Approaching the Coming Crisis: 1840-1860 in the NW Florida community of Oak Grove

Our little side journey meeting some of my ancestors has for the moment ended. Let’s return to Oak Grove, Okaloosa Co, FL in the decades of the 1840s and 1850s. In the last post on Oak Grove we left the area with the 1840 census. I listed 51 households from the 1840 census that I believe composed the majority of households in Oak Grove at the time.  Unfortunately, census takers did not take my needs into consideration when they wandered up and down those dusty trails, so I am likely not absolutely accurate but just pretty close.

The 1840s were very important for all of Florida. It was the decade in which the early settlers of northwest Florida and the rest of the territory would vote to become a state. The Second Seminole War had occurred in 1835 (see link below for a company from Oak Grove) and was finally ended in 1842 by declaration of the government without any real resolution of the problems. In 1838, 20 counties in Florida sent representatives to St. Joseph’s to draft a Constitution in anticipation of the results of the vote for statehood that would occur in 1845. Walton County, in which Oak Grove resided, had 6 precincts voting in 1845 – Precinct #1 (Florida Memory – Precinct #1), Almirante (see resources), Green’s Mills (Florida Memory – Green’s Mill), Kinsant’s (Florida Memory – Kinsant’s), Stephen Turner’s House (Florida Memory – Stephen Turner’s House) and E. Ward’s House (see resources).

Almirante, as previously discussed, was a sister community of Oak Grove’s. It was situated on the east side of the Yellow River and Oak Grove was on the west side of the river. The post office was in Almirante and the voting in 1845 took place at the house of Daniel A. Wilkinson. The names we see on this voting record are familiar at this point: Steagall, Baggett, Ward, Hart, Gertman/Girtman/Gartman, Campbell, Stokes, Gaskins, Steele, Barrow, Fuqua, Senterfitt, Clary and many others that came and went through the years. The Ward House location was Precinct 7’s election site. I am not sure where the house was located but I doubt it was far from Oak Grove since a good number of those listed at the precinct were members of Yellow River Baptist Church and included the schoolteacher for the area.


When we move to the 1850 census we begin to see the structures of a community. There is a schoolteacher; though going through the census I was challenged to find a child in Oak Grove who was listed as having attended school within the year. Maybe the schoolhouse was a bit too far for the Oak Grove children. There was also a miller, Richmond Barrow, and a carpenter, James Stewart. Pretty much everyone else was a farmer with a laborer and a seaman for a bit of diversity. The 1850 census provides us with about 69 households; an addition of 18 over the prior census.

Only nine households held enslaved persons: Christian Campbell held 1 woman and 3 children; William McWilliams held 1 woman and 4 children; David Gartman held an adult man and 3 adult women, a teenage male and 2 children; Lewis(Louis) Baggett held 1 man and 1 young woman; Edmond Baggett held 1 woman; Nicholas Baggett held 1 man and 1 woman and 4 children; Wright Gaskins held 1 man and 1 woman, 1 young woman and 4 children; John Ray held 1 female child; and finally Josiah Stokes held 2 adult women and 6 children. There was no indication of either free persons of color or of Native Americans.

The Barrow homestead likely built sometime around 1850 in Oak Grove and moved to Laurel Hill in the late 20th century.

The decade of the 1850s saw Oak Grove remain stable with about the same number of households and the same number of individuals. By the 1860 census, there were 61 households and 382 white residents and 63 enslaved persons in 12 households and 1 free black resident. John B. Meigs appears to have still been the schoolteacher for the area and in this census we actually have students from Oak Grove. There were 28 children listed in the households of Oak Grove who attended school the previous year though I doubt that was even half the children in the community. Occupations included ox driver, mechanic, overseer, laborer, farm laborer, blacksmith, medical doctor, miller, logger/log-getter, and farmer.  Interestingly, few of the adult residents were listed as unable to read or write and most of those were over 50.

For those of us familiar with Oak Grove and the families who have been there for a long time, the 1860 census begins to read like a who’s who of Oak Grove: the Baggetts -Alexander, Henry and Ezekiel; Richmond Barrow; the Campbells – Charles and Malcolm; the Gaskins – James and Seth; the Harts – Reuben Jr, Daniel, Joshua and Littleton; Stephen Milligan; Samuel Peaden; the Smiths – Archibald and Samuel; the Steeles – Henry and Robert; Dugald Stewart; the Turners – James W, Thomas and William; and the Wilkinsons – Joseph S. and William.

Another source of excellent information about early settlers is the BLM GLO Records of land purchased directly from the Federal government between 1843 and 1860.  I am in the process of mapping these land purchases in Oak Grove.  But even without a map we see many of the same surnames: Alsobrook, Baggett, Barrow, Campbell, Clary, Cook, Gaskins, Hart, Dixon, Gartman, Horne, Senterfitt, Stewart, Turner, and Ward in Township 5 and 6 N and Range 23 W.  Mapping these purchases will take a while and I will be adding the remaining areas I mentioned in my original post introducing Oak Grove but I expect it will provide an excellent visual of this early community.

The year 1860 was not unlike our current period in the general unrest in the citizenry throughout the country. The issue of enslaved persons in the territories, the fugitive slave law enforcement and the growing outcry over the moral issue surrounding holding enslaved persons continued to drive a wedge between the north and south. In a previous post I provided the names of 18 men who were members of Yellow River Baptist Church (or their parents were) and who served with the 1st Florida Cavalry Union Volunteers in Pensacola during the War and in a following post I added one more. If we compare that list to the households identified as being in or near the border of Oak Grove in 1860 we find an additional 14 men in this community who did not attend the church and neither did their parents but they did join the 1st Florida Cavalry Union. That’s a total of 33 men from this area of northern Santa Rosa County (northern Okaloosa today). There was a total of 58 men identified from Santa Rosa County who served with the 1st Florida Cavalry Union Volunteers which means that 57% of the men from Santa Rosa County who served with this Union regiment were from this area of the county. I suspect that when I can figure out how many of the men from Walton County were from the northern part of the county I will have identified a significant portion of the men who served with the Union from northwest Florida. I also suspect that a significant percentage of men from Covington, Coffee and Dale in Alabama will be in the southern most parts of those counties. It would be fair to say that this area of northern Santa Rosa and Walton and the southern portions of Covington, Coffee and Dale had a strong Unionist sentiment during the Civil War or a whole lot of men who just weren’t interested in fighting for (or continuing to fight for) the Confederacy, regardless of the reason. Stay tuned for more on this subject and a return to Oak Grove in the late 19th and early 20th century.

It is time to leave Oak Grove for a while. I think it would be fun to look at some of the food and cooking choices of our ancestors in the panhandle. The posts in December will celebrate food and its many roles in our lives.  This is appropriate since Thanksgiving and Christmas are the two times of the year most of us give ourselves permission to over indulge and hopefully enjoy family and friendship. We will look at food in general, some early recipes and talk about what foods would have been on the tables for the holidays in northwest Florida. Until next time.


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5 thoughts on “Approaching the Coming Crisis: 1840-1860 in the NW Florida community of Oak Grove

  1. Just ran across your blog today while re-addressing my McDavid ancestors. Thoroughly enjoyed the Oak Grove series and have subscribed for more. I have, for some time, been stymied in my efforts to find primary documentation that my ancestor, David A. McDavid (a signatory to the 1839 petition, I believe), was the son of John Allen McDavid. The circumstantial evidence is there, but not a primary document, probably due to the early court house fires. If I could link David to his presumed brother, Richmond T. (he appears in your table of land owners by 1848) that would do the trick, too. Perhaps if you know of a fellow genealogist who is working on the McDavid’s, you could put me in touch. Meanwhile, I will be looking forward to your posts.


    • So good to hear from you. As far as I know I’ve not run across any McDavid researchers but I will keep my ears open and let you know if I find one. I’ll look through some of my research and if I see something or have an idea, I’ll email you. Thanks for subscribing.


  2. Pingback: Clyde Barrow’s Connection to Northwest Florida – Northwest Florida History

  3. Pingback: Reuben Hart: FL/AL Pioneer, Slaveholder & Enigma – Northwest Florida History

  4. Pingback: Updates and Links to My Posts on Oak Grove in Okaloosa County, FL | Northwest Florida History & Genealogy

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