The Little Red (or White or Log) Schoolhouse in Northwest Florida: Creating the System

I am a student of history and genealogy but before that I was a lover of education, of pretty much every subject.  And importantly for this blog, a product of the educational system in Florida.  This post will be the first of a two-part series on the effort to establish that educational system in Florida. In this post, I am going to try to outline the process of trying to get a “common school” system in place, first in the territory of Florida and then in the state; hopefully, without putting the reader to sleep or tying my brain into knots.

To start this process of looking at how Florida came to have a common or public school system, it is best to go all the way back to 1822. This was the year Florida became a territory of the United States and the year that every 16th section of each Township was set aside to aid in the maintenance of primary schools. For any of you not clear on what Townships were, I will do a Cliff Notes version. Describing land by the geographic features and trees on property, as was the method in the original thirteen colonies and what would become Texas, Tennessee and West Virginia, quickly became a bit troublesome. If you’ve ever read a deed from one of these states, you know what I mean.  A grid system was set up and used for much of the federal land that came under government control as the nation expanded. This grid system was called the Public Land Survey System. Each Township grid was divided into 36 sections, each one square mile. A more detailed explanation is located here.  Because these lands were for the use of the schools, they are often the location of early school buildings.

The first organized effort to establish an educational system occurred on 22 January 1831 when the Florida Education Society was formed in Tallahassee. They were established to collect and distribute educational information and to attempt to establish a general system of instruction that would be suited to the needs of the territory of Florida. During its existence, this group doesn’t appear to have accomplished a lot, especially in the panhandle. They were recognized in later reports on the schools for increasing the awareness of the importance of an educational system. However, it appears to have been an uphill battle. In a report from 1832, the “apathy and prejudices of the people of Florida” toward education was cited as an ongoing issue.

In January of 1827, the Federal government passed an act giving the governor and the Territorial Legislative Council the power to take possession of the 16th section of each Township mentioned above and lease them by the year and to appropriate the money received from the rental of the property for use by the schools. They were also charged with preserving the lands from intrusion and trespass. The following year the Territorial Legislative Council passed a law allowing those leases.

Beginning in 1828, and going until Florida became a State, there were a series of laws passed tinkering with the school system they hoped to create. While we need to give them an “A” for effort, it appears that these laws were never really executed with any consistency. Governor W. D. Moseley’s speech to the assembly in 1846 indicated poor enforcement against trespassers and the neglected and squandered funds that were received. Just before Florida became a state the educational system could be summarized as follows:

  1. The administration of the schools was in the hands of a Board of Trustees for each Township, the Judges of the County Courts, and the Secretary of the Territory.
  2. The trustees were elected by popular vote.
  3. The trustees cared for and rented out the 16th section lands, appropriated the revenue, established and maintained the schools and did whatever else was needed in relationship to the welfare of the schools. They were also to report annually to the judges of the county on the number of teachers, the numbers of students, and the subjects taught.
  4. The judges of the county served as school superintendents. They were to see that the 16th section lands were cared for, ensure the funds derived from the lands was appropriately used and had general oversight. Their report to the Secretary of the Territory was to address the condition of common school education in their respective counties.
  5. The Secretary of the Territory compiled all of these reports and presented the information to the Legislative Council.
  6. There was no provision for the building or maintenance of schools, the length of the school term, the subjects to be taught, textbooks to be used, or the certification of teachers.
  7. In 1838, a law had been passed to require each county to send one young man to the Dade Institute of Florida to be educated as a schoolmaster.
  8. Income to sustain the schools came from four sources: a) The 16th section lands, b) The net proceeds of escheated (transfer of property title to the state when a person dies without will or legal heirs) property, c) The funds obtained from the national treasury under the surplus revenue act, and d) 10% of all territorial tax and auction duties received to be used for the education of poor, orphaned children.

The children of the wealthier class of territorial residents often went to private academies or institutes. These were mainly primary and secondary combined, but the limited records available would indicate mostly primary. Those that I’m reasonably sure were in the panhandle were: 1) Pensacola Academy, 1831; 2) Marianna Academy, 1833; 3) St. Andrews College, Washington Co, 1838; 4) West Florida Collegiate Institute 1844.

Florida had arrived at statehood, with its first Constitution adopted in March 1845. The state was limited in what it could do with the 16th section lands so in 1847 they asked Congress for permission to sell these lands and invest the proceeds in a permanent fund to support common schools. This was approved in December 1848. In 1849, the first law establishing a school system in the new state was passed. The state would establish common schools that would serve all white children of the State between the ages of 5 and 18. Overhead costs were managed by the Register of the land office, who also was to act as State Superintendent of Schools. The Judges of Probate were still to act as superintendents of schools within their counties, and a local Board of Trustees was to be elected by taxpayers annually within each school district. At the same time, a new act was passed to increase funds for the common schools. Sources of funding included: a) 5% received from the United States for sale of public lands within the State, b) Proceeds of all escheated estates, c) Net proceeds from property found on the coasts or shores, or brought into the State’s ports, that were from wrecks, d) And all other property thereafter granted for the support of common education.

Between 1845 and 1869, the state again went through a series of adjustments to the system, trying to improve it and encourage people to support and send their children for education. The War for Southern Independence (a.k.a. War Between the States or Civil War) put a temporary hold on any progress since the State found itself the location of some consistent conflict between sides, especially in the panhandle. As had occurred during the territorial period, the majority of interest for common school establishment appears to have been outside the panhandle, around St. Augustine and Jacksonville, and also Tallahassee. It is hard to tell from the limited records available whether that is because people were not interested, the men in charge at the local and county levels weren’t doing their jobs adequately, the population who were interested preferred private academies or the records have just been lost to time.

Regardless of the challenges of war time, Florida did make some progress toward public, common schools during the early years of statehood. According to a table in Everette’s book (see below), from 1840 to 1850 the number of academies and other private schools increased from 18 to 138 and the number of public, common schools increased from 51 to 97.

After the war, efforts began to provide education to the children of persons who had been freed from slavery during the war. These efforts were initially conducted primarily by northern benevolent associations such as the African Civilization Society and the Missionary Society of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. They had established around 30 schools by the end of 1865. In January 1865, a law was passed establishing a public education system for these children. The governor was to appoint a superintendent to organize schools and to employ competent teachers. The schools would be supported first by a tuition fee of 50 cents per month from each pupil and a tax of $1 dollar on “all male persons of color between the ages of 21 and 45”.

The State Constitution of 1868 contained an entire article on the structure and provision of education in Florida. It established a Superintendent of Public Instruction; the requirement that the legislature provide a uniform system of common schools and a university, as well as the maintenance of these facilities; specified means of financing; required that the education be free for all children; distribution to the counties of the interest from the education fund based on the number of children in each county between the ages of 4 and 21 years; a requirement that each county raise a sum not less than 1/2 of the amount received from the State for the support of education within the county; and created a Board of Education composed of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Attorney General and the Secretary of State.

Starting in the 1870 census, we see the question on whether a children had attended school within the year. We can see a variation of this question for all subsequent censuses. If you spend time studying census records on either side of your ancestor’s entry, you can begin to see literacy increasing over time for those born in Florida.

I know this blog was a bit dry, but I thought it would be helpful to understand the early years before we have some fun with the later 19th and early 20th century schools.  Next time we will look inside some of the schools of the late 19th and early 20th century in the panhandle.  There will be lots of photos and some analysis of education levels over time and subjects taught.

Until next time!

Resources

  • History of the Public School Education in Florida by Thomas Everette Cochran, 1921.
  • From Cabin to Campus: A History of the Okaloosa School System by Nancy M. Kenaston.
  • Pillars of the Republic: Common Schools and American Society, 1780-1860 by Carl F. Kaestle.
  • Florida’s 1838 Constitution
  • Florida’s 1868 Constitution

My Books for Sell

 

Early Northwest Florida Churches

I have to admit that one of the many things I find interesting in history is the efforts to organize churches early in human settlements. Churches served a number of purposes other than the education and nurturing of the soul; they were ways for people that were often scattered, isolated and busy trying to survive to get together, share a meal and exchange information and a way to encourage good behavior when law enforcement was nearly non-existent. And to be honest, I do love visiting old church cemeteries and just being at peace in the quiet of the cemetery. My Mom claims that I’ve trained my car to automatically stop at old cemeteries. Frankly, it is a joint effort of the car and my foot!

Recently, I was meandering through some old, local newspaper articles and stumbled across an article on Yellow River Baptist Church in Okaloosa Co, Florida that cited a book published by the Daughters of the American Revolution on The Pioneer Churches of Florida. Published in 1976, in coordination with the DAR’s local chapters and some local historical groups, it was a short narrative on each county’s oldest known church. I found the book through Abe Books and ordered it. When it arrived, I spent about an hour reading it and particularly dissecting the section on Yellow River Baptist Church.

Before I get to the details on Yellow River Baptist and how that fits with my other efforts to put the history and chronology together for the church and the Oak Grove community, let’s look at the other panhandle counties and their first known churches, at least known by those who were asked in 1976. Also, this would not be a list of the oldest churches in the panhandle. The oldest churches tend to be concentrated where the population settled first. For instance, there are a number of older Baptist churches than some of the later ones listed but they are in counties where there was an even older church, of any denomination, in that county.

Bay Countyformed in 1913 from Calhoun and Washington Counties
St. Andrews Presbyterian Church – organized on 13 September 1886 at the home of Hiram Mapes by the Commission of the Presbytery according to the DAR book. The church’s website confirms that date.

Calhounformed in 1838 from Franklin, Jackson and Washington Counties
According to the Malachee Baptist Association Minutes of 1972 and the DAR book, a Baptist church was organized in Calhoun County in 1873. The church was called Magnolia and the Rev. Otis Walden was pastor. The Florida Memory site has a document online that also indicates the church was organized in 1873.

Escambiaformed in 1821, one of the two original counties
St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church dates to 1559 when the Spanish arrived at Pensacola Bay on August 14th. The chapel was originally on Santa Rosa Island according to the DAR book. The church’s website confirms that date. The website indicates that the parish was canonically established on 10 May 1781.

Franklinformed in 1832 from Gadsden and Washington Counties
Apalachicola Trinity Episcopal Church was chartered in 1838. The Rev. Fitch W. Taylor from the Diocese of Maryland conducted services there as early as 1835 according to the DAR book. Their website indicates that it was charted in 1836.

Gulfformed in 1925 from Calhoun County
St. John’s Episcopal Church was organized around 1875. In the 1940s an agreement was reached for the Presbyterians (the First Presbyterian Church of Wewahitchka) and Episcopal congregations to share the church according to the DAR book. I was able to find a website that appears to be the right Episcopal Church but it does not provide any historical information.

Holmesformed in 1848 from Jackson and Walton Counties
Sandy Creek Baptist Church was organized around 1844 according to the DAR book. I could not find anything online as to its continued service though the church and cemetery are on Find-A-Grave and the marquis in front of the church appears to be current.

Jacksonformed in 1822 from Escambia County
Campbellton Baptist Church was founded in 1825 according to the DAR book as Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church. Campbellton Baptist Church is the second oldest Baptist Church in Florida according to my research on Baptist Churches. It is the oldest Baptist church in the panhandle but Pigeon Creek Baptist Church in Callahan, Nassau County is the oldest having been founded in 1821. Jackson County’s oldest church is now known as First Baptist Church of Campbellton.

Libertyformed in 1855 from Gadsden County
Corinth Baptist Church was founded in 1871 according to the DAR book. Florida Memory has documentation of the church’s history online. The church’s website confirms their history.

Okaloosaformed in 1915 from Santa Rosa and Walton Counties
Yellow River Baptist Church was found in June 1840 according to the DAR book. They don’t currently have a website but I’ve seen the founding document in the church’s records so I know this is a fact (See more detail below).

Santa Rosaformed in 1842 from Escambia County
First Methodist Church in Milton was established soon after Protestantism was permitted sometime between 1821 and 1824 according to the DAR book. The DAR book indicates that the church they are referencing actually started in Escambia County because Santa Rosa did not come to be a county until 1842. It appears to indicate that many of the congregation moved to Milton/Bagdad and by 1837 the first buildings were going up in Milton/Bagdad. The website for the First United Methodist Church of Milton doesn’t match this history, indicating establishment around the time of the Civil War. After a bit of searching, I found that the church described in the DAR is actually the Bagdad United Methodist Church, and this history is confirmed by their website.  They indicate their founding in 1830 which fits in the somewhat convoluted history in the DAR book.

Waltonformed in 1824 from Escambia and Jackson Counties
Euchee Valley Presbyterian Church was established on 26 May 1828 according to the DAR book.  However, the historical marker at the church indicates 27 May 1827.  Their Facebook page has some good photos of the church and the cemetery.  This is a beautiful country church with a peaceful cemetery next to it that is worth the meandering walk among the headstones.  According to their historical marker, the cemetery is the resting place of two signers of Florida’s first constitution.

Washingtonformed in 1825 from Jackson and Walton Counties
Only church recorded as early was in Bay County by 1977 according to the DAR book. I found this hard to believe that there were no early churches in Washington County, even though they did lose territory to other counties over the years parts of the remaining county were certainly settled early. So, I did a little online research. According to Dale Cox’s website Explore Southern History, Moss Hill Methodist Church traces its history back to the 1820s.

Northwest Florida’s early churches covers the gamut of denominations; 5 Baptist churches, 2 Methodist churches, 2 Presbyterian churches, 2 Episcopal churches and 1 Catholic church. I would say from reading the book that some of the counties interpreted the defining of the earliest church in the county in a variety of ways but most of these would seem to be accurate based on the settlements in the various areas of the panhandle.

Now to my favorite church subject: Yellow River Baptist Church. (previous posts on the church: here, here, and here)  The book has some good information on the early church location and buildings. The information was submitted by the Historical Society of Okaloosa and Walton Counties but reading the info sure makes me think of Mabel Peaden. Mabel had a wealth of historical detail that she loved to share and she was the Church Clerk for a time and attended the school that was in the area of the original church. Let me just quote the book, “The first services were held in a log building, one mile northwest of the Oak Grove Bridge on the Yellow River. The second building, on the same location, was erected in 1884 and was used until a rectangular two-story, unpainted frame building was erected and dedicated in 1905. We have no record of the fourth building. The fifth and present building (in 1976) was constructed of cement block in 1961.” A little further on they state, “ The first settled pastor was the Reverend George Miller, 1840-1844.”

The fourth building was actually the third building with the top floor removed (see photo at top). That “remodel” is mentioned in the records. There is now a sixth church building (left above). The fifth building (top right) was burned by arsonists in August 1981.

It is difficult to know if the “Oak Grove Bridge” is the bridge that existed in 1976 and built around World War II or the older bridge that was a little south of the existing bridge, but regardless if you use Google Earth and draw a line northwest of the bridge, a mile is located behind the existing church at or near the Old Yellow River Cemetery. This cemetery has not been well cared for and is on property not now owned by the church. The persons owning the property over the years have not always chosen to regard the cemetery as sacred ground. It is sometimes referred to by locals as the “Old Black Cemetery” but my early research indicates not all those with headstones remaining are black, though they may be mixed blood. This may actually be the original church cemetery. The early church had both black and white members. It was common in the early days of America to bury people of color, criminals, those of less than honorable behavior, etc. on the north side of the cemetery property.  That may mean there is more of this cemetery south of these gravestones and among the trees being logged by the current owner.  The cemetery continued to be used for a couple of decades after the church moved.  It is a shame that when the church moved west of its original location, they were not able to protect the cemetery from thoughtless land owners.

Unearthing the Yellow River Baptist Church’s history, one book at a time, one newspaper clipping at a time and one land deed at a time is something I enjoy immensely.  Especially when I can couple that with preserving, transcribing and digitizing the old church records. I suspect my grandfather, John Jesse Barrow, Jr and my great-grandfather William Franklin King, both of whom helped to get the church back to full strength in 1938, are watching over my efforts.

Identifying the churches that were available to your ancestors (where they attended, what denomination it was and what the church believed) provides a deeper understanding of your ancestors, their neighbors and community and how they may have conducted their lives.  It takes genealogy beyond the collection of names to understanding your ancestors in the context of their lives (not what you want them to think or do or be) and the events they lived through. Don’t overlook these records if they are available for your ancestors’ lives. As I move from research to writing a history of the community of Oak Grove, I plan to have a chapter on the church and possibly a booklet on just the church. If all goes well, that will happen near the end of next year.

Until Next Time!

Resources

  • The Pioneer Churches of Florida, published for The Daughters of the American Revolution, September 1976
  • Yellow River Baptist Church Membership Records by Sharon D. Marsh, 2016 (all proceeds from the sell of the book goes back to the church).
  • The Twelve Baptist Tribes in the USA: A Historical and Statistical Analysis by Albert W. Wardin, Jr., 2007.
  • A History of Florida Baptists by Edward Earl Joiner, 1972.

My Books for Sell

 

Hurricanes: Occurrence and Survival for Our Northwest Florida Ancestors

Pensacola after 1906 hurricane

I will assume most of you already know we are into hurricane season. Every year, most of us check our batteries, flashlights and canned goods just in case we have the big red “X” on our backs this year. But have you ever given any thought to how our ancestors anticipated beforehand and coped during and after a hurricane? My ancestors were in the panhandle from about 1821 on, so I figure they got some pretty good experience with preparing for, living through, and recovering from a hurricane. Let’s take a look at the hurricane experiences of Northwest Florida from 1837 to 1949.

Most of us have lived our entire lives with reasonably accurate hurricane forecasting, FEMA and relatively effective local and national responses after a hurricane. Sometimes we know days in advance that the storm is heading our way. If we are inclined toward at least basic preparedness we make a last minute review of supplies and maybe make a trip to the store for something we need. Why bother though? When there will be food and water afterwards thanks to the State or the County or the Feds? One good reason to bother is that may not always be there or can’t get to you quickly. And then you will not be able to care for your family or any neighbors who might need help. There is a reason the airlines always tell parents to put the mask on themselves first, then their children. To put it gently, if you don’t, you become part of the problem, not the solution.

We do know that the panhandle was hit by a number of hurricanes during the very early years of Spanish settlement in Pensacola. In 1559 the new Spanish colony of Pensacola was devastated by a hurricane to the point that the Spanish thought better of settlement by 1561. But records don’t get reliable until after Florida became a territory of the United States in 1821. One of the best sources of information on Florida hurricanes is found in a book by the same name by Jay Barnes. The following table was extracted from the narrative on early hurricanes.

Date Locations Impacted Severity
7 Aug 1837 St Mark’s
30 Aug 1837 Apalachicola Severe
Oct 1837 First hit Mexican coast in the Gulf, turned northern & hit Brownsville & Galveston, veered east and passed over New Orleans & Mobile and north of Pensacola.  Crossed the southeastern states and exited into the Atlantic near Charleston.  Moved north & destroyed the paddle-wheel Home, killing 90 Severe
September 1841 St. Joseph Severe
22 Sept 1842 Pensacola Moderate
5 Oct 1842 Lighthouse at East Pass lost 30 feet of height, Apalachicola, St. Mark’s, Tallahassee Severe
13 Sept 1843 Port Leon on the banks of the St Mark’s River Severe
September 1844 Apalachicola Moderate
23 Aug 1850 Apalachicola Moderate
August 1851 Apalachicola, Tallahassee, St. Mark’s Severe
24 Aug 1852 Pascagoula, Mobile but effects of winds and water were felt in Pensacola.  Pensacola got more than 13 inches of rain from the 23rd to the 26th Severe
9 Oct 1852 east of Apalachicola, St. Mark’s & Newport Moderate
30 Aug 1856 Cape San Blas, near Panama City, Apalachicola, Marianna Severe
11 Aug, 14 Sept & Oct 1860 All three hit Louisiana, Mississippi & Alabama but Pensacola received high winds & rain Moderate
July 1870 Mobile & Pensacola Moderate
3 Oct 1877 Cape San Blas, St. Mark’s Moderate
20-31 Aug 1880 Apalachicola & Pensacola Moderate
9-10 Sept 1882 Pensacola Moderate
21 Jun 1886 Apalachicola, Tallahassee Moderate
 8 Oct 1894 Apalachicola, but every place between Pensacola and Jacksonville received some damage Moderate-Severe
7 July 1896 east of Pensacola Severe
2 Aug 1898 between the Apalachicola and Choctawhatchee Rivers.  St. Andrews Bay reported 18.29 inches of rain during the week of the storm Severe
11-14 Sept 1903 near Apalachicola Category 1
September 27, 1906 near the Alabama & Mississippi border but did severe damage in Pensacola (see photos) Severe
September 4, 1915 Apalachicola Minor
October 18, 1916 Pensacola Category 3
September 28-29, 1917 Pensacola east to Panama City Category 2
Setember 15, 1924 Port St. Joe Category 1
September 18-21, 1926 Crossed the Gulf and had a second landfall along the Alabama/Florida border (see photo) Massive
September 28-30, 1929 near Panama City Moderate
July 31, 1936 Pensacola, Ft. Walton Beach, Valparaiso Category 3

A couple of things jump out at me when looking through the listing. The area around Apalachicola was a difficult place to live in the 19th century, and the area around Pensacola was a good runner-up. In reality, if the storm was very big it covered all of the area between them.  Our ancestors were tough if they settled here early and stuck it out. If hurricanes didn’t get you, the epidemics, Indians or critters might. Until 1870, people were truly on their own when it came to hurricanes. There was no forecasting, little ability to track and monitor (reports from ships might indicate a potential problem but no way to know where it was headed) and no ability to spread the word that bad weather was heading their way. It would be a matter of their experience telling them one morning that the air felt different or was coming from an unusual direction, the wind was gusty, the air smelled saltier, the sky to the south was darkening and clouds were what my grandmother used to call “angry”. If things deteriorated through the day, by mid-afternoon they might decide they needed to take care of a few things around the farm then settle in to ride out whatever was coming. Or if they were busy, they might not realize the impending weather until there was little time left. Regardless, you would gather everyone in the house and hope and pray.

After 1870, when President Grant signed a proclamation giving the Signal Corps responsibility for forecasting and warning of hurricanes, things got a bit better in the larger towns (which weren’t abundant in 1870 in the panhandle) but any of our ancestors who were in the backcountry were still pretty much on their own. By 1900, the forecasting was getting a better and the warnings were improving. While most of the storms that hit the panhandle were relatively less severe than many had been in the 19th century, there were a couple of category 3 storms and one massive storm in September 1906. Pensacola was on the “dirty” side of the 1906 hurricane and took a severe beating. In 1926, the Great Miami Hurricane that devastated south Florida, crossed the peninsular, entered the Gulf and had a second landfall along the Alabama/Florida border. From what I can gather, the storm had thankfully lost some of its strength as it traveled the Gulf waters but still did damage in and around Pensacola.

 

 

 

Honing your senses to read weather patterns would have been a valuable survival skill that most of us have no clue about these days. Since moving to the country, I’ve learned to pay attention to the sky.  But I would not put my current skills up against a hurricane. I have a weather alert system for back-up; though I have to admit when it goes off in the middle of the night, I sometimes want to stomp on it.

The other thing about hurricanes is you can find yourself isolated for a while after they pass. Roads have debris on them, water flooding them or both. That wonderful thing called electricity on-demand is generally not responding. Water may not be safe to drink without boiling it or it might not be available at all. If we think about our ancestors in this regard, we can imagine the following: 1) They came out of their houses, or what was left of them; sized up the damage and got to work. No one was going to come in and give them money to rebuild.  2) They were farmers and preserved foods by canning, salting and root cellar. That was ongoing. Food did not go to waste because you never knew when a disruption would occur. Even if it didn’t look too good, if it was eatable they did something with it to fill the hunger spot. Prepping, as it is called these days, was part of life not an extra activity. But hurricanes could destroy the coming years crops and mean what you had to eat was what you already had put up that didn’t get destroyed.  3) They checked the well and cranked up some water for cleaning and drinking.  4) Cooking was already by fire in the fireplace kitchen so they might be constrained by the wood they had protected from rain and flood before the storm and set some additional logs to dry.  5) They checked on their extended family and neighbors and shared if they could and helped where it was needed.

Someone asked me once why hurricanes don’t scare me. They were from California so I figured I could ask them why they weren’t afraid of earthquakes, but I didn’t. I explained that as bad weather goes, hurricanes and tropical storms get a lot of coverage and the forecasts are pretty good unless you are ignorant of how to understand them. I’ve been through quite a few, the advantage of many decades on the Atlantic or Gulf Coast. Donna in 1960, Cleo in August 1964, Dora in September 1964, Gladys in October 1968, Eloise in September 1975, David in September 1979, Alicia in 1983, Chantal and Jerry in 1989, TS Frances in 1998, TS Allison in 2001, and Ivan in 2004. I think I might have a PhD in hurricane survival though I’ve not been through anything more than a category 3 and a couple of tropical storms with enough water to float a battleship. Still, I’m always pleased when another year passes without one visiting.

Which brings me to the weather we’ve experienced on the Gulf Coast so far this summer. The ground is saturated and the rivers are high.  If we get a hurricane or another tropical storm this year, after or in the middle of all of this rain, we will all need snorkel and fins. So, might I suggest that even if you aren’t one to stock up on batteries, flashlights, lanterns, canned food and bottled water; this might be a good year to do that. Put yourself in your ancestors’ shoes. What can you do right now to be better prepared for any more bad weather this year? If it doesn’t come, that’s great. Nothing you’ve done can’t be carried over to next year or used this year. Put stuff in place now and then get on with life. I was raised to be prepared for an “oops” event.  Less stress.  Which is good because I’m not crazy about shopping for groceries, especially when everyone is acting frantically.

May we all have a quieter rest of the year. Until next time.

Resources

  • Florida Hurricanes by Jay Barnes

My Books for Sell

Northwest Florida History & Genealogy: My Current Projects

Drawing of Richmond Barrow homestead

This post will be a little different.  I’m going to talk about my current projects in history and genealogy of the Northwest Florida panhandle and then do some encouraging for readers to take on similar projects.

I posted on my Facebook page a few weeks ago on the recent appearance of the original Yellow River Baptist Church records from 1840 to 1890. These records had disappeared several decades ago and as with most breaks in institutional memory just passed from thought and was assumed lost. Then I found out last year that someone had brought them to Baker Block Museum and they had photocopied and returned the records to this person. That led to the book the Church, the Museum and I published last year on membership records. There were a number of problems with the copies available to me in the project. 1) Some were quite difficult to see when printed because the resolution was not high and they were saved as .jpg files; a format that loses resolution over time when saved. 2) The transcriptionist at the Museum apparently had access to image files that no longer were with the others, so there was no way to put a new set of eyes on the pages to improve the transcription of the minutes. 3) That led to me wondering if all of the pages had been copied or were some missed in the process.  4) The Museum indicated that the pages were badly scrambled so trying to put the pages in sequential order so the minutes made sense was a real challenge in some cases. 5) It was obvious to me that the membership lists had consisted of two pages for each list of names. The left page listed the names and the right-hand page listed dates such as when the person joined the church, was baptized or left the church. Very little notations included death dates and at no time did the church record birth dates. In fact, children were not included as members until they had their own experience of God, reported that and was accepted as members. When these pages were copied no effort was made to link the two pages because no effort was made to document the pages in the order they were in, or note what was on the back of a page, so the files were just a big pile of unsorted images.

I admit I added a request in my prayers that the person who had them would be called to bring them to the Church before they crumbled to dust. Now in my sixth decade I’ve noticed that we don’t always get what we pray for because it isn’t the right thing to happen; regardless of whether we understand why it isn’t. The other thing I’ve noticed about praying for something is it doesn’t always happen when I want it to. I also pray for patience so I find I get lots of opportunities to practice patience but I’ve not just had it given to me; unfortunately for those around me. And then in May of this year, Pastor Nixon called me and announced that a man had appeared at the church after Sunday service and handed over the records. Maybe not a miracle, but certainly a blessing. I hope to be able to address each of the problems listed above and conserve the records so they are with the Church at least to their 200th anniversary in 2040 and images survive for many years after that. Going through these records is just fascinating to me though the minutes are often routine and nothing eventful happened. However, there are tidbits there that give a glimpse of the Church and the community it served and I hope to extract those out as part of my next project.

Any of you who know me, or follow me on Facebook or have read all or most of my blogs, know I’m very interested in the community of Oak Grove in northern Okaloosa Co, FL. Oak Grove was one of the earliest panhandle communities in the territory of Florida settled by Americans.  It was originally referred to as Barrow’s Ferry. On the upper Yellow River just south of the Alabama line, it was never incorporated as a town but was the seed for a lot of the settlement that extended south as Florida became a territory, then a state. If you don’t know where this Oak Grove is located, drive east on Highway 2 from Blackman and turn left on Yellow River Baptist Church Rd just before you get to the river. If coming from Crestview, cross the river and take a right on Yellow River Baptist Church Rd. If you are sensitive to your surroundings you may feel an instant sense of traveling back in time. When you get to the fork in the road, look to your right and you will see where the General Store, run by William F. King, was located. Stay to your right and keep driving until you get to the Church. This was the heart of Oak Grove, figuratively and literally. As late as the 1940s there would have been farms all around you. Now there are pines.

Oak Grove, Okaloosa Co, FL
Center where the old road (now Yellow River Baptist Church Rd) crossed the river. Hwy 2 would be built straight across above where the road dipped.

I’ve decided to turn my interest in all things good, and not so good, about Oak Grove into a One-Place Study with an eventual book and maybe a website that pulls all of the records available together, by links or transcriptions. I am currently trying to locate the school that burned in 1924. A wonderful example of not asking obvious questions of my grandparents, both of whom attended the school.  I believe I have a pretty good idea but no clear documentation. If anyone out there knows where it was or has seen anything clearly locating it, please share with me. I’ve almost completed the extraction of census records for the community from 1830 to 1940, including the 1885 agricultural census for the area. From there I will be doing extractions of land records to put folks on a map to see relationships and connections. School records if available, military service throughout the period and of course the church records will provide additional information.

Which brings me to my final project – the earliest cemeteries in the area. I now know that Stewart Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Okaloosa County based on known burials. Early families sometimes buried their kin on their property and of course early markers were wooden and lost over time but Stewart does have a known burial from July 1840. The next oldest is Magnolia Cemetery, just across the river with a burial from December 1843. Both of these men were Revolutionary War veterans. Stewart Cemetery was purchased by Yellow River Baptist Church in 1901 from I. [Isaac] H. And Rozilla Harrison. The Harrisons, a black couple who owned a fair amount of property in Oak Grove in the early 20th century, had acquired the cemetery property from Dugal Stewart when he sold it with some surrounding acreage to Rozilla in 1884. That he sold it to Rozilla and not the couple is an interesting point to pursue in time.

Within 15 years, the Church experienced a long period of drought with no ongoing pastor and membership fell off substantially until the late 1930s when efforts were made  (by two of my ancestors) to find a pastor and revitalize the church. Unfortunately, like the problem with the disappearing church records above, institutional memory is easy to lose. I suspect the deed to the cemetery disappeared during this time. Of course, the county knew the church owned the property, as did some of the church members, but with the surrounding land being bought and sold and consolidated even more it become harder for this little church to exert its rights; even though the last purchase in the early 70s clearly noted on the deed that the purchase excluded the 4 acres known as Stewart Graveyard. When I stumbled over reference to the ownership of the cemetery and brought it to the church, they asked me to proceed to re-establish the link between the church and the cemetery. That has been done. A survey has been completed and documentation provided to the land owner with property around the cemetery. Next effort for the church is some work on the grounds and fencing.

Oak Grove, Okaloosa Co, FL
Church and Old Yellow River Cemetery on 1941 aerial map
Oak Grove, Okaloosa Co, FL
Stewart Cemetery on 1941 aerial map

My next effort is some mapping and documentation of burials in Oak Grove’s cemeteries. There are three cemeteries in the area immediately around the Church. Stewart Cemetery is about 1.5 miles northeast of the church. There is an old graveyard directly east of the church that is sometimes referenced as the “Old Black Cemetery” and sometimes as the “Old Yellow River Cemetery”. There aren’t many headstones left (about 19) there and it is on private property, as far as we know. It has been badly abused and needs some TLC. The earliest visible grave there is 1859 (Daniel R. Baggett). It is my guess there are earlier ones but the headstones have been lost. My Mom remembers numerous, wooden headstones at this cemetery when she was a kid.  I believe this cemetery is near where the schoolhouse and the original church was located. It appears from some preliminary research that not all graves are black community members but several of them, both black and white, are recorded as church members in the remaining church records. This may be the earliest church cemetery but that needs a lot more research.

And finally there is the existing church cemetery with the earliest known grave from 1893. Ann Dixon was the wife of A. B. Dixon, one of the early postmasters in the area. They are both buried in the existing church cemetery along with William Coplin and Roseda King. These are the oldest known burials in the current church cemetery though there appears to be areas around these headstones that are graves without headstones and one grave badly damaged with no identifiers visible. The year 1893 for one of the first burials would fit with the purchase of this church property. Documenting all of these graves, the people’s connections to the community and each other, and preserving these resting places is very important to me. I have known ancestors in two of these cemeteries and enough “missing” ancestors from this area that I may have some in the third. It would be great to do a project that identifies grave locations without headstones using ground penetrating radar. It doesn’t hurt to dream! There are resources out there and companies who work with churches and communities to map cemeteries.

After completing all of the above, I hope to work on, and succeed in getting a historical marker for Oak Grove and the church. All of the above should make that easier.

So, you can see while these are different projects they all fit together nicely. I now want to make a suggestion. If you have one or more ancestors that helped settle a small community in the panhandle and are interested in looking at the bigger environment that contained and supported them, consider doing a project such as my One-Place Study on Oak Grove. The northwest panhandle of Florida, especially the northern part, constantly gets the short end of the stick when it comes to information and celebration. There is Pensacola, and the rest just doesn’t exist in written histories of Florida to any great extent.  I don’t take it personally any more, I just have decided to try and do something about it. A whole lot of people in this area love history and genealogy. Let’s put it to work to help others. Let’s begin to get all of our wonderful research together to put our local and family histories out for others to appreciate and learn from in a way that connects the dots and the families.

This month I’m doing two talks on my book on the First Florida Cavalry Union Volunteers.  On 13 July, I will be speaking at the Jay Historical Society meeting at 6:00 pm.  Address is 5287 Commerce St, Jay, FL.  On 23 July, I will be talking at 2:00 pm to the Santa Rosa Historical Society about the First Florida and the role of Milton and Bagdad in the Civil War at the Imogene Theater, 6866 Caroline St in Milton, FL.  I will have both paperback and hard cover books for sale and will be glad to autograph.  If you are a modern reader and have the Kindle app, my book is available from Amazon for their Kindle.

Tomorrow is a national celebration of our American history. Enjoy it. Be safe and responsible. Be with family. And think about the above and what you might be able to do to add to our local history.

Until next time!

Resources

  • One-Place-Studies.org is a website that provides connection to others working on one place studies.  While many of these studies are in the United Kingdom (they do appreciate genealogy a lot over there!), there are some here in the States and there needs to be many more.
  • University of Florida, George A. Smathers Library Map and Imagery Collection (http://cms.uflib.ufl.edu/maps/collections.aspx).
  • Florida Memory

My Books for Sell

The Three Seminole Wars: Florida’s Forgotten Wars, Part 2

The Second Seminole War has the distinction of being the most expensive Indian conflict, as well as the longest, in America’s long history of Indian conflicts. In 1823, the U.S. government negotiated the Treaty of Moultrie Creek establishing a reservation in the middle part of the Florida peninsula. In addition, several chiefs were allowed to keep their villages along the Apalachicola River.

Lead Up to the War: 1827-1835

The Seminoles gave up the remainder of their lands in the panhandle and moved to the reservation. The U.S. government built Fort King near modern Ocala, FL and by 1827 the Army was reporting that the Seminoles had moved to the reservation and all was peaceful. Unfortunately for the future, the blacks who lived among the Seminoles, was an issue that the new white settlers were deeply troubled by. While these Black Seminoles lived in separate villages and maintained some cultural differences from the Seminoles, there was a long and deep connection between the two groups of people. With white settlers bringing in enslaved black persons, these black settlements tormented the white settlers and caused continuing conflict between the white settlers and the Seminoles.  They were seen by the white settlers as an obvious draw to escape for the enslaved persons around the reservation.

In 1828, the federal government closed Fort King, leaving the Seminoles short of food. Hunting wasn’t sufficient within the reservation and they left the reservation looking for game. This led to increased conflicts with the surrounding white settlers. And as I mentioned in my previous post, Andrew Jackson was also elected President in 1828. His position was clear on removal and within two years Congress passed the Indian Removal Act. The foundations were in place for the second war with the Seminoles.

The 1832 Treaty of Payne’s Landing called for removal west, if the land was found suitable by members of the tribe. A few Seminoles traveled to the Indian territory and signed that the land was suitable after talking with the Creek Indians that were already there and visiting areas of the proposed new settlement.  There was significant pressure from some members of the Army for these Seminoles to sign. They returned to Florida and promptly withdrew their support.

In 1834, the people in the villages along the Apalachicola River moved west. The Senate also ratified the Treaty of Payne’s Landing. Since it had been negotiated in 1832, the government considered the three years given in the treaty for the Seminoles to move had started in 1832, though they didn’t ratified it until 1834. The government re-opened Fort King and appointed a new Indian Agent to convince the Seminoles to move. The Indians were called to Fort King but they firmly told the Indian Agent they weren’t moving. Wiley Thompson, the Indian Agent, called for more troops to be sent in and in early 1835 he called the Seminoles back and read them a statement from President Jackson that said that if they didn’t move, they would be forcibly removed. After a heated exchange, the Indians asked for, and received, a delay for the move until the end of the year.

The Second Seminole War: 1835-1842

The situation continued to deteriorate as some of the Seminole leaders became more adamant that they, and their followers, would not move. In August 1835, the Army’s mail carrier was murdered delivering mail between Fort Brooke and Fort King. At this point both sides began gearing up for war. Militia units requested weaponry, settlers moved to nearby Forts, and the Seminoles began attacking more settler activity. Supply trains were attacked, plantations were attacked and burned and white settlers were killed. On 23 December, two companies of militia under Maj. Francis Dade left Fort Brooke with the Seminoles shadowing them. On the 28th, the Seminoles attacked and all but three of the 110 men in the militia were killed. This became known as the Dade Massacre and was the start of the Second Seminole War.

Seat of FL War 1838 Washington Hood

The Second Seminole War lasted seven years and in the end only produced a half win. The Seminoles, knowing they were outnumbered and outgunned, used guerrilla tactics against the Army. The Army didn’t begin to “succeed” until they began burning villages and food supplies. In the end, the win came because most of the Indians had been killed either in battle or by disease and starvation. Most of the remainder were rounded up and shipped to Indian Territory (Oklahoma). A few hundred Seminoles were left in south central Florida in the Everglades, primarily because the government was ready to end the war and the Army in Florida was simply unable to round up these holdouts.

The Third Seminole War: 1855-1858

An unsettled peace resulted for thirteen years. The white settlements around the Everglades continued to expand and cries to move the remaining Seminoles continued. The Third Seminole War was less a war than a series of raids and counter attacks. It was initiated by an Army surveying team burning an Indian settlement outside the Everglades and the Seminoles retaliating with a raid near present day Fort Myers. The Army had learned from the Second Seminole War and made every effort to destroy food supplies when found. After three years, weary and starving a few more Seminoles agreed to move west but a few refused and retired deep into the Everglades.  Their descendants remain there today.

1856 Florida G. W. Colton
Florida, 1856, G. W. Colton

Finding Ancestors Who Fought in the Wars

The most likely of the three wars to produce a Florida ancestor is the Second Seminole War but the Third is also a possibility.  The First Seminole War might yield an ancestor that moved to Florida after the war from Georgia or Tennessee. The government did not have a large, standing Army and depended heavily of militia units, even though they were often discounted by the regular Army as unreliable. Militia units were generally from a particular locale, often led by a civilian-soldier and composed of civilian-soldiers and the men were generally enlisted for only short periods of time. This allowed these men to fulfill their duties to the militia and maintain their farms or businesses but did prove challenging to Army continuity. And because these men were citizen-soldiers some were maybe not into battle as much as someone trained to that profession.

First, identify an ancestor who would have been an adult male during the time periods of the wars. Remember the First Seminole War had militia from Georgia and Tennessee and then regular Army and Lower Creeks made up the remainder of the force. I find that Fold3.com is the better pay-for site for an initial search but Ancestry.com also has some records. Another possibility that is free, but can take more time, is located at the University of Florida, George A Smathers Library and is online. It is a digital copy of the book, Florida Department of Military Affairs, Special Archives Publication Number 68, Vol 2. This is a muster roll of all of the militia units in the Seminole Indian Wars. The search button is near the top in the middle of the page. Read the instructions for searching or you really will be spending a lot of time looking and not finding much.

Muster Roll Barrow's Co 1Muster Roll Barrow's Co 2Muster Roll Barrow's Co 3

Let’s say I didn’t know whether my ancestor Richmond Barrow, from Oak Grove, Santa Rosa Co (Okaloosa today) in northwest Florida, had served in any of the Indian Wars but his age would make that a possibility. Since I know his first name often is spelled with and without the “d” at the end and sometimes as Richman, I just put in the name Barrow and hit search. I get three results. The first one isn’t applicable and the second is a man I know is Richmond’s brother Reuben N. Clicking on that one gives me a company of men from Yellow River and going to the next page shows that Richmond served as Reuben’s 2nd Sergeant. You can save to a .pdf the pages you want using the “print” button at the website or a screen capture if preferred. When I do a screen capture to save as a .jpg I use the program FastStone Capture.  If saving to pdf from the print function I find it best to save an extra page at the front and back of the pages you want, just to be safe. I’ve sometimes had it cut off the first page.

Now that you have an ancestor that served (do your due diligence to make sure the man with the same name is your ancestor. The other names should be neighbors of your ancestor; another good reason to pay attention to neighbors when you look at census records).   Now go to the Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records. Many of the men who served were given land grants for their service.  Don’t make the mistake of only searching in the area where they lived. Land grants could be anywhere in the country. Under location scroll all the way to the bottom and click on “Any State” and leave “Any County” as is. Use the name as it was written on the muster roll or just search on last name but with common surnames that can be overwhelming. If nothing comes up, go to searching alternate spellings of both first and last names. Search warrantees and patentees (both checked). What you are looking for are Accession numbers beginning with “MW” which stands for military warrant.

Barrow Richmond MW_Patent_0915-370

If I do all of the above, including resorting to alternate first name spelling, I find a military warrant record for “Richmon Barrow” issued under the authority of the ScripWarrant Act of 1850. He received 159.75 acres in Escambia Co, FL. If you click on the patent image you will see that this is the right Richmon because it will list the company he served in that led to the issue of the land grant. In the case of Richmon[d] he sold the right to the grant to John M. Robertson who received the warrant.

Fold3 has a number of records available that can be searched, as does Ancestry, that can add to this initial information. Look at all records mentioning your ancestor, not just the records that pertain directly to them. These records where they were witnesses for another person can provide greater detail on the events these men experienced.

After researching Richmond and the Second Seminole War, I found that 1) he first served in the 7th Florida Militia, Long’s Co. as a private and then in his brother’s company 1st Regiment Florida Militia, Capt Barrow’s Mounted Co. as a 2nd Sergeant. 2) he received a land grant in Escambia Co, FL and sold it to John M. Robertson. 3) Reviewing the list of privates in Barrow’s Co. tells me I have a number of other ancestors to research in more detail.  Being a curious family historian, I now want to know where these two companies were stationed during the war and what they might have been involved in. I have more ancestors to research and I would like to know more about John M. Robertson. Is he a stranger or somehow related to the family?

I hope this encourages you to dig into your ancestor’s lives while doing genealogy and begin to sense what they experienced. Don’t just collect names from “shaky leaves” or Ancestry Public Member Trees and assume it is correct (I don’t find a lot of it is, sourcing is seriously lacking.  And those leafs don’t always connect you to the right John Smith!) or look your ancestor up in the census, record the info, and feel you are done because you can create a tree with names on it. If you are wanting to know who you are by looking at what your ancestors brought to your being, you need to do real research and put some life to their lives as seen from today.

Until next time

Resources

  • Florida’s Seminole Wars: 1817-1858 by Joe Knetsch
  • History of the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842 by John K. Mahon
  • Reminiscences of the Second Seminole War by John Bemrose
  • The War in Florida by Woodburne Potter
  • Osceola and the Great Seminole War: A Struggle for Justice and Freedom by Thom Hatch

My Books for Sell

The Three Seminole Wars: Florida’s Forgotten Wars, Part 1

Map of East and West Florida 1794

I find that if modern day Floridians know there was a Seminole War in our past, they often have a vague notion of what is known as the 2nd Seminole War. It was a war, of sorts, then it ended and Florida became a State. Oh, and Andrew Jackson fit in there somewhere and marched across the panhandle. These statements are certainly true, though some were in the 1st Seminole War not the 2nd, but do not provide much context about our ancestors’ lives during the early years of the territory and the State. My guess is if you had ancestors in Florida during the period of the 2nd Seminole War (December 1835-August 1842) or the 3rd Seminole War (1855-1858), they likely served for at least a brief period, especially in the 2nd which was protracted and participation widespread. That may be true even if your ancestors were in Georgia, Alabama or another deep south State since a number of them provided militia units during at least one of the three wars. In this blog and the next, I am going to try to give a broad overview of the three wars, provide some information on the records out there that might be informative on an ancestor’s service, and provide one of the rosters of men who served in the 2nd Seminole War from what was then Walton Co, but would soon become Santa Rosa and eventually Okaloosa Co, Florida.

The Second and Third Wars to Expand America

The War of 1812, another often forgotten war in America’s past, was fought between June 1812 and February 1815. Near the end of the war, Andrew Jackson and his men marched through the panhandle on their way to New Orleans, where they fought a decisive battle against the British after the war was actually over. But the victory made him a national hero. He was in the area because he was leading the militia against the Creek Indians (Muskogee) in what is known as The Red Stick War, mostly in Alabama but also into Florida. The Red Stick War ended in August 1814 at the Treaty of Fort Jackson, freeing Jackson and his men to march to New Orleans via the Florida panhandle. He essentially invaded Florida and drove a British force from Pensacola. It was good practice because three years later he would return to Florida in what is known as the 1st Seminole War.

If you try to lock down dates for the 1st Seminole War you will find your eyeballs spinning. During this time period, the deep south and the Gulf Coast was the southwestern frontier. Native peoples were desperately trying to stop the encroachment of Americans onto their lands. Misunderstandings, confrontations, and indiscriminate murder occurred on both sides. Therefore, the dates can range from 1814 to 1819 to just 1818 depending on how the source views its own history and involvement in the many events occurring in this area that involved native peoples. But basically the major events occurred after the War of 1812 was over but most flow from events that occurred during the War of 1812. In 1814, while Britain and the U.S. were still at war, the British had built a fort at Prospect Bluff on the Apalachicola River and armed the Creek and Seminole Indians and many runaway slaves who were living with the Indians. A company of Royal Marines under the command of Lt. Colonel Edward Nicolls arrived and was invited to relocate to Pensacola. It is these British marines that Andrew Jackson and his men drove out of Pensacola on their way to New Orleans. The marines returned to the river fort and remained after the war was over.

Nicolls provisioned the fort and turned it over to the Seminoles and fugitive slaves. Word of this fort made the settlers in Georgia and Alabama anxious and for good reason. The conflicts between natives and settlers were almost continuous along the U.S. and Spanish border.  In addition, the runaway slaves were certain to be a bad example for the slaves in south Georgia and Alabama, according to the meme of the time. This fort came to be known as Negro Fort since most of the people who stayed were runaway slaves and not the Seminoles who had no interest in the fort. It did not take long for Andrew Jackson to address the problem in his usual way.

In April of 1816, Jackson notified the Spanish Governor that if the Spanish did not remove the fort, the Americans would. The Governor’s response was that he didn’t have the troops to accomplish that so Jackson assigned Brig. General Edmund Pendleton Gaines to take the fort. Gaines had Fort Scott built on the Flint River just above the Florida border. Gaines intended to supply the fort via New Orleans and the Apalachicola River. This would serve two purposes: 1) the Americans could keep an eye on the Fort even though in Spanish territory, and 2) if they fired on the Americans that would be excuse enough to destroy the Fort.

In July, the supply ships reached the Apalachicola River and Clinch, who had been assigned to build Fort Scott, met the fleet at the Negro Fort with about 100 American soldiers and 150 Lower Creek Indians. Clinch’s two gunboats took positions across from the Fort and waited. The men in the fort fired but without experience in using cannon the threat didn’t amount to much. The Americans fired back and the ninth shot hit the powder magazine, leveling the fort and killing more than 250 men, women and children. The Americans withdrew back to Fort Scott.

But the conflicts continued. In February 1817, after raiding and stealing parties had gone back and forth for months, a Mrs. Garrett and her two children were killed by a Seminole raiding party in Camden Co, GA. This set off the final chain of events that would lead to the 1st Seminole War and the transfer of Florida from Spain to the United States.

The First Seminole War Begins (200th anniversary this year)

In November 1817, a conflict developed between the Miccosukee in southwestern Georgia and the commander of Fort Scott. Chief Neamathla of Fowltown challenged the use of the land on the eastern side of Flint River. The commander insisted that the land had been ceded to the U.S. by the Creeks. Neamathla insisted that the Miccosukee were not Creeks (Muskogee) and Creeks had no right to cede Miccosukee land. The Miccosukee were driven out of the village. A week later a supply boat carrying supplies for Fort Scott was attacked on the Apalachicola, killing about 40 to 50 people, including seven wives and possibly some children. Six survivors made it to the Fort. General Gaines was ordered to invade Florida and pursue the Indians but he had left for East Florida to deal with pirates.  Andrew Jackson was ordered to lead the invasion.

In March 1818, Jackson entered Florida with 800 U.S. Army Regulars, 1000 Tennessee volunteers, 1000 Georgia militia and about 1400 Lower Creek under the command of Brig. General William McIntosh, a Creek chief. They marched down the Apalachicola River to the Negro Fort where they built Fort Gadsden. They then set out for the Miccosukee villages of Tallahassee and Miccosukee and both villages were burned. From these two locations they marched to Fort St. Marks.

Here Jackson seized the Spanish fort and imprisoned Alexander Asbuthnot, a Scottish trader living in the Bahamas. Asbuthnot traded with the Florida Indians and had written letters for them to both British and American officials. It was believed he was selling guns to the Indians and preparing them for war. Two Indian leaders were also captured and summarily hanged without trial. The troops left St. Marks and attacked and destroyed some villages along the Suwanee River. Here he declared victory and sent the Georgia militia and Lower Creeks home. The remaining troops marched back to St. Marks.

Around this time the Army captured Robert Ambrister, a former Royal Marine, and a self-described British agent. A military tribunal was called and both Ambrister and Asbuthnot were charged with aiding and inciting the Seminoles to war with the U.S. Both were found guilty and sentenced to death but the tribunal changed the sentence for Ambrister to fifty lashes and a year at hard labor. Jackson would have none of it and had both hanged.

Andrew Jackson's Route in West Florida, 1818
Jackson’s Route Across the Panhandle in 1818

General Jackson reported later that he heard a report that the Indians were being supplied by the Spanish at Pensacola so he left Fort Gadsden and marched to Pensacola with about 1000 men (see map above.  Route near the northern end of the panhandle.  Note towns named from this 1829 effort to document the route). The Spanish governor protested, which did not slow Jackson down. He arrived in Pensacola and the Spanish withdrew to Fort Barrancas. Jackson and his men took Pensacola and the two sides exchanged fire for a couple of days and then the Spanish surrendered.

Negotiations had already begun between the U.S. and Spain for the purchase of Florida. For a time the Spanish protested Jackson’s actions by ending the talks. John Quincy Adams, who was then Secretary of State and handling the negotiations, wrote a letter apologizing for the seizure and indicated that it was not the policy of the U.S. to seize any Spanish territory. Spain resumed negotiations. Adams demanded that Spain either control the inhabitants of East Florida or cede it to the U.S. Spain ceded East Florida and renounced all claims to West Florida. The U.S. took possession of Florida in 1821. As I’ve covered in an earlier blog, immigration of Americans into West Florida in significant numbers began between the treaty signed in 1819 and the official transfer in 1821.

Florida 1822
Florida 1822

In 1823, the U.S. tried to settle the Seminoles on a reservation in the central part of the peninsula. The Seminoles did move onto the reservation but clashes continued sporadically. The white settlers wanted removal and the call for removal never ceased. The Seminoles were not interested in moving. The blacks living with the Seminoles continued to create misunderstandings and hostility between the white settlers and the Indians by just living with Seminoles and discouraging the Seminoles from moving. In 1828, the U.S. closed the fort they had built close to the reservation and the Indians looking for food wandered off the reservation. Also in 1828, Andrew Jackson was elected as President. Two years later Congress passed the Indian Removal Act which required Indians to move west of the Mississippi. In 1832, a treaty was negotiated for the Seminoles to move west if the land was found suitable. The Chiefs that went to Indian Territory to inspect the land on the Creek Reservation and signed a document indicating the land was acceptable, but took their signing back when they got home. The villages along the Apalachicola moved west. Those in the central part of the peninsula did not. In June 1835, an incident occurred between some white settlers and a group of Indians that touched off the next conflict with the Seminoles.

War came in December 1835. Next time we will visit the 2nd and 3rd Seminole Wars and look at some militia records for troops from the panhandle.

Until next time.

Resources

  • Florida Memory.  A great resource for early Florida photographs and maps.  The route of Jackson’s march and the two scenes from the war are from Florida Memory.
  • Florida’s Seminole Wars: 1817-1858 by Joe Knetsch
  • Battle For the Southern Frontier: The Creek War and the War of 1812 by Mike Bunn and Clay Williams
  • Tohopeka: Rethinking the Creek War & the War of 1812 edited by Kathryn E. Holland Braund

My Books For Sell

Yellow River Baptist Church, Oak Grove, Okaloosa Co, FL

1840-1865

By June of 1840, the small settlement of Oak Grove had managed a small but steady community of residents. The 1840 census showed about 377 residents in the general area from what is now 85 N west to what is now known as Blackman and south to what was once known as Peaden Town (see the 21 Nov 2016 post for more info on the two decades from 1840-1860). This area was generally called Oak Grove by the residents, though it was never incorporated as a town. Much of the rich land along the river had been cleared and the vast majority of settlers were yeoman farmers.

But they were missing something key to the cohesion and stability of a community: a church to serve the people that called it home. So on the 14th of June 1840, nine members of the community met with representatives of the Bethlehem Baptist Association from Alabama and formed the Yellow River Baptist Church. The nine community members who were listed as founders were : John Robertson, James Barrow, David Gartman, Elizabeth Stegall, Margaret Weeks, Elizabeth Wood, Mary Wood, Mary Senterfitt, and Nancy Busby. The two elders from the Bethlehem Baptist Association were J. J. Sessions and K. Hawthorn. The church was the result of the missionary work conducted by the Bethlehem Baptist Association in the newly settled Florida panhandle. They would be instrumental in establishing several early baptist churches in Santa Rosa and Escambia Co, FL.

We find a number of long standing surnames from this area of northwest Florida in the first membership list for the church. This membership list was done between 14 June 1840 and 15 December 1840. I know this because my great, great grandmother Martha Senterfitt Barrow is still listed with her maiden name on the list. She married Richmond Barrow on December 15th in Andalusia, AL. Surnames found on this initial membership are: Baker, Busby, Campbell, Caswell, Clary, Dannelly, Devereaux, Gartman, Gordon, Hart, Little, McWilliams, Senterfitt, Stegall, Steele, Stewart, Stokes, Stuckey, Tillery, Turvin, Ward, Williams, and Wilkinson. The ten black members listed were listed by first names but a cross reference to later membership lists that provided surnames for them indicates that they were primarily from the Reuben Hart, Sr. household, with one each from McCaskill, Milligan and Spears households. These black persons were: Jerry [Hart], Tom [McCaskill], Sally [Hart], Charlotte [Hart], Jude [Hart], Mary [Hart], Nancy [Spears], Darky [Hart], Molly [Hart] and Clark [Milligan].

It is unclear if a church building was ever completed during these very early years because the business records don’t mention one. If they didn’t have a separate building, it isn’t clear if they were meeting in someone’s home or in another community building, such as the Masonic building or the schoolhouse. It is clear from the records that the church had access to the schoolhouse during this period because they reference the men retiring to the schoolhouse to discuss financial issues but that would seem to indicate a building separate from the schoolhouse for church services. Some of the early pastors named in the records are: Noah Parker, Daniel Giddings, and John F. Cook. Though some years the church had a regular pastor for a year or two, in other years they were served by circuit riders sent from Bethlehem Baptist Association.

One thing that was clear in the early years of the church was the struggle to discourage the production and use of “ardent spirits”. This likely doesn’t come as a surprise to those of us who have ancestors from the area and have studied the social and cultural trends of the community. Not only was the community one of yeomen farmers, it was a producer of some reputedly fine bootleg. The springs and creeks emanating from the river and the well water in the area were clean and sweet and produced a good quality brew. In February 1859 the church produced a resolution on the use of ardent spirits and reading the business records indicates that drinking and producing led to quite a steady stream of members who were summoned to explain their behavior and depending on their response were sometimes excluded from the church.

In 1860, the church left the Bethlehem Baptist Association and joined the Zion Association. The war would bring a new struggle to the community. I wrote about some of the challenge last year (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) when I shared that I had discovered at least 18 members, or sons of members, who joined the 1st Florida Union Cavalry during 1864. Part of the church’s practice was to keep track of attendance and a visit by appointed members to the non-attendee when the third absence occurred. They tried to maintain that practice during the war but indicated in March of 1864 that it was no longer possible “on account of the war frustrating the people so much”. Interestingly, that was about the only mention of the war in the surviving records. Obviously, they tried to maintain their beliefs and practices and tried to continue a normal life in the turmoil of the war in the panhandle.

Yellow River Church 1917 for poster
From the Crestview newspaper, 1917.  The photo is likely from a few years earlier.  The building appears to be very similar to the schoolhouse that burned in 1923 so the congregation may have gathered there because the new church was being built at the new location.

1865-1916

The church grew after the war and there is mention in 1884 that they built a [new?] church building. This building was likely east of the current location of the church, possibly back near, or next to, what is sometimes referred to as the Old Yellow River Cemetery or the Old Black Cemetery. This old cemetery is directly east of the current church, on private property and in poor condition. I am in the process of researching the cemetery and the names on the few remaining headstones to make some connections and see if some of my hypothesis on this cemetery and the location of the original church can be borne out by some documentation. The property at the current location of the church was purchased in 1891. Just a few years after the church moved to the current location, a cemetery was created behind the new church with the burials of William Coplin King, Jr. and wife Roseda Sawyer King and A. B. Dixon and his wife. We suspect there may be a few other burials in the far back corner of the cemetery and hope to try and confirm or deny that with some work in the next year or so.

It was during this period that Yellow River worked to extend Baptist places of worship and the congregate work of these churches in fellowship.  The business records indicate support for the establishment of Pyron Chapel in 1888 and working closely with Pilgrim’s Rest to advocate for and help initiate the Santa Rosa Baptist Association in 1907.  Within a few years the church would be in the newly formed Okaloosa County.  Newspaper accounts from the middle part of the 20th century indicate they were often the site for activities in the annual meeting of the Okaloosa Baptist Association.

In 1901, a black couple, Isaac H. and Rosilla Harrison, who had purchased acreage from Dugal Stewart that included the community cemetery then known as “Stewart Graveyard”, sold the 4 acres that had been set aside for the cemetery to Yellow River Baptist Church for permanent maintenance as a community cemetery. That has been anything but simple. A family moved into the area in the 1920s that attempted to limit access to the cemetery and allowed their cows to roam in the cemetery, doing much destruction in the process. It seems likely that the disruption to the church that started in 1916 (see below) allowed the loss of institutional memory as the decade wore on. While the church members continued to try and go to the cemetery to clean it up, they seemed to have lost the deed and in time there were few members that knew the church actually owned the cemetery, though the sense of responsibility was still there. The property surrounding the cemetery was bought by its current owner in the early 70s. The situation improved somewhat.  Then in 2016, while doing some work on the church records, I stumbled across a reference to the church owning Stewart Cemetery. Knowing where to go to find the deed and the original purchase of the property from Dugal Stewart, the church now has a certified copy of the deed, a current survey clearly laying out the 4 acres, and have plans to clean it up and put up a fence in the near future.  I suspect there are quite a few ancestor members of the church watching from above that are happy that the erosion of the cemetery will end.

The church records indicate that the period from 12 Mar 1916 until 1938 was another period of great struggle. The church did not have a regular pastor and the keeping of records ceased. It is unclear what happened though two wars and the Great Depression, and the subsequent migrations away from the area looking for work, may have contributed to the break.  From memories of some who lived through parts of this period, the members continued to gather and sing on occasion and maintained the annual homecoming celebration. But in 1938, William Franklin King, John Jesse Barrow, Jr. and Earl H. Merritt, pastor, reorganized the church and affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

1938 to the Present

There have been at least three church buildings at the present location. The first one built in the first decade of the 20th century. This building was two story and the top story housed the school after the schoolhouse burned down in 1923. William Franklin King was the schoolteacher during this period until the school for the area was established by the State of Florida in Blackman. When the church reorganized in 1938 the top floor was removed and the first floor was the church until June 1960 when a new church building was finished.  This is the church I remember the most.  I attended Vacation Bible School there one summer, attended services when we were visiting and said goodbye to my grandfather for the last time.  This is the church that was burned by an arsonist in 1982. The current church was built soon afterward.

The church has seen the establishment of the State of Florida, multiple changes in the county they are located in (Walton, Santa Rosa, and Okaloosa), the War for Southern Independence, WWI, the Great Depression and WWII. Through it all it has worked to be a steadfast presence in the community; a place to worship, a place to learn, a place to vote and a place to gather in fellowship. It is one of the earliest Baptist churches in the northwest Florida panhandle. It appears to be the third oldest in the panhandle, but only one of those, First Baptist Church of Campbellton/Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church in Campbellton is still active. After Yellow River lost its pastor in 2015, Alton Nixon took on the role of pastor and the church has been growing again.

On the second Sunday each year, the church celebrates homecoming.  This year that will be 11 Jun 2017.  This will be the church’s 177th year in service to the community. For me, it is a direct connection to my family’s past. Many of my maternal ancestors attended the church and Mary Faircloth Senterfitt, wife of Jesse Senterfitt, was one of the founding members. As I drive up Yellow River Baptist Church road, I feel the pull of history and the voices of my ancestors in the whispering of the pines. It is a profound sense that often takes my breathe away for a moment.  My Mom became a member of the church at age 9 and was baptized in the river in the same year. She has never felt she was a member anywhere else. It has become difficult for us to make the trip every Sunday but homecoming is a time we don’t miss. Good fellowship and good food.

I invite anyone with ancestors who helped settle northern Okaloosa County to come join us on the 11th at 10:30 am. You will be welcomed with love.

Until next time.

Resources

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The Great Depression: The Experiences of Samuel and Nealie Bell Nichols Marsh

Researching to Tell A Story

I am an advocate for doing an expansive form of family history. Not just researching, documenting and identifying your direct ancestors, but researching and identifying all of the family of your direct ancestors AND researching and understanding the historical patterns that they likely experienced and how they may have reacted to those patterns. It not only makes the genealogy more interesting and meaningful, it sometimes leads to understanding history better and/or an individual in your tree in a way that heals. An example of that for me was my Dad’s Marsh line.

GPaNanadaddy
Sam and Lois Brett Marsh with son Franklin, early 1927

My Grandfather’s Death

For many years I did not know much about my Dad’s family. He was an only child and lost his father five months after he was born. It was a freak accident. My grandfather, Samuel “Sam” Duncan Marsh, worked as an auto mechanic at Solomon Motors in Bonifay and he and two other men were called on to help pull a Lincoln out of the ditch.  It had skidded off Old Spanish Trail Highway at the bridge over the Choctawhatchee River during a rainstorm. After one unsuccessful attempt my grandfather drove the tractor down onto a flat area in the hopes of pulling the car to a better place to haul it back onto the road. The tractor became mired in the mud and after a hard pull the tractor reared up, flipped backwards and pinned my grandfather under it. It took a while for them to remove the tractor but it was obvious he had died instantly. He was crushed. My Dad and his mother left Bonifay not long afterwards, first moving in with his paternal grandparents, Samuel B. and Cornelia “Nealie” Bell Nichols Marsh (see photo at top) and then on to Columbus, Georgia as the nation inched toward World War II.

My Early Efforts to Research the Marsh Family

As I mentioned in a previous post, when my Dad got the family photos from his mother after she died, he tried to go through them and put names on the backs of the photos so I would know who they were. I had already developed an interest in genealogy and in the late 70s I interviewed a number of his cousins, aunts and uncles. Unfortunately, what I knew about what to ask and how to ask it could have been put in a thimble but I still have those pages of fading scribbles. Frankly, I was overwhelmed. A lot of names were thrown at me and sometimes the narrative was anything but helpful in figuring out who we were talking about and I had no clue how to structure the talk so I could make more sense of it. And like many families there were way too many Johns, Williams and Samuels. The stories were sometimes larger than life and frankly not borne out by facts later on. And that led to some wild goose chases until I figured out to just follow the evidence, not the family story. The material was so fragmented, I quickly decided my Mom’s family would be easier.

Over the years I have sat down and intensely tackled my Dad’s Marsh line about four times. Each time has been productive and pushed the family back, out and down. The last time started earlier this year. I had access to new resources and had made contact with a couple of cousins. It was time to really get to know my Dad’s aunts and uncles, at least from the documentation they left behind.

Samuel Benjamin and Nealie Bell Nichols Marsh

My Dad’s grandparents were Samuel Benjamin Marsh and Cornelia “Nealie” Bell Nichols Marsh. Samuel was the son of Andrew Jackson Marsh and Martha Elizabeth Revell (Revel, Revels). He and his wife and oldest daughter moved to Pike Co, Alabama from South Carolina a few years after the Civil War. Given the number of Revell families in the area it appears some of Martha’s relatives may have already settled in southeastern Alabama but I’ve not connected them yet. Samuel Benjamin was their first child born in Alabama. Nealie Bell was the daughter of James E. and Sarah Ann Brunson Nichols. Both of her parents were born in Randolph Co, Georgia and moved with their families to Dale Co, Alabama before the Civil War. James owned and operated a grist mill somewhere on Nichols Mill Rd; a location I am determined to find one day. Samuel and Nealie Bell were married in May 1890 in Enterprise, Coffee Co, Alabama by one of James’ half-brothers.

Samuel and Nealie Bell had ten known children in all, nine boys and one girl. There are gaps in the births and I know there were at least two infants that did not survive the first few years. One died between 1890 and 1900 according to the 1900 census and another died between 1900 and 1910 according to the 1910 census.  But those that reached adulthood were as follows: Claude H., born in 1893 in Coffee Co, AL and died in 1977 in Hillsborough Co, FL; James Andrew, born in 1894 in Coffee Co, AL and died in Hernando Co, FL in 1978; William Lura (or Lure), born 1899 in Coffee Co, AL and died in 1977 in Panama City, Bay Co, FL; Samuel Duncan born in 1902 in Coffee Co, AL and died in 1927 in Bonifay, Holmes Co, FL; Charles W., born in 1906 in Alabama and died in 1996 in Orlando, Orange Co, FL; Albert Olin, born about 1909 in Alabama and died in 1930 in Houston Co, AL; Versie Mae, born in 1910 in Alabama and died in 1984 in Panama City, Bay Co, FL; David Snider, born in 1913 in Alabama and died in 1944 in Orange Co, FL; James Edward, born in 1914 in Alabama and died in 1970 in Orlando, Orange Co, FL and Euell born in 1918 in Alabama and died in 1943 in Asheville, Buncombe Co, NC.

The Great Depression’s Impact on the Marsh Family

Samuel and Nealie Bell made the move to Florida sometime between 1930 and 1935. The 1920 and 1930 censuses tell me that Samuel rented the land he farmed in Alabama. That likely means he was a tenant farmer. The boll weevil hit Alabama around 1910 and had infested the entire state by 1916. It devastated cotton fields. Being a tenant farmer was a tenuous endeavor at best so it isn’t surprising that many gave up and moved. The Marsh family seems to have held out for a while but maybe the death of Samuel Duncan in 1927 and Albert Olin in 1930 made moving seem to be a good re-start. At a larger perspective the Depression was in full swing by this point. Hunger was everywhere in the nation and particularly bad in areas of the South. Moving if you weren’t tied to the land, and sometimes even if you were, was an option exercised by many families as they tried to cope and survive. It was a glimmer of hope where there was little.

Nearly the entire family moved to Florida during this time period except for Versie Mae and her husband Oren Stewart who did not move south until a bit later in the 1930s. Though Florida’s land boom and subsequent crash had already occurred, starting over somewhere else with milder weather and migrant farm work, lumber or turpentine work,  or work as a driver for an orange grower seemed a good choice. Samuel B. did have a brother already in south-central Florida, which might have made the move a bit less traumatic. But three of the children just crossed the border into the Florida panhandle: my grandfather Sam, William and Versie Mae. And in time my great-grandparents moved to the panhandle.

But there is another important point to this blog and the importance of doing whole family research and not just “up your line”. If you look at the death dates you will notice that four of the boys died young. My grandfather Sam who was 25 when he died, Albert Olin who was around 21 when he died (accidentally shot by a discharging rifle while fishing.  Shot him in the leg but by the time they got him to a doctor, he lost his leg, then his life.), David Snider who was 31 when he died and Euell who survived two years in the Army and then died in what I believe was a trucking accident when he was 25. David’s death is a mystery but had to be devastating to his parents. He was married with two small children, both of whom died within a short time of each other then a year or so later both David and his wife died within a few days of each other. I’m still trying to find someone or some newspaper account to put the story together.

Genealogy (and History) as Healer

I remember when I was young that my Dad would say that he knew he would die young. He was fatalistic at times and that led to poor decision-making. He struggled against this tendency but was never completely successful. My mother and I both thought it was because of his Dad’s accident. He grieved for a man who he had not known. But once I really researched the family I could see how he may have thought the Marsh men were likely as not to die young. Now I don’t believe in curses but I do believe that children can be impacted by the family culture that surrounds them and that can be impacted by unresolved grief and stress.  When I started doing genealogy I found the little information I had on both sides of my Dad’s lines was spotty and doctored, both unintentionally and intentionally. But I did decide that getting to know them, one step at a time, regardless of what I found, would help me to understand my Dad and myself. I was right.

The destruction of South Carolina during the Civil War likely led to Andrew Jackson and Martha Elizabeth Revell Marsh leaving South Carolina for southeastern Alabama a few years after the war was over. For some of their sons, the move to Florida was likely facilitated by the economic conditions that led to, and exacerbated, the Great Depression. The Marsh family boys were farmers and then worked as truckers or mechanics as they made the transition to salaried jobs. World War II saw two of Samuel and Nealie Bell’s sons serve and survive the war for one of them to die soon after in an accident. This was a hard period in American history for families to stay connected and together.

Samuel and Nealie Bell moved from the Orlando area to Panama City in 1943. Again, maybe encouraged by the deaths of two more sons and a desire to be near their only daughter in their old age. By this time they had buried 5 of their 12 children and another would die within a few months.  Samuel died four years later and Nealie Bell died six days after I was born in 1951. But I have a better understanding of how they tried to keep their family together during this period in American history and a few glimpses into the trauma they experienced in the early part of the 20th century and how that may have impacted my father.

Until next time

Resources

  • Remembering the Great Depression in the Rural South by Kenneth J. Bindas
  • The Great Depression: America 1929-1941 by Robert S. McElvaine
  • The Great Crash 1929 by John Kenneth Galbraith
  • Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: The American Classic, in Words and Photographs, of Three Tenant Farmers in the Deep South by Walker Evans and James Agee

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World War I: A Introduction to the War and Researching Florida Ancestors Who May Have Served

Enlistees off to war

I find researching my Florida (and those in other states) ancestors in the various U.S. wars to be rewarding. These are major events in our ancestors’ lives, whether they served or not and the events they may have experienced can be fascinating whether on the battlefield or the home front. For the most part only two U.S. wars get much genealogical attention: the Civil War and World War II, with the Revolutionary War a good third in the running, probably because it is harder to get back to that point. In this post, I want to talk about World War I and how that war impacted our ancestors in the panhandle and surrounding locations.

On April the 6th of this year we reached the 100th anniversary of the United States entrance into World War I. While most Americans know a bit more about World War II, it really was our relatively brief fighting in the First World War that created the transition point between the American society of the 19th century and our modern society. It was in many ways the catalyst for the Great Influenza Pandemic, the rise and collapse of the 1920s Florida Land Boom, the Great Depression, the eventual right to vote for women and WWII. And it really introduced “modern” warfare with all of its horrors.

If you’ve tried to research your ancestors in the era of WWI military records online, you’ve probably been a bit frustrated. Records are not plentiful. If you get beyond the draft registrations available at both Ancestry.com and Fold3.com, you may find it harder to determine if someone actually served. If your family has maintained the knowledge of an ancestor’s service in WWI that is great. And if you have memorabilia left by a serviceman to his future descendants that is even better.  This blog may help you put that service in a bit more context. If your family didn’t maintain the information of service, hopefully this blog will help you understand the period and find a way forward.

The period leading up to World War I was incredibly interesting. The Gilded Age (sometimes referred to as the Victorian Era), or the last couple of decades of the 19th century, were a time of massive innovation, change and industrial growth. The names we often associate with industry come from this period: John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, Henry Flagler and Cornelius Vanderbilt. But it was also a time of great challenge. Very much like today, the wealthy were getting a lot wealthier and the average person seemed to be standing in place or worse, sliding backwards. This led to many people joining organizations like the Southern Farmers’ Alliance and the People’s Party. When I received the scanned copies of Yellow River Baptist Church’s early records from Baker Block Museum there were 65 pages of minutes from a local organization entitled the Bethel Sub-Alliance. I’ve not yet had time to transcribe them but I believe they may be a local group associated with the Southern Farmer’s Alliance. There is a membership list (with some overlap with the church) that seems to include both men and women from the Oak Grove and Laurel Hill area. Stay tuned for more later in the year.

Farming was getting much harder. The economic system in the South was hard on farmers.  Landed small farmers were especially squeezed and only slightly better off than tenant farmers, who accounted for a significant percentage of both black and white farmers in the South. Weather and insects also challenged the farmers in keeping their families together, fed and on their farms. The system often caught farmers in a spiral of debt that eventually led to loosing their farms. Those that left the farm to work, found long hours, difficult conditions and low pay.  It was tough and the average person became angrier as the 20th century arrived. The Panic of 1907 led to even more hardship. The country was already in a recession and the bank and stock market panic set off a wave of bank and business bankruptcies. The recovery was partially assisted by the U.S. role in supplying arms to the Allies in Europe.  The Allies were fighting in opposition to the Central Powers.  The war had erupted over a complex set of relationships and an assassination on 28 June 1914.

The U.S. managed to stay out of the war until 6 April 1917. Woodrow Wilson, who was then President, cited as causes to enter the war Germany’s violation of the pledge it had made to stop unrestricted submarine warfare in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic and its efforts to bring Mexico into the war against the U.S (This later is a fascinating piece of history few know much about – See Resources). Once in, the U.S. mobilized its troops under General John J. Pershing on 5 July 1917. World War I saw massive trench warfare, the use of biplanes, the use of tanks and the use of chemical weapons by both sides. The men who returned home after the war had many scars that were not readily recognized due to the trauma of the war. At home near the end of the war, the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 ravaged the countryside and military camps.  I have visited a number of old cemeteries in the panhandle where there are more than a few deaths in 1918 that always leave me wondering if it was the flu that took them, especially if they are children.

Florida Soldiers Leaving New York
Floridian Soldiers Ready to Ship Out of New York, 1918

According to Florida Memory, at the U.S. entrance into WWI, Florida had a population of 925,641 inhabitants. Like in the Civil War, it was a thinly populated state. But it was a great place for military training and a number of our military installations got their beginnings during this period, including the Naval Air Station in Pensacola. Florida Memory indicates that a total of 42,000 Floridians served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy or Coast Guard during the war (No Air Force yet).

The draft was widespread and all men were required to register for the draft so that should be the first place you start looking for records if you have a male ancestor that is between 21 and 31 during 1917-1918. Both Ancestry.com and Fold3.com have draft registrations available. Registering did not mean you were drafted. If men were married with a family they were not as likely to be called up, though it certainly occurred. My grandfather, Jesse Barrow was called up at the end of the war and thankfully the Armistice occurred before he had to report. So, the second thing you need to do is determine if your ancestor actually served. If your ancestor was in Florida at the time, Florida Memory provides access to service cards for the men who served from Florida. If you aren’t sure what branch of service he might have been in or you have a number of men to search in one family, just type in the surname and then go through the results. Another source of information at Florida Memory is the County Guard Commissions, 1917-1919. Northwest Florida counties with active County Guard units during the war were: Escambia, Franklin and Jackson.

BarrowJohnJWWIDraftRegistration
Draft registration for my grandfather, Jesse Barrow

Ordering service records for WWI can be a challenge. Many Army records were lost in a fire in the early 70s, as were records from some of the other branches. A number of good WWI resources can be found at the National Archives.  See below for link.

If you haven’t done so already, I hope this article has encouraged you to research your ancestors (and their brothers) for World War I service. While for the U.S. it did not last as long as World War II and it isn’t generally talked about as much as the 2nd, it was one in which a number of our Florida panhandle ancestors served. Perhaps more importantly, it was a major turning point for the country. We were slightly less isolationist after the war, technology was developing rapidly, relationships between men and women were changing and we were entering the period before the Great Depression.

Until next time when I will introduce one of my family lines that struggled and survived through the Great Depression and World War II.

Resources

  1. Florida Memory, a great resource for Floridians.
  2. The Great War, You Tube series of weekly videos from the beginning of the war through the end.  My only complaint is the guy narrating is a fast talker.
  3. Center for Military History: General Resources: Series and Collections.  If you are interested in Army history, regardless of the war, this is a good place for information, some of which is free to download.  In terms of WWI, good resources here are Order of Battle of the United States Land Forces in the World War and WWI Commemorative Brochures.
  4. National Archives: World War I Centennial
  5. Wikipedia: The Zimmerman Telegram
  6. National Archives: The Zimmerman Telegram
  7. The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman
  8. The First World War by John Keegan

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Bertha Alma King Barrow, 1897-1981

King and Barrow Family 1924/25

Recently, my maternal grandmother has been on my mind a lot. As I mentioned in the previous post, I made contact with a cousin who has sent me some wonderful photographs (see photo at top and names under Resources below) and quite a few letters from my grandmother to her youngest sister from 1959 through the early 1960s. This was a difficult time for my grandmother. She was having a lot of health problems and both her older brothers, twins William and Allen, died and the family had to sell her parent’s large land holdings in northern Okaloosa County and divide up the materials of their parents’ lives. That did not always go smoothly, as sometimes happens with families.

And then in March, I was putting a picture at the back of the fireplace mantle in my office and gently moved my Grandmother’s mantle clock forward and it started ticking and struck the half hour a few minutes later. We were dumbstruck (it is a bit over a hundred years old and hasn’t worked in years) and motivated to get it cleaned and purchase a key to keep it wound and striking. I heard that clock strike thousands of times in my childhood. I suspect it is the reason I love old mechanical striking clocks. They bring back that sense of warmth, safety and peace I always felt when I was with my grandparents. So, she’s been speaking to me lately and I decided to share her with everyone else. Her parents were highlighted in the 24 October 2016 blog, one set of her maternal great-grandparents were highlighted in the 10 October 2016 blog and her children were highlighted in the 7 November 2016 blog.  Grandmama was descended from two sets of Florida pioneers Reuben and Nancy Ann Rigdon Hart and Wright Harrel and Mary Sweat Gaskin.  But this story is about her.

My grandfather loved to tell the story of his time at Madison Normal College and how he pined for Alma King and worried about her being spirited away by some other man while he was off getting his teaching certification. He always described her as “the prettiest girl in Okaloosa County” with long, coal-black hair and blue eyes. After one term, he had worried long enough and hitched a ride back home riding on the back of a truck, asked her to marry him and they eloped. That was because her parents didn’t approve of my Grandfather. They settled back in Oak Grove and started their family. As hard as things were from 1914 until I met her in 1955, she managed to raise eight children to adulthood even through the Depression with its hunger and constant bouts of malaria that afflicted several of her children.  And through it all she kept her grace, her soft voice, and her sense of humor.

I first met Grandmama in 1955 after we had lived in Ohio for a couple of years. I’m not sure why I was so excited to meet her but I’m told I popped up and down in the back of the car asking if we were there yet all the way across Highway 2. As the years went by I learned how much further to my Grandparents’ by the houses and the bridge over Yellow River but in 1955 it was all new to me and I was ready to be there. We drove up the steep incline to the front of their house and parked the old Packard. I still remember seeing her jogging toward the car with her ever present apron waving up and down in her hands. I knew that was my Grandmama without anyone telling me. On that same trip, a few days later, she took me out to the chicken yard with her to gather eggs. She showed me how to reach under the hen and pull out the egg and then encouraged me to do the same with the next hen. Out came egg in hand. I was so excited I threw it into her apron where there were already a number of eggs. Nearly all broke. She just laughed, cleaned off her apron, gathered the rest of the eggs and once back in the house shared the story, smiling at me the whole time. I didn’t understand why the smiling and laughing but I knew I loved her face when she smiled.

I usually spent some part of every summer with both sets of Grandparents but in the early 60s, I spent most of a summer with my mother’s parents. My Dad was traveling a lot and mother worked the evening shift so it was thought it would be better for me to spend the entire summer away. I remember staying with my Grandparents and two of my aunts during most of that summer. I had spent several days with Aunt Marie and Grandmama had walked down to get me and bring me back home. At the time Aunt Marie and Uncle James lived on the east side of the river in a large house with a porch on all four sides. We were walking back and had just started over the bridge when Grandmama put her hand on my shoulder and told me to stop. She instructed me to stand perfectly still and she moved forward with her ever-present cane out in front of her and approached what I found out later was a large rattlesnake. She got up to him and as fast as lightening she pushed her cane under him and flipped him off the bridge. Later I found out she could smell rattlesnakes and though she tried to explain to me what they smelled like, the skill was obviously not in my wheelhouse.

Like most adolescents and teens, I thought my parents were mean because they wouldn’t let me do everything I wanted. Grandmama had such a gentle way of listening and then providing coaching. Some time in my early years I labeled our times on the porch as “yakkety-yakking” and she would suggest going outside to yakkety-yak when she thought I needed to talk and rearrange my thought process. She also used a Jedi-mind trick whenever you needed a splinter out of your hand or foot. She would tell you to think of something green and tell her about it and while you were busy describing it, out came the splinter and you were back to 100%. No pain, no fuss.  Or at least that’s how I remember it.

On one of my summer vacations there, one of my cousins had a new B B gun and he and another cousin and I (we were the terrible trio, but that’s another set of stories) went out looking for anything to shoot at. We took turns shooting at both animate and inanimate things until I aimed at a bird that was way off in a tree and pulled the trigger. Down came the bird. We run to it and found it alive but badly injured. I picked it up and run back to the house, crying the whole way. I thought Grandmama would be really angry because she loved birds of all kinds, but I also figured she could heal it because she seemed to do that with our bumps, bruises and splinters. She looked at the little bird and told me there was nothing she could do. My punishment was to sit on the back steps and hold the bird until it died. I did, sobbing and asking the bird to just fly away. It didn’t, and I learned a good lesson. Don’t do something unless you are willing to suffer the consequences, whatever they might be. And thinking through the consequences before doing something allows you to back away before you get burned badly.

I grew up and after a brief period working, I went off to be in the Army during Vietnam. When I got out I immediately started college, first in Panama City and then after giving it a lot of thought, to the relatively new University of West Florida. I wanted to be near my Grandparents so I could spent more time with them. I spent nearly every weekend there, studying at the kitchen counter, sitting on the porch in the afternoons and yakkety-yakking with both of them. We discussed politics, farming, the environment, health and anything else that would come up. It was an extraordinary 18 months that I would not trade for anything because the year after I graduated Granddaddy died and Grandmama left this world for one that only existed in her head. She was younger, her kids were children and Granddaddy was away on a job and would be home soon.  She could not bear to be without him after 64 years of marriage.

In the three years between their respective passings, Grandmama slowly failed in health. She fell again, re-fracturing the hip that she had broken a few years before. It was too fragile to re-pin and she was now permanently in bed. She reached the point that she refused to eat; she was ready to leave. For a while the hospital fed her intravenously. She no longer knew any of us. Mama was “that sweet red-haired lady”. On the morning she passed away, she seemed more alert than usual. She asked if she could wash her hair, “because Jesse was coming to get her”. Her daughters that were there helped her bathe and wash her hair then she laid back and announced she was going to rest. Mama and her sisters had already told the hospital not to respond but to let her go this time. The four sisters circled the bed and prayed and soon Granddaddy did come and get her and take her to a place where she could be at peace and with him forever more.  Mama, who is not one much for hyperbole, says even though the window was closed there was a sudden feeling of a cool breeze just before Grandmama was gone.  My guardian angel looks amazing like Grandmama and when I smell lavender (her favorite color and fragrance and mine as well) I am carried back in time to the porch swing and our talks.

I have so many memories of my grandparents, I could probably write a book of stories they told me or I experienced with them.  Some are allegories, like the story of the bird above, and some are just fun memories like the time I was going to write down Grandmama’s recipe for biscuits.  For any of you that didn’t have a biscuit-maker from this generation in your family; there was no recipe.  The biscuits were made using hand memory and just knowing and were the best darn biscuits you could eat.  My effort to turn her biscuits into a recipe was frustrating for me and humorous for her.

I am always saddened when I see young people who don’t have an opportunity to get to know their grandparents because they live so far away, or the family is fractured in some way, or they passed early. My Grandparents were an important part of my formative years. The life lessons, the laughter, and the tears. They were a blessing worth so much to me.

Until next time.

Resources

  1. Title Photograph – a recent addition from a newly found cousin.  Woman sitting in the middle holding the baby is my Grandmama.  From left to right in back row – Lucille Barrow (daughter of Alma), Ovella King (sister of Alma), Miles King (brother of Alma) and Estelle King (sister of Alma).  From left to right in front – Marie Barrow (daughter of Alma), Alma with daughter Wylene, Roberta Barrow (daughter of Alma).  Based on clothes and ages of the children this was likely taken in the Fall of 1924 or the Spring of 1925.
  2. Barrow-King Family History by Sharon D. Marsh, 2016.

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