How’s Your Head, Governor Drew?

Can you guess which Florida governor weighed 185 pounds, had a brain 23¼ inches in diameter and was reportedly an uncommonly good judge of character? Stumped? To be fair, we wouldn’t have known either, had he not taken the time to consult a phrenologist while visiting New York in 1867. We recently came across the phrenologist’s report in this governor’s family papers and made it available on Florida Memory.

Cover of a phrenological character reading of George Franklin Drew, conducted by phrenologist Nelson Sizer on March 11, 1867 in New York City.

Cover of a phrenological character reading of George Franklin Drew, conducted by phrenologist Nelson Sizer on March 11, 1867 in New York City. Click the image to view the entire report.

Phrenology was a pseudo-science popular mainly in the early 19th century. Its founders, German physicians Franz Joseph Gall and Johann Spurzheim, claimed it was possible to determine the size and mental capacity of a person’s brain based on the bumps and indentations on the outside of the head. Phrenologists, who soon popped up on both sides of the Atlantic, would take measurements of a person’s head, note the places where it seemed to either be bulging or denting, and then write a report explaining the person’s character. The assumption was that every area of the brain covered a different aspect of personality and behavior. The more brain matter you had in a particular region, the more pronounced the corresponding trait would be.

Diagram illustrating the various

Diagram illustrating the various “faculties” of the brain, according to phrenologists.

Now a bit about Governor Drew. George Franklin Drew was born August 6, 1827, in New Hampshire, and got his start as a machinist’s apprentice in Massachusetts. At the age of 20, he moved to Columbus, Georgia, and started up his own machine shop before turning to the lumber industry. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Drew opposed secession, which didn’t sit well with some of his neighbors, and he spent most of the war confined in Savannah.

Portrait of George Franklin Drew, likely taken during his administration as Florida's 12th state governor (1877-1881).

Portrait of George Franklin Drew, likely taken during his administration as Florida’s 12th state governor (1877-1881).

After the war, Drew originally intended to move with his family to Brazil, but he only made it as far south as Suwannee County, Florida, where he invested his remaining fortune in timber land and a sawmill. He later moved his operation to Ellaville in Madison County, and built what was then believed to be the largest sawmill in the South.

Drew Lumber Company sawmill on the Suwannee River at Ellaville (ca. 1875).

Drew Lumber Company sawmill on the Suwannee River at Ellaville (ca. 1875).

It was during this era of his life that Drew visited New York City, probably on business, and happened to stop by the Fowler and Wells Phrenological Cabinet, a museum with plaster casts of heads and skulls and all kinds of memorabilia associated with the phrenology movement. While there, he received a full phrenological workup from Nelson Sizer, professor of “mental science” in the American Phrenological Institute and associate editor of the American Phrenological Journal. Sizer’s report on Drew was lengthy, but here are a few of the characteristics he “discovered” in the future governor while examining his head:

  • He was a good judge of character.
  • He appreciated people of principle and expected others to practice what they preached.
  • He liked to eat. Sizer wrote, “You have a strong appetite, which should be regulated.”
  • He was eager to be respected.

Sizer also offered Drew some advice, mainly regarding his diet:

  • Avoid pork and pastry and “highly seasoned things.”
  • Don’t use tobacco.
  • Eat lean beef and tart fruits and cut down on butter and sugar.

Sizer’s report was vague, but his overall positive view of Drew’s talent for business and management seemed to ring true. Drew’s lumber operations continued to grow, and he expanded into railroads and the mercantile trade as well. In 1870, he became chairman of the Madison County Commission, and in 1876 Florida’s Democratic Party nominated him for governor. The election results were close in both the presidential and gubernatorial elections that year. The initial returns gave the governorship of Florida to the incumbent, Marcellus Stearns, but a Supreme Court-mandated recount revealed George Franklin Drew as the winner. Drew served one term as governor, the first Democrat to hold that office since Florida had been readmitted to the Union after the Civil War. His administration effectively ended Reconstruction in Florida, and no Republican would again occupy the governor’s mansion until Claude Kirk took office in 1967.

Governor Drew's signature, in this case applied to a legislative act establishing a game hunting season. Volume 69, Acts and Resolutions of the Legislature (Series 222), State Archives of Florida.

Governor Drew’s signature, in this case applied to a legislative act establishing a game hunting season. Volume 69, Acts and Resolutions of the Legislature (Series 222), State Archives of Florida.

Shortly after returning to private life, Drew sold off his lumbering interests and moved to Jacksonville, where he spent the remainder of his days. On September 24, 1900, Drew’s wife Amelia experienced a stroke, which the former governor described in a letter to their daughter Vannie. “We have lived together so many years,” he wrote, “that I don’t care to live after she is taken away.” Drew meant what he said. Two hours after Amelia died on September 26th, Governor Drew himself collapsed and died. The local newspaper diagnosed the cause as simply a broken heart.

Governor George Franklin Drew's final letter, written to his daughter Vannie on September 24, 1900. Drew Family Papers (M82-8), State Archives of Florida.

Governor George Franklin Drew’s final letter, written to his daughter Vannie on September 24, 1900.

Looking for more information about Florida’s governors? Try searching the Florida Photographic Collection or Selected Documents!

Some Trees Have Knees

If someone asked you to name something that lives for centuries, can grow over a hundred feet tall, and can have dozens of knees, what would you say it was? It might sound like some hideous creature, but most Floridians would know it’s actually the majestic bald cypress.

A cypress swamp in Palmdale (1961).

A cypress swamp in Palmdale (1961).

The bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) is a familiar sight near Florida’s many lakes, rivers, creeks, swamps, and springs. The trees generally take their time to grow, but that’s not really a problem for a cypress. They can live for hundreds of years. The Senator, a bald cypress that grew near Longwood in Seminole County until it was tragically burned in 2012, was estimated to be about 3,500 years old at the time of its death. (More on the Senator Tree here).

Tourists holding hands around the Senator Tree in Longwood (circa 1930).

Tourists holding hands around the Senator Tree in Longwood (circa 1930).

One of the bald cypress’ most unusual characteristics is its “knees.” The knees are conical growths protruding up from the root system that radiates out from the tree’s trunk. They often have a knobby, knee-like appearance at the top. Their function is unknown, although studies suggest they may help the cypress absorb oxygen and remain stable in loose wet soils.

Cypress trees and knees at Fisheating Creek in Glades County (circa 1980s).

Cypress trees and knees at Fisheating Creek in Glades County (circa 1980s).

Cypress root system, photographed in Collier County (1978).

Cypress root system, photographed in Collier County (1978).

Cypress wood has long been admired for its beautiful grain, durability, and the ease with which it can be shaped and cut for building purposes. In the early 20th century, logging companies bought up vast tracts of land and cut much of the bald cypress growing in Florida swamps. The hearts of these trees, some of which were likely approaching a millenium in age, were sawed into lumber and marketed as “tidewater cypress.” The cypress industry is still in business, although the supply of available trees has dwindled considerably. Many cypress stands are now part of publicly owned protected wetlands.

Men sitting on a particularly large cypress log transported by train to the Burton-Swartz Lumber Company mill in Perry (1926).

Men sitting on a particularly large cypress log transported by train to the Burton-Swartz Lumber Company mill in Perry (1926).

As for the knees, they too have been a prized commodity. Their distinctive shape, natural broad base, and easy carvability make them perfect for creating figurines, birdhouses, and other small knick-knacks. Tom Gaskins of Palmdale, Florida made a career out of carving and shaping cypress knees for sale. He developed a Cypress Kneeland museum in Palmdale, featuring a collection of carved, peeled, and otherwise altered knees, plus a catwalk zig-zagging through an actual cypress swamp.

Along the path, visitors could see some of Gaskins’ experimental methods for shaping the knees as they grew. At various times, he tried flattening the knees with weights and carving designs into them so that the wooden flesh of the knees would grow around the cuts. Gaskins passed away in 1998, and the Cypress Kneeland Museum closed in 2000.

Tom Gaskins, artist and owner of the Cypress Kneeland attraction in Palmdale (1987).

Tom Gaskins, artist and owner of the Cypress Kneeland attraction in Palmdale (1987).

One of Tom Gaskins' creations (1987).

One of Tom Gaskins’ creations (1987).

Cypress trees and their unusual knees are just one of the features that make Florida a unique environment and all the more interesting. Which of Florida’s distinctive characteristics is your favorite? Share this post on social media or leave a comment below and get the conversation started!

Cypress sentinels watch over Lake Eloise in Polk County at sunset (1980).

Cypress sentinels watch over Lake Eloise in Polk County at sunset (1980).