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.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Howell's Mills: 1829 mill site on the Chipola River

The Chipola River flows past the site of Howell's Mills.
Joseph H. Howell owned the west or right bank of the river
at this point. Richard Keith Call owned the east or left bank.
The year 1829 was a significant one in the history of Jackson County, Florida.

Marianna was founded that year by Robert and Anna Maria Beveridge, igniting an almost instant political war with nearby Webbville over which town would emerge as the permanent county seat. Webbville in turn announced a sale of town lots to fund the construction of Jackson County's first public school. Dr. H.B. Crews of Webbville fought the first recorded duel in county history against Mr. J.O. Sewall at the Alabama line near present-day Campbellton on July 30, 1829. Please see: A Duel near Campbellton in 1829.

The Florida Territorial Council, meeting in Tallahassee on November 10, approved the construction of a water mill south of Marianna on the Chipola River by Mr. Joseph H. Howell:

Be it enacted by the Governor and Legislative Council of the Territory of Florida, That Joseph H. Howell, be, and he is hereby authorised and vested with all the rights and privileges of building a set of mills, gins, or any other machine on the Chipola river in Jackson County, where the same runs thro' section twenty three, in Township four, range ten, north and west, and to use the waters of said river for the use of said mills, or machine, in any way he may think proper. Provided he shall in no case, obstruct the passage and free navigation of said river.

The measure was passed and became effective on November 10, 1829. It was signed by Gov. William P. Duval a short time later.

Paddlers stop to climb a tree at the site of Howell's Mills.
The site selected by Howell for his mills was on the west bank of the river immediately below the mouth of Spring Creek. Thousands of people paddle, boat or tube pass this point annually now, enjoying the scenery and cool water along a particularly beautiful stretch of the Chipola River. Few if any realize that they are passing an important industrial site from Florida's Territorial era.

It is not known how long it took for Joseph Howell to get his mills into operation following the receipt of approval from the Territorial Council. He clearly had activity underway on the site by the end of 1830 when he obtained a patent for 79.68 acres from the Tallahassee Land Office in a cash entry purchase. The parcel made up the West 1/2 of the Southeast 1/4 of Section 23, Township 4 North, Range 10 West.

The other half of the quarter section was claimed on the same date by Richard Keith Call, a noted associate of President Andrew Jackson and future governor of Florida. He was also involved in the simultaneous development of Marianna and his acquisition of land directly across the river from Howell's Mills is a clear indication that he expected them to become a landmark on the Chipola.

Section 23, the site of Howell's Mills, as shown on an 1826
survey plat. Spring Creek enters the Chipola River at upper
right. Bridge Creek flows in at lower right. The mills stood on
the left side of the river near the bottom of Section 23.
The 1830 U.S. Census for Jackson County shows that Joseph Howell was prosperous at the time he developed his mills. His household included four occupants, all over the age of 20, as well as 10 slaves, three of whom were under the age of 10.

The mills probably included a grist mill, sawmill and cotton gin. Timber and cotton were among the county's earliest exports, with Florida newspapers reporting the arrival of cargoes of each from up the Chipola on barges and pole boats. Most Chipola River commerce went to Apalachicola (then called West Point), but some was portaged over from the river into Bear Creek and St. Andrew Bay for transport via the small port that had developed near the site of today's Deer Point Dam.

The Chipola River would continue to be used as a way of moving commerce for more than 100 years, proving the wisdom of the Legislative Council's requirement that Howell's operation not "obstruct the passage and free navigation of said river."

The author paddles down crystal clear Spring Creek on the way
to see the site of Howell's Mills in Jackson County, Florida.
Additional research will be required to learn more about the commercial success and durability of Howell's Mills. Joseph Howell himself never saw his dream realized. The 65-year-old businessman died shortly after receiving title to the land on which the mills stood. The property passed to his son, also named Joseph H. Howell, who by 1841 was living in today's Hillsborough County, Florida. He remained in Hillsborough County for the rest of his life, dying at Plant City in 1862.

The mills no longer stand. A few cut limestone blocks can still be seen beneath the water at the site when the river is clear, silent reminders to one of Jackson County's earliest industries.

To learn more about the early history of Jackson County, please consider my book: The History Of Jackson County, Florida: The Early Years.

Dale Cox
January 27, 2017

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Duel near Campbellton in 1829

Dueling seems such a long ago custom today that it is difficult to imagine that the Campbellton area of Jackson County was once the "go to" place for these affairs of honor.

The nearby state line, then the line dividing the State of Alabama from the Territory of Florida, offered a bit of protection for those who participated in duels. If authorities from Florida tried to arrest one participant, he could simply step across the line into Alabama. If authorities from Alabama tried to arrest the other participant, he could similarly escape into Florida.

The practice of dueling has been reduced to something of a caricature today and is perhaps best remembered for the affair that cost the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton. He was killed by former Vice President Aaron Burr in a duel.

As the death of Hamilton demonstrates, dueling was a serious business. Honor was held in extremely high esteem during the first half of the 19th century. An insulted party, having failed at all other means to obtain justice, could demand that his enemy meet him on the field of honor. The challenged party then had no choice but to apologize and admit his fault, flee and lose all honor, or face the aggrieved party with pistol or blade.

Original 1829 account of the duel
near Campbellton, Florida.
Unless the parties fired into the air after having taken to the field, thus ending the duel with honor, the carefully orchestrated fights would continue until one party or the other was either disabled or dead. This meant that in a fight with dueling pistols, for example, the two antagonists would fire and reload as many times as necessary until or the other could no longer continue.

One such duel took place on the Alabama line north of Campbellton in 1829. Dr. H.B. Crews of Webbville, Jackson County's original but now vanished county seat, took the field of honor against Mr. J.O. Sewall of Alabama. The nature of the dispute that led to the duel is not known, but the outcome was reported by newspapers of the time:

...The parties exchanged three shots; Dr. Crews was wounded on the first and third fires. Mr. Sewall was not injured. Dr. Crews being wounded on the third fire in the muscles of the right shoulder, could not continue the fight. - Florida newspaper reprinted in the Rhode Island American, August 25, 1829.

Fortunately for Dr. Crews, his wounds did not prove fatal. He continued to live in Webbville for years to come, serving as both a town doctor and partner in a pharmacy there.

J.O. Sewall also took up residence in Jackson County after the affair, settling in Marianna. It was an appropriate choice since the towns themselves were bitter rivals.

Of the duel between Sewall and Crews, witnesses felt that honor had been served. "It is perhaps proper to say," noted the newspaper account, "that the conduct of both gentleman was highly appropriate on the occasion."

Dale Cox
January 26, 2017