Thursday, August 21, 2008

Jackson County's Oldest American Settlement

Campbellton - 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.

It is unclear whether the first settlers actually intended to cross the international border. Moving down through southern Alabama, they crossed into Florida just north of present-day Campbellton and began to clear farms along Spring Creek. The land in the area was rich, with a good water supply, and the border dividing the United States from Spanish Florida was poorly marked.

Although there are some old Florida history books that claim Campbellton was founded during the American Revolution, this is an inaccurate claim. A community of a similar name existed during the 1700s north of Pensacola, but the Jackson County community was not settled until the early 1800s.

Exactly when the first settlers arrived north of Campbellton is not known, but it was sometime in either late 1818 or early 1819. By the time Florida was transferred from Spain to the United States in 1821, several dozen families had staked claims in the area, clearing small farms ranging in size from 15 to around 40 acres.

Many of the names of these original settlers can still be recognized in Jackson County today. They included members of the Williams, Falk, Nelson, Philips, Hamilton, Cadwell, Parrot, Ward, Farmer, Thomas, Hays, Fowler, Hudson, Blount, Brantley, Robert Thompson, Moore, Daniel, Gwinn, Jones, Roach, Moses, Porter, Cook, Smith and Scurlock families. Their farms stretched from Holmes Creek near present-day Graceville and along Spring Creek in a curving arc just north of the present Campbellton site to the west side of Forks of the Creek.

As the settlement grew, it spread south across the site of Campbellton and by the time of the cession of Florida from Spain to the United States, a settlement had begun to grow there. The area was incorporated into Jackson County in 1822 and in 1825 a landmark event in Florida history took place in the little settlement.

On March 12, 1825, seventeen residents of the area gathered in a grove of oak trees to form what was then known as the Bethlehem Baptist Church. Known today as Campbellton Baptist Church, it is the oldest Baptist congregation in the State of Florida.

The original members of the church were John Beasley, Miller Brady, Sarah Brady, Sexton Camp, Ephriam Chambless, James Chason, Lucy Chason, Elizabeth Daniel, Benjamin Hawkins, Clark Jackson, Richard Lonchsten, Martha Parker, Martha Peacock, W. Peacock, Nancy Phillips, Elizabeth Taylor and Sarah Williams. Elizabeth Owens was taken under the “watch care of the church” for unclear reasons and William Brady was appointed as the first clerk of the congregation. James Chason and Clark Jackson were ordained as the first deacons.

The historic church continues to meet today, a living reminder of the first settlement in Jackson County and of the determination of the early settlers that carved homes and built a new county from the wilderness of Northwest Florida.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Remembering the "Gopher Gang"

Depression Era Vision, Determination and Hard Labor Made Florida Caverns a Success

By Dale Cox

Marianna – People by the thousands pass through Florida Caverns State Park each year, but few realize that perhaps as remarkable as the beautiful scenery is the fact that this major area tourist attraction became a reality during some of the darkest years of American history.

The Great Depression, brought on by the economic collapse of 1929, was felt from coast to coast and the already poor rural areas of the South were particularly hard hit. By the 1930s employment had all but vanished, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced from their homes and hunger and misery stalked the land. It is sometimes in the midst of such hardship, however, that great ideas take root and it was during the Great Depression that Dr. J.C. Patterson of Malone gave Jackson County an unforgettable gift.

Dr. Patterson was fascinated with caves and during a visit to Luray Caverns in Virginia he began to ponder the possibility that a similar attraction might be developed in the beautiful caverns north of Marianna. The idea must have seemed farfetched during such a time of economic distress, but in 1935 the doctor invested his own funds to purchase 494 acres forming the heart of today’s state park.

Tom Yancy of the Marianna Chamber of Commerce quickly realized that Patterson was onto something and he soon joined the doctor, with support from other chamber members, in a drive to encourage the state to take over the project. Yancy and Patterson both realized that the creation of a state park at the site would mean construction jobs for local residents and tourism dollars for decades to come.

Florida’s governor and legislature agreed and Florida Caverns became the state’s seventh state park. Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Camp Number SP-12 was established on the original Patterson parcel and construction work began on the park during the late 1930s.

It is remarkable to think today that the massive cavern now known as the “Tour Cave” at the park was completely unknown to Patterson and his fellow promoters. An opening was discovered beneath the roots of a fallen tree and exploration revealed the beautiful caves and formations that have delighted hundreds of thousands of visitors over the years.

Much of the work on developing the cave was done by a group of men known as the “Gopher Gang.” CCC workers, they moved tons of mud, ran electrical wiring, carved steps and passage ways.

Three different companies of CCC workers labored to build the park. One company was comprised of veterans from World War I, the second was comprised of African Americans from Florida and the third was made up of “junior members.”

Florida Caverns State Park today is one of the most beautiful public places in the South. The tourism it generates produces a major economic boost for Jackson County and the determination, inspiration and labors of the people that worked to create it more than 70 years ago stand today as a spectacular memorial to human endeavor during a time of great suffering.

To learn more about Florida Caverns State Park and its history and historic sites, please visit

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Medal of Honor awarded for action during the Battle of Marianna

Union Officer Saved the Lives of Local Prisoners and was Honored by His Country

By Dale Cox

Marianna – One of the most nationally significant events in Jackson County history took place on September 27, 1864, during the engagement remembered today as the Battle of Marianna.
A Union officer, Captain George H. Maynard of the 82nd U.S. Colored Infantry, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in part for his actions in saving the lives of local men and boys on the grounds of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

A Northerner by birth, Maynard had joined the Union army early in the war as a private in Company D of the 13th Massachusetts Infantry. He quickly displayed an unusual combination of both heroism and mercy on the battlefield that attracted the attention of his superior officers.
At the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg), Maryland, on September 17, 1862, for example, Maynard personally went under fire to remove two wounded comrades from danger. He then joined each Union regiment advancing to his location of the battlefield and by the time the fight was over had charged the Confederate lines with six different units.

At the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, three months later, he went twice alone into enemy fire to bring wounded men to safety. This heroic act resulted in his promotion to captain and assignment to the 82nd U.S. Colored Infantry, a new regiment formed of liberated African American men from Mississippi and Louisiana.

A detachment from the regiment fought at the Battle of Marianna on September 27, 1864, and in the final stages of the fighting, Maynard found himself with his men on the grounds of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church where Captain Jesse Norwood and the local citizens of the Marianna Home Guard refused to surrender.

According to Maynard’s personal account of the battle, the Union troops ceased firing in an effort to talk Norwood and his men into giving up, but the local citizen soldiers intensified their fighting. The action, he said, “infuriated” his men and the battle degenerated into a bloody melee.
Finally, Norwood and his men realized that their situation was hopeless and began to lay down their weapons. To Maynard’s shock and outrage, however, his men began shooting the defenseless prisoners. “I at once dismounted and rushed into the graveyard,” he reported, “just in time to knock away a musket placed at the head of a prisoner.” According to his account, he then leveled his pistol at his own men and “threatened to blow out the brains of the first man who dared to shoot a prisoner.”

According to men present from both North and South, Maynard’s actions at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church prevented the massacre of many of the captured men and boys of Marianna.

The captain was subsequently awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism under far, in part for his actions during the Battle of Marianna. The medal survives today, a reminder of a remarkable act of courage and compassion for which Maynard was recognized by his government. The medal is accompanied by the notation that he was honored for being “heroic and humane.”

If you would like to read more about the Battle of Marianna, please visit Also please consider my book - The Battle of Marianna, Florida - available online at and at Chipola River Book and Tea in downtown Marianna.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Article: Florida's Lost County

Remembering Florida’s Lost County

By Dale Cox

Eastern Jackson County – One of the more unique political fiascos in Florida history took place in 1832 when the Territory’s Legislative Council carved off the eastern half of Jackson County to create an entirely new political entity. Called Fayette County (after the Marquis de Lafayette, a hero of the American Revolution), the new county was a political boondoggle of the first order.

For five years, the communities of Marianna and Webbville had been engaged in a fierce political battle to become the county seat of Jackson County. Although Webbville received the designation of the U.S. Congress, Marianna ultimately prevailed in the fight when the Legislative Council (the equivalent of today’s state legislature) levied fines against any public officials not doing business from the new city on the Chipola.

Unwilling to give up the fight without one last attempt, the promoters of Webbville devised the bizarre strategy of giving away half of the county in order to win the coveted county seat title. In a flurry of intense lobbying, they convinced the members of the Legislative Council that the people of eastern Jackson County would be happier if they could govern themselves.

Accordingly, on February 9, 1832, the council approved “An Act to organize a county to be called the County of Fayette.” Encompassing the entire area of today’s Jackson and Calhoun Counties between the Chipola and Chattahoochee/Apalachicola River systems, the new county stretched from the Alabama line south to the northern limits of today’s Franklin (then part of Washington) County. The modern communities of Malone, Bascom, Greenwood, Two Egg, Dellwood, Cypress, Grand Ridge, Sneads, Altha and Blountstown are all located within the limits of the original Fayette County.

On the same day, the council also incorporated the “Town of Ocheesee” at Ocheesee Bluff in what is now Calhoun County to serve as a county seat for the new county and construction was soon underway there on both a courthouse and jail.

The dream of the Webbville promoters to remove a large block of pro-Marianna voters from Jackson County, however, was soon dashed. When the council approved a new election to determine a permanent county seat for Jackson County, Governor James D. Westcott quickly realized what was happening. Just two days after the creation of Fayette County, he vetoed the election bill for Jackson County. In a letter to the leaders of the Legislative Council, he noted that after contentious debate the county seat issue in Jackson County had finally been resolved. “I am averse to disturbing the quiet of the county by raising the question again if it can be avoided,” he wrote. The governor also called into question the whole Fayette County debacle, “Had I anticipated the agitation of it, when the bill for forming Fayette county was under consideration, it would have formed an additional objection to that act.”

Webbville’s final effort had failed. Although Fayette County became a reality, it was short-lived. Just one year after the creation of the new county, the Legislative Council responded to pleas from residents living in its northern areas and reunited them with Jackson County. Ten months later, on January 15, 1834, the residents from the remaining part of Fayette County filed a similar petition in Tallahassee.

Fayette County disappeared from the map of Florida on February 1, 1834, when the Legislative Council repealed its earlier act creating the county. In existence for only two years, it is now remembered as “Florida’s Lost County.”

This story is presented in much greater detail in the new book - The History of Jackson County, Florida: Volume One - now available for purchase by clicking here.