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.

The Taylor Family Papers: Using Plantation Records for Researching Enslaved People

Finding personal details of enslaved people prior to the end of the Civil War can be difficult. The basic tool that many use for researching American ancestors, the United States population census, did not name slaves. The census slave schedules, taken in 1850 and 1860, listed the slave owner’s name and slaves by sex and age only, with occasional exceptions to this rule. Sometimes, court documents, such as wills and probate proceedings, bills of sale and, rarely, plantation records, also include personal information about slaves.

Journals, ledgers and other personal records can likewise prove useful for researchers. Though records from Florida antebellum plantations tend to be scarce, when they have been preserved, they can often yield valuable information about slaves. Using records housed at the State Archives, we will demonstrate how genealogical researchers can use some of the resources listed above to find valuable information about enslaved ancestors.

In collection M83-27, Taylor Family Papers, among a number of letters detailing the genealogical history of a group of allied North Florida families is a remarkable journal kept by Elizabeth L. (Grice) Taylor (1830-1888). The journal records the movement of her family from North Carolina to Leon County, Florida, and then around North Florida to various plantations. In addition to listing births and other important events in her own extended family, she also documented the names, ages, births and deaths of some of their slaves.

On the first page of her journal, Elizabeth noted the names and birthdates of her own children, Sarah, Elizabeth Roberta, Charles, Catherine, William Jr. and Leslie. On the second page, titled “Black Creek, Jan. 4th, 1851” and subtitled “Negroe ages,” she listed the birth dates of children born to the enslaved women between 1850 and 1858. On subsequent pages are additional birth dates and death dates of slaves. She also made a timeline for the various places the family moved to in Leon, Wakulla and Madison counties.

Timeline in the journal of Elizabeth L. Taylor, ca. 1860s.

The dates and locations of residence that Elizabeth noted in her timeline can be especially useful for structuring a search for other records; a researcher will have a better general idea of what kind of records and particular repositories to search for the Taylors and any documentation on the slaves. Knowing the dates allows researchers to conduct a more targeted search.


William N. Taylor (1825-1896) and Elizabeth L. Grice were married July 24, 1850, in North Carolina. They left North Carolina on the 30th of September for a honeymoon trip to New York and arrived in Florida on the 6th of October. They arrived after the census was taken that year, so they were not recorded in a Florida census until 1860.

From 1850-1855, the Taylor family and their slaves lived at Black Creek Plantation, Leon County, in the Miccosukee area. Elizabeth noted birth dates of the slaves at that time:

“Mary Brown was born about 1831

Mary’s child – George was born 20th of July 1850

Fanny was born 29 November 1852

Harriet was born 1839 – month not known

Mary Branson’s child – Charles was born 22 March 1853

Maria was born March 25th 1855

Lizzie was born August 1854

Bell’s boy Bull S. born April 1st, 1855

Pleasant, Till’s babe born January 1855″

List of births in the journal of E.L. Taylor.

Between 1855 and 1861, the Taylors lived at The Pinewoods in Wakulla County. During that time, Elizabeth noted the following slave births:

“Florence born April 1856

Lany’s boy born August 15, 1856

Emily born July 1857

Ellen born January 22, 1858

Allmand born November 16th, 1858

Dora Ansy, Till’s 3rd daughter was born July 1860

Capitola, Mary’s daughter, was born February 1860

Austin Till’s boy born August 11, 1863″

Additional births in the journal of E.L. Taylor.

She recorded deaths on separate pages, one also labeled “Negroes”:

“Mary Branson died Jan 18th 1860

Mary Brown died August 2nd 1867

Maria died October 1859

Emanuel died Nov 1857

Emily died Sep 1859

Capitola, Feb 1860

Vina and Hepsy died August 1850

Old Dr Alick died January 22, 1863

Dora, Till’s daughter died June 8th 1863″

List of deaths in the journal of E.L. Taylor.

One of the letters in the Taylor Family Papers mentioned an 1858 bill of sale in the Wakulla County Courthouse between William N. Taylor and James M. Shine. This deed record confirms many of the names in the journal, adds several other individuals, and reveals mother-child relationships not noted by Elizabeth.

Deed between William N. Taylor and James M. Shine from Wakulla County Courthouse, Deed Records Book A-B, February 5, 1858, page 295.


Deed between William N. Taylor and James M. Shine from Wakulla County Courthouse, Deed Records Book A-B, February 5, 1858, page 296.

From page 296:

“Trustee of the said Elizabeth L. Taylor & his successors the following slaves to wit Marr aged about twenty two years, Mary ages 40 years & her child Charles aged 5 years, Isaac aged 23 years, Harriet ages 16 years, Isabel aged 40 years & three children aged Temperance aged 9 years, Margarett aged 7 years and William Henry aged __ years; Mary aged 24 years & four children George 6 years, Fany aged 4 years, Maria aged 2 years and & infant; Gillany aged 25 years, Matilda aged 21 years & two children, Pleasant aged 4 years & Emily aged 1 year”

A number of the same individuals listed in this deed and in Elizabeth’s journal were later included in the 1860 slave schedule. The U.S. Census Slave Schedule, taken June 22, named the slaves of William N. Taylor located in Shell Point District, Wakulla County. Most of the slave schedules do not name slaves, but the census taker in Wakulla County did that year.

1860 U.S. Census, Wakulla County, Florida, Slave Schedule, Shell Point District.

Under “William N. Taylor, Owner” the following slaves are listed: Allick, age 70; Isaac, age 23; Harriet, age 19; Matilda, age 21; Pleasant, age 6; Isabella, age 40; Temperance, age 13; Margaret, age 11; William, age 5; Mary, age 27; George, age 10; Fanny, age 8; Ellen, age 4; Mace, age 25; Gelaney, age 22; Charles, age 8; and June, age 11.

In 1861, the household moved to “Ridgeland,” on Lake Jackson north of Tallahassee in Leon County, and remained there until 1867. After 1867, the Taylor family moved to various locations in northern Florida, including “Woodlawn” and “Myrtle Grove” in Leon County and several locations in Madison County. At some point afterwards they moved back to Tallahassee, where they are buried.


It is a bit more difficult to trace the former slaves after 1865, as surnames are not given for most of them in the Taylor documents. They may also have selected new surnames. In order to find and trace emancipated slaves in extant documents, a researcher would have to work with the types of information that would have been recorded, the most useful being dates and places. For example, the 1870 population census asked for age, sex, race, occupation, and place of birth, and enumerated people by county and district. In this case, a possible clue would be the place of birth; the adults listed in the slave schedule of 1860 may have been brought from North Carolina by the Taylors. The last plantation they owned before the end of the Civil War was in Leon County, so it would be reasonable to search there for emancipated slaves. The ages given in the Taylor journal and in the slave schedule could be very helpful, although ages were not always consistent between different sources.

Case study: Lany

An unusual given name can also be key. As an example, one woman named Lany is mentioned in the journal, and there is a woman named Gelaney in the 1860 slave schedule. The 1858 bill of sale in the Wakulla County Courthouse listed “Gillany aged 25 years.” Gelaney or Gillany being an uncommon name, it is possible that a woman listed in Leon County census records in 1870, 1880, and 1885 married to Alfred Mitchell or Mitchel might be the same person as the Lany noted in the Taylor journal.

In 1870, the census taker for Leon County, Northern District listed “Delaney,” age 32, born in North Carolina as the wife of Alfred Mitchell, age 33, born in North Carolina. Also in the household is a 4-year-old named Elizabeth, an 18-year-old named Charles (possibly the child born to Mary Branson in 1853), and a 60-year-old woman named Isabella Page. Isabella was also born in North Carolina and could possibly be the same Isabella named in the 1860 slave schedule.

1870 U.S. Census, Leon County, Florida, population schedule.

The same household is recognizable in the 1880 census, comprised of Alfred, his wife Gillaney, and daughter Eliza, now 14 years old.

1880 U.S. Census, Leon County, Florida, population schedule.

The 1885 Florida state census finds Alfred Mitchell, his wife Laney, and his daughter Elizabeth still living in Leon County. Also in the household are Delia Ford, 20, listed as Alfred’s niece, and Laney Wilson, 8, listed as his ward.

1885 Florida state census, Leon County.

Unfortunately, Gilaney does not appear in subsequent census enumerations. Alfred appears in the 1900 Leon County census with a wife named Lucy. One of the questions asked in 1900 was number of years married, and Alfred and Lucy had been married for 10 years. Gilaney might have died between 1885 and 1890. Eliza most likely married after 1885 and would be listed under a married name.

To continue tracing this family, a researcher could explore other resources including county courthouse records, Freedmen’s Bureau records, the records of the Freedman’s Bank, Freedmen’s Contracts when available, and the Voter Registration Rolls, 1867-1868 (digitized on Florida Memory.) For instance, a search for Lany’s husband, Alfred Mitchell, in the Voter Registration Rolls on Florida Memory returns a record of his registration to vote in Leon County on August 17, 1867. Each individual record may contain clues that lead elsewhere and a more detailed picture of a family’s lives and circumstances may emerge.

Tracing the genealogy of enslaved persons can be difficult due to the limited amount of information about enslaved persons kept in US census records prior to emancipation. When researching former slaves, don’t overlook the possibility of plantation records and other non-traditional genealogical resources. While scarce, when found they can add context and detail to information found in census and courthouse records.

Florida’s First Civil Governor

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

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

Governor William Pope DuVal (circa 1830).

Governor William Pope DuVal (circa 1830).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s in the Directory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City directories may be found in public libraries, the State Library of Florida, or through one of a number of online databases. provides searchable digitized editions of many Florida city directories, and a number of Florida cities have completed their own digitization projects to make the directories available online.

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

Leonard A. Wesson of Tallahassee (1940).

Leonard A. Wesson of Tallahassee (1940).

Read more »

A Home for Higher Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All in Good Time

It’s smart to plan for the future, but it’s also possible to take that mantra to extremes. Calvin Phillips, an  architect who lived in Tallahassee in the early 20th century, is a good example. You see, in the months leading up to his death in November 1919, Phillips spent most of his time building his own mausoleum.

Calvin Phillips' mausoleum in Oakland Cemetery in Tallahassee (1960).

Calvin Phillips’ mausoleum in Oakland Cemetery in Tallahassee (1960).

This might seem a bit out of the ordinary, but Calvin Phillips was no ordinary man. A few bits of evidence suggested to his contemporaries that he had done great things in his lifetime. His purpose for coming to Tallahassee and the details of his earlier life, however, are mostly shrouded in mystery even today.

Census records indicate that Calvin C. Phillips was born around 1834 in Massachusetts. He trained as an architect and lived in New York for some portion of his adult life. His architectural work was honored by medals from the Pennsylvania State Agriculture Society and the “Exposition Universelle” of 1889, which were brought to Florida by his daughter after his death.

In 1907, for unknown reasons, Calvin Phillips moved to Tallahassee. He had been married, and had at least one living daughter, but no family members joined him in his new home. In fact, he lived mostly as a hermit, seeing very few people and hardly ever going out into public. He built a home at 815 South Macomb Street, and erected a large clock tower at one end of the building. Tallahasseeans who met Phillips recalled that the architect was almost obsessed with the concept of time, which would explain the rather imposing structure.

Home of Calvin Phillips at 815 S. Macomb Street in Tallahassee, including the clock tower (circa 1960s).

Home of Calvin Phillips at 815 S. Macomb Street in Tallahassee, including the clock tower (circa 1960s).


Close-up of the clock tower attached to Calvin Phillips' home in Tallahassee (1967).

Close-up of the clock tower attached to Calvin Phillips’ home in Tallahassee (1967).

Apparently, he was equally obsessed with the end of his own time. In 1919, Calvin Phillips began constructing a mausoleum in what is now Oakland Cemetery in Tallahassee. He was over eighty years old by this point, and according to eyewitnesses he would spend his frequent breaks sitting inside the mausoleum that would one day serve as his own tomb. One contemporary said Phillips described this practice as his way of “getting used to his new home.”

Calvin Phillips’ sense of time proved mysterious right up to the end. He finished the mausoleum in November 1919, just days before he passed away. According to his wishes, he was buried in a cherry-wood coffin he himself constructed, and placed in the tomb he had spent so many of his final days creating.

Remains of Calvin Phillips' home in Tallahassee (circa 1974).

Remains of Calvin Phillips’ home in Tallahassee (circa 1974).

Calvin Phillips’ property eventually passed into the possession of Mr. and Mrs. Henry M. Blaine, who in turn gave the house and clock tower to the Florida Heritage Foundation. Efforts to restore the unusual landmark proved prohibitively expensive, and it was torn down in the 1980s. Phillips’ mausoleum still stands in Oakland Cemetery, a lasting monument to his unique contribution to Tallahassee’s architectural history.

Articles from the Tallahassee Democrat were instrumental in reconstructing this story. Did you know  the State Library of Florida has microfilm editions of many Florida newspapers going as far back as before the Civil War? Search the State Library’s online catalog or contact the Reference Desk for details.

Natural Bridge As Told by J.H. Frier, Part 2

Today (March 6, 2015) is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge, fought just south of Tallahassee near present-day Woodville in the final months of the American Civil War. Yesterday, we posted an excerpt of a memoir by Joshua Hoyet Frier, a Confederate soldier from Florida who fought at Natural Bridge. In that segment (click here to read it), Frier described his unit’s sudden transfer from Madison County to the front lines near the St. Mark’s River, and preparations for battle.

Today we continue Frier’s account, covering the battle itself. In the following text, Frier describes several skirmishes between his Confederate comrades and their Union opponents. Readers should be advised that this section of Frier’s memoir includes several graphic references to the violence of the battle.

Map showing Natural Bridge on the St. Marks River and the surrounding area (1865).

Map showing Natural Bridge on the St. Marks River and the surrounding area (1865).


Illustrated excerpt of Joshua Hoyet Frier’s “Reminiscnese Of The War Between The States”

When the skirmishers was formed in line in front of the main line, it had became light enough to take a view of the surroundings. The clearing proved to be an old abandoned field of not more than twenty acres. The hummock growth of hicory, oak, live oak, sweet gum and cypress grew quite thick right up to the edge of the clearing and probably two hundred yards in front of us.

We was marched across the old field and deployed in the timber, and admonished to keep a sharp lookout and shoot any thing that looked blue. Some of the boys began shooting, directly after sun up, and in explanation said they was shooting birds. We beat around in the bush pretty much as we wished; I was investigating the effects of the fireing on the bushes and timber when I came upon a dead Negro in U.S. uniform. Some of the boys was more luckey, and picked up some live ones, some was sent to the rear but it was said some of them never was. There were some who had in their fright and darkness hid themselves after finding them selves separated from the body of their command. This then was an index to the couler of the foe we had to contend with and gave us great encouragement as we did not think there was much fight in Negro troops.

Reenactors at the Natural Bridge Battlefield (1992).

Reenactors at the Natural Bridge Battlefield (1992).

About eight o clock a blue jay pitched on a limb close by me, and I obeyed orders by shooting at him; before the smoke cleared away a single ball came by with that angry spiteful pang-g-g-g that only a rifle ball can make. This put me on my guard, for it was now plain that some one had shot either at the report or at the smoke of my gun; through an opening in the bushes some two hundred yards in front I saw a faint blue smoke slowly disapating itself right at the root of a large live oak, just such an one as anyone would naturaly seek for a screen under the circumstances.

I kept a sharp lookout for that live oak, as there was two or three small openings through the brush where I could get a pretty fair view of his neighborhood, and get shot at allso; but my antagnist was a verry poor shot, and went wide the mark every time. I called some of the boys who had less dread of minnies than I did who stood up boldly and let this blue coat practice on them. He must have got reinforcements allso or else he improved wonderfuly in markmanship and rapidity of fire; after one of the self constituted targats had a hole shot through his cap he left off the buisness in disgust.

It turns out getting your hat shot at in battle and living through it wasn't such an unusual occurrence at this time. Click on the image to read about a similar incident from Albert S. Chalker of Clay County (March 15, 1865).

It turns out getting your hat shot at in battle and living through it wasn’t such an unusual occurrence at this time. Click on the image to read about a similar incident from Albert S. Chalker of Clay County (March 15, 1865).


About this time a Mr. Ellis of our company came to take care of us as he said he had been there but a few minutes when when he was shot in the abdomen which proved a fatal wound; the shot was fired from a clump of bushes not fifty yards away; as the other two boys laid down their guns and went to his assistance I saw a Negro soldier begin to make his way back from the point, he droped and I thought I had hit him but I have since concluded that it would have been the most natural thing in the world for him to have droped to keep from being shot at again.

The fireing had became quite general all along the line while within a few hundred yards in front we could hear the rumbling of wagons, caisons, and etc. and could hear the neighing of horses, and various sounds that indicated unusual activity among the Federals upon the oposite side of the timber. About 11 a clock our line of skirmishers was releived by another and we went back to the line carrying Mr. Ellis with us. It seems strange untill yet that none of us should have been hurt, for we had nothing to dodge behind and the balls of the Union skirmish line came thick and fast knocking up the dirt at our feet whizing over our heads and to the right and left.

When we returned to the line, our company had been removed from the extreme left to the extreme right, so there was thirteen peices of artillery scattered along equidistant from each other, while the spaces between was filled with what I suppose you might call Infantry. Old grey bearded men, and boys allmost too small to attend school. It seemed that if it came to the worst that it would be a poor chance to hold the line with such a force as this.

The main line had not been idle during the morning and had thrown up earth works along the entire line, frail there were, but proved verry useful, not only in saveing life, but preventing those undrilled little boys from stamepeding like a herd of Texas cattle.

The general engagement began verry soon, after we reached our lines and lasted an hour or so during which they made several attempts to come to us but failed each time. When the 2nd Fla. cavalry dismounted came in and charged them in their works the route was complete. They had three lines of breastworks, and as each one was charged the shooting and shouting reminded me more of some kind of a frolic then the serious work of battle. But the timber in front of us was a sight to me. Many trees of considerable size was cut down at various heights, the limbs and trunks of most of them seemed to have the [bark] stript from them as by lightning.

In the near future, we’ll be posting the entire text of Joshua Hoyet Frier’s memoir of his Civil War experiences. Until then, we invite you to check out our other resources on Florida in the Civil War:

Natural Bridge As Told by J.H. Frier, Part I

Friday, March 6, 2015 will be the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge, fought just south of Tallahassee near present-day Woodville in the final months of the American Civil War. Joshua Hoyet Frier was a Confederate soldier from Florida who wrote down his recollections about the war. The memoir was later transcribed by one of Frier’s descendants, and a copy of it now resides at the State Archives of Florida.

Map showing Natural Bridge and the surrounding area (1865).

Map showing Natural Bridge and the surrounding area (1865).

In the following excerpt from this memoir, Joshua Hoyet Frier describes his unit’s sudden transfer to the front lines at Natural Bridge ahead of the main battle. Tomorrow, we’ll be posting Frier’s description of the battle itself.

The entire memoir will soon be available as an exhibit on Florida Memory. In reading the following text, bear in mind that we have transcribed the text exactly as it appears in the original typescript that was donated to the State Archives. That includes spelling, punctuation and a number of other errors.

Illustrated excerpt of Joshua Hoyet Frier’s “Reminiscnese Of The War Between The States”

We are now at the fifth of March 1865 and the events I am about to speak of was so overshadowed, by more important and vital ones, untill they have never had a place in history. Yet when you follow me through the next week following the above date, you will agree with me that they deserve some mention.

Saturday the fourth day of March I dug on the stump all day, went to the theatre in town and as the boys say made a night of it as I was out out untill 2 o clock A M. On Sunday morning I rose early to prepare for a verry rigid inspection that we was to have and the old rifle (springfield pattern) they gave me the evening before was in verry bad shape for such an ordeal. By eight o clock it looked like every man in the regiment had his gun dissected, and was busily engaged in polishing, scouring, and wipeing. While thus employed we verry distincly heard the booming of cannon, this within its self was not so unusual, but in this instance it meant buisness, as was easily told by the regularity of the fireing. Many surmises was indulged in as to where the fireing was, and what might be the outcome of it.

In this he was correct, inside on an hour orders was issued to prepare three days rations at once; now the hard part of it was to prepare three days rations, out of one, as we had only drawn enough to last untill next morning. Still we never woried much about it as we was pretty well used to such marching prepararions as these, and soon had what little we had ready in haversack; then intoo lines and and to the depot. Great was our surprise when we arived at the depot in Madison to find arangements to issue us the other two days rations. One of the boys said he would bet they had some use for us, for he had never seen any rations issued when we started on a common march. This remark was intended to be witty and sarcastic, but was realy a near aproach to the truth.

Men reenacting the Battle of Natural Bridge (1992).

Men reenacting the Battle of Natural Bridge (1992).

We boarded the train and went to Tallahassee arriveing there late in the evening, where we met with quite a lot of troops. I mean for Florida. This was where the fireing was, and must have been at at least, seventy miles from us. Yet we heard the guns distincly. We never left Tallahassee untill after dark and then on a train so long untill three engines could scarcely haul it. Companies of old men, and boys even smaller than our selves came in and joined us during the evening; these we termed the “Melish” and as to our selves, why we became veterans of course, for the time at least.

We left in the direction of St. Marks and the train stoped at a place called the “oil still” where we unboarded and formed a line of march. The position of our company was on the extreme left, and as we marched by the left flank, threw us in front position we kept all night. Colonel Daniels and our guide walked just in front of us. The Colonel had a horse but he led him or let some of the boys ride him; when urged to ride he simply said he prefered to walk with his men.

I sufferd for sleep worse on this march than I ever did in my life for you you remember I slept but little the night before. While youth and fatigue conspired to punish me for my lark of the night before. But sleeping and marching did not go well together with me, and my experiance was shared by many others, we would strike a smoth bit of road, and five or six would probably be marching along asleep. Presently one would stumble and fall, not alone, mind you for he would bring the sleeping fellows ahead like ten pins. It was not an unfrequent occurence to see four five on the ground at once, which would wake us up a little only to enact the same over again.

All the satisfaction we could get out of the guide was “it is not much farther.” This sterotyped phrase was repeated every time. Col. Daniel when appealed to said he knew nothing; his orders was to follow the guide, and the guide was right in not talking.

At last just as we was about to enter a small clearing, I heard the guide tell Col. Daniel “this is the place.” A horse man halted us, when Col. Daniel advanced and had some talk with him which I could not understand. We then marched on, and as we entered the clearing we filed square off to the left when we filed off I saw by the light of the stars, a peice of artillery unlimbered and ready for action.

One example of the kind of artillery used by Floridian soldiers in the Civil War. This cannon was photographed at the Olustee Battlefield (circa 1900s).

One example of the kind of artillery used by Floridian soldiers in the Civil War. This cannon was photographed at the Olustee Battlefield (circa 1900s).

After geting us in the place they wished us we was halted and faced, then followed an order to stack arms and rest. I looked in the east but there was no sign of day and I made hastey preparations to enjoy a sound nap. Just as I lay down and closed my eyes, a single gun fired in front of us some half mile all was then silent again so long untill we began to think that there was no significance attached to the gun shot, and perhaps after all we would get a little sleep.

Probably a minute or maybe two had elapsed, when fireing began again, this time there was fifty or a hundred guns fired allmost simultaniously, and a dozen minie balls came whizing overhead, singing that sad plaintive tune which well spent balls allways do when not in too close proximity. The effect of this was magical, sleep was banished to the uttermost parts of the earth, and everyone was as wide awake as if we had not slept but little the last two nights.

A courier came dashing down the line in front of us when he saw he was at the end of the line he reined up and asked who commanded that company. Lieutenant Rouse steped foward and told him he did, our captain not yet being reinstated to his command he asked his name and rank and put him in command of the left wing, and gave him some instructions in an undertone we did not hear; the courier then left in a furious gallop.

Pretty soon we heard men coming toward us in double quick time, we could hear the rattle of cartridge boxes and canteens. In an another minute the courier was back again, and told our Lieutenant that all was clear in front but pay particular attention to orders, and not fire untill orders was given specialy to the left wing to do so.

This was his last visit and allmost imediateately we heard the rattle of canteens and cartridge boxes in front again, they was in the brush just outside the clearing, which being a small one brought us quite close together, when the clearing was reached in clear distinct tones the commander of the Federals gave the command “File left march” which was soon followed by equally distinct orders “By the right flank, double quick march.”

The answering command was equaly distinct “Right wing, ready, aim fire” then a sheet of flame, not solid, but rather more like lightning playing on the fringe of a cloud at night, ran fitfully up and down the cresent shaped line to our right for a few seconds, and then the artillery, eight or ten peices, belched forth in rapid succession, long sheets of angry looking flame; while the rattle of the small arms, and the roar of the cannon seemed enough to paralize.

Reenactors fire their guns during a recreation of the Battle of Natural Bridge near the original battle site (1992).

Reenactors fire their guns during a recreation of the Battle of Natural Bridge near the original battle site (1992).

The left wing held their fire, except one boy by the name of Roberts in our company, who could not let the opportunity pass of takeing a shot as he afterwards said, but the boys said he was so badly scared, that he did not know which wing he belonged to; and the boys was no doubt correct. When the confusion and noise of the first round died away, there seemed to be nothing left of the foe, as not a sound emanated from in front. It was in fact a wild retreat, precipitantly taken when they found so much larger force than they expected.

As soon as our wits returned, (I speak for myself) sufficiently to pay any attention to our surroundings, I noticed that day light had broken. Soon news came some of our men had been killed, two in one company, Capt. Barweaks; one of our boys had his canteeen ruined by being preforated with a minnie ball and another was contused on the hip, and had caught the ball which was terible battered in his pants pocket. But none of Co. B was hurt father this.

My impression was that the trouble was over, as we had made such an easy repulse, so when volunteers was called to go on skirmish duty, I went out hopeing my impressions was correct.

We’ll be posting Joshua Hoyet Frier’s recollections of the actual Battle of Natural Bridge tomorrow (March 6, 2015) on the Florida Memory Blog. Until then, leave us a comment to let us know what you think about Frier’s memories so far. Also, check out these Florida Memory resources for more information of Florida in the Civil War:

Have You Seen This #Selfie?

We spotted this photo from our collection in the opening credits of the TV show Selfie.

Sada Roffe posing with Kodak camera

The image of Sada Roffe posing with a Kodak camera was taken in Tallahassee, Florida, ca. 1900 by photographer Alvan S. Harper. A professional photographer, Harper lived and worked in Tallahassee from 1884 until his death in 1911.

Selfie was cancelled, but don’t feel bad for Alvan Harper. His photographs have appeared in many publications over the years and helped to define how Americans view our past.

The Kentucky Club in Lewis Park, Tallahassee, Florida

This group of local actors in a park Tallahassee, Florida was featured in the first book of the Time-Life series, This Fabulous Century. Notice the levitating hat?

Although largely unidentified today, Harper’s photographs of the teachers, business owners and leaders of Tallahassee’s vibrant African-American community are important records of this era.

Young woman wearing fancy hat


Man in a satin-faced coat, holding a cane


Harper’s photographs also captured the trendy new Penny-Farthing bicycles.

Three young men with Penny-Farthing bicycles

Check out the rest of the Alvan S. Harper Collection on Florida Memory!


Florida’s Not-So-Native Tung

No, there’s no typo in the title of today’s blog. For several decades, northern Florida was home to thousands of acres of tung trees. Tung nuts, the fruit of these trees, contain an oil that could be used in paints, varnishes, inks, and even some medicines. The tree was imported from China, where it had been grown commercially for centuries. After a period of trial and error, Florida growers were able to cultivate the trees and produce thousands of tons of tung nuts per year.

African-American workers gathering tung nuts on a farm near Tallahassee (circa 1960s).

Workers gathering tung nuts on a farm near Tallahassee (circa 1960s).

Read more »