Warning! History Ahead! Prepare Yourself!
Did you know that Florida sided with Great Britain in the 1776 Revolutionary War? Oh no!! Did you know that Florida became a US state only in 1845? Did you know that Florida was part of the Confederacy that left the union of the United States? Oh no!!
The Culture of Florida and “The Taking”
When visiting the beaches in our many treks to Florida over 30 years, we met a lot of people who seemed to be just like us. I really thought that Florida was a Mid-western state. Duh!
After living in central Florida for a while, I kept feeling that the people around me were very much like my relatives who live in Kentucky and Tennessee. They looked like them. They dressed like them. They worshipped in the same type of churches. And they spoke like them. After studying the history of Florida, I discovered that I was correct. Many people from the Southern States moved to Florida when the land was virtually free and brought their culture with them.
In 1862 the Florida Homestead Act gave light-skinned people options, after they attempted to force the original owners to leave. Light-skinned people could choose property that was 65-160 acres and farm it for five years, then it was deeded to them. Or, after six months they could purchase the land for $1.25 an acre. Even today, when we moved to Florida, we were given a break on our real estate taxes, calling us Homesteaders, even though we did not buy a plantation! And they also give seniors a discount!
Florida’s history is troubled. The Taking of the Land.
Early in the 16th century Spain took Florida as its own and brought slaves to tame the jungles. About two hundred years later, the Brits took over the same land. They built the King’s Highway that went right past the Bulow plantation. Then Spain took it back. And finally, in 1821 United States took it as their own territory.
Of course, the history is much more complicated than this with a lot of war and fire and brimstone. The point to all of this is that whenever a new country took over Florida all of the lands exchanged hands. There was a taking. Whatever country was governing at the moment thought they had the right to give it or sell it to someone else. So, fortunes were gained and lost as the politics raged on. In the end all of the plantations on the East coast succumbed to what is termed the second “Seminole” war.
The Bulow Plantation. The story is long and sad.
Tom and I visited Bulow Plantation located near Ormond, Florida. I was particularly interested in the site because in the history of Florida text that I read no mention was made of plantations along the Eastern coast of Florida. We expected to discover a lovely house with gardens and people who reconstruct the past. What we found were the remains of a steam-powered sugar mill and ashes.
Visiting this plantation was a real eye-opener. We have visited many historic sugar mills in different countries but had never seen such a large one here at the Bulow site. It was built like a fortress with naturally compressed shells, called coquina.
John Joachim Bulow, a very young boy, inherited this plantation at the death of his father in 1823. Employing 200 slaves his father had cleared the land and then suddenly died two years later. No one knows if he or his son built the scores of structures that were housed on the plantation.
There were 46 slave residences and 12 other buildings including a sawmill, engine house, blacksmith’s shop, and sugar mill. The main house was 42 feet by 62 feet, about 2600 square feet on one floor. Court Records and Census data reveal that John was the wealthiest man in the area. He owned 193 slaves which was more than four times greater than any of his neighbors. His plantation encompassed 5,000 acres.
Not much is known about John. We understand that he never married, was schooled in Paris, and friends had different opinions of him. Some said he treated the slaves brutally and others said that he really liked to party. In any case, he was very successful in spite of his faults.
When the U.S.A. took over Florida as a territory, it began a forced removal of the local indigenous peoples. Or, you could say that it declared war on the Seminoles. Plantation owners had a good trading relationship with the Seminoles until then. So, when an American militia forced its way into the area, the Seminoles revolted. (We understand militias these days, don’t we?)
In 1835 the armed American guard (known as the Mosquito Roarers) chose John’s plantation to become their headquarters. John fired a cannon at them to try and protect his home. He was outgunned. The USA Brigade confiscated his property and put him under arrest. His punishment was to stay in an outhouse for a year. (How could anyone do this?) Next, they built a fort and began occupying all of his buildings and consuming the resources of the plantation. Meanwhile Seminoles amassed large forces and threatened the newly built fort after being occupied by the militia for only one year.
In 1836 under heavy armed guard the USA militia escorted local citizens including John to St. Augustine to protect them. The Major of the militia would not allow John to take any of his belongings with him. (He must have left all of his papers, money, and treasures in that house. Can you imagine the cruelty John experienced?) I wonder if some of the Militia stole his belongings?
When the military left, the Seminoles burned down all of the plantations and other buildings but did not touch the slave homes. (I think I would have kept them and lived in them for a while.) I can just imagine all the looting and carousing that went on. And while history claims that the Seminoles destroyed the properties, it would seem reasonable to me that the slaves assisted them in the destruction. Many runaway slaves and other freed slaves joined their ranks. They were known as the Black Seminoles. To this day they do not know what happened to all of those slaves.
Seminole lineage is difficult to trace. Some say they were Creeks who broke away from the main tribe, or “wild ones.” They resisted the Brit invasion and continually fought for their land and independence. Eventually the United States stopped the war against them and allowed them to live in peace in Florida. They won!
When John arrived in St. Augustine, he made claims against the United States because of his losses. They were ignored. He died one month later. No one knows where he was buried. His sister inherited the property but was never given a dime for all the destruction the militia did to it. The rest of the story is too long to rehearse here. Eventually the State of Florida took over the property and created a state park to tell the Bulow story.
I am continuing to research the plantations and may have more for you later!
The Clifton One-Room School on Merritt Island
Recently the Park Ranger who manages the Visitor Center on Merritt Island National Refuge just north of Canaveral, asked me if I would research one room schoolhouses on the Refuge. The Park Ranger’s request actually propelled me to study other communities in Eastern Florida. That is when I found the Bulow plantation. Notice on the map above that lists the plantations that there are two that belong to the Dummetts. The younger Dummett went on to create a famous orange plantation on Merritt Island.
NASA purchased around 80,000 acres of northern Merritt Island between 1962-1964, and even more acreage earlier. The US government came in and offered people a stipend for their land and demolished almost all the structures. Although some residents claim they were never paid for their property, and others say they were underpaid. (Here we have “the taking” again!)
Merritt Island, before 1962, was a thriving community with farms, beach homes, churches, restaurants, schools, and a great hunting, boating, and fishing tourist industry. Now it is all gone. But instead we have the extraordinary National Merritt Island Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore.
A few years ago, remains of a one room schoolhouse were discovered with a trunk inside of it. That school was known as Clifton Colored School (see above), built around 1890. People were surprised that it had survived the wrecking ball. Today there is a growing interest in the stories and lives of the people who once called northern Merritt Island home.
My assignment was to discover how the Clifton school was constructed on the inside and what type of latches were used. In addition, I was to locate other one room schools in the area. It was a daunting task because museums and most libraries were closed. But I did uncover a few one room schools on the Refuge and in Brevard County. Eventually I will share the results of my research with you. Here is a look at a few of the pics I discovered.
As always, this post is copyrighted by Marla J. Selvidge