Justus R. Fortune vs. City of Tallahassee (1850)

This series highlights antebellum cases from the files of the Florida Supreme Court and its predecessor, the Florida Territorial Court of Appeals.

In 1850, the Florida Supreme Court considered the case City of Tallahassee v. Justus R. Fortune. The case came to the state’s highest court on appeal from Leon County. It centered on the responsibility of an incorporated body, in this case the City of Tallahassee, for maintaining a public road within its boundaries.

Page from Florida Supreme Court case Fortune v. City of Tallahassee (1850)

Justus R. Fortune was a resident of Tallahassee. According to the case file, he operated a tin shop along a city-maintained road and owned at least one horse. On October 3, 1848, Fortune lent his horse to George W. Hutchins, who borrowed the animal for an unspecified purpose.

When Hutchins finished his business and returned the horse, he hitched it to a post near Fortune’s tin shop in the customary fashion. At some point, the horse broke loose from the hitching post and escaped. A thorough search of the surrounding area failed to recover the animal.

The next day, Fortune discovered the horse, badly injured, at the bottom of a ditch that crossed the city road adjacent to his property. The horse later died. He blamed the City of Tallahassee for failing to maintain the regularly-traveled public thoroughfare, as evidenced by the “nuisance” ditch, which had resulted in the death of his horse. Fortune sought to recover $125 from the city as compensation for his loss.

Fortune’s case against the city rested on language contained within Tallahassee’s Act of Incorporation. According to the Act, the city had both the power and the responsibility to “prevent and remove nuisances” within its corporate limits. In this case, the section of road in question existed firmly within city limits, and therefore, Tallahassee officials had the responsibility to provide for its maintenance.

Fortune’s legal representation cited various U.S. court cases from other states and English Common Law as precedent for upholding the principal that the City of Tallahassee bore responsibility for maintaining the road and answering for accidents such as that which befell Fortune’s horse. The court agreed: “…that the City of Tallahassee was guilty of a nonfeasance in permitting the nuisance mentioned…to remain…”

The only brief point of contention was whether Fortune had taken all necessary and deliberate care to protect his property. Could he be to blame for not better securing his horse? Whether Hutchins could be charged with negligence did not become an issue.

The court found that: “…if a person should go headlong with his beast upon a nuisance, which (with ordinary care) he might have avoided, he ought not to have damages for his loss in consequence of his own recklessness.” The court determined that citizens daily hitched their horses and other animals throughout the town along public roads. Sometimes these animals escaped. But, these escapes were certainly accidental occurrences, instead of widespread negligence.

This case established important precedent in Florida law, following English Common Law and decisions made by courts in other states. Overtime, the responsibility (and liability) of incorporated settlements to maintain public property within their boundaries extended far beyond roads to include all types of infrastructure, and even persons employed by cities and towns on official business. Cases like Fortune form the legal basis for the rights of citizens to make cities and towns responsible for maintaining public works and other manifestations of taxpayer-funded infrastructure within corporate limits.

Tallahassee-Leon County Civil Rights Heritage Walk

Earlier this week, the City of Tallahassee unveiled a commemorative sidewalk that recognizes the pivotal role played by Tallahassee and Leon County residents in the Civil Rights Movement.

The artistic sidewalk, located at the intersection of Monroe and Jefferson Streets in downtown Tallahassee, is appropriately placed near the site of many dramatic moments during the struggle for civil rights in Florida’s capital city.

The photographs below captured some of those events and the daring individuals who challenged segregation and changed history.

Reverend C. K. Steele (left) and Reverend Daniel Speed protesting segregated seating on city buses, December 24, 1956

Reverend C. K. Steele (left) and Reverend Daniel Speed protesting segregated seating on city buses, December 24, 1956

 

Northeast corner of Adams and Jefferson Streets during the McCrory's and Woolworth's sit-ins, March 12, 1960

Northeast corner of Adams and Jefferson Streets during the McCrory’s and Woolworth’s sit-ins, March 12, 1960

 

FAMU students protesting the arrest of sit-in participants, March 12, 1960

FAMU students protesting the arrest of sit-in participants, March 12, 1960

 

Sit-in at Woolworth's lunch counter, March 13, 1960

Sit-in at Woolworth’s lunch counter, March 13, 1960

 

Demonstrators outside of a segregated theater, 1962

Demonstrators outside of a segregated theater, 1962

 

Demonstrators outside of a segregated theater, 1962

Demonstrators outside of a segregated theater, 1962

 

Demonstration in front of a segregated theater, 1963

Demonstration in front of a segregated theater, 1963

 

FAMU students arrested for protesting at segregated theaters, March 31, 1963

FAMU students arrested for protesting at segregated theaters, March 31, 1963

These eight photographs tell only a small part of the story. To learn more, see The Civil Rights Movement in Florida (online learning unit); Tananarive Due and Patricia Stephens Due, Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights (New York: Ballantine Books, 2003); Glenda Alice Rabby, The Pain and the Promise, The Struggle for Civil Rights in Tallahassee, Florida (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999).

Tallahassee Designated Capital of the Florida Territory

On March 4, 1824, Governor William P. Duval issued a proclamation designating Tallahassee capital of the Florida territory.

Tallahassee was chosen as the location best suited for the territorial capital because it lay about halfway between Florida’s two principal towns: Pensacola and St. Augustine. Prior to Duval’s proclamation, territorial leaders alternated between Pensacola and St. Augustine for the first two sessions of the Territorial Council. Travel by land was long and arduous as no complete road linked East and West Florida. The treacherous journey by sea through the Florida Straits convinced Florida’s leading politicians of the need to establish a new seat of government within reasonable overland travel of its major settlements.

Excerpts from The Territorial Papers of the United States, Volume XXII: The Territory of Florida, 1821-1824, compiled and edited by Clarence Edwin Carter (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1956), 854-855.

Excerpts from The Territorial Papers of the United States, Volume XXII: The Territory of Florida, 1821-1824, compiled and edited by Clarence Edwin Carter (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1956), 854-855.

Excerpts from The Territorial Papers of the United States, Volume XXII: The Territory of Florida, 1821-1824, compiled and edited by Clarence Edwin Carter (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1956), 854-855.

The word Tallahassee derives from the Muskogee language and means “old town,” or “old fields,” in reference to the area as the former location of Apalachee villages destroyed by English and Creek raids between 1702 and 1704.

Following the destruction of the Apalachee towns and associated Spanish missions, Muskogee-speaking peoples, later known as Seminoles, migrated into the region and established communities. Andrew Jackson’s campaign of 1818, known as the First Seminole War, pushed the Seminoles out of Tallahassee. American settlers established farms and plantations in the former Apalachee fields in the 1820s.

Replica of Florida’s first Capitol, built by Boy Scouts in 1924 and modeled after the 1824 version

Replica of Florida’s first Capitol, built by Boy Scouts in 1924 and modeled after the 1824 version

 

March 1862: Invasion!

Florida and the Civil War

This is the second in a series of monthly posts commemorating the sesquicentennial anniversary of Florida’s role in the American Civil War.

March 1862: Invasion!

The arrival of a Union invasion fleet off Amelia Island on March 3, 1862, was a startling but not unexpected event. As early as October 1861, Governor John Milton notified neighboring Confederate governors that a Union invasion fleet was steaming southward for a possible landing in Florida. Although the fleet’s target at that time was Port Royal, South Carolina, not Florida, ships from the flotilla eventually transported the Union expeditionary force that descended on Amelia Island in March.

Map of the harbor at Fernandina (1862)

Map of the harbor at Fernandina (1862)

For months, east coast Confederate and Unionist Floridians had expected Federal troops to land in Florida. Although a Federal raiding party occupied the Gulf port of Cedar Key in January 1862, under orders from General Robert E. Lee, General James H. Trapier, the commander of Confederate forces in the Department of Middle and East Florida (the area from the Atlantic to the Choctawhatchee River in the west), concentrated the bulk of his forces for the defense of Amelia Island. Meanwhile in Jacksonville, a city with a strong Unionist element, pro-Union men and women awaited the liberation of their city, where many of them were threatened by secessionist vigilance committees.

By March 1862, however, the Unionists had more cause for optimism than the secessionists. Confederate defeats in Tennessee during February resulted in the Richmond government’s decision to withdraw its troops from Florida to reinforce Tennessee. As the Union fleet approached, General Trapier ordered the withdrawal of his troops from Amelia Island. On March 4, the Federals occupied Fernandina after the last train carrying troops and fleeing civilians crossed the bridge to the mainland under the fire of the USS Ottawa, a Union gunboat. Fernandina remained under Union control for the rest of the war and became a place of refuge for hundreds of escaped slaves from Florida and southeast Georgia.

Read more »

Women’s Basketball

With the annual hoopla surrounding the beginning of March Madness and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, many forget that the NCAA women’s tournament occurs simultaneously. The inventor of basketball, Dr. James George Naismith, envisioned basketball as a sport for men and women. In fact, women’s high school and college basketball teams played an important role in promoting the game and coincided with the earliest men’s basketball teams at the beginning of the 20th century. So with this, Florida Memory highlights women’s basketball in Florida from its earliest days.

Stetson University women’s basketball team: Deland, Florida (1907)

Stetson University women’s basketball team: Deland, Florida (1907)

 

Florida State College for Women’s basketball team sitting atop Westcott gate on College Avenue: Tallahassee, Florida (ca. 1920)

Florida State College for Women’s basketball team sitting atop Westcott gate on College Avenue: Tallahassee, Florida (ca. 1920)

 

Florida A & M College women’s basketball team: Tallahassee, Florida (1929)

Florida A & M College women’s basketball team: Tallahassee, Florida (1929)

 

Pierce Junior High School women’s basketball team: Polk County, Florida (1937)

Pierce Junior High School women’s basketball team: Polk County, Florida (1937)

 

Lincoln High School’s women’s basketball team: Tallahassee, Florida (1950s)

Lincoln High School’s women’s basketball team: Tallahassee, Florida (1950s)