found on the Mission’s Events Calendar.

But who was William Pope DuVal, and how did he end up as Florida’s first civilian chief executive?

Governor William Pope DuVal (circa 1830).

Governor William Pope DuVal (circa 1830).

DuVal was born in 1784 at Mount Comfort, Virginia, not far from Richmond. His father was a lawyer, and at the age of 14 DuVal decided to follow the same career. He read law in Bardstown, Kentucky and was admitted to the bar at 19.

President Monroe appointed young DuVal United States Judge for the eastern district of the newly acquired territory of Florida in May 1821. John C. Calhoun, a friend of DuVal’s who was then serving as Monroe’s Secretary of War, had put in a good word for the young lawyer with the President. DuVal’s career took another fortunate turn the following year when President Monroe appointed him governor. DuVal took over administration of the territory from General Andrew Jackson, who had served as military governor until Congress could establish a civil government for the new province.

DuVal served four three-year terms (1822-1834) as governor, leading Florida through a variety of early challenges as a territory. The very act of administrating the new province was one of the toughest. Commercial and political activity was concentrated at Pensacola and St. Augustine, which were separated by nearly 400 miles of sparse wilderness. The trip between these ports by boat took nearly as long as a land voyage and had its own inherent dangers. The answer, territorial officials determined, was to construct a new capital someplace between the two main cities. DuVal appointed two commissioners, John Lee Williams of Pensacola and Dr. William H. Simmons of St. Augustine to determine the best location. Tallahassee was the result; DuVal proclaimed it the capital on March 4, 1824.

Replica of Florida's first capitol, established at Tallahassee in 1824. The replica was built by local Boy Scouts in honor of Florida's centennial celebration (1924).

Replica of Florida’s first capitol, established at Tallahassee in 1824. The replica was built by local Boy Scouts in honor of Florida’s centennial celebration (1924).

Governor DuVal was also at the center of one of the most contentious issues of Florida’s territorial era: banking. As is the case with most frontier societies, early Florida planters were in constant need of capital and credit to build up their plantations and create more wealth for themselves and the territory. The problem was that the basis for much of Florida’s existing wealth at that time was tied up in those same plantations, with no banking facilities to offer any liquidity. Leading citizens attempted on several occasions to get a branch of the United States Bank established in Florida, but nothing came of their efforts.

Meanwhile, Governor DuVal opposed the territorial legislature’s attempts to create a local territorial bank. He argued that the charters proposed by lawmakers lacked specific guarantees that notes would always be redeemed in specie upon demand. He also believed the charters should have contained provisions for forfeiture in the event of malfeasance by the bank directors, and that directors should be restricted from taking out large loans from their own bank. DuVal ultimately vetoed over a dozen bank charters in the 1820s. A few passed over his veto, but none lasted very long.

Then came the Union Bank, chartered in 1833 without a veto from DuVal. The Union Bank was an unusual institution, in that its stock was to be secured by public bonds. In other words, the territorial legislature was so desperate for capital that it allowed a private bank to do business supported by the credit of the territory itself! The scheme worked for a while, but mismanagement, the Panic of 1837, and a severe drought in 1840 combined forces to ultimately doom the bank and attract a Congressional investigation.

A bond drawn on the credit of the Territory of Florida and put at the disposal of the Union Bank. Notice that the bond is signed by Governor William Pope DuVal as chief executive of the territory (1834).

A bond drawn on the credit of the Territory of Florida and put at the disposal of the Union Bank. Notice that the bond is signed by Governor William Pope DuVal as chief executive of the territory (1834).

By this time, DuVal had returned to private life, practicing law in Florida until he moved to Texas in 1848. He died while on a trip to Washington, D.C. on March 19, 1854, and was interred in the Congressional Cemetery.

DuVal’s name is commemorated in a number of place names around the state (usually without the capital “V”). Streets carrying the name Duval may be found in Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Key West, Pensacola, and many other towns and cities. Duval County was named for the governor in 1822.

Find more images of Governor William Pope DuVal and Florida’s other governors by searching the Florida Photographic Collection.

Strawberry Schools

Remember those late spring days back in grade school when all you could think about was the approach of summer vacation? Depending on your age and your preferences, you might have spent the time off swimming, taking family trips, or earning a little spending money at a summer job – anything but sitting still in a classroom.

There was a time, however, when some Florida students took their vacation much earlier in the year, from January through March. A number of counties in Central and South Florida mandated this to accommodate the harvest schedules for winter fruits and vegetables, which provided a living for small family farms. Strawberries were the main Florida crop requiring this arrangement. As a result, schools that operated on the modified April to December calendar were called “strawberry schools.”

Students attending a

Students attending a “strawberry school” in Plant City, Florida (1946).

Strawberries have been cultivated in Florida since the late 1800s. They have been grown in nearly every county in the state at one time or another, but large-scale sustained strawberry farming has mainly been centered in Hillsborough, Polk, Hardee, Bradford, Union, and Orange counties. These days, commercial strawberry farming is largely confined to large-scale operations with hundreds of acres under cultivation. Up until about the 1950s, however, family farms dominated the industry. In some places, strawberry farming came to define whole communities. Plant City, for example, has long been known as the “Winter Strawberry Capital of the World,” and strawberries have been a key theme in the town’s self-promotion.

Hillsborough County folder, Ephemera Collection, State Library of Florida.

Hillsborough County folder, Ephemera Collection, State Library of Florida.

Florida strawberries generally become ready to harvest between late December and March, right in the middle of the traditional spring session of the public schools. Farm families depending on the strawberry harvest for their livelihood often enlisted their children’s help tending and picking the berries. Gathering the fruit was only one part of the process; one woman remembered children being responsible for watering the rows of tender plants by hand and covering them with Spanish moss when the weather turned cold.

Children and adults picking strawberries in Plant City (1946).

Children and adults picking strawberries in Plant City (1946).

Strawberry farmers valued the labor their children provided at harvest time, but they also recognized the importance of their education. Some communities decided to have the best of both worlds by rearranging the school year. This was no new invention; the very idea of summer vacation was originally devised to allow farm children to help their families during the busy summer months. Plus, plenty of other states had similar systems to allow schoolchildren to help out at harvest time. There have at various times been “potato schools” in Connecticut, “apple schools” in New York, “tomato schools” in Ohio, and so on. What Central Florida needed was a “strawberry school” that would allow the students’ off-time to coincide with the strawberry harvest January through March.

Excerpt from the minutes of the Florida Board of Education, July 30, 1942 - volume 6, page 286, Series 252, State Archives of Florida.

Excerpt from the minutes of the Florida Board of Education, July 30, 1942 – volume 6, page 286, Series 252, State Archives of Florida.

And that is exactly what happened in many cases. In earlier years, counties would adjust the school year as needed for their particular harvest season. Once state education authorities began regulating the length and structure of the school calendar, local districts had to request permission to operate on a special schedule. Frequently, only some of the schools in a district would operate on the “summer” or “strawberry” system, while the rest of the county would use the more familiar “winter” system. In at least one case in Polk County, a school remained opened year-round and parents had the opportunity to choose which months their children would attend classes. A similar system was attempted for a few years in the early 1940s in Wimauma in Hillsborough County.

Postcard showing children lining up to turn in the strawberries they have picked (circa 1930s).

Postcard showing children lining up to turn in the strawberries they have picked (circa 1930s).

If you’re “warm-natured,” taking your vacation in the winter-time might not sound like such a bad idea, especially if you had to spend some portion of it walking up and down the rows of a field picking fruit at ankle level. The system had its problems, as veteran strawberry scholars have explained when asked about their experiences. Former Hillsborough County teacher Myrtis Hawthorne once told Tampa Tribune writer Leland Hawes that she remembered the gnats being so bad in her classroom that she often put a small dab of kerosene on her students’ faces to keep them away. The heat left her little choice but to keep the windows open, and so the gnats simply became part of the experience.

The strawberry school system was a boon for farmers, but several factors combined to bring it to an end in the years following World War II. Migrant workers had become a crucial part of the agricultural labor force during the wartime emergency, and in the postwar years they preferred to be able to move northward in the summer months as crops became ready for harvest. Also, improved roads and increased automobile ownership helped popularize the concept of the family vacation, which many families preferred to take in the summer.

The educational quality of strawberry schools also came into question during this period. In 1946, Tampa Tribune reporter J.A. “Jock” Murray began writing a series of articles criticizing the system as exploitative and academically deficient. Murray’s efforts helped pave the way for Florida’s landmark Minimum Foundation education law of 1947, but the school term remained a local option issue. The tide was turning, however, and in 1956 the Hillsborough County School Board abolished the strawberry school calendar for all of its schools. The remaining strawberry schools in surrounding counties followed suit soon afterward.

Two children eating strawberries at the annual Plant City Strawberry Festival (1978).

Two children eating strawberries at the annual Plant City Strawberry Festival (1978).

Strawberry farming is still a major winter industry in Central Florida, but these days children spend much more time eating the berries than picking them. Plant City still holds an annual Strawberry Festival that brings in thousands of visitors. This year’s event is coming up soon, by the way – the festival runs March 3-13, 2016. Now that you have a bit of local strawberry history under your belt, you’re all set to give it a try.

If you were a student again, would you choose a three-month winter vacation or a three-month summer vacation? Leave us a comment below or on Facebook with your thoughts!

Rivers H. Buford, Jr. (1927-2016)

Rivers Henderson Buford, Jr., former Assistant Attorney General and onetime General Counsel to the Florida Board of Education, died January 3, 2016 in Tallahassee. Buford’s public service to the people of Florida was a family affair. His father, Rivers Henderson Buford, Sr., served as Attorney General and a Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, while his son, Rivers Henderson Buford, III, has served in several high ranking positions in the Legislative and Executive branches of the state government.

Florida Supreme Court Justice Rivers Henderson Buford (left) with his son Rivers, Jr. (right) in Tallahassee (1945).

Florida Supreme Court Justice Rivers Henderson Buford (left) with his son Rivers, Jr. (right) in Tallahassee (1945).

Rivers Buford, Jr. was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1950. From 1952 to 1956, he served as judge on the Leon County Claims Court. He later entered state government service as Assistant Attorney General under Earl Faircloth, holding that office from 1966 to 1969. Buford then moved to the Florida Board of Education, where he served as General Counsel under Commissioner Floyd Thomas Christian, Sr. These were busy years for Buford, as the state government grappled with legal battles over school desegregation, busing, and widespread dissatisfaction over funding for education.

Rivers Henderson Buford, Jr. (1927-2016).

Rivers Henderson Buford, Jr. (1927-2016).

Buford performed two additional stints as Assistant Attorney General (1985-87; 1990-2003), and also served as a member of the State Board of Pilot Commissioners prior to his retirement in 2010. Mr. Buford was a resident of Tallahassee at the time of his passing.

The State Archives of Florida takes pride in honoring the memory of Rivers Henderson Buford, Jr. Click here to view more images of Mr. Buford’s family.

 

Dr. Robert B. Hayling (1929-2015)

Dr. Robert B. Hayling, an African-American dentist who played an instrumental role in the fight for civil rights in St. Augustine, died Sunday, December 20, 2015. He was 86.

Dr. Robert B. Hayling (standing) speaking at a meeting between civil rights leaders and Governor Haydon Burns. Seated in the front row (L to R) are B.J. Johnson representing Dr. Martin Luther King, Loucille Plummer of St. Augustine, and attorney John Due representing the local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (photo 1965).

Dr. Robert B. Hayling (standing) speaking at a meeting between civil rights leaders and Governor Haydon Burns. Seated in the front row (L to R) are B.J. Johnson representing Dr. Martin Luther King, Loucille Plummer of St. Augustine, and attorney John Due representing the local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (photo 1965).

Dr. Hayling grew up in Tallahassee, where his father taught at Florida A & M University. Hayling himself attended that institution, then joined the United States Air Force in 1951. After serving his tour of duty, Hayling enrolled in Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee to study dentistry. The Nashville student sit-in movement was in full swing during his time at Meharry, and the backlash against it struck close to Hayling when the windows of his dormitory were shattered by a dynamite blast directed at the home of one of his teachers across the street.

In 1960, Hayling moved to St. Augustine to begin his practice. He immediately became involved in local civil rights activism, serving as adviser to the area’s NAACP Youth Council and a local leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. St. Augustine was at that time preparing to celebrate its 400th anniversary, and African-Americans were all but excluded from many of the formal proceedings. Dr. Hayling successfully urged federal officials to insist on an integrated celebration. When Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson arrived in St. Augustine to dedicate a restored building as part of the festivities, two tables at the banquet at the Ponce de Leon Hotel were reserved for African-American guests.

The reaction from segregationists was intense. Hayling and three of his companions were beaten at a Ku Klux Klan rally in September 1963, and the dentist’s home was fired into in February 1964, killing his dog and narrowly missing his pregnant wife.

As summer vacation approached in 1964, Dr. Hayling began inviting young African-American students from around the country to visit St. Augustine and participate in the effort to break the grip of Jim Crow over local stores, restaurants, and beaches. Many students took up Hayling’s invitation and helped put St. Augustine on the front pages of newspapers all over the United States through their activism. Hayling himself was arrested on June 29, 1964 for “contributing to the delinquency” of minors – students involved in the protests.

Confrontation between segregationists and integrationists at a whites-only beach in St. Augustine (1964).

Confrontation between segregationists and integrationists at a whites-only beach in St. Augustine (1964).

Excerpt from a police blotter recording Dr. Hayling's arrest on June 29, 1964 Located in Box 130, folder 8, Farris Bryant Correspondence (S 756), State Archives of Florida.

Excerpt from a police blotter recording Dr. Hayling’s arrest on June 29, 1964. Located in Box 130, folder 8, Farris Bryant Correspondence (S 756), State Archives of Florida.

Publicity for the events in St. Augustine that summer helped bring about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but Dr. Hayling wasn’t finished. His involvement with civil rights activism had badly damaged his dental practice, but he moved to Cocoa Beach to continue his own career and help other civil rights activists find work. He moved to Fort Lauderdale in the 1970s, where he practiced dentistry until his retirement.

Dr. Robert B. Hayling was inducted into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2014 along with James Weldon Johnson and A. Philip Randolph. A bronze plaque testifying to Dr. Hayling’s contributions hangs in the lobby of the Capitol.

It’s in the Directory

Remember back before the Internet when you needed the “phone book” to find a phone number or address for a person or business? These days, we tend to use printed directories for booster seats and doorstops more than for their intended purpose, but these volumes do have a critical role to play as a historical resource. Especially the older ones.

A few of the printed city directories available at the State Library of Florida - others are available on microfilm or through online databases like Ancestry.com.

A few of the published city directories available at the State Library of Florida – others are available on microfilm or through online databases like Ancestry.com.

For many Florida municipalities, city directories have been published annually for over a century. The content in each volume varies by town, year, and publisher, but generally they include an alphabetical list of residents with addresses, a classified business directory, information about local officials, clubs, public services, and societies, and a street guide. Some directories also include information on nearby towns too small to have their own published directories.

City directories are a goldmine for genealogists, because they can potentially provide several kinds of information about an individual:

  • Where the person lived
  • The person’s occupation
  • The names of persons living in the same home (including spouse) or neighborhood
  • Who lived at the same address before someone moved in
  • Where the person moved to/from (if in the same city)
  • How long a person lived in a particular city

These volumes are also useful for local historians because they can help with tracing the history of a particular building, a business, a club or society, or other local entity.

City directories may be found in public libraries, the State Library of Florida, or through one of a number of online databases. Ancestry.com provides searchable digitized editions of many Florida city directories, and a number of Florida cities have completed their own digitization projects to make the directories available online. The Jacksonville Public Library, for example, has digitized the Jacksonville city directories from 1876 to 1925.

So how do you use these city directories for family history research? Let’s make an example of this gentleman whose portrait is included in the Florida Photographic Collection:

Leonard A. Wesson of Tallahassee (1940).

Leonard A. Wesson of Tallahassee (1940).

The catalog record for this portrait of Leonard A. Wesson says it was taken in Tallahassee in 1940. That’s all we know at this point. Using city directories, however, we can determine whether he actually resided in Tallahassee, and if he did we can determine roughly how long he lived there. We can also find out his occupation, whether he was married, and whether he moved around a bit while he was in the area. Let’s start out by checking the alphabetical name index in the 1940 Tallahassee city directory:

Excerpt of a page from Polk's City Directory for Tallahassee, 1940.

Excerpt of a page from Polk’s City Directory for Tallahassee, 1940.

And there he is! From this entry, we see that Leonard had a wife named Winifred, and that the two of them were living at 503 E. McDaniel St. in Tallahassee in 1940. We also see that Mr. Wesson was a busy fellow, serving as Secretary to both the Middle Florida Ice Company and the Tallahassee Coca-Cola Bottling Company. This is good information, but it’s only a start. How long did Leonard and Winifred live at this location? Who lived in this house before they did? Was Leonard Wesson always associated with the two companies he was working for in 1940?

To find the answers, let’s back up a few years to 1936. We’ll start out by looking at the alphabetical name index once again:

Excerpt of a page from Polk's City Directory for Tallahassee, 1936.

Excerpt of a page from Polk’s City Directory for Tallahassee, 1936.

This entry turns up some interesting information. It appears Leonard Wesson was serving as mayor of Tallahassee in 1936. He was living at the same location as he would four years later in 1940, and we get to see his telephone number in this directory. Note that Winifred’s middle initial is listed here as “A” rather than “L” as it appeared in 1940. One is probably her given middle initial and the other the initial for her maiden surname. This information could come in handy later when searching for Winifred in an index.

Let’s keep going backward in time to see what else we can learn about Leonard and Winifred. Here is their alphabetical index entry for 1930:

Excerpt of a page from Polk's City Directory for Tallahassee, 1930.

Excerpt of a page from Polk’s City Directory for Tallahassee, 1930.

Intriguing… Leonard Wesson was working as a civil engineer in 1930, and living with Winifred in a completely different location, 403 E. Park Avenue. Also, we can tell that the Wessons didn’t own the house, because the address is preceded by an “R” for “roomer” or “resident” rather than an “H” for “householder.” Each directory explains its use of abbreviations at the beginning of the alphabetical name index.

If you’re wondering who was living at the Wessons’ future home on McDaniel Street at that time, there’s an easy way to find out. Most city directories have a reverse lookup street guide that allows you to determine who was living in each building along a particular city street. So, to see who was living at 503 E. McDaniel Street in Tallahassee in 1930, we need to look at McDaniel Street in the street guide. Here’s the page:

An excerpt of a page from the reverse lookup street guide included in the 1930 Polk's City Directory for Tallahassee.

An excerpt of a page from the reverse lookup street guide included in the 1930 Polk’s City Directory for Tallahassee.

Notice that the address 503 E. McDaniel Street does not appear at all in the listing. Since this directory shows when a house was vacant (e.g. 1045 Lake Jackson Rd. in the excerpt above), we can safely assume this means the Wessons’ house had not yet been completed when the directory was published. (Note: A little extra research confirmed that the Lafayette Park neighborhood where the Wessons relocated in the 1930s was indeed undergoing development at this time.)

To determine how long Leonard and Winifred lived at 403 E. Park Avenue or elsewhere in Tallahassee, we could continue following them through various city directories, but let’s try to find out who lived at their home on Park Avenue before they began rooming there. To do this, we simply look up that address in the reverse lookup street guide for previous years until we find a different occupant listed. Let’s try the 1927 directory for Tallahassee:

An excerpt from the  reverse lookup street guide in Polk's 1927 city directory for Tallahassee.

An excerpt from the reverse lookup street guide in Polk’s 1927 city directory for Tallahassee.

L.M. Lively shows up as the primary householder for 403 E. Park Avenue in 1927. That’s helpful to know, but who is L.M. Lively? We can find out more about him by looking him up in the alphabetical name index in the same 1927 volume:

Excerpt from Polk's 1927 city directory for Tallahassee.

Excerpt from Polk’s 1927 city directory for Tallahassee.

Interesting! The resident of 403 E. Park Avenue in 1927 was Lewis M. Lively, president of the Middle Florida Ice Company, which Leonard Wesson would later work for. We see from the address listing that Lively owned the house, which suggests that he was likely the person who rented it to Wesson and his wife Winifred in the 1930s.

From these bits of information, a clearer picture of Leonard Wesson begins to emerge. In the late 1920s, he was a civil engineer in Tallahassee, possibly working for Lewis M. Lively at the Middle Florida Ice Company. By 1940, Wesson had moved up the ladder, had served as mayor of Tallahassee, and had become secretary to Middle Florida Ice. He had also built a house in the new Lafayette Park neighborhood. Armed with these details, we can now begin cross-referencing the information with other sources to help build a more detailed profile of Leonard Wesson’s life. A quick search of the Florida Photographic Collection, for example, reveals that photos exist of the Lively house at 403 E. Park Avenue:

Lewis M. Lively house at 403 E. Park Avenue in Tallahassee (photo circa 1980).

Lewis M. Lively house at 403 E. Park Avenue in Tallahassee (photo circa 1980).

This is just one example of the many life stories that city directories can help reconstruct. Visit your local library, the State Library of Florida, or an online database to explore city directories and see what you can discover!

Need help finding a specific city directory? Contact the State Library’s reference desk by phone at (850)-245-6682 or email at library@dos.myflorida.com for assistance.

Employee James McCamon of the Middle Florida Ice Company cools off by reading the Tallahassee Democrat while sitting on a block of ice (1965).

Employee James McCamon of the Middle Florida Ice Company cools off by reading the Tallahassee Democrat while sitting on a block of ice (1965).

 

Leander Shaw, Jr. Dies at 85

Leander Shaw, Jr., the first African-American Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, died Monday, December 14, 2015 following an extended illness. Shaw’s legal career in Florida spanned over 40 years, including stints as a public defender, prosecutor, appeals court judge, and law professor in addition to his time on the state’s highest bench.

Florida Supreme Court Justice Leander Shaw, Jr. (circa 1985)

Florida Supreme Court Justice Leander Shaw, Jr. (circa 1985)

Justice Shaw was born in Salem, Virginia in 1930 and educated at West Virginia State College and Howard University in Washington, D.C. He received his law degree in 1957 and moved to Tallahassee to accept a position as professor of law at Florida A&M University. Shaw took the Florida Bar exam in the old DuPont Plaza Hotel in Miami in 1960, but because of his race was not permitted to stay there. According to Florida Supreme Court officials, when Shaw was admitted to the Bar that year he became one of only about 25 black attorneys practicing in the state at the time.

The DuPont Plaza Center and Hotel in Miami, where Justice Shaw took the Florida Bar Exam in 1960 but could not stay as a guest (photo 1962).

The DuPont Plaza Center and Hotel in Miami, where Justice Shaw took the Florida Bar Exam in 1960 but could not stay as a guest (photo 1962).

Shaw moved to Jacksonville and began practicing as a private attorney. His office was located in the old Masonic Lodge at the corner of Broad and West Duval streets downtown. As a young African-American attorney practicing when Jim Crow was only just beginning to loosen its grip on Southern society, “Lawyer Shaw” found himself dispensing lots of pro bono advice. One of Shaw’s friends, Ray Barney, noted that Shaw was one of very few black attorneys available in Jacksonville at the time, yet he was always willing to help everyday members of the community understand the legal system and their rights. In 1990, Barney told Florida Magazine that Shaw “probably would have made a lot more money if he’d paid less attention to regular folks. But I always thought he was more like a pastor in a church than a lawyer.”

An early postcard of the Masonic Temple in downtown Jacksonville at the corner of Broad and Duval streets where Justice Shaw had his law offices during his earlier days as a young attorney in private practice (postcard circa 1915).

An early postcard of the Masonic Temple in downtown Jacksonville at the corner of Broad and Duval streets where Justice Shaw had his law offices during his earlier days as a young attorney in private practice (postcard circa 1915).

Shaw’s commitment to the public became more official when he was recruited as an assistant public defender for Duval County. In 1969 he became head of the Capital Crimes Division of the State Attorney’s staff and an adviser to the grand jury. In 1974, Governor Reubin Askew appointed Shaw to the Florida Industrial Relations Commission, where he served until Governor Bob Graham appointed him to the First District Court of Appeals in 1979.

Governor Graham appointed Leander Shaw as a Justice to the Florida Supreme Court in 1983, making him the second African-American to serve in that capacity. The first, Joseph Hatchett, had resigned his post a few years before to become a federal appeals court judge. Shaw served his term as Chief Justice from 1990 to 1992. He retired from the bench in 2003, but leaves behind a strong legacy of public service and dedication to the law.

Justice Leander Shaw, Jr. (left) shaking hands with 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge Joseph Hatchett at a ceremony in Tallahassee. Hatchett was Florida's first African-American Supreme Court justice prior to becoming a federal judge (photo 1990).

Justice Leander Shaw, Jr. (left) shaking hands with 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge Joseph Hatchett at a ceremony in Tallahassee. Hatchett was Florida’s first African-American Supreme Court justice prior to becoming a federal judge (photo 1990).

A Home for Higher Learning

It’s hard to imagine Tallahassee without Florida State University or Gainesville without the University of Florida, but how did they get there? Believe it or not, at one time these institutions existed only on paper, and could have been located anywhere in the state. Multiple towns competed for the honor of hosting them, and the Legislature had to make some tough decisions to choose homes for Florida’s first institutions of higher learning.

Florida’s elected representatives recognized the value of higher education early on, but failed to translate their enthusiasm into action during the territorial era. In 1823, the territorial council voted to set aside two townships’ worth of public land to raise money for a seminary of higher learning. In 1836, Governor Richard Keith Call appointed a 14-member board to plan for a University of Florida. Very little concrete action materialized from these efforts, however, and Florida became a state in 1845 still lacking a state college of any kind.

Two-time territorial governor Richard Keith Call (ca. 1840).

Two-time territorial governor Richard Keith Call (ca. 1840).

Floridians lamented the state of their educational system. Georgia had had a public university since 1785, while the University of Alabama had been open since 1831. Meanwhile, Florida’s young men and women were obliged to travel outside the state to finish their training, or not receive it at all. In January 1851, the Legislature took action by establishing two seminaries for teacher training, one for each side of the Suwannee River. Beyond this one directive, the act was silent as to where the two schools should be located. The Legislature would have to make that choice once the options were clearer.

Several towns throughout the state took this as their cue to make it very clear why they should be chosen as the site for one of the new seminaries. Several of their petitions to the Legislature have survived and are now part of Record Series 2153 at the State Archives of Florida. In recommending themselves, the petitioners focused on the healthfulness and convenience of their location. Pensacola’s advocates, for example, argued their proximity to the Gulf and points west would attract students from neighboring Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and perhaps even the West Indies. Ocala’s petitioners pointed to their position near the geographic center of the peninsula and the number of stage roads in the area as reasons for the town’s worthiness.

Memorial to the General Assembly of the State of Florida from the citizens of Pensacola, asking that the state seminary west of the Suwannee River be located in Pensacola (1847). Note this petition actually preceded the 1851 act creating the two seminaries.

Memorial to the General Assembly of the State of Florida from the citizens of Pensacola, asking that the state seminary west of the Suwannee River be located in Pensacola (1847). Note this petition actually preceded the 1851 act creating the two seminaries. Click the image to enlarge it.

The committees writing these petitions realized, however, that it would take more than a few beautiful descriptive phrases to sway the Legislature. To sweeten the deal, they included offers of land, buildings, and even cash to strengthen their case.

East of the Suwannee River, Ocala in Marion County and Newnansville in Alachua County were the main contenders for a seminary. The Ocala petitioners offered to give the state 16 town lots in Ocala valued at $5,000, plus $1,600 cash, as well as the buildings then being used by the East Florida Independent Institute. The Institute had been established in 1852 by a New Englander named Gilbert Dennis Kingsbury, who went by the name S.S. Burton in Florida. Newnansville did not yet possess anything like the East Florida Independent Institute had to offer, but in their petition the citizens of the town pledged $5,000 toward constructing new facilities. The Legislature ultimately selected Ocala as the site for the state seminary east of the Suwannee, which after a series of transformations and a relocation to Gainesville became the University of Florida.

Petition to Establish the East Florida Seminary in Alachua County, ca. 1852 - Box 3, folder 55, Territorial and Early Statehood Records (Series 2153), State Archives of Florida.

Petition to Establish the East Florida Seminary in Alachua County, ca. 1852 – Box 3, folder 55, Territorial and Early Statehood Records (Series 2153), State Archives of Florida. Click image to enlarge and view transcript.

West of the Suwannee, Pensacola and Tallahassee were locked into a similar competition. Pensacola’s citizens promised to provide whatever land was necessary to build a seminary, but Tallahassee went much farther. The mayor and city council pledged to donate $10,000 to the cause, made up partly of $7,000 worth of land and buildings already under construction, plus the remainder in cash. City officials also offered to grant the institution an annuity of $1,500. Citizens of nearby Quincy in Gadsden County chimed in with a similar offer of the buildings used by the Quincy Academy, but the petitioners did not commit any specific amount of cash to the project, let alone an annuity. The Legislature chose Tallahassee as the site for the state seminary west of the Suwannee, which ultimately became the Florida State College for Women and later the Florida State University.

First building at the West Florida Seminary (ca. 1870).

First building at the West Florida Seminary (ca. 1870).

Few folks know that Florida State University had a football team well before the school became coeducational (again) in 1947. Prior to its reconstitution as the Florida State College for Women under the Buckman Act in 1905, the West Florida Seminary was coeducational and football was a school sport. This photo of the school's football team was taken in 1899.

Few folks know that Florida State University had a football team well before the school became coeducational (again) in 1947. Prior to its reconstitution as the Florida State College for Women under the Buckman Act in 1905, the West Florida Seminary was coeducational and football was a school sport. This photo of the school’s football team was taken in 1899. The team members are sitting on the steps of College Hall, the seminary’s main building, which stood from its construction in 1891 to 1909, when it was replaced by Westcott Hall, which still stands today.

What state institutions are located near your Florida community? Do you know how long they’ve been around, or how they came to exist? The State Library & Archives is home to a wealth of information on this subject – search Florida Memory, the State Library Catalog, and the Archives Online Catalog to learn more.

What Did Civil War Soldiers Eat?

What did soldiers eat in Florida during the Civil War? What did they wear? What kinds of equipment were they assigned? Sometimes when studying history we get so busy discussing “big” issues like political trends and battles and ideas that we lose sight of everyday experiences. Diaries and letters are two kinds of documents that can help us uncover this sort of commonplace detail, but what if you could get even closer to the heart of the matter and see lists of the supplies and equipment received by an individual regiment?

Portrait of Lieutenant Joseph C. Shaw, 99th U.S. Colored Troops (ca. 1864).

Portrait of Lieutenant Joseph C. Shaw, 99th U.S. Colored Troops (ca. 1864).

That’s the great strength of the Joseph C. Shaw Papers, a collection held by the State Archives of Florida at its research facility in Tallahassee. Shaw was an Ohio native who served in the Sixth Michigan Infantry before accepting a commission as a lieutenant in the Fifteenth Regiment of the Corps d’Afrique in Louisiana. This unit was later reorganized as the 99th United States Colored Troops, which served in Florida in 1864 and 1865. The 99th was one of 175 Union regiments consisting mainly of African-American soldiers. The officers in these units were almost always white.

Shaw served as the quartermaster for his regiment, handling much of the paperwork regarding supplies, equipment, foraging for the animals, and rations for the men. His papers contain a variety of reports describing exactly what was issued to and consumed by the 99th U.S. Colored Troops while they were stationed at various points along Florida’s Gulf coast. Here are a few sample pages from the reports – click each image to enlarge:

Abstract of Provisions issued to the 99th U.S. Colored Troops at Punta Rassa, Florida in March 1865. Box 4, folder 8, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

Abstract of Provisions issued to the 99th U.S. Colored Troops at Punta Rassa, Florida in March 1865. Box 4, folder 8, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

List of items belonging to the 99th U.S. Colored Troops lost or destroyed during the Battle of Natural Bridge in March 1865 near St. Marks, Florida. Box 3, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

List of items belonging to the 99th U.S. Colored Troops lost or destroyed during the Battle of Natural Bridge in March 1865 near St. Marks, Florida. Box 3, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

Record of clothing issued to personnel of the 99th U.S. Colored Troops in October 1864. Note that each unit member's signature is indicated by an

Record of clothing issued to personnel of the 99th U.S. Colored Troops in October 1864. Note that each unit member’s signature is indicated by an “X” mark. Even though the 99th USCT was a Union regiment, it was raised in Louisiana, where its members had enjoyed few if any opportunities for formal education. Box 4, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

These records may seem rather mundane, but it’s exactly this sort of information that helps historians piece together the daily experiences of soldiers during the Civil War. They are especially useful when examined alongside diaries and letters from individual soldiers to help parse some of the references the authors make to their living conditions.

Because these records were generally shared between unit quartermasters and the military departments of the Union and Confederate governments, the majority of these reports (where they still exist at all) are accessible only through the National Archives in Washington. In a few cases, such as that of Joseph Shaw, quartermaster officers or generals retained their own copies of the reports, and they eventually made their way to other archives such as the State Archives of Florida by donation.

To learn more about the Civil War era records housed at the State Archives of Florida, check out our research guide on the subject. We also recommend reviewing the Civil War in Florida bibliography from the State Library.