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 40 Jesse T. Bernard 75 Martin Wimberly 116 Philip Dell
2 Wm Dell 41 A. M. Caston 76 Jos G. Bell 117 Jas. M. Rimes
3 Saml W. Burnett 42 S. F. Halliday 77 Asa Clark 118 Enoch T. Geiger
4 Elias Knight 43 S. J. Sanchez 78 John [illegible] 119 Henry H. Colding
5 Daniel Lynn 44 H. L. Williams 79 W. H. Bryant 120 G. S. Sanchez
6 William Malphurs 45 James E. Johnson 80 Jno. Rogers 121 James S. Gibbons
7 Thos C. Love 46 Jas Burnett Sr. 81 A. Gillit 122 I. J. Carter
8 John B. Cason 47 W. D. Clark 82 L. Shulz 123 JG Rawls
9 W. W. Scott 48 J. F. Prevatt 83 W. Smith 124 Leroy Wilson
10 Benjamin M. Lane 49 L. Randle 84 William Cannon 125 Jacob Halbrook
11 Saml R. Pyles 50 Henry Bradford 85 R. Burns 126 John T. Prevatt
12 James Russell 51 T A Bradford 86 N. P. Suggs 127 John H. Ellis
13 Stephen Fagan 52 J. B. Cason 87 R. Polk 128 John K. Stephens
14 James G. Dell 53 H. C. Wilson 88 H. Polk 129 John W. Burnnett
15 Bennett M. Dell 54 Leml Wilson 89 D. Polk 130 Jerome N. Jones
16 Elishia Carter 55 Maxey D. Colson 90 A. Shepard 131 H. A. Shearhouse
17 John B. Standley 56 Jas Bevill 91 Jno. Townsend 132 R. R. Davis
18 John Z. Fetner 57 Chas W. Johnson 92 A. Thigpen 133 John B. Standley
19 John W. Burnett 58 Paul B. Colson 93 A. Gillett 134 George W. Sanchez
20 G.U. Ellis 59 W. Tison 94 J. Gillett 135 Paul C. Colson
21 Robt Youngblood 60 A. Hague 95 J. C. Hope 136 Simeon Dell
22 J. B. Thomas 61 J. Marx 96 Jno. Osteen 137 Walter Button
23 Thomas K Wells 62 Thos J Prevatt 97 F. S. Wheaton 138 H. B. Turner
24 M O'Brien 63 S. Whitehead 98 139 L. Williams
25 L. M. Scarborough 64 James S. Jenkins 99 140 R. Burton
26 Chas L. Wilson 65 Robt Campbell 100 141 J. Hunt
27 David J. Ridaught 66 George L. Brown 101 142 Jas H Cooper
28 E. Barrow 67 Chas F. Fitchett 102 143 Shephen P. Bevill
29 W. W. Scott Jr. 68 Geo W. Boston 103 144 Samuel J. Kennard
30 E. S. Gunnell 69 B. T. Stokes 104 145 Leonard Varnadore
31 Rolling Thomas 70 T. S. Chesser 105 146 Oliver Bryant
32 James E. Johnson 71 William H. Brooks 106 147 Jno. Baxter
33 A Hague 72 Daniel Hurst 107 148 James C. Standly
34 J. H. Thornton 73 William Malphus 108 149 A Hozle [?]
35 J. J. Kennard 74 Saml Baxley Jr 109 150 A. Thomas
36 Guilford Sikes 73 William Malphus 110 149 A Hozle [?]
37 S. P. Crews 74 Saml Baxley Jr 111 150 A. Thomas
38 Danl D. V. Strobel 112
39 Samuel Baxley 113
39 Samuel Baxley 114