Petition to Establish the East Florida Seminary in Alachua County, 1852

From: Secretary of State, Territorial and Early Statehood Records, 1821-1878, Series S 2153

About This Document

Florida’s need for a system of higher education was recognized as early as 1828, when Governor William Pope DuVal called for the creation of a seminary or college within the territory. However, the Legislature did not act upon the idea until 1851, when the General Assembly passed a bill authorizing the creation of two seminaries in the state. One seminary was to be located in a county to the east of the Suwannee River (East Florida) and the other in a county to the west of the river (West Florida). Given the prestige and potential resources such an institution could bring to an area, several counties lobbied the Legislature to become the site of one of the seminaries. The Legislature made Ocala in Marion County the site of the seminary for East Florida in 1853. In 1857, the Legislature awarded the seminary for West Florida to Tallahassee in Leon County. The East Florida Seminary at Ocala and the West Florida Seminary at Tallahassee are recognized as the original predecessor institutions for the University of Florida and Florida State University, respectively.

Of course, the current home of the University of Florida is Gainesville in Alachua County. The Legislature moved the East Florida Seminary from Ocala to Gainesville in 1866. Gainesville had railroad access and a growing secondary school, the Gainesville Academy, whereas the seminary in Ocala had to close during the Civil War for lack of funds. Alachua County had originally contended with Marion County to be the site of the East Florida Seminary during the General Assembly’s deliberations on the matter in 1852-1853.

The following document is a petition calling upon the General Assembly to establish the seminary for East Florida at Newnansville, which was then the county seat for Alachua County. Written in 1852 and signed by 150 white male residents of Alachua County, the petition provides the names of a substantial number of the total population of Alachua County (2,524) in 1850. The petitioners envisioned the seminary as a military school, an institution of secondary or college education common in the antebellum South. The military aspects of the schools were primarily intended to provide discipline for the students, not to prepare them for a military career.

The transcription maintains all original spelling, punctuation, and grammar. In most cases, the names correspond to residents of Alachua County found in the 1850 and 1860 federal censuses; however, several names do not appear on either census. A couple of names are crossed out on the original document and are signified by a strikethrough. Uncertain guesses for names are followed by a [?]. Illegible names are signified by [illegible].

For a detailed history of the East Florida Seminary see Samuel Proctor, “The University of Florida: Its Early Years, 1853-1906” (Gainesville: University of Florida, Ph.D. dissertation, 1958). A copy of this dissertation is available at the State Library of Florida.


To the Honerable the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Florida in General Assembly met. The undersigned Citizens of the County of Alachua feeling a deep interest in the course of Education, and believing as they do, that you will do all in your power for its advancement in the commonwealth would repectfully Petition your Honorable Body for the establishment of a Military School or College in Said County. They have already raised the sum of Five Thousand Dollars ($5000) and a fine building is now nearly completed . But unless an Institution of this Nature is well endowed it cannot always sustain itself, a firm basis being necessary, all Literary Institutions are subject at one time or another to fluctuations in the number of students and consequently if they are well endowed, they will be able to withstand these changes by employing a competent faculty. The Universities of Cambridge, Virginia, North Carolina, and others that we could mention, are evidences of this. We have no College in the State and yet if we mistake not, provision is made for two. We believe that the Town of Newnansville in the County aforesaid from its central position as regards East Florida is a sutable location for one. In this respect we are much behind our Sister States. Alabama has her university. So has Mississippi, and Georgia too extends her fostering care to several. And shall Florida be behind these? As far as we are able we answer “no.” With regard to a Military Institute we humbly conceive that it if one were established it would be well attended. An Institution of this character is of vast importance in several respects. The discipline is superior and a student is benefited mentally and physically. And as to the benefit derived by the Country in case of war, our late war with Mexico proved this utility in this respect. Several of the States seeing this, have liberally patronized these Institutions. We would again respectfully suggest to your Honorable Body the aforesaid Town as a Suitable location for such an Institution and your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray and--etc

1 Bennett M. Dell Sr

2 Wm Dell

3 Saml W. Burnett (1850)

4 Elias Knight

5 Daniel Lynn

6 William Malphurs

7 Thos C. Love

8 John B. Cason

9 W. W. Scott

10 Benjamin M. Lane

11 Saml R. Pyles

12 James Russell

13 Stephen Fagan

14 James G. Dell

15 Bennett M. Dell

16 Elishia Carter

17 John B. Standley

18 John Z. Fetner

19 John W. Burnett

20 Sm Ellis

21 Robt Youngblood

22 J. B. Thomas

23 Thomas K Wells

24 M O’Brien

25 L. M. Scarborough

26 Chas L. Wilson

27 David J. Ridaught

28 E. Barrow

29 M. W. South Jr.

30 E. S. Gurwell

31 Presley [?] Thomas

32 James E. Johnson

33 A Hague

34 J. H. Thomston [?]

35 J. J. Kennard

36 Guilford Sikes

37 S. P. Crews

38 David D. V. Strobel

39 Samuel Baxley

40 Jasper T. Bernard

41 A. M. Caston

42 S. F. Halliday

43 S. P. Sanchez

44 H. L. Williams

45 James E. Johnson

46 Jas Burnett

47 W. D. Clark

48 J. F. Prevatt

49 L. Randle

50 Henry Bradford

51 T A Bradford

52 J. B. Cason

53 H. C. Wilson

54 Saml Wilson

55 Maxey D. Colson

56 Jas Bevel

57 Charles Johnson

58 Paul B. Colson

59 W. Fison

60 A. Hague

61 J. Marx

62 Thos J Prevatt

63 L Whitehead

64 James S. Jenkins

65 Robt Campbell

66 George S. Brown

67 Chas F. Fitchert

68 George W. Bostory [?]

69 B. S. Stokes

70 T. S. Chesser

71 William H. Brooks

72 David Hurst

73 William Malphour

74 Saml Baxley Jr

75 Martin Wimberly

76 Jos M. Bell

77 Asa Clark

78 John [illegible]

79 W. H. Bryant

80 Jno. Rogers

81 A. Gillit

82 L. Shulz

83 W. Smith

84 William Cannon

85 R. Burns

86 N. P. Suggs

87 R. Polk

88 H Polk

89 D. Polk

90 A. Shepard

91 Jno. Townsend

92 A. Thigpen

93 A. Gillett

94 J. Gillett

95 J. C. Hope

96 Jno. Osteen

97 F. S. Wheaton

116 Philip Dell

117 Jas. M. Rimes

118 Enoch T. Geiger

119 Henry H. Colding

120 G. S [?] Sanchez

121 James S. Gibbons

122 J. J. Carter

123 JW Rawls [?]

124 Levy [?] Wilson

125 Jacob Halbrook

126 John L. Prevatt

127 John H. Ellis

128 John K. Stephens

129 John W. Burnnett

130 Jerome N. Jones

131 H. A. Shearhouse

132 R. R. Davis

133 John B. Standley

134 George W. Sanchez

135 Paul C. Colson

136 Simon Dell

137 Walter Button

138 H. B. Turner

139 L. Williams

140 R. Burton

141 R. Hunt

142 Jas H Cooper

143 Shepherd P. Brill

144 Samuel J. Kennedy

145 Leonard Vandemere

146 John Bryant

147 Jno. Baxter

148 James C. Standly

149 A Hozle [?]

150 A. Thomas