So You Wanna Be a Doctor

Your physician or surgeon is definitely someone you want to be able to trust, but how do you know you can? Since Florida’s earliest territorial days, the government has required medical professionals to demonstrate their qualifications and be licensed in some way. The rules have changed a lot over the years, however, which makes for some interesting reading.

Pages from the journal of Dr. John M.W. Davidson of Gadsden County, describing treatments for various diseases (Collection M81-24, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to see a larger version of the image and a transcript.

Pages from the journal of Dr. John M.W. Davidson of Gadsden County, describing treatments for various diseases (Collection M81-24, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to see a larger version of the image and a transcript.

After Andrew Jackson formally took possession of West Florida on July 17, 1821, he immediately began passing ordinances laying out a new set of rules for the territory. In September, he issued an ordinance “for the preservation of health in the city of Pensacola” establishing a Board of Health for the city and granting the board powers to license physicians and make rules regulating the practice of medicine. When the territorial legislative council met for the first time the following year, the members passed an act establishing new boards of health in both Pensacola and St. Augustine, although the new law did not specifically say whether the boards would license physicians or not. They did, however, specify that all persons practicing law or medicine within the territory would pay $10 in licensing fees. That was a lot of money in the 1820s! The silver lining? Doctors were not liable for jury or militia duty.

Starting in 1824, the territorial legislative council got a little more serious about qualifications for doctors. That year, the council passed an act requiring anyone practicing medicine to file with the local county clerk either a copy of their diploma and a “certificate of moral character” or a certificate showing he had studied physiology or surgery for at least two years, either at a college or under the supervision of a reputable doctor or surgeon. If a prospective doctor went this latter route to be licensed, he also had to get the endorsement of two county judges.

An Act to Regulate the Admission of Physicians and Surgeons to Practice in This Territory, 1824 (Series 222, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to view a larger version.

An Act to Regulate the Admission of Physicians and Surgeons to Practice in This Territory, 1824 (Series 222, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to view a larger version.

On December 31, 1827, the legislative council established a territory-wide board of health called the Medical Board, initially consisting of Richard Weightman and William H. Simmons of St. Augustine, Robert A. Lacy of Key West, William D. Price and Lewis Willis of Tallahassee, Malcolm Nicholson of Gadsden County, William P. Hart of Jackson County, and C.Y. Fonda and John Brosnaham of Pensacola. All physicians wanting to practice medicine in Florida were supposed to come before the board for examination to be granted a license. If the applicant had a degree from “some regularly established medical university within the United States,” however, he did not have to take an examination.

Home of Dr. Malcolm Nicholson of Gadsden County, one of the first members of Florida's first territory-wide board of health, the Medical Board (1899).

Home of Dr. Malcolm Nicholson of Gadsden County, one of the first members of Florida’s first territory-wide board of health, the Medical Board (1899).

The Medical Board proved burdensome to many would-be applicants, since by law it was to meet exclusively in Tallahassee. In 1831, legislators rectified the situation by abolishing the board and offering physicians three routes to a medical license. An applicant could either (a) file a diploma from a medical college with the local county clerk, (b) file a certificate of competency signed by two licensed Florida doctors, or (c) file evidence of having completed “one course of lectures” at “some medical college,” accompanied by a certificate of competency from just one licensed Florida doctor. This certainly made getting a medical license easier, although there were still cases where some prospective physicians had trouble meeting the requirements, as we see with the following case involving Dr. John W. Robarts of Tampa. Robarts had no medical degree, yet 166 Hillsborough County residents asked the legislature to grant him a special license in 1854. Why he was unable to obtain a certificate of competency is not known, although there are other cases where a doctor who relied on herbal or other alternative methods found it difficult to get this kind of support from fellow physicians.

Petition signed by 166 citizens of Hillsborough County asking the legislature to issue a special license to Dr. John W. Robarts (Series 2153, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to view a larger version.

Petition signed by 166 citizens of Hillsborough County asking the legislature to issue a special license to Dr. John W. Robarts (Series 2153, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to view the complete document.

This system continued with relatively few changes for more than half a century, but over time concerns about “quack” doctors and harmful patent medicines led the state government to get even more deeply involved. The growth of the state and its far-flung geography played a role as well. In 1881, legislators passed an act creating six boards of medical examiners headquartered in Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Pensacola, Key West, Ocala and Tampa. The boards were to examine any persons not possessing a medical degree who wished to practice medicine, surgery or obstetrics in the state. If the applicant passed the examination, he was to enter a copy of the board’s certificate into the records of his local county clerk.

The 1881 law required the six boards to examine applicants in five key areas: anatomy, operative and minor surgery, obstetrics, diseases of women and children and “the general laws of health.” The State Archives holds copies of minutes from the meetings of the examining board based in Pensacola (Series S1321), which contain some of the questions they asked each applicant in the 1890s. Here are a few examples, some of which really show their age. How many can you answer?

  1. Give the effect of chloroform on the system.
  2. What are the antidotes for strychnine poisoning?
  3. State the object of the circulatory system.
  4. What are the symptoms and treatment of smallpox?
  5. What is formed when you combine in a prescription potassium iodide and bichloral mercury?
  6. How may it be known [in the process of delivering a baby] that labor has begun?

In 1889, legislators revamped the system and began requiring all doctors to have a medical degree and sit for an examination. In 1905, they abolished the six separate examining boards and established a statewide Board of Medical Examiners, which still operates today as the Florida Board of Medicine. The questions have gotten a little more complex, as today’s doctors can attest, but the object is the same–to protect the public and maintain a high standard of quality among Florida’s health care professionals.

Doctor and nurse examining a patient at the FSU infirmary in Tallahassee (1959).

Doctor and nurse examining a patient at the FSU infirmary in Tallahassee (1959).

Is there a doctor somewhere in your family tree? Check out our webinar on researching your ancestor’s occupation to learn how to find out more!

 

 

Sawing Logs

Florida’s economy was still mostly agricultural in the late 1800s. The Civil War had ended slavery, but that system was replaced by sharecropping and tenant farming, in which many former slaves–and a number of white citizens as well–rented patches of land in exchange for a “share” of the crops they grew on them. For Florida’s many small freehold farmers who owned their own land, the norm was to produce what they needed to be comfortable, as well as enough of a cash crop like corn or cotton to cover their general store debts and their annual taxes to the county and state. In all of these systems, cash only came in a couple of times per year when crops were harvested. As a result, farmers relied heavily on credit from their landlords and local merchants, and after paying them off each year there was often little if any cash left. Many times, a farmer’s crop wouldn’t even cover his debts, and he might even go so far as to mortgage the next year’s crop to satisfy his creditors. Droughts, bad storms, insects and production shortfalls could easily wreak havoc on a farmer’s plans under these conditions.

Wagons unloading cotton at the Seaboard Air Line depot in Lloyd in jefferson County, Florida (ca. 1890).

Wagons unloading cotton at the Seaboard Air Line depot in Lloyd in Jefferson County, Florida (ca. 1890).

So what could you do if you were a farmer who wanted to make a little extra money to get ahead? The options were few outside the cities, but there was one natural resource that Florida had plenty of that farmers learned to take advantage of in the late 1800s–timber. Even 30 years into statehood, Florida’s government still held title to a tremendous amount of land, which was generally covered with thick stands of valuable timber. Cedar, cypress and yellow pine were the most sought-after varieties. In the late 1870s, the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund, which managed these lands for the state, came up with a plan to license private individuals to cut timber on state lands for a small fee. The earliest records from this system are held by the State Archives in Tallahassee, and have recently been digitized and made available on FloridaMemory.com. Besides helping us better understand the so-called “stumpage system,” they may also be useful for researchers working on family trees with ancestors living in Florida in the late 1870s and early 1880s.

Cover of the volume in which the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund recorded the permits they issued for cutting timber on state lands (Series S 1814, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to view the entire book.

Cover of the volume in which the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund recorded the permits they issued for cutting timber on state lands (Series S 1814, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to view the entire book.

First, some background. The stumpage system came into being after several state officials and county sheriffs warned the board in 1879 that private citizens were trespassing on state lands to cut cedar timber, particularly in Levy, Lafayette and Taylor counties. The German pencil magnate Eberhard Faber had established a cedar slat factory on Atseena Otie (Cedar Key) around 1855, and by the 1870s the company was shipping upwards of a million cubic feet of trimmed cedar annually for the purpose of making pencils. Faber originally got the wood from his own extensive timber holdings in the vicinity of the factory on Atseena Otie, but over time the nearby wood supply was exhausted. With cedar in high demand, Floridians living close to the Gulf coast or along the Suwannee or Withlacoochee rivers saw an opportunity to make some extra cash. There were almost no railroads in the area at this time, and carting the logs over land to Cedar Key would have been impractical, but if a seller could float the cedar logs down a creek or river to the Gulf and then raft them to Cedar Key, he could sell them for a good price.

Workers gathered outside Eberhard Faber's cedar mill on Atseena Otie (Cedar Key). Photo circa 1890s.

Workers gathered outside Eberhard Faber’s cedar mill on Atseena Otie (Cedar Key). Photo circa 1890s.

The problem was that these Floridians weren’t just cutting the cedar trees from their own land. As officials told the Internal Improvement Fund trustees, there were a number of cases where a citizen either started cutting on his own land and simply went outside his boundaries, or just willfully cut trees from state lands. It wasn’t hard to do in those days, of course. Very little land in North Florida was developed at this time, practically none of it was marked and the state did not regularly patrol its holdings because they were so extensive.

At its June 11, 1879 meeting, the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund decided to allow private citizens to cut timber on the state’s land, but only if they paid a “stumpage” fee. For cedar and palmetto, the rate would be 10 cents per cubic foot. For pine and cypress it was 50 cents per cubic foot. Moreover, no cedar could be cut unless the log would make an 8-inch square when dressed. To get permission to begin cutting, a citizen simply let the Commissioner of Lands and Immigration know where he wanted to cut timber, what kind of timber it was and where it would be taken, promising to pay a state timber agent the appropriate amount of stumpage. The Commissioner would then issue a permit like this one:

Permit for John Bennett of Lafayette County to cut cedar logs in the vicinity of the Esteenhatchie (Steinhatchee) River, 1879 (Series S 1814, State Archives of Florida).

Permit for John Bennett of Lafayette County to cut cedar logs in the vicinity of the Esteenhatchie (Steinhatchee) River, 1879 (Series S 1814, State Archives of Florida).

Once the permit was issued, the Commissioner of Lands and Immigration entered the data into the ledger in the manner shown below. Here’s where the genealogical significance comes in. These records not only describe where the timber was being cut, but they also show where the timber cutter lived. In doing so, the records pinpoint the specific location of specific people at specific times–a very helpful data point for family history research. Even better, many of the applicants for timber cutting permits were farmers whose activities would not have been documented in many other records, especially not in the late 19th century. If you were to find an ancestor listed in this ledger, you would have not only a data point showing where the person was living at a certain time, but also some insight into how they made their living in the 1870s and 1880s.

Example page from a register of timber permits (Series 1814, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to view the entire book.

Example page from a register of timber permits (Series 1814, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to view the entire book.

These records cover a short period of time and a limited number of people, but they’re an excellent example of why the State Archives of Florida is an essential part of the genealogist’s toolkit when tracing family history in the Sunshine State. Sources like these can be combined with other records to help you form a more complete picture of who an ancestor was and what they did during their lifetime in Florida.

Got a question about the many records we have at the State Archives? Email the Reference Desk at Archives@dos.myflorida.com, or give us a call at 850-245-6719.

 

 

A County Called Mosquito

Florida hasn’t had a new county in almost a century, but in the territorial and early statehood years they popped up all the time. Deciding to form a new county and coming up with a name for it must have been a very serious matter–after all, you can’t just go renaming a county once it’s been established. Or can you? As it turns out, Florida has established several counties that were later given new names, either because the old one proved unappealing or the citizens simply found something they liked better.

Excerpt from H.S. Tanner's 1833 map of Florida, with Mosquito County shaded in pink along Florida's east coast. Click or tap the image to see a zoomable version of the entire map.

Excerpt from H.S. Tanner’s 1833 map of Florida, with Mosquito County shaded in pink along Florida’s east coast. Click or tap the image to see a zoomable version of the entire map.

The best example of this is Mosquito County, created by Florida’s territorial legislative council on December 24, 1824. Clearly no one consulted the local chamber of commerce before coming up with this gem of a name. Mosquito covered a massive amount of territory 190 miles long and 60 miles wide, carved from what had been one of Florida’s two original counties, St. Johns. At the time of its creation, Mosquito County contained within its boundaries all of the land that now belongs to Volusia, Brevard, St. Lucie, Indian River, Martin, Seminole, Osceola, Orange, Lake, Polk and Palm Beach counties. Government operations for this behemoth of a county were eventually headquartered at New Smyrna and later Enterprise. We say “eventually” because it took 10 years for the legislature to make it official–and even after that the county records were still kept at St. Augustine for a while.

As for who was responsible for the name, there’s plenty of blame to go around. The Spanish called one of the region’s waterways Barra de Mosquitos as early as the 16th century, no doubt referring to the insects they encountered in the marshier parts of Florida’s Atlantic coast. The territorial legislature then added insult to injury by passing over all the other named features in the area and choosing to name their newest county for that same waterway, then called Mosquito Bar (or Inlet). Really, guys? Couldn’t the new county have been called Ocklawaha County for its northwestern boundary? Or maybe New Smyrna County for one of its oldest European settlements? Or Canaveral County? Anything but Mosquito!

Excerpt of a 1644 map drawn by Willem Janszoon Blaeu, with particular focus on the named waterways along Florida's Atlantic coast. Barra de Mosquitos is indicated with a red arrow. Click or tap the image to view a zoomable version of the complete map.

Excerpt of a 1644 map drawn by Willem Janszoon Blaeu, with particular focus on the named waterways along Florida’s Atlantic coast. Barra de Mosquitos is indicated with a red arrow. Click or tap the image to view a zoomable version of the complete map.

As you might imagine, the name Mosquito didn’t sit well with many of the locals, and it wasn’t long before they began looking for an alternative. In 1842, the legislature passed an act changing the name of Mosquito to Leigh Read County. Read had been a longtime member of the territorial legislative council and a speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. He died April 27, 1841 when he was ambushed and shot by friends of a man he had previously killed in a duel. There was a bit of confusion, however, because even though the two houses of the territorial legislature voted favorably on the act, the clerk who was supposed to take it up to the governor’s office for a signature failed to do so before the legislative session officially closed. As a result, the name Mosquito stuck for the moment.

Map of Florida drawn in 1842 by Sidney Morse and Samuel Breese. Anticipating that Mosquito County would be renamed Leigh Read as a result of the legislative council's action, the mapmakers labeled the territory of Mosquito accordingly. Tap or click the image to view a larger version of the map.

Map of Florida drawn in 1842 by Sidney Morse and Samuel Breese. Anticipating that Mosquito County would be renamed Leigh Read as a result of the legislative council’s action, the mapmakers labeled the territory of Mosquito accordingly. Tap or click the image to view a larger version of the map.

In 1844, a group of 70 citizens of Mosquito County took another stab at trying to change their name by petitioning the legislature. “The name of Mosquito is very unpleasant to many of the citizens,” they explained, asking that the name be changed to Harrison County. The name “Harrison” was almost certainly intended to honor the late President William Henry Harrison, who had died in 1841 after a short 31 days in office. Harrison had found the time to appoint Richard Keith Call to another term as territorial governor during his brief tenure, which may have endeared him to the citizens of Mosquito County.

Petition signed by 73 citizens of Mosquito County, asking for the county to be renamed Harrison, and for the boundaries to be redefined (1844). Box 4, Folder 3, Records of the Territorial Legislative Council (Series S 877), State Archives of Florida. Click on the image to view a larger version of the complete petition and a transcript.

Petition signed by 73 citizens of Mosquito County, asking for the county to be renamed Harrison, and for the boundaries to be redefined (1844). Box 4, Folder 3, Records of the Territorial Legislative Council (Series S 877), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to view a larger version of the complete petition and a transcript.

The legislature did not grant the citizens’ wishes until the following session in 1845. When they did finally pass an act renaming Mosquito County, they passed over the opportunity to honor President Harrison in favor of something that would prove to be a very valuable asset to the people of Central and South Florida–the orange.

Tanner's 1849 map of Florida. Orange County (formerly Mosquito county) is shown in green. Click or tap the image for a zoomable version of the map.

Tanner’s 1849 map of Florida. Orange County (formerly Mosquito county) is shown in green. Click or tap the image for a zoomable version of the map.

Today, Orange County is much smaller than it was back in its original Mosquito County days, but it certainly makes good use of its space. It’s home to a variety of attractions that draw tourists from all over the world each year, as well as the University of Central Florida, Rollins College and Valencia College. Although many of its signature orange groves have disappeared in recent years to make way for other developments, there’s still plenty of Florida citrus culture going on in the region. And that–most Floridians would likely agree–is a much more appropriate attribute to celebrate than the mosquito!

 

The First Known Christmas in Florida

Florida has the unique distinction of being the probable site of the first Christmas celebration ever held in what is now the United States. Archaeological and documentary evidence suggests that Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto and his expedition of more than 600 soldiers, slaves, craftsmen and adventurers observed the holiday while encamped at the Apalachee town of Anhaica, located where Tallahassee now stands.

Illustration of Hernando de Soto from Justin Winsor, ed., Narrative and Critical History of America, vol. 2 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin and Co., 1886).

Illustration of Hernando de Soto from Justin Winsor, ed., Narrative and Critical History of America, vol. 2 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin and Co., 1886).

Hernando de Soto had already participated in Spanish conquests in Central and South America by 1537, when King Charles V granted him the right to explore and conquer “La Florida.” Previous expeditions by Pánfilo de Narváez and Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón had reached Florida but had failed to establish permanent colonies. De Soto set out from Havana, Cuba on May 18, 1539 with 600 soldiers, 223 horses, nine ships and a host of servants, slaves and other participants. The expedition reached Florida on May 25th. Scholars have debated over where exactly the conquistador and his party landed, but most interpretations suggest they arrived the vicinity of Tampa Bay. De Soto spent the summer and fall of 1539 making his way up the Florida peninsula, searching for precious metals or other resources valuable to Spain and his own coffers. He encountered many native tribes along the way, who–not surprisingly–opposed the expedition’s intrusion into their territory. The natives used cane arrows tipped with fish bones, crab claws and stone points to attack the Spaniards, while de Soto’s army used their own cruel methods to compel the natives’ submission.

Map showing the routes and settlement sites of Spanish explorers during the colonial era, including Hernando de Soto. From the Division of Historical Resources' booklet titled Florida Spanish Colonial Heritage Trail (2009).

Map showing the routes and settlement sites of Spanish explorers during the colonial era, including Hernando de Soto. From the Division of Historical Resources’ booklet titled Florida Spanish Colonial Heritage Trail (2009).

On October 3, 1539, the expedition crossed the Aucilla River–now the boundary between Jefferson and Madison counties in North Florida–and entered the province of Apalachee. Three days later, de Soto reached the principal Apalachee town of Anhaica, located in what is now Tallahassee. With winter fast approaching, de Soto ordered his followers to establish a camp, where they would remain until March 3, 1540. The location of de Soto’s camp was revealed in 1987 when State Archaeologist B. Calvin Jones uncovered artifacts from the expedition’s stay at a construction site just south of U.S. 27, just under a mile from the State Capitol. A small army of archaeologists and volunteers descended on the site, finding several copper coins, an iron crossbow point, nails, links of chain mail, broken Spanish olive jars and perhaps one of the most telling artifacts of all–the jawbone of a pig dating to around the time of de Soto’s expedition. Since de Soto had been the one to introduce the pig to North America, this was almost certainly a sign that he had been there.

Artifacts discovered at the site of Hernando de Soto's 1539-40 winter encampment in what is now Tallahassee (1987).

Artifacts discovered at the site of Hernando de Soto’s 1539-40 winter encampment in what is now Tallahassee (1987).

The dates of de Soto’s stay at Anhaica confirm he spent Christmas there, but how did the expedition celebrate? The documentary evidence is scant, but we can make a few educated guesses based on what we do know. There were, for example, 12 Catholic priests included in the expedition, so it’s likely they held a traditional Catholic mass to mark the occasion. Also, the Apalachee natives had fled Anhaica before the Spaniards arrived, but they left behind immense stores of maize and beans, which de Soto and his followers used for their own sustenance. Did they have a Christmas feast similar to those still held today? Did the menu include the pig whose jawbone was found by Calvin Jones more than 400 years later? It’s quite possible.

An artist's depiction of the first Christmas celebrated in what is now the United States by Hernando de Soto's expedition in 1539.

An artist’s depiction of the first Christmas celebrated in what is now the United States by Hernando de Soto’s expedition in 1539.

While this may have been the first Christmas celebrated in what is now the United States, it was certainly not a time of peace and joy for de Soto, his followers or the Apalachees they displaced. The natives who had evacuated Anhaica ahead of the expedition besieged the intruders, regularly attacking their garrison and hunting parties, and attempting to burn the town down by flinging torches and shooting flaming arrows into it. De Soto responded in kind, using ruthless tactics to bring the Apalachees to heel. The expedition lost 20 members while encamped at Anhaica. The number of Apalachees killed by Spanish attacks, disease or starvation is unknown.

The historic Governor John W. Martin House in Tallahassee (2012).

The historic Governor John W. Martin House in Tallahassee (2012).

Despite the less than festive circumstances surrounding Hernando de Soto’s time in Tallahassee, the winter encampment site was a critical find. Until recently, it was the only place where verifiable physical evidence of the expedition had been found. The property, which includes the former home of Florida’s Governor John W. Martin, has since been purchased by the state and is now headquarters for the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research.

When Money Grew in Trees

Florida wouldn’t be Florida without its beautiful oak and cypress trees. Moreover, those picturesque trees would look awfully naked without their hanging curtains of Spanish moss blowing gently in the breeze. It’s an image that has been evoked a thousand times or more in art, song, novels and poetry. The moss even has its own legend, which countless tourists have sent home on postcards for friends and loved ones to read:

Postcard with the legend of the Spanish moss (ca. 1950).

Postcard with the legend of the Spanish moss (ca. 1950).

But let’s get a few things straight about Spanish moss, as it is a most peculiar species. For starters, it isn’t Spanish. It’s native to North America as far north as Virginia, so the Spanish can hardly lay claim to it. To be fair, they didn’t actually mean to give their name to the moss; that was the work of their colonial rivals, the French, during the 16th and 17th centuries. French explorers jokingly called the moss “Spanish beard,” while their Spanish counterparts responded in kind by calling it “French hair.” In those days, you clearly had to get your entertainment where you could find it.

A cypress tree draped in Spanish moss at Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park (2007).

A cypress tree draped in Spanish moss at Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park (2007).

Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is also not actually a moss. In fact, as a bromeliad it has a closer relationship to the pineapple than it does to other species we would call “moss.” It’s an epiphyte, meaning it grows on other plants but is not parasitic. Contrary to popular belief, Spanish moss will not kill a tree if left unchecked, although it may produce enough shade to stunt its growth.

Picturesque as it may be, Spanish moss has long been known for more than just its good looks. Once its outer bark has been removed and the strong fibers inside have been allowed to dry, the resulting material is surprisingly strong, yet also soft enough to use for cushioning. Native Americans reportedly weaved dried moss into clothing, and early white settlers braided it into ropes and netting. As early as 1773, the roving naturalist William Bartram remarked during his tour of the Southeast that Spanish moss was “particularly adapted to the purpose of stuffing mattresses, chairs, saddles, collars, etc.; and for these purposes, nothing yet known equals it.” It also served as a popular curiosity and souvenir for Northern visitors. Tourists would take boxes of Spanish moss back home and hang it in their own trees, giving them a bit of Florida to enjoy until winter arrived and killed it off.

“The jolly old crowd in Auburndale,” some with Spanish moss adorning their heads (ca. 1920s).

It didn’t take the enterprising people of Florida long to figure out that this natural bounty could be harvested and sold for a profit. As early as 1834, a New Englander visiting Jacksonville commented on the growing moss industry in that area. The poet Sidney Lanier, who visited Florida in the 1870s, noted a similar factory just up the St. Johns River in Tocoi. The Census Bureau listed a moss processing plant at Pensacola in a supplement to the 1880 federal census, and there was a large moss factory at Gainesville as of 1882 as well. These businesses made their money by collecting moss from local forests, curing and ginning it, and then selling it to manufacturers up north, who used the material for cushions and mattresses and other products.

Articles of incorporation for the Florida Moss-Hair Company, based in Gainesville. From Box 192, Folder 612, Domestic Articles of Incorporation (Series S 186), State Archives of Florida.

Articles of incorporation for the Florida Moss-Hair Company, based in Gainesville. From Box 192, Folder 612, Domestic Articles of Incorporation (Series S 186), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to view the entire document.

The moss business had its advantages and disadvantages. The supply was plentiful, and sometimes pecan and citrus grove operators actually paid moss collectors to rid them of the stuff, since it could decrease the trees’ production. Farm laborers often gathered moss during their off-season as a way to make extra money, gathering the material in their local woods and carting it to the nearest processing plant. The moss gatherer’s tool of choice was usually a long wooden pole with a hook or barb on one end, which could be twisted in the moss and pulled to bring it down in large clumps. From this point, however, the work was tough. The gray outer bark of the moss had to be removed to get to the strong fibers within, usually through a curing process. Moss factories sometimes did their own curing; other times they purchased pre-cured moss from their suppliers. Either way, workers would stack the moss in large piles or drop it into large trenches, and then soak the whole lot with water. This would cause the moss to rot and shed its bark. The longer the moss cured, the tougher and cleaner the inner fiber would become. Six months was required to produce the highest grade moss, which would sell at the highest price.

Spanish moss arriving at the Leesburg Moss Yard in a Ford sedan. Moss gathering was one way to earn a little extra cash back in the days when the moss industry was in full swing (photo 1946).

Spanish moss arriving at the Leesburg Moss Yard in a Ford sedan. Moss gathering was one way to earn a little extra cash back in the days when the moss industry was in full swing (photo 1946).

Moss drying on racks after curing (1946).

Moss drying on racks after curing (1946).

Once the gray outer bark of the Spanish moss slipped off easily, workers removed it from its piles or trenches and hung it out on lines to dry in the sun. Rain, wind and friction combined forces to separate the bark from the dark fibers inside. At this stage, the cured moss would either be taken to a gin or sold to another company that would process the material. Cured moss was worth about 4 to 5 cents per pound as of the late 1950s, depending on how well it had been cleaned. The unit value of the finished product is tough to determine, since government figures often combine moss with other upholstery stuffing materials. State agriculture officials in the 1950s, however, estimated the overall value of the Florida moss crop to be about $500,000 per year.

Bales of ginned moss being loaded onto a truck (1928).

Bales of ginned moss being loaded onto a truck (1928).

These days, inner-spring mattresses have replaced moss-stuffed ones, and synthetic materials cushion our furniture and car seats. The moss factories that once hummed with activity from Pensacola to Gainesville to Leesburg and Apopka are no more. That’s not such a bad thing, of course. The silver lining–or gray, if you please–is that now we have more beautiful Spanish moss to enjoy in the trees where nature originally put it!

A Healthful Haunting

Ghosts stories are often spooky by design, but are all ghosts really that scary? Is it possible that some ghosts–if you believe in such things–might prefer to be helpful rather than harrowing? This seems to be the case with Maria Valdez de Gutsens, who is believed to haunt the former Mercedes Hospital at 1209 Virginia Street in Key West.

The former Mercedes Hospital at 1209 Virginia Street in Key West. The building was later converted into residential apartments (photo ca. 1990).

The former Mercedes Hospital at 1209 Virginia Street in Key West. The building was later converted into residential apartments (photo ca. 1990).

Mercedes Hospital, also known as the Casa del Pobre (Home of the Poor), was established in 1911 in the former home of Eduardo Hidalgo Gato, a prominent Cuban-born cigar maker who first established his factory in Key West in 1874. Although Gato was the leading cigar manufacturer in town, he decided in the early years of the 20th century to move back to Cuba and leave the management of the business to his four sons, who were all officers of the company. That left the spacious Gato home open for other uses.

Bust portrait of Eduardo Hidalgo Gato, in the Official Gazette of the U.S. Patent Office - January 9, 1906.

Bust portrait of Eduardo Hidalgo Gato, in the Official Gazette of the U.S. Patent Office – January 9, 1906.

Meanwhile, a group of philanthropic Key West citizens of Cuban descent called the Beneficencia Cubana  hatched an idea to establish a hospital for residents who could not afford treatment at the city’s other medical facilities. The committee prevailed upon Eduardo Gato to lease his former home to the new institution for free. To honor the Gato family for their generosity, the new hospital was named for Mr. Gato’s wife, Mercedes.

Dr. Joseph N. Fogarty, mayor of Key West and a prominent local physician, donated money, instruments and equipment to the new hospital, but it was Maria Valdez de Gutsens who really ran the show. “Mother” Gutsens, as she was called, administered the hospital for 30 years from its opening until nearly the time of her death in 1941. She dedicated her life to nursing patients in the 30-bed facility, as well as finding money to keep the doors open. According to newspaper reports, Mrs. Gutsens would go around daily to the business houses of Key West and collect dimes and quarters to supplement the meager donations Mercedes Hospital received from the city and Monroe County. In 1934, Cuban president Carlos Mendieta awarded her the medal of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, Cuba’s highest honor at the time.

Mother Gutsens’ own health began to fail in 1941, forcing her to retire from her nursing and administrative duties at Mercedes Hospital. She was able, however, to participate in ceremonies marking the 30th anniversary of the facility’s establishment. “It was been much trouble,” she admitted, “and many, many tears.” Later that same year, Maria Valdez de Gutsens died at her Catherine Street home and was interred in the Key West Cemetery. The hospital, now without the greatest source of its former vitality, was soon closed, and the Gato house was converted into residential apartments.

Mercedes Hospital might be no more, but some residents say its former matron, Mother Gutsens, still occasionally attempts to apply her healing and caring touch to those who need it. Even before the hospital was closed after her death, there were signs to suggest that she was still at work in the building. A couple of months after Gutsens’ death, for example, a man checked into Mercedes Hospital with a serious case of pneumonia. Convinced he was about to die, he asked the nurse who came to check on him in the middle of the night to help him write a letter to his family expressing his love. According to the man’s testimony, the nurse stayed for about an hour as he dictated the letter, which she wrote down, placed in an envelope and placed on the window sill. She then stayed with the ailing man as he gradually fell asleep. The next day, the man asked to see the night nurse so he could thank her for her help. The nurse on duty that morning replied with confusion that she had been the only staff member in the hospital the night before. When the man described the person who had written his letter, the nurse noted that it sounded a lot like the Mother Gutsens who had worked at the hospital for years, but that she had passed away. Her confusion turned to shock, however, when the man pointed out the letter the night nurse had written the might before… and the handwriting was clearly that of Maria Valdez de Gutsens!

More recently, residents of the old Gato house have seen someone fitting Maria’s description visiting their rooms, especially when they were feeling unwell. In most of these cases, the apparition would either appear to be feeling the person’s forehead for a temperature or checking their wrist for a pulse. A few folks claim to have spoken to the ghost–one woman says she told Maria that although she appreciated what she was doing, it still frightened her. The dutiful nurse responded by stepping away from the woman’s bed, smiling and fading away from view.

The Gato House still stands in Key West and is a favorite stopping place for ghost tours. And what does Mother Maria Valdez de Gutsens think of her fame? The only way to know for sure would be to visit and see if she’ll appear and tell you herself.

Gato House apartments, formerly the Mercedes Hospital in Key West (1988).

Gato House apartments, formerly the Mercedes Hospital in Key West (1988).

Dying to read more ghost stories from the Key West area? We recommend David L. Sloan’s Ghosts of Key West, published by Phantom Press.

 

 

The Legend of Spook Hill

The weather is getting cooler (finally), and it’s almost time for Halloween–that special day for thinking about all that’s creepy, crawly, scary and mysterious. We think it’s the perfect time to take a look at a curious tourist attraction in Central Florida that doubles as one of the state’s most unusual (super?)natural phenomena, Spook Hill.

Sign advertising Spook Hill in Lake Wales (1953).

Sign advertising Spook Hill in Lake Wales (1953).

Spook Hill is located on 5th Street in Lake Wales, a city in Polk County. For years, signs have invited motorists to stop their car at a white line on what appears to be the bottom of a hill, put their car into neutral, and watch with terror as their car appears to creep its way back up the hill, as if moved by some unseen force.

Ask most folks who study such phenomena and they’ll tell you it’s all an optical illusion, that the unique pattern of changes in elevation along 5th Street plays a trick on your eyes, making it seem as though you’re at the bottom of a hill when you’re actually at the top. But is this really what’s happening?

Many locals have offered much creepier explanations over the years. A popular restaurant in Lake Wales called Barney’s Tavern, for example, was kind enough to publish a leaflet in the 1950s explaining the “real” story behind Spook Hill. According to this legend, it all began when a Spanish pirate named Captain Gimme Sarsparilla decided to hang up his cutlass and retire to Lake Wales. He was joined by fellow pirate Teniente Vanilla, whose surname was an acronym for a much larger mouthful of a name–Vincento Alfredo Nieto Isidoro Lima Llano Alvarez. We’ll stick with “Teniente Vanilla” for the sake of brevity.

Postcard showing a photograph of Barney's Tavern, a popular restaurant in Lake Wales (ca. 1950).

Postcard showing a photograph of Barney’s Tavern, a popular restaurant in Lake Wales (ca. 1950).

According to the good folks at Barney’s, when Vanilla died he was buried at the foot of Spook Hill. Captain Sarsparilla, for whatever reason, ended up nearby at the bottom of the lake for which Lake Wales is named. All was well for a couple of centuries, but then one day in the early years of the automobile age a man decided to park his car right at the bottom of Spook Hill and go fishing. The car–which the crew at Barney’s estimated to be approximately the weight of 16 men–was parked directly over the grave of the long-forgotten Teniente Vanilla. And you know what they say about pirates and 16 men on a dead man’s chest. This was bound not to end well.

Vanilla, his rest now disturbed, was said to have called out to his old friend Captain Sarsparilla, who emerged from his watery tomb in Lake Wales and pushed the unlucky fisherman’s car up the hill and off of the dead pirate’s chest. And–legend says–that’s what will happen to your car as well if you dare to stop at the bottom of Spook Hill as that fisherman once did.

Leaflet describing Spook Hill, sponsored by Barney's Tavern in Lake Wales (1954).

Leaflet describing Spook Hill, sponsored by Barney’s Tavern in Lake Wales (1954).

Now that’s not the only explanation that has been put forward to explain this chilling peculiarity. At some point local tourism promoters put forward a completely different legend involving a struggle between a Native American chieftain and a particularly bothersome alligator. Someone else proposed a theory involving an underground lode acting as a magnet that draws automobiles up the hill.

The makers of this sign at Spook Hill in Lake Wales seem to have some doubts about the legend of Sarsparilla and Vanilla (ca. 1950).

The makers of this sign at Spook Hill in Lake Wales seem to have some doubts about the legend of Sarsparilla and Vanilla (ca. 1950).

So what’s the real story behind Spook Hill? We’ll leave it for you to visit Lake Wales someday and decide for yourself… if you dare!

Miami’s Master Suburb

Coral Gables started out as a family plantation with acres of grapefruit and avocado trees. By 1930, however, it had become a buzzing metropolis on the edge of Miami, with a flourish of Old World flair in its distinctive Mediterranean Revival architecture. Like most of the planned communities that emerged in Florida during the great boom of the 1920s, Coral Gables grew out of a vision–in this case one belonging to a young developer named George Merrick.

George Edgar Merrick, developer of Coral Gables (1926).

George Edgar Merrick, developer of Coral Gables (1926).

George Merrick arrived in Miami with his family in 1899. His father, Solomon Merrick, had been a minister in Duxbury, Massachusetts, but on the advice of a colleague in Coconut Grove he decided to move his family to Florida to try their hand at growing citrus on a 160-acre plot. Mrs. Merrick had wanted to name the plantation “Among the Pines,” but her husband preferred “Coral Gables,” a combined homage to both the local coral rock and the Massachusetts home of one of Solomon Merrick’s political idols, Grover Cleveland, which was called “Gray Gables.” The family decided to stick with the name Coral Gables Plantation, and soon it was being used in advertisements and signs.

The original Merrick homestead, named

The original Merrick homestead, named “Coral Gables” after “Gray Gables,” the Massachusetts home of Solomon Merrick’s political idol Grover Cleveland. The “coral” part of the name stems from the local coral rock used as a building material (1926).

Solomon Merrick died in 1911, leaving 25-year-old George as head of the family and manager of the Coral Gables property. Under the young man’s management the plantation grew to 1,200 acres and employed more than 40 workers, but George believed Coral Gables could be something more. Real estate in Miami and Coconut Grove was booming, with rapid new construction along Miami Beach and in suburbs along the outer edges of town. George was deeply interested in getting involved with the lucrative business of real estate development, and in 1912 he partnered with his brother-in-law to start a real estate firm. The following year the fledgling business combined with the Realty Securities Corporation, making Merrick president of the largest real estate and development company in Dade County.

An example of one of the many booklets being developed by Miami real estate developers in the 1910s and 1920s to entice northern buyers. This one was published by the Tatum Brothers Company to advertise their beachfront development north of Miami. Florida Collection, State Library (1918).

An example of one of the many booklets developed by Miami real estate developers in the 1910s and 1920s to entice northern buyers. This one was published by the Tatum Brothers Company to advertise their beachfront development north of Miami. Florida Collection, State Library (1918).

When George announced in 1918 that he planned to turn his family’s Coral Gables Plantation into a self-sufficient suburban village, many thought he had lost his mind. Even with Miami’s intense expansion, Coral Gables was still considered to be too far out of town, near if not in the Everglades. There were also other developments vying for the attention of home-seekers and real estate developers, namely Hollywood by the Sea, Hialeah and Biscayne Park. How would Coral Gables compete?

Busloads of potential home buyers make their way through the new suburban development at Hialeah (1921).

Busloads of potential home buyers make their way through the new suburban development at Hialeah (1921).

George Merrick remained confident that his idea would work if the quality of the product was exceptional and his advertising and marketing hit their marks. His aesthetic vision for Coral Gables drew heavily on his experiences traveling in the Bahamas and Cuba, as well as his affinity for Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra, which had provided him with richly illustrated vistas of faraway Spain.  Of course, Merrick wasn’t the only developer smitten with the Old World at that time; Addison Mizner’s Spanish-style buildings in Palm Beach also influenced the young developer’s vision for Coral Gables.

“Amado,” the home of Charles Munn in Palm Beach. Designed by architect Addison Mizner, the house reflected the Mediterranean Revival style that influenced George Merrick’s plans for Coral Gables (photo circa 1919).

Merrick began hiring architects and engineers to work out the details for the new community, and the first concept drawings appeared in February 1920. To determine the names for the streets, he opened up his copy of Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra and selected Spanish place names like Asturia, Castille, Alcazar and Aragon. He bought the Mackinac Building at 158 E. Flagler Street in Miami from John Burdine to serve as the headquarters for the Coral Gables sales and development team.

Map of Coral Gables, including additions to the original planned community site (1934). Click or tap the map to view a larger, zoomable version of it.

Map of Coral Gables, including additions to the original planned community site (1934). Click or tap the map to view a larger, zoomable version of it.

Merrick and his associates began auctioning off lots in the new Coral Gables subdivision on November 28, 1921. Signs urging potential buyers to “follow the Golden Galleon” were posted all along Flagler Street in Miami to lead them toward the site, and costumed Spanish caballeros helped direct traffic to the original entrance to the development via Granada Boulevard.

Golden galleon promotional signage for Coral Gables (1921).

Golden galleon promotional signage for Coral Gables (1921).

The public response was overwhelmingly positive; over 5,000 people crowded into the unfinished subdivision to participate in the auction. Dr. Edward E. “Doc” Dammers, who Merrick had hired to be the main auctioneer and consultant for the venture, addressed the crowd from the back of a mule-drawn wagon. As each lot was sold, Dammers sent his partner off with the buyer to finish up the paperwork while he and the wagon moved on to the next lot to repeat the process. The purchasing terms were fairly simple–buyers chose a lot and a building plan, with prices starting at $5,785. If the buyer put down $500, he could finance the rest at $60 per month. In six days’ time, Merrick’s team had sold 300 lots for more than half a million dollars. George was so delighted with the results that he decided to pledge $10,000 for a public library and $100,000 for a college. This, of course, ultimately became the University of Miami.

Dr. Edward E.

Dr. Edward E. “Doc” Dammers auctioning off lots in Coral Gables from his mule-drawn wagon (1921).

The dramatic Granada Boulevard entrance to Coral Gables, with a tour bus entering through the main archway. This gate was designed by George Merrick's uncle, Denman Fink, and landscape architect Frank Button. It was completed in 1922 (photo also circa 1922).

The dramatic Granada Boulevard entrance to Coral Gables, with a tour bus entering through the main archway. This gate was designed by George Merrick’s uncle, Denman Fink, and landscape architect Frank Button. It was completed in 1922 (photo also circa 1922).

Once it was properly launched, Coral Gables continued to grow at a rapid pace. George Merrick and his associates had to establish their own tile and concrete block factories to keep up the necessary supply of building materials. By 1924, the settlement had its own volunteer fire department, woman’s club, Boy Scout troop and grammar school. The next year, Coral Gables was incorporated as a town, and Doc Dammers became its first mayor. The year after that, on February 4, 1926, the cornerstone was laid for the first building of what would become the University of Miami.

Baldwin residence at 2604 De Soto Boulevard in Coral Gables (1925).

Baldwin residence at 2604 De Soto Boulevard in Coral Gables (1925).

The Venetian Pool, also called the Venetian Casino, a striking feature of the original Coral Gables development. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981 (photo circa 1925).

The Venetian Pool, also called the Venetian Casino, a striking feature of the original Coral Gables development. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981 (photo circa 1925).

Crowd assembled for the laying of the cornerstone of the University of Miami's first building--the Merrick Building (1926).

Crowd assembled for the laying of the cornerstone of the University of Miami’s first building–the Merrick Building (1926).

The stage was set for a bright future. Even the collapse of the Florida Boom in the late 1920s failed to completely arrest the growth of Coral Gables. Today, the community continues as home to the University of Miami, as well as a center of international commerce. Numerous foreign consulates are located there, as are the corporate headquarters of Bacardi, Fresh Del Monte Produce and Capital Bank Financial.

Aerial view looking east over a section of Coral Gables (circa 1996).

Aerial view looking east over a section of Coral Gables (circa 1996).

The State Archives of Florida holds an extensive collection of photographs belonging to photographer William A. Fishbaugh, who George Merrick hired to help promote Coral Gables and other real estate developments in the Miami area. Browse the William Fishbaugh Collection on Florida Memory to find more historic images of the region during and after the Florida Boom.

Photographer William A. Fishbaugh in Dade County (1920s).

Photographer William A. Fishbaugh in Dade County (1920s).

For a more extensive treatment of George Merrick and the development of Coral Gables, we also recommend Arvah Parks’ recent book, George Merrick, Son of the South Wind: Visionary Creator of Coral Gables, published in 2015 by the University Press of Florida.

 

Dance Cards in the Archives

Has someone ever asked you to save some room on your dance card for them, or declined an invitation because their dance card was too full? These days, a person’s “dance card” is almost always a metaphor for their schedule, but in the 19th and early 20th centuries the meaning was much more literal. Formal dances were a popular form of entertainment in those days, and dance cards were an essential part of the etiquette that went along with them.

Dance card for an event given in honor of Miss Covington, Miss Ellis, and Messers Ellis in Tallahassee, 1926. From Box 2, Folder 14, Meginnis Family Papers (Collection N2015-3), State Archives of Florida.

Dance card for an event given in honor of Miss Covington, Miss Ellis, and Messers Ellis in Tallahassee, 1926, in Box 2, Folder 14, Meginnis Family Papers (Collection N2015-3), State Archives of Florida.

The concept was fairly simple. Women–and in some cases men as well–used dance cards to keep track of who they had promised to dance with throughout the evening. This was necessary for a couple of reasons. First, while today’s sound systems can play for hours on end without complaint, the music at 19th and early 20th century parties came from live musicians who needed a break now and then. As a result, there was usually only a specific number of musical selections planned for dancing. If you really wanted to dance with someone, you had to make sure you were on their schedule!

Dance cards also allowed a party-goer to be strategic in asking for a dance partner. At a formal event, each musical number was designed for a specific kind of dance, and the dancers were expected to not just have good rhythm, but also know the proper dance moves. If you didn’t know how to waltz, for example, you certainly wouldn’t want to sign up to dance a waltz with a partner you were looking to impress. You might sign up for a reel or a two-step instead, if those were your stronger dances. Dance cards helped by including the form of each dance next to its number on the inside of the card.

Inside of a dance card from a dance in Tallahassee in 1926. From Box 2, Folder 14, Meginnis Family Papers (Collection N2015-3), State Archives of Florida.

Inside of a dance card from a dance in Tallahassee in 1926, in Box 2, Folder 14, Meginnis Family Papers (Collection N2015-3), State Archives of Florida.

The cards could be simple, or they could be very ornate, depending on the occasion. A Valentine’s Day dance might feature cards in the shape of a red heart, while dances given in a particular person’s honor might have cards with the person’s monogram. Tiny pencils for filling in the cards were a common feature, usually attached to the cards with a loop of string or ribbon. Sometimes a lady would also use this to attach the card to her wrist.

Dance cards typically came with a few unwritten rules of etiquette, many of which would seem out of step with the times in today’s world. When it came to making dancing engagements, for example, men were supposed to take the lead. Ladies were supposed to wait to be asked. A lady could turn a gentleman’s invitation down, even if the spot was open on her dance card, but if she did it was generally considered impolite for her to accept another man’s proposal to dance that same number. It was also considered improper for a lady to dance every dance at a ball or party.

Panhellenic dance at the Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee (ca. 1935).

Panhellenic dance at the Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee (ca. 1935).

Dance cards still make an appearance now and then at formal occasions, but for the most part they’ve been relegated to scrapbooks and boxes of memorabilia from years gone by. Here at the State Archives, we often see dance cards included in collections of family papers. They’re a unique kind of source–both a snapshot of a particular occasion and a tool for exploring the social lives of Floridians in a very different era.

 

Dance card for Theta Ribbon Society Initiation Ball, 1923, in Box 8, Folder 2 of the Lively and Wesson Family Papers (Collection N2014-14), State Archives of Florida.

Dance card for Theta Ribbon Society Initiation Ball, 1923, in Box 8, Folder 2 of the Lively and Wesson Family Papers (Collection N2014-14), State Archives of Florida.

What are some of your favorite dancing memories? Leave us a comment, and don’t forget to share this blog with your friends and family so they too can take a quick dance down memory lane!

 

Rejoining the Union

It was May 10, 1865. The Civil War was over; General Robert E. Lee had surrendered his army at Appomattox Court House in Virginia the previous month. Telegraph lines were down all over the South, and many Floridians didn’t trust what they were hearing about the defeat of the Confederate Army. The ones in Tallahassee had little choice but to believe, however, when Brigadier General Edward Moody McCook came to town that day to accept the surrender of the remaining Confederate troops in Florida.

Governor John Milton, who had led Florida through much of the war, was dead. His successor, State Senate President Abraham K. Allison of Gadsden County, was now in charge, but what would happen to Florida now? Duly elected representatives of the people had signed an ordinance of secession in 1861 declaring the state a “Sovereign and Independent Nation.” Would Florida automatically become a part of the United States again? And if not, on what terms could it rejoin?

Ordinance of Secession, signed January 10, 1861 by 62 of the 69 delegates who attended a convention in Tallahassee to determine whether Florida would secede following the election of Abraham Lincoln (Series S972, State Archives of Florida). Click the image to enlarge it and see a full transcript.

Ordinance of Secession, signed January 10, 1861, by 62 of the 69 delegates who attended a convention in Tallahassee to determine whether Florida would secede following the election of Abraham Lincoln (Series S972, State Archives of Florida). Click the image to enlarge it and see a full transcript.

Unfortunately, the United States government was a little unsure about this issue as well. President Abraham Lincoln had viewed Reconstruction after the war as something the executive branch would handle. The way he saw it, the Confederate states had never really left the Union in the first place; they were just temporarily in the hands of disloyal rebels. Once loyal governments were back in control, the states would effectively be back in the United States. Lincoln devised what he called the Ten Percent Plan to establish a process for making this happen. To rejoin the United States, a state would need 10 percent of its electorate (as of 1860) to take an oath of allegiance and for the state government to form a new constitution that:

  1. Abolished slavery.
  2. Repudiated any debts the state had incurred during the war.
  3. Repealed the state’s ordinance of secession.

Lincoln’s plan never got very far–John Wilkes Booth assassinated the president before any state had met the requirements for readmission. That left Lincoln’s vice-president, Andrew Johnson, in charge. Johnson, himself a Southerner, favored his predecessor’s approach, but he faced serious opposition in Congress to such a lenient set of readmission requirements.

Governor Abraham Kurkindolle Allison (ca. 1860).

Governor Abraham Kurkindolle Allison (ca. 1860).

Meanwhile in Florida, Governor Abraham K. Allison wanted to take advantage of Johnson’s sentiments and normalize relations between his government and the U.S. as quickly as possible. Without consulting General McCook, he commissioned five representatives–David Levy Yulee, John Wayles Baker, Edward Curry Love, Mariano D. Papy, and James Lawrence George Baker–to confer with the president about readmission. Allison also summoned the state Legislature to convene on June 5, 1865, and set June 7 as the date for electing a new governor.

Letterbook Copy of David Levy Yulee's Commission from Governor Abraham K. Allison to Confer with President Andrew Johnson - May 12, 1865. Governors' Letterbooks (Series S32), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to view the complete document and transcript.

Letterbook Copy of David Levy Yulee’s commission from Governor Abraham K. Allison to Confer with President Andrew Johnson – May 12, 1865. Governors’ Letterbooks (Series S32), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to view the complete document and transcript.

Governor Allison’s actions shocked Florida’s Unionists, who had figured they would be closely involved in rebuilding the state’s relationship with Washington. General McCook was caught off guard as well, so he asked his superiors for instructions. As much as President Johnson had hoped to readmit the former Confederate states quickly, Allison’s actions went too far too fast. McCook received orders not to recognize any local or state government. The general placed the entire state under martial law on May 22, and Governor Allison was arrested and jailed, along with a number of other top state officials.

General Edward Moody McCook, who arrived in Tallahassee on May 10, 1865 to receive the surrender of Confederate troops in Florida.

General Edward Moody McCook, who arrived in Tallahassee on May 10, 1865, to receive the surrender of Confederate troops in Florida.

President Johnson appointed William Marvin of Key West as provisional governor on July 23, 1865. Marvin was given authority to handle civil affairs, but the state remained under martial law. He called an election for October 10, 1865, to choose delegates for a constitutional convention at Tallahassee, which was to begin later that month. Although a considerable faction of the Republican Party in Congress had made it clear they wanted African-Americans to be able to vote in these elections, President Johnson didn’t make the idea more than a suggestion in his instructions to the states, and Florida did not permit its black citizens to vote. As a result, the convention was made up of most of the same people who had been in charge before the war, and their ideas about the place of African-Americans in society had not changed.

The framers of Florida’s new constitution accepted the 13th Amendment ending slavery, repudiated Florida’s war debt and agreed to annul the ordinance of secession. They did not, however, grant African-Americans the right to vote. Moreover, the new legislature established a series of laws–called Black Codes–relating specifically to the behavior of African-Americans. They were similar to the slave codes that had been in force through the end of the war. This pattern was repeated across all of the former Confederate states, which gave Northerners the impression that the South meant to retain as much of slavery as they could.

Florida's 1865 Constitution (Series S58, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to view the complete document with transcript.

Florida’s 1865 Constitution (Series S58, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to view the complete document with transcript.

Congress reacted to these developments in two ways. First, the sitting members refused to seat newly elected delegates from the former Confederate states. Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution grants each house of Congress the power to judge the qualifications of its own members, which made this action possible. Congress also passed a civil rights bill establishing African-Americans as citizens and placing certain rights under the protection of the federal government, essentially invalidating the Black Codes. President Johnson vetoed the bill, but Congress overrode his veto. When some lawmakers questioned the constitutionality of the new law, Congress reinforced it by drafting the 14th Amendment, which would make many of the same principles part of the Constitution itself.

Of the Southern states, only Tennessee ratified the 14th Amendment. This further demonstrated to Northerners that the former Confederate states would have to be compelled to accept the new political rights they envisioned for African-Americans. The 1866 election resulted in a Congress with all the necessary votes to override a presidential veto on this subject, so lawmakers took control of the process the following spring. On March 2, 1867, Congress passed the Reconstruction Act over President Johnson’s veto. The act reestablished martial law in every former Confederate state except for Tennessee. It also declared their governments “provisional” and set up a new process for readmitting them to the Union. To qualify, a state would have to:

  1. Register all of its eligible voters, meaning all males 21 years of age and older, without regard to race or color.
  2. Hold elections for delegates to a constitutional convention.
  3. Frame a new state constitution guaranteeing males 21 years and older the right to vote without regard to race or color.
  4. Ratify the 14th Amendment.

Florida began registering voters according to the new rules in August 1867. Ossian Bingley Hart of Jacksonville, who would later become governor, was appointed to supervise the registration process. Many former Confederates chose not to register, even if they were qualified, perhaps out of a feeling of futility or sympathy for friends who were disqualified from registering because of their involvement with the Confederate government. At any rate, Hart’s registration drive resulted in 11,148 white voters and 14,434 black voters, who went to the polls without incident in November 1867 to select delegates for a constitutional convention.

Excerpt from the 1867-68 Voter Registration Rolls completed in compliance with the Reconstruction Act of 1867. Rolls for 19 Florida counties survive, and are searchable on Florida Memory. Click or tap the image to view the collection (Series S98, State Archives of Florida).

Excerpt from the 1867-68 voter registration rolls completed in compliance with the Reconstruction Act of 1867. Rolls for 19 Florida counties survive and are searchable on Florida Memory. Click or tap the image to view the collection (Series S98, State Archives of Florida).

Republicans had the majority this time around, but they were divided into factions, which resulted in a colorful series of events at the convention in 1868. They did manage to produce a constitution, however, and an election was held to choose a new slate of state officers. Harrison Reed, a Wisconsin native who had come to Florida on a federal appointment during the war, was elected governor. He was inaugurated on June 8, 1868, and the Legislature ratified the 14th Amendment the following day. On July 2, Governor Reed wrote the following note to John T. Sprague, the colonel supervising Florida’s second Union occupation, announcing that Florida had met the requirements for readmission to the Union:

Letter from Governor Harrison Reed to Colonel John T. Sprague announcing that Florida had met the requirements for Florida to be readmitted to the Union. Box 4, Folder 6, Governors' Correspondence (Series S577), State Archives of Florida.

Letter from Governor Harrison Reed to Colonel John T. Sprague announcing that Florida had met the requirements for Florida to be readmitted to the Union. Box 4, Folder 6, Governors’ Correspondence (Series S577), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to enlarge it and read the transcript.

Congress received a copy of the new state constitution and officially readmitted Florida to the Union on July 25, 1868. This was only the beginning of Reconstruction, of course. Considerable challenges lay ahead both inside and outside the halls of government. The Sunshine State was, however, officially part of the United States of America once again.