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.

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