Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The railroad comes to Jackson County, Florida

A train rolls on the L&N through
the Panhandle of Florida.
State Archives of Florida: Memory Collection
The dream of linking Jackson County to larger markets by rail had been in a state of slumber for many years but as the economy surged following the end of Reconstruction, it did not take long for the vision to awaken. On March 4, 1881, under intense lobbying from residents of West Florida, the state legislature approved the incorporation of the Pensacola & Atlantic Railroad. The P&A, as the line was commonly known, was authorized to lay tracks from Pensacola to the Apalachicola River. Jackson County was finally getting its railroad.
The new line quickly found the capital it needed when the Louisville & Nashville Railroad (L&N) purchased $3,000,000 of its bonds and $3,000,000 of its capital stock in exchange for control of the company. This was a pre-arranged deal since both of the P&A’s principal officers were also executives with the L&N. The line, however, retained its P&A name for many years and functioned as a division of the larger company.

Many residents, for good reason, were still skeptical that the railroad would come. They had been let down many times before, but this time things were different. 
Col. W.D. Chipley, the vice president and general superintendent of the P&A, came to Marianna in early August. He offered $50,000 for right of way to build the railroad through the county and also announced plans to buy 2.5 acres for a depot at Marianna. Chipley told community leaders that he needed to hire as many workers as possible:

…The proposition was accepted by our citizens, and the survey of the road by Marianna will be “finished up” at once. The grading between here and Chattahoochee river will begin between the 10th and 15th of December next. All the laborers possible are desired.[i]

The crew poses with L&N #876.
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection.
Things moved quickly. On September 6, 1881, the Columbus Daily Enquirer reported that contracts had been let for most of the distance between Marianna and Chattahoochee. Two hundred men were already at work clearing the right of way and grading the bed for the tracks. Major William H. Milton was the contractor for the five miles closest to Marianna. By the 20th of that month word reached Columbus that a site for the depot had been selected “between Mrs. White’s and Mrs. Myrick’s.” [ii]
October brought news that 411 men were now at work on the section of the line between the Apalachicola River and Marianna, with “every mile but two having a force on it.” November came with news that a severe drought was affecting Jackson County but that large numbers of hands were passing through Marianna on their way to join the work crews laying the tracks. Twelve miles of track bed had been graded between the county seat and Chattahoochee. 
There was also a report of a violent outbreak in one of the work camps:

…A white man from Gadsden county became involved in a difficulty with a negro some weeks ago. The white man had but one friend with him and that was a colored man from his own county; the rest of the negroes took part for the negro, and the white man was taken out and severely whipped; after which he left the camp and returned to his home. Last Thursday night, as the negroes of this camp were sitting around their fires, they were fired upon by several parties. One negro was killed and several more wounded. The parties who did the shooting are unknown, though suspicion points to the whipped white man and his friends. The negro killed was, unfortunately, the one who befriended the white man. The ringleader in causing the difficulty escaped unhurt. Since this we hear every man has left this camp. The railroad contractor at the time of the first difficulty was absent.[iii]

Marianna's historic 1880s depot as it appeared when still
located near the tracks. It was badly damaged by fire but
moved to its current location on Caledonia Street and restored.
Dale Cox Collection
Despite such incidents, the project moved quickly. The drought dried up creeks and swamps along the route making it easier for workers to prepare the grades and trestles. Even the steamboat lines on the Chattahoochee River, which would soon face competition from the new railroad, pitched in to help. The crew of the steamboat Moore found the machinery for building the bridge over the Apalachicola River hung up on a sand bar below Neal’s Landing. They used a tow line to pull the barge free and sent it down to the construction site at Chattahoochee.[iv]
It took a little over one year to build the railroad line through Jackson County. Crews working from both the east and the west neared Marianna in January of 1883:

The completion of the P.&A. draweth to a close.
We expect to have through trains on next week.
Work on the bridge at Chattahoochee is retarded on account of high water.
The steamer Newton or some other boat will soon be sent to Chattahoochee to be used for transferring purposes.
The track layers from the west expect to take dinner here next Tuesday. Our citizens ought to “set ‘em up.”
Capt. W.D. Chipley, Col. DeFuniak, Chief Engineer Davies and others of the P.&.A.R.R. were in town last week.[v]

Marianna's historic depot building as it appears today. It has
been rotated on its axis. The side facing the right of the
photo actually faced the railroad tracks in its original location.
On February 10, 1883, as was reported in The New York Times, “Pensacola was connected with the Apalachicola River to-day by the completion of the Pensacola and Atlantic Railroad.”[vi]

It would take two more months to complete the bridge over the river at Chattahoochee, but for all practical purposes Jacksonville was now linked to Pensacola by rail. Marianna gained considerable importance as the location of one of only two original depots on the line (the other was Milton). Other communities along the route had to settle for a boxcar parked on a siding instead of a full station of their own, at least for the time being. Stations came to other communities in time.
The building of the P&A had been a dramatic accomplishment. A total of 161 miles of track had been laid across swamps, rivers, creeks and bays from the Apalachicola to Pensacola. Not only that, but the railroad paid black laborers on an equal scale with white laborers with both earning $1.50 per day for their work on the line.
Col. W.D. Chipley
Washington County Historical Society

As was normally the case with privately built railroads, the P&A received massive land grants from the State of Florida. More than 2,830,000 acres of land were transferred to the railroad from the state with the expectation that the company would then sell off or develop the land to recover its expenses in building the line. As the land was sold, new settlements and towns developed bringing widespread economic development to all of West Florida.

The plan worked as expected. Col. Chipley was named land commissioner for the line and by 1897 his efforts had led to the sale of more than 995,000 acres of land for a net of $860,343.65. New towns rapidly grew along the route of the line. In Jackson County, for example, the town of Sneads grew out of what had been the old Pope’s settlement. The railroad also gave birth to the modern towns of Grand Ridge, Cypress and Cottondale. Such places as Chipley, Bonifay, Caryville, Westville, DeFuniak Springs and Crestview also came into existence thanks to the P&A Railroad.

[i] Marianna Courier, quoted by the Columbus Daily Enquirer, August 10, 1881, p. 2.
[ii] Columbus Daily Enquirer, September 6, 1881, p. 4, and September 20, 1881, p. 4.
[iii] Columbus Daily Enquirer, November 1, 1881, p. 4.
[iv] Columbus Daily Enquirer, November 26, 1881, p. 4.
[v] Marianna Courier quoted by the Columbus Daily Enquirer, January 24, 1883, p. 4.
[vi] The New York Times, February 11, 1883.
[vii] Columbus Daily Enquirer, March 13, 1883, p. 4.
[viii] Greg Turner, A Short History of Florida Railroads, Arcadia Publishing, 2003, p. 86.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Jackson County declares war on "fake news"...in 1872!

Jackson County's Courthouse as it appeared not long
after the end of Reconstruction.
"Fake News" is a favorite national obsession these days. Liberals accuse conservative media outlets of spreading untruthful stories while conservatives say the national media is left-wing and slants the news accordingly.

Inaccuracy in reporting is nothing new. The citizens of Jackson County, in fact, declared war on "fake news" all the way back in 1872.

The issue was the county's murder rate.

Republican members of the State Legislature were alarmed by growing resistance in Jackson County to Reconstruction era rule in Florida. They wanted the U.S. Army to march back into the county to enforce prohibitions against such things as public gatherings and private gun ownership. Florida was still under military rule a full seven years after the War Between the States (or Civil War) and many Constitutional rights had been suspended.

They also believed that the presence of the soldiers would suppress Democrat votes while encouraging the county's Republican voters to turn out in larger numbers. Most of the freedmen or freed slaves in Jackson County were then Republicans, but the party was fracturing and bitter division was developing between the factions.

Marianna during the 1870s.
Jackson County had been the scene of several violent outbreaks during Reconstruction, particularly in the fall of 1869. These had been bloody but relatively short in duration. Hostility was growing in 1872 as property owners felt the weight of increasing taxes. The Republicans in Tallahassee had doubled taxes during their seven years of control.

In addition, graft and fraud was widespread in the Jackson County Courthouse. A trio of public officials - all appointed by the state's governor - had devised a plan to enrich themselves by increasing the assessed values of key properties. Assessments were later found to have been fraudulently increased by as much as 400% on targeted properties. When the owners could not afford to pay these taxes, the land was sold on the courthouse steps and usually wound up in the hands of one of the crooked county officials.

Everyday citizens, white and black, were also being hurt by a dramatic increase in fees. John Q. Dickinson, the former Union officer now serving as appointed Clerk of the Circuit Court, had dramatically increased the amount that citizens had to pay for document stamps, marriage licenses, deed filings and for filing lawsuits. This put the legal system beyond the reach of many county residents because they simply did not have the money to pay the fees.

These tactics led to growing resistance and, as mentioned above, a fracturing of the previously solid Republican voting block of freedmen.

Florida Capitol as it appeared in the 1870s.
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection
Several individuals in the state legislature tried to clamp a lid on the situation by having occupation troops sent back to Marianna. They used wild claims of rampant killings and murders to add weight to their demands.

The campaign of "fake news" reached its peak in 1872 when members of the legislature alleged that 184 people had been assassinated or murdered in political violence in Jackson County in a three year time period.

Carpetbagger-allied newspapers like the Tallahassee Sentinel joined in and Jackson County found itself at the vortex of one of Florida's first recorded media frenzies. Lurid headlines spread across the nation and demands grew for the return of federal troops to the county.

There was just one problem. The claims were not true.

The outraged editor of the Marianna Courier went page by page through the county's records to determine the real truth of the matter. The result was a determination that 74 investigated deaths had occurred in Jackson County over a seven year time period, nearly half the number that state legislators claimed had taken place in just three years.

Lest anyone think that local officials suppressed the real numbers, it should be remembered that the Circuit Judge, Clerk of Courts and Sheriff were then all Republican officials appointed by the governor. If anything, they would have tried to inflate the numbers to support their friends in the legislature.

Of the the 74 deaths mentioned in the county records, the Courier dug deeper and found that many were not murders and that others were the result of police shootings and domestic disputes:

  • 14 - Killed by accident.
  •   9 - Justifiably killed by law enforcement.
  •   8 - Killed in the commission of a criminal act.
  • 17 - Killed in brawls or fights.
  •   3 - Killed by causes unknown.
  • 23 - Murdered (including political assassinations).
Another view of the State Capitol in the 1870s. The building
looked like this when legislators launched their "Fake News"
campaign against the people of Jackson County, Florida.
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection
The final number for murders was 23. This number did include some political assassinations, but also included a number of murders that had nothing to do with politics. Averaged out over a seven year time period, this came to about 3.3 First Degree Murders per year - including political assassinations.

The total was a bit high, but it is a long way from 3.3 to the 61.3 First Degree Murders per year claimed by the "fake news" reports coming from the state legislature and allied newspapers in 1872.

Put simply, politicians in Tallahassee had accused Jackson County of having a murder rate 18.6 times higher than it really did. The media jumped on board. It was a brutal assault on the reputation of the community and its people and they were quick to fight back:

The people of Jackson County, Florida, of which Marianna is the seat, offer a reward of $50,000 for a substantiation of the charges of Ku-Kluxism made against that county, and a true and correct list of the names of the “one hundred and eight-four “murders, fifteen of the number being “women and children,” which are averred to have been committed in the county. This reward is offered in view of the slanderous report of the legislative committee. - Charleston Daily News, March 21, 1872.

No one ever claimed the reward offered of $50,000 offered by the people of the county for proof that 184 people had been murdered there in 1869-1872. 

The unproved allegations still find their way into books today, fake news from another century that continues to hound a peaceful, rural county to this day.

Friday, February 3, 2017

James Webb and Webbville (Part 2)

Webbville as shown on an 1834 map of Jackson County.
Webbville was just reaching its height at the end of 1828 when its top promoter, James Webb, received an unexpected honor from the President of the United States.

This is Part 2 of a two part series on the James Webb and the history of Webbville. Please click here to read Part 1 before continuing.

The U.S. Congress approved the creation of a Federal superior court for the Southern District of Florida on May 23, 1828. President John Quincy Adams signed the Act and three days later named James Webb of Webbville as the new district's first judge.

How President Adams knew the lawyer from Webbville is one of the many mysteries that surround the community. Webb had been elected to the Florida Territorial Legislative Council in 1827, but this alone would not have brought him to the attention of the President. He must have had political connections that recommended him to the Adams administration.

The offer of a Federal judgeship was too big of a prize to decline. Webb accepted the post, resigned his seat in the territorial legislature and prepared to move to Key West. Newspaper accounts and court records indicate that he did return to Jackson County from time to time. In August 1829, for example, he issued notice that he would preside over a term of the Superior Court at Webbville:

Webbville as it appears today.
Chambers, 24th August, 1829.
ORDERED, That there be an extra term of the Superior Court held in and for the County of Jackson in the Western District of Florida on the first Monday of December next, and of which due notice will be given.
James Webb.
Judge of the Southern District of Florida, Acting in the absence of the Judge of the Western District.

He and Rachel had their fourth child that year with the birth of Charles John Webb.

Judge Webb and his family were soon firmly established in Key West and their lands in Jackson County were sold. Webbville was without its namesake by the end of 1829 and his good fortune could not have come at a worse time for the community.

Webbville had won a referendum of voters to become county seat, but the fledgling community of Marianna refused to give up the fight. The Marianna faction somehow managed to sway the opinion of Lackland Stone of Webbville to their side. He now held Webb's former seat in the legislative council and soon pushed through a bill naming Marianna as the county seat. It was approved on October 20, 1828.

Webbville's promoters viewed this action by Stone as nothing short of betrayal. He had been one of them and had even served as their first postmaster. He sold his businesses while running for the legislature, however, and now cast his lot in favor of Marianna, despite the fact that a majority of Jackson County voters had favored Webbville in the recent election.

Baker Creek was one of two important creeks that flowed
near the site of the Town of Webbville, Florida.
Webbville turned to the U.S. Congress for help. Florida was still a territory and not a state, which made Congress the final authority for such matters. A petition was sent to Washington, D.C., warning that the Webbville Academy would be forced to close unless Congress intervened. Florida's Territorial Delegate, Joseph M. White, pushed for action.

The U.S. Congress obliged on January 21, 1829, by overturning the legislative act that had given Marianna the county seat title. Webbville once again claimed the distinction. Congress also approved the town's location on lands reserved for school purposes.

Recognizing that they could not legally overrule Congress, Florida's territorial legislators tried a different approach. They took no action on the county seat title, but instead levied fines against any public officials in Jackson County not conducting business from Marianna:

Sec. 3. Be it further enacted, That the Superior and county courts of said county shall hereafter be holden in the house erected and built as aforesaid; and all other county or public transactions shall be held and transacted in the same, and all the prisoners of said county shall hereafter be confined in the house built and erected as aforesaid.

Sec. 4. Be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of the commissioners aforesaid, to deliver the said houses to the sheriff of said county, who shall allow the marshal and clerk of the Superior courts, and clerk of the county courts; free access to the said house in which the said courts are to be held, and shall also allow the said officers rooms in the same for their several offices.

Sec. 5. And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of the said clerks of the Superior and County courts of said county, to hold their offices at the house aforesaid, in the town of Marianna, or within one mile of the same, and on failure thereof, be or they shall forfeit and pay the sum of twenty dollars for every week thereof, to be recovered in the name of the informer, before any justice of the peace in and for said county, in the same manner as in other cases of debt; one half to be paid unto the county Treasurer for the use of the county, and the other half to the informer; and this act shall be in force from and after its passage. 

Baker Creek Road, in use since the 1820s, passed by the
Jackson County home and farm of James Webb.
The threat of a fines had the desired effect. The public officials of Jackson County quickly relocated from Webbville to Marianna and have remained there ever since. The same legislation also approved the building of a courthouse and jail in Marianna and the collection of public funds for the projects. Webbville remained the county seat in title only.

Almost as if to add insult to injury, the Territorial Council on November 19, 1829 approved the incorporation of the Town of Webbville. Even as its residents were beginning to flee, the community became Jackson County's first incorporated town.

The issue of the county seat location surfaced one more time during the Fayette County fiasco of 1832, but Marianna retained its unofficial but very real status as seat of government for Jackson County.

Webbville's loss in the county seat battle marked the end of the town. Its population and businesses shifted to Marianna. Building materials were salvaged from the now vacant buildings for use in homes, barns and fences throughout western Jackson County.The site eventually fell under the ownership of W.D. Barnes, who lived there and named his Webbville Plantation after the failed community. By the time of the War Between the States (or Civil War), his farm was all that remained to remind travelers on the Campbellton Road that the town had ever existed.

Webb-Porter House in Key West, Florida
The home was built by Hon. James Webb
shortly before his relocation to Texas in 1838.
Library of Congress
James Webb, meanwhile, lived in Key West and serve on the Federal bench until 1838 when he resigned his post and relocated to Houston, Texas. He went from there to Austin at the insistence of President Mirabeau B. Lamar, the President of the Republic of Texas, who appointed him to successive positions as Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of State.

President Lamar's interest in Webb probably had something to do with his family relationship to the judge's wife, Rachel Elizabeth Lamar Webb. He soon recognized that James Webb was a talented and brilliant official, however, and named him Attorney General of the Republic of Texas on November 18, 1839.

The Texas Revolution of 1836 had made Texas an independent nation. Webb's service to the republic gave him the unique status of having held multiple high-ranking positions in the governments of two different nations.

He continued as Attorney General of Texas until March 20, 1841, when he became the Lone Star republic's Minister to Mexico. The latter country refused to seat him so he returned home to represent the Travis-Bastrop-Fayette-Gonzales district as Senator from 1841-1844. Webb served as chairman of the Judiciary Committee and as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

James Webb also practiced law in Texas in partnership with Williamson S. Oldham, a former speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives and onetime Associate Justice on the Arkansas Supreme Court. He was a member of the Convention of 1845 that cleared the way for Texas to become part of the United States.

Webb County in Texas, seen here on a 1920 map, was named
for James Webb, onetime resident of Webbville, Florida.
After statehood he became a reporter for the Texas State Supreme Court and worked with Thomas H. Duval to produce the first three volumes of Texas Reports. Duval, a former Clerk of Courts for Leon County, was the son of former Florida Governor William P. Duval for whom Duval County is named.

Webb became the Secretary of State for the now State of Texas in 1849, holding that post until 1851 when he resigned and moved to the Corpus Christi area. He was named the first judge of Fourteenth Judicial Circuit of Texas in 1854 and was still serving on the bench when he died while en route to the town of Goliad for a session of the court on November 1, 1856.

The man for whom Jackson County's lost town of Webbville was named is buried in the City Cemetery at Goliad, Texas. His tombstone notes that he was a Mason and grand master of the Texas Lodge in 1844.

Although his namesake town in Florida no longer exists, his memory lives on in Texas where Webb County was named in his honor.

Not a single building remains at the site of Webbville today.

For a visual tour of historic Webbville as it appears today, watch a new program from Two Egg TV on Sunday! A link will be posted here as soon as it the program is up and airing.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

James Webb and Webbville: A remarkable man and Jackson County's first town

A view south down Union Road from the site of
Webbville in Jackson County, Florida.
Webbville is one of Florida's best known ghost towns. It was Jackson County's first incorporated community and - according to the U.S. Congress at least - remains its official seat of government.

Note: This is Part One of a two part series. Click here to continue to Part Two.

Not a soul lives on the site today, but its stories remain some of the most interesting in the county's history.

Florida had been a U.S. territory for only two years when James Webb arrived from Georgia in 1823. A veteran of the War of 1812 and a former school teacher, he had practiced law in both Virginia and Georgia before coming to the "Chipola Settlement" at the age of 31.

Jackson County was only one year old and then stretched from the Choctawhatchee River on the West to the Suwannee River on the east. It included all or parts of today's Holmes, Washington, Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Franklin, Liberty, Gadsden, Leon, Wakulla, Jefferson, Taylor, Madison, Dixie, Suwannee, Lafayette and Hamilton Counties.

Not a building remains on the site of Jackson County's
first incorporated town. The one-time county seat of
Webbville has vanished without a trace.
Attorneys were few and far between in this vast region. Marianna, Chipley, Bonifay, Panama City, Port St. Joe, Apalachicola, Quincy, Tallahassee, Monticello and other well-known communities of today did not yet exist but settlers were arriving in increasing numbers.

One of the earliest American communities in this region was the old Chipola Settlement, which lay south of today's Waddell's Mill Pond and west of the Chipola River. Similar settlements were growing elsewhere within the present Jackson County limits at Campbellton, Greenwood, Irwin's Mill Creek and on the Apalachicola River near Sneads.

James Webb was a family man and it seems strange today that he would pull up stages and head off into a largely unexplored wilderness but this was how fortunes were made on the American frontier of the early 19th century.

His wife, the former Rachel Elizabeth Lamar, was expecting a child at the time and remained back in Georgia with her family and the couple's 10-year-old daughter, Mary Elizabeth, while James headed south to Florida. He would clear land and build a home before they traveled down to join him.

James Webb's land was located in the Southeast 1/4 of Section
9 and the Southwest 1/4 of Section 10, as shown on this 1826
survey plat. The creek running east to west is Russ Mill Creek.
Webb eventually laid claim to four pieces of land in Jackson County, but the most important of these were two adjoining parcels between Russ Mill Creek and Baker Creek. Located near today's Baker Creek Road, they combined to total about 450 acres, 100 acres of which he cleared over the next few years.

Rachel, Mary and the new baby boy, Thomas Francis Webb, arrived in Florida in 1824. The family grew by another member one year later when another baby boy, James William Webb, was born.

Sugar production then rivaled cotton on the plantations of Jackson County and was especially popular along the wetlands and creeks of the Chipola Settlement. James Webb grew sugar cane on his farm, probably sending the stalks down the creek to the sugar mill near the Natural Bridge of the Chipola River at Florida Caverns State Park. Little is known of this early refinery, but the Pensacola newspaper regularly reported the arrival of hogsheads of sugar from the Chipola River region.

Jackson County grew dramatically between 1822 and 1825. The population soared from fewer than 200 to more than 2,000 in that short time period. The Chipola Settlement emerged as the largest community within today's county limits and a central village began to grow on Section 16, Township 5 North, Range 11 West.

Union Road crosses Russ Mill Creek by way of a wooden
bridge. The creek was an important source of water power
for grist and saw mills that served Webbville.
James Webb hung out his shingle there and opened a law office, one of the first in Jackson County. He later partnered with Peter W. Gautier, a prominent figure in frontier Florida. Other businesses opened as well, among them Col. L.M. Stone's general store. Some idea of the prosperity of the community can be obtained from early real estate listings which mention two story homes with wraparound porches and a brick store building.

The growth of the community further spurred by an act of the Florida Territorial Legislative Council on January 20, 1827. Hoping to head off a growing dispute over the permanent location of a county seat for Jackson County, the legislators appointed a commission to select the final site, survey the community and initiate the sale of lots. James Webb was one of the five members named to this board.

While the selection committee did its work, the legislative council decreed that the courts of Jackson County would meet on Section 16, Township 5 North, Range 11 West. This was the location of Stone's Store, Webb's law office and the growing community of business and houses that would become the county's first town.

Stone's Store had been named a U.S. Post Office the previous June and on February 2, 1837, ads appeared in the Pensacola Gazette announcing that the village had been named Webbville.

Jackson County's first post office, first hotel and first
public school stood atop this hill at Webbville.
James Webb was instrumental in many of the accomplishments of the town that bore his name. He served Board of Trustees for the Webbville Academy, Jackson County's first public school. The students studied Greek and Latin, as well as mathematics, science, literature and other courses of the day. The school opened its doors in 1827 and students sat for their first quarterly finals on May 25, 1827:

The first quarterly examination of the students of this institution took place this day, under the direction of the Trustees, and they take much pleasure in stating, to parents and guardians who have placed their children and wards in this Seminary, that the examination was highly satisfactory and reflected much credit on the teacher, for his care and abilities in conducting the school, and upon the pupils, for their industry and attainments. - Trustees of Webbville Academy to the Pensacola Gazette, May 27, 1827, published in the Pensacola Gazette, June 22, 1827.

James Webb signed the report as one of the school's seven Trustees. The others were Peter W. Gautier, Thomas Baltzell, William P. Hort, Joseph Russ, William J. Watson and Thomas Russ.

Webbville hosted a 4th of July celebration that year. A "numerous assemblage of citizens" listened as Benjamin W. Cumming read the Declaration of Independence. A speech and dinner followed, but the evening's toasts - accompanied by gunfire - were the highlights of the day.

Independence Day of 1827 found Webbville on the verge of great success. Its population and business community were growing. It had been temporarily designated as county seat and the county's first school was functioning well.

The prosperity would not last. A major political fight loomed on the horizon, as did a change that would start James Webb down the path to a remarkable life.

Please click here to continue to Part 2 of this two part series.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

First Settlers of Jackson County, Florida

Campbellton Baptist Church, Florida's oldest Baptist church
in continuous operation, dates from before the War Between
the States and stands near the Spring Creek settlement site.
The first American settlers of Jackson County arrived pushed down from Georgia and Alabama before 1820. 

The following is excerpted from my book:  The History Of Jackson County, Florida: The Early Years.

The smoke had barely cleared from the First Seminole War when the first settlers began to make their way back to the rich lands they had explored with Andrew Jackson in 1818. It was a risky proposition at best. The area that would become Jackson County was still Spanish territory at the time and there was the possibility of violent confrontation with Native American warriors still angered over their losses in the war.

Despite such dangers, however, several dozen frontier families had appeared in the area by 1820. Their initial settlements were along Spring Creek in the Campbellton area, on the Ekanachatte site at Neal’s Landing and along the Apalachicola River south of the Native American towns of Tomatley and Choconicla.

Based on these locations, it appears that the first settlers probably took advantage of fields that had already been cleared by Native Americans. The Chacato village of San Antonio had been located in the area of the Spring Creek settlement and its old fields had been resettled by a party of Creeks from Pucknawhitla by 1778. These fields were undoubtedly still clear of heavy timber in 1820 and it would have been relatively easy for the first settlers to clear away any second growth and underbrush and begin farming.

A section of the old Pensacola-St. Augustine Road can still be
seen between Malone and Campbellton. It connected the Spring
Creek settlement with the Irwin's Mill Creek settlements on the
Chattahoochee River.
The same was true at the Ekanachatte site, which had been abandoned for less than two years. Extensive fields had been cleared over the fifty year history of the village and these were now literally “open for the taking.” In addition, Irwin’s Mill Creek flowed year round and provided sufficient force to turn the wheels of watermills, a fact that eventually led to its modern name.

Some of the names of these first settlers are recognizable in Jackson County today. The Spring Creek settlement, for example, included John Williams, James Falk, William T. Nelson, Abraham Philips, Benjamin Hamilton, Owen Williams, Micajah Cadwell, Joseph Parrot, John Ward, Nathan A. Ward, William Philips, James Ward, Andrew Farmer, Robert Thomas, John Hays, Samuel C. Fowler, Nathaniel Hudson, Wilie Blount, Moses Brantley, Robert Thompson, Guthrie Moore, Stephen Daniel, John Gwinn, John Jones, Allaway Roach, Henry Moses, Joel Porter, Simeon Cook, James C. Roach, John Smith and Presley Scurlock.[i]

Their farms stretched from Holmes Creek on the west across the present site of Campbellton and then down Spring Creek to its junction with the headwaters of the Chipola River. To the south their lands extended about as far down as today’s Waddell’s Mill Pond, while to the north other settlements extended across the Alabama line.

None of these farms were the large plantations for which Jackson County later became known. The largest had around 40 acres in cultivation, but the average settler farmed less than 15 acres. It was a start, though, and qualified each of them to later claim 640 acres after Florida was ceded by Spain to the United States in 1821.[ii]

1823 map of the Jackson County area.
The settlement at Irwin’s Mill Creek, then called “Conchatty Hatchy” or “Red Ground Creek,” included Joseph Brown, William Brown, Joseph Brooks, William Chamblis, James Irwin, Adam Kimbrough, William McDonald, William H. Pyke, George Sharp and Allis Wood.

Down on the Apalachicola, meanwhile, were Charles Barnes, Adam Hunter, John H. King and Reuben Littleton. These men all lived along the stretch of the river between Tomatley and Ocheesee Bluff, where Thomas and Stephen Richards had settled.

Other settlers known to have been in Jackson County prior to 1821 included James Dennard, Jonathan Hagan, John Hopson, Hugh Robertson, Joshua Scurlock and Robert Sullivan, all of whom settled along the upper Chipola east of the Spring Creek settlement, and William Pyles who staked a claim at Blue Spring.[iii]

Blue Springs (or Jackson Blue Springs) was a landmark for
early settlers and Native American residents alike.
Despite the tensions that must surely have existed, incidents between the early settlers and the Native Americans still living in Jackson County seem to have been rare. Econchattimico had assembled a group of several hundred followers at Tocktoethla, but following the destruction of Ekanachatte did all he could to preserve peace with the whites. 

So too did Mulatto King, who assumed permanent leadership of both Tomatley and Choconicla following the death of Yellow Hair. The villages grew considerably following the war due to the arrival of refugees from the destroyed town of Attapulgas in what is now Decatur County, Georgia. Mulatto King welcomed these displaced individuals and allowed them to settle on lands adjacent to his villages.

In truth, the Native Americans living in Jackson County between 1819 and 1821 probably lived much better than their white counterparts. While the early white settlers were struggling to build crude log cabins and clear fields, many of the Native Americans – particularly those of Tomatley – enjoyed a prosperity that they had spent years developing. 

Claims later filed by many of these people indicate that they owned cabins, houses, mills, orchards and fields. A woman named Polly Walker, for example, reported that she owned a dwelling house, two cabins and an orchard of 32 fruit trees. Joe Riley owned a house and improvements valued at $1,150, a substantial amount for the time. Econchattimico reestablished himself at Tocktoethla by clearing 73 acres of land and building a cabin, corn crib, shed, three log cabins, a summer house and two mills. His fields were surrounded by fences built using 14,280 rails.[iv]

 [i] Claims to Land in West Florida, December 10, 1824, American State Papers, Public Lands, Volume 4, pp. 61-63 (Hereafter ASP Public Lands).
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] List of Claims of Appalachicola Indians who have emigrated West of the Mississippi River, November 11, 1838, Bureau of Indian Affairs, M234, Roll 290, Frame 299.