In this unpublished reminiscence, the artist James Calvert Smith (1879-1962)
recalls his early life in Alachua County. Born at Tacoma, Florida,
a few miles west of Micanopy, Smith showed an early talent for sketching.
One of his first drawings was a pencil sketch of Apache Indians at the
old fort in St. Augustine, which he made when he was seven years old.
Until his teens, Smith seems to have been destined for a life in the citrus
growing business, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
However, during the trauma of the Big Freeze of 1895, which ruined many
orange growers in Alachua County, he decided to pursue a career as a commercial
artist. This path soon led him to success as a political cartoonist
and illustrator, and during a long career he contributed works to Life
and Harpers and produced covers for the Saturday Evening Post.
His recollections about Micanopy and Alachua County are exactly that--memories,
and not history. As an ethnography of the past, Smith is a problematic
informant. On the one hand, he keeps his promise to describe the
"troubles and pleasures" of the 1890s in rural Florida. He takes
us on an alligator hunt, remembers the slaughter of egrets during the plume
trade, and leaves us, both in pictures and words, images of the orange
packing houses and sugar mills that dotted the countryside.
On the other hand, many of his recollections speak only to the racial prejudices
of his era. His account is peppered with allusions about the black
community around Micanopy and almost all of his comments are derogatory
or colored by stereotyping. Far from containing any valid ethnographic
observations, almost nothing can be gleaned from his depictions of African-American
life. He does recall that one black man, imprisoned in the local
jail at Micanopy, lost his life when the prison caught fire and burned.
In other passages he records instances of white intimidation: the
disappearance of a black railroad worker, presumed murdered, and the case
of one of his father's workers, who had to flee Tacoma to avoid a lynch
mob. These passages, excerpted from the narrative, have been appended
to the end of the current text, under the subtitle "Racial Violence."
This online version of Micanopy is abridged and comprises about
50 percent of the full text. The original handwritten version, along
with a 40-page typescript copy, is on file at the P.K. Yonge Library of
Florida History, University of Florida, where it is available for those
who want to read it in full. In editing the work, I have remained
as faithful as possible to Smith's written voice, although I have had to
emend punctuation and eliminate redundant passages to simplify narration.
The second half of the account, which deals with St. Augustine, has not
been reproduced here, and the acknowledgements, originally included in
the preface, have been moved to the end. Editorial additions are set off
My grandfather came to Florida in the fall of 1876. At this time people
from the northern and southern states were interested, as he was, in the
central part of the state, for it was there the orange had commenced to
make a reputation. They came because there was money to be made from this
golden fruit and the climate would be kind to them. Many were interested
throughout the United States, but there was so little information, except
by word of mouth or letter regarding this new industry (it was a rapidly
increasing and lucrative business) that many wanted more information on
raising oranges. When grandfather left Cortland, N.Y. to buy land and start
an orange grove, he agreed to write letters for publication in his home
paper on this new industry, giving information, spiced with human interest
touches here and there, on how and what to do to start a grove, [and] what
to bring to the state which could not be purchased in Florida. There were
eleven of these printed letters--each over a column long--which I have
given to the Florida State Museum for future reference. [They are now part
of the manuscript collection in the P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History].
These letters were written in a one room log cabin under a huge oak tree
in the fall and spring of 1876-1877 in a little hamlet [Tacoma] three miles
west of Micanopy where he was clearing and planting a forty acre grove.
It is my desire to continue these letters in a way where they concluded
sixty five years ago, weaving history with human interest, putting on paper
what some of the old timers have told me of Micanopy and the country round
about, where the sweet oranges grew wild among the hammock trees, then
planting the seed in cleared land, later using budded trees for a quicker
bearing grove [see "Micanopy and Vicinity"]. Also the following pages will tell of the people, how they
lived their troubles and pleasures. Also this writing will include St.
Augustine and Daytona from 1884 to 1900, the summer resorts of the people
from the interior of the state. The year 1900 would conclude my efforts
as a recorder of the life and industry of the people I grew up among. At
the turn of the century the glory of our part of Florida had been dimmed
by the "Big Freeze" of 1894-1895. By 1900 the orange growing was flickering
out with us but brightening south of the frost line.
[The Beginnings of Orange Culture]
Micanopy, one of the oldest trading posts in the state, was named after
Chief Micanope. Located eleven miles southeast of Gainesville in the heart
of the first orange-growing sections of the state, it became a thriving
village. If the old chief, sitting in council between two enormous live
oaks years ago, could have forseen the development of the orange growing
industry which originated in this vicinity, it would have surprised him.
(These oaks are located to your right as a you turn left going to Ocala).
Descendents of his brought to Florida by the Spanish early in the history
of the state were themselves to make history.
Arredondo in the twenties was the nearest railroad station. Three miles
west on the stage coach road between Micanopy and Arredondo was a hamlet
sprung up called Tacoma about the same time [that] small communities sprung
up to the southeast named Evinston, Citra, McIntosh, [and] Boardman. All
contributed their share of oranges to create a lasting reputation for Florida's
golden crop. In the hammock (Florida's name for woods) grew wild oranges
sweet, bitter sweet, and sour. In the Micanopy country the sod was right
to produce a splendid flavored sweet orange. Around Citra and Boardman,
near Orange Lake, the hammocks were full of orange trees, wild sweet fruit.
Soon after the Civil War the forests of hickory sweet gums, oak, and [other]
trees were cleared, leaving the orange trees (thus cultivated as they stood,
hit or miss) bearing the oranges. [This] created the demand in the
northern states which led to groves of young seedling trees, from five
to twenty five acres per owner. These young seedlings were put in rows
twenty five feet apart, spaced twenty five feet. In ten years, they commenced
to bear. In the meantime there were vegetables raised on the land which
produced an income to tide the owner over till the trees brought in more
cash than the crops of vegetables.
An early orange grower of Micanopy, Mr. John Barr, told me he put out a
grove of oranges of forty acres soon after 1870. He said his friends told
him he was the "biggest fool there was. There were not enough people in
the United States to eat that many oranges." He continued to plant more
crops and became the wealthiest of the orange growers in the village of
Micanopy. From 1875 to 1890 many families came to put out groves, also
groups from England to buy land. These English people settled around Gainesville,
which was unfortunate, for the ground there was not well suited for orange
culture. Many were discouraged and went back to England. Others stayed,
buying new property with richer soil, or started other businesses. By 1880
there was a demand for budded trees to be planted. The budded tree starts
to bear about its fifth year. Also some new varieties were developed which
made a better orange for shipping. These new trees were budded on sour
orange trees which made a stronger growth but not as large a tree. Every
orange had a few tangerines--manderines (somewhat like a tangerine in shape,
skin yellow and flavored different). In 1942 when this was written it is
very scarce, only a few people remember the mandarine, lemon, and grapefruit.
Also amid the houses there were fig trees. Honey peach and pinto (the latter
a flat peach 2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter, pink and yellow coloring, with
a round pit, very delicious flavor, but not a shipping peach). There are
probably not 25 trees in the state today, and not one person in a thousand
ever heard of this wonderful peach. There were some seedling pecan trees,
thick shells, a pomegranite bush or two, mulberry trees, possibly a vegetable
garden with strawberry plants. Usually people depended on the vegetables
grown in the fields, a watermelon patch, sometimes containing a variety
of watermelon known as the ice cream melon. When ripe the flesh was
yellowish-cream colored but [with] splendid flavor. One moonlight night
I "borrowed" a nice big melon from Mr. Wood's patch [and] toted the heavy
fruit to a safe place to eat it. When I cut it, it looked green so I left
it to lie. Next day I learned I had picked a delicious dead-ripe ice cream
Grapefruit was somewhat of a novelty in a grove, no one ate it for breakfast
and there was no sale for it. It would fall off and rot on the ground.
Occasionally we boys would eat a few plugs and go back to the oranges which
everyone enjoyed. In 1886 the grapefruit became a fad. It was on the breakfast
menu the first morning the Ponce de Leon opened its doors to the northern
tourist. [The Ponce de Leon was Henry Flagler's luxury hotel in St.
Augustine]. It was a new fruit, everyone talked about it, wrote home about
it, and analyzed it. This created a demand, soon the want became larger
than the supply, and a grapefruit tree was worth ten orange trees. Young
groves were set out which continue to this day over the citrus sections
of our state.
Large packing houses were built and fruit was hauled to them and packed
by young men who came into the state when the shipping season was on. Some
stayed on buying property, raising vegetables, and waiting till their orange
groves came into bearing. Oranges were not washed before shipping. They
were sized by placing them by hand in a two track sizer. As the oranges
rolled down the slight incline the grooves became wider till the fruit
dropped through to its box underneath, when it was packed so many to a
box [see "Sizing Oranges"]. The size #156 was a desirable size for selling.
This number meant that 156 oranges could be packed in a certain way in
a box. The largest size orange was #96, the smallest was #200. There was
hardly any spraying up to about 1890. Then the "white fly" developed which
made "smut" on the leaves and fruit, oranges had to be washed, and trees
sprayed, though it did not seem to do much good. Some groves were badly
infected while others remained free. We used to think the "white fly" was
carried from one grove to another in the tops of carriages so a Sunday
afternoon visitor was not too welcome if they arrived in a carriage.
There was a bad freeze in 1884 which hurt a lot of the young growth on
the orange trees. Today, going over old weather report records we find
other winters have been severe in the citrus groves. There is a record
in the Weather Bureau in Jacksonville which gives the temperature there
in 1868 as seven degrees above zero and a note saying "there was ice a
few feet out in the river." I have heard people say our winters were
getting colder. Possibly we have more cool spells which last longer on
account of the forests of pine which have been cut, turpentined, or made
into paper in recent years. I remember as a boy it was quite exciting to
see ice on the watering trough in the morning.
The winter of 1894-1895 was known as "The Big Freeze." The later part of
December 1894 the thermometer dropped to 26 degrees around Micanopy. Some
of the orange groves had been picked but still here was a lot of fruit
on the trees, which was frozen. We were not sure how much damage it had
done to the small branches or larger limbs. After a day or so it turned
warm and in two weeks we could see where new buds were coming. The leaves
which were frozen had dropped by this time. The warm weather continued.
The sap was flowing freely, the groves had a pea green tinge when looked
at from a distance.
The middle of February had passed and we [thought] by the first of March
we would be safe from another killing freeze. Everyone knew the trees were
in the worst condition to stand even 30 degrees. But it happened [late
February 1895] and overnight our trees were frozen to the ground. We knew
next morning they were badly hit and were hoping only the smaller limbs
might have to go. In a few days the bark on the big trunks showed [where]
the sap was dripping out. We knew then the tree was killed to the ground.
We knew that those who had made money from oranges would be able to start
from scratch again. Those who had put every cent in a grove and were raising
vegetables till their trees began to bear fruit could not even borrow on
the land they owned. It was a case of root hog or die and some almost starved.
If this had happened today the county and the Red Cross would have come
to their assistance. But this was back in the "Gay Nineties."
All who could buy new trees from nurseries south of us started fresh again.
The old trees were cut down and burned. Some of the trunks were from
12 to 18 inches in diameter. There were great ash piles left and we saved
the ashes for the potash that was in them, set out new trees between the
old stumps, and raised vegetables between the old and the new. The young
trees grew and the next fall we banked them with earth up about 18 inches
to protect the small trunks from a possible freeze the coming winter. The
second winter they were banked again and trees were frozen back to the
top of the bank, and again in two or three years, but finally they grew
large and tough enough to stand a little freezing weather, eventually bearing.
But that night in February 1895 was the knock-out blow. People who could,
moved further south where the temperature did not reach freezing. Today
this is the orange growing section of the state.
When the trees were killed there was considerable talk and discussion as
to why the winter was so cold. This choice bit of wisdom came from a native
who owned and operated a sort of sorry sawmill not far from Micanopy. This
idea came to him some time when he was playing with his buzz saw. It was
this: "I recon it was this-a-way. Them there railroad fellows have been
a cutting tunnels through them there Rocky Mountains a-letting all the
cold air on t'uther side come through, and h'it came plum down here to
Florida." This must have been a happy thought for it furnished us
with a spark of joy in those depressing days.
But there was always fish in the lake and birds in the air, a [tree] near
where you could cut your fishing pole and you could make traps for quail.
A box of 12 gauge shells for shot gun would set you way back for 25 cents.
But if you were a good shot you could bring home 10 to 15 ducks if you
were extravagant enough to shoot all of your 25 cents away at one time.
There was a law limiting you to 100 quail a day, and if you were fair on
the wing you could bring down 2 or 3 quail at a shot. Only rich men could
afford to shoot 100 quail in 24 hours.
The year after our orange trees were killed, we had an enormous lot of
doves come in from the north about sundown. They would sit on the dead
branches of the orange trees before going to roost. One evening I killed
eight at one shot as they were so thick on a limb of a tree filled with
these delicious game birds. Many nights you would hear coon dogs barking
and cow horns blowing and you new somebody was out coon or possum hunting.
Occasionally you could hear a panther crying like a baby and down on Levy
Lake on a spring morning you heard the bull alligators bellowing, and the
big blue heron "winding up his clock" (it sounded that way). But the female
no doubt thought it was a beautiful sound.
[Hunting and Wildlife]
Speaking of alligators, or "gators," it was about the time of the World's
Fair, Chicago, 1893, that alligator hide bags were quite the style. The
gators were hunted at nights. Two [hunters] were in a boat, one to paddle,
the other in the bow with rifle, where a metal container held "light-ud"
knots ablaze to shine in the reptile eyes. You shot him about his only
vulnerable spot located between the eyes, grabbed him while in a death
struggle, tied him to your boat, and came ashore. The next day they would
skin them and prepare the hides for market as the prices then were very
good. The buzzards waxed fat that year from alligator carcasses. There
was a good story they used to tell of two men out one night "shooting gaitors."
The man with the gun couldn't kill any when he shot them between the eyes.
Next morning they discovered the gators had paired off when they came to
the surface, keeping the outer eye closed.
About this period the shooting of egrets for their plumes to adorn ladies'
hats was at its height. These little cranes at nesting time were killed
for the plume which is beautiful in this period. They were killed by the
wagon load. It is a wonder we had any egrets left by the time the Audubon
Society tooks steps to stop the slaughter. Right here I would like to say
that Mr. Gilbert Parsons, who was president of the Audubon Society for
many years, when a young man lived at the west end of Levy Lake and some
day wants to return and make a bird preserve of his part of the country
where he spent his boyhood days.
In the "Gay Nineties" hyacinth were brought in and many had them in tubs
in yards. Now and then some one would take the plant and throw it in a
lake or pond. Today many of the lakes are a mass of hyacinth. The fish
and alligators have been killed. What used to be clear water is not much
more than mud holes. Occasionally there is a lake or pond they do not thrive
[Stories of Daily Life]
In telling of Micanopy-Tacoma is mentioned, soon after the Civil War, there
were a few people who settled in this neighborhood. It was part of the
Leighner estate, later being divided into 40 acre plots. When my grandfather
came to Florida in 1876, he liked this locality, bought his 400 acres,
and built a little log cabin under and enormous live oak (which is still
in good health, trunk measuring 8 feet in diameter or more). He commenced
clearing his property, and prepared it for orange trees. In his letters
to the Cortland paper he tells many things of interest and they are well
worth reading. I do not know how he found time to write as much as he cooked
and kept house for himself (as grandmother, father, and mother did not
come from New York until a few years later).
Every few months a new family would buy and settle in. A name for this
little hamlet was needed and Smithton was suggested by grandfather's neighbors.
He did not care for this name, so asked them to call the community Tacoma,
as this was the name of one of Chief Micanopy's daughters. So, the name. [See "Map of Tacoma"]. The nearest stores and post office was at Micanopy, three miles to the
southeast. A stage coach operated between Arrendondo and Micanopy up to
about 1876. Then a steam boat was built on Paynes Prairie to carry vegetables
and passengers to the railroad which ran from Jacksonville to Cedar Key.
This boat operated until the "spur" was run into Micanopy from the junction
about 1885. (The remains of the boat is up-side-down in a little bay of
the prairie south of Gainesville). A pencil sketch of the stern wheeler
and its anchor are in the State Museum, made from a description of the
boat by an elderly man who remembered the craft [see "Steam Launch on Paines
An old Indian scout was one of the first settlers in Tacoma, and a very
good scout, too, I understand, but not so good on the King's English. My
grandfather tells how the hawks used to catch his young chickens when he
was out clearing hammock with his negroes. Mr. Frysmouth, the old scout,
suggested he get some "ox vomit" [and] feed the chickens with it, as it
was a poison which would not hurt fowls but would kill hawks. Grandfather
was somewhat baffled how he could procure ox vomit till some one told him
it was noxvonica the old man was talking about.
Oxen were used a great deal in the seventies. As the new people came in
and more vegetables were grown for the northern markets, mules were used
more and more. They are much better than a horse for cultivating fields
of vegetables. They are more careful than a horse with their little hoofs
and they learn the job quicker. Also they are not so subject to sun stroke.
But horses were used for many things, especially for riding, though a mule
is smoother in a trot or gallup. No doubt looks was in favor of the horse.
Nearly everyone had a pig or two. They were fine flavored fellows, almost
half the size you see today, a close kin to the "self supporting hog" who
used to run in the woods almost wild. Their meat was the best flavor and
made the choicest hams. Once a year these hogs would be rounded up and
the best killed, butchered, and placed in the back of a wagon on palmetto
leaves to be sold to the neighbors who were particularly glad to get this
There were wild plum orchards, a yellow fruit with a tinge of red on the
sunny side, fairly sweet, and good for canning and preserves. Also, there
were wild persimmon trees, some with very good fruit. In Paynes Prairie,
when it was filled with water, lotus thrived. After the beautiful blossoms,
which everyone thought quite common, came the rattle-box of a seed pod.
We boys used to pry the seed out (if you hit them hard enough with a hammer
they would crack open). The meat tasted pretty good we thought if you had
teeth strong [enough] to eat this hard meat. Now I understand parties are
formed about the country to gather lotus bloom for their beauty.
Out among the pine woods there were "one horse" saw mills. Really, I don't
believe there was a horse around for they used oxen to drag the huge pine
logs in, swung on the axles of two enormous wheels. There were no planing
mills. If you wanted to have the boards or beams of your house planed,
you did it by hand. None of the pines were turpentined then, which was
tough on the termites. No one heard or where bothered with this pest years
ago. Your shingles were of pine and split by hand; also, the pickets of
the chicken fence was split out of pine. The more choice pailings went
for garden fence.
Every village had its sugar mill [see "Grinding the Sugar"]. You still
see a few in 1942. The power was a "hay burner," either horse or mule,
preferably, occasionally a cow. The proprietor, if you could call him that,
made syrup for you on shares. You brought your sugar crop to his mill,
dumping it down handy in front of two iron rollers with cogs at the top
so the power [of] one turned the other. Some one fed the stocks of cane
through the rollers which squeezed the sweet juice out, which was sought
by a trough, which led to a barrel to the left of the person feeding the
mill. There was always a tin cup or gourd dipper hanging on the frame of
the mill, handy to the barrel so you [could] drink your fill if you liked
(which I did).
This juice was put in large iron pots over a stone work which made
a fire box, with the pots where the fire would do the most good. The juice
was boiled and skimmed till it became an amber syrup known as Florida Syrup.
Today it is hard to find this good old time syrup, but there are still
a few places where it is made, and if you can get there in the fall of
the year you may find some. But I doubt if you should get there when the
last pot of juice was boiled. You would see the young men and girls of
the neighborhood gathered there to have a "candy pullin,." some of them
sittiing on the huge pile of squeezed stalks back of the mill which where
left to sour and rot. The syrup made by these old time skills was sometimes
called "long sweetnin." When granulated sugar was high or your finances
were low, you poured this syrup in your coffee or tea cup, therefore the
Florida streams were not the variety you could harness and make turn millstones,
but there were little steam grist mills about. You could take your sack
of corn to mill on the mule's backbone just back of your saddle (if you
had one). The miller would grind it, taking half for the grinding. Your
eggs and butter went to the local store and possibly they might be worth
more than the articles you bought. If so you got a due bill which was as
good as cash. You could use it in the future
Hens were just hens in those days. They laid fairly well, eggs sold as
high as 10 cents a dozen. Butter sometimes went as high as 20 cents a pound.
Cows were just cows. Sometimes it would take four or five cows to produce
a quart of milk at a time. When they had a calf, you let it do the milking
for you about half the time. Sometimes you could get meat from a market,
open maybe one or two days a week, or some one would butcher, cut the meat
up in "hunks," [and] pile it in the bottom of a wagon with palmetto leaves
top and bottom. If the purchaser was not sure what cuts they were getting,
the butcher would demonstrate using his body to show where the cuts came
from. [You] could then "take it or leave it." One of our butchers had a
twin brother. They were both married, but every Christmas they exchanged
wives. Possibly divorces were not so easy to get, "so they lived happily
Before the Civil War there were families of good breeding and education
who had bought homes in and about Micanopy. Most of them came from the
northern and southern seaboard states. They (with the few natives of their
class and position in life) made only a small percent of the white population
of this section, but enough, so there was a large wooden building located
in the southwestern part of town, know as the Micanopy Female Seminary
(this building was still standing in 1888, but its doors had been closed
for many years), which was built and sponsored by the above mentioned citizens.
The "Cracker" population were like the characters in the book South
Union written by [Marjorie Kinnan] Rawlings in 1936. (The scenes of
this book were located but a few miles from Micanopy in the neighborhood
of Citra and Hawthorn, another of our early villages located on the edge
of the orange growing belt).
Micanopy had three churches (Presbyterian,
Baptist, and Methodist). [Also] a school with one and sometimes two
teachers, two or three doctors, a druggist, a lawyer, two or three stores
that carried general merchandize, and a meat market, which was open at
uncertain times, depending [on] whether you could catch your cow and kill
it. Possibly after the animal was killed it would be too tough to
cut up, so you would have to go hunting for another "beef." There
was a "Hall" over one of the stores where meeting and dances were held,
and a jail (a one room affair built of hard pine) which became a death
chamber one cold night for it burned to the ground when the negro inside
used poor judgment by starting a fire on the floor to keep comfortable.
After that there was not enough money due to the freeze to build a new
But we young people had dances in the Hall above the store.
Our music was uncertain, but there was a negro in Micanopy named Bill Canty
who had a conhaplin (a mouth organ in a holder, a banjo, and a small
drum operated by his foot). He could wrap his lips around the mouth
organ, play his banjo and drum, all of which made good dance music.
Bill had one fault, he just would land in that jail at times we would have
a dance on. As our band was locked up, we would have to got out,
unlock the calabosse, bring Bill up to the dance hall, and put him
back again when the dance was over. In the "Gay Nineties" in Florida
dancing and card playing seemed to some the right and left leather wing
of the Devil. But we had other entertainment which seemed to be approved
Possibly the church might come under the name of entertainment to some
of us. We worked hard six days of the week. On the seventh we saw
our friends at Sunday-school, at church, [or] at Christian Endeavor meetings
(in the evenings escorting our best girls by foot or by buggy to the school
house). Sometimes services would be held in the afternoon or evening.
At the afternoon services the babies in their long hot dresses would get
cross or sleepy and cried a good deal. One good hearted old minister
would ask the mothers to bring their babies and place them on each side
of his pulpit where they could sleep and be more comfortable.
a church in Micanopy a deacon used to sit by a certain window which was
always open in the warm days, but the blinds were closed to keep out the
sun's rays. He chewed tobacco and I thought he probably was the most
expert spitter the world had ever produced. That blind had a slat
with a sliver split off with just a little wider slit than the others.
He could squirt tobacco juice through that slit and never soil a slat.
I am afraid I only went to church sometimes hoping he would miss.
But he never did.
In August there were protracted meetings held every night for a week
or more. August was selected maybe for more than one reason.
The first reason was that in this month there is very little if any activities
on the vegetables farms or orange groves. Our vacation month.
Maybe the other reason was that those "hard sinners" get softened up by
the heat and were more easily kneaded into a Christian life by the minister
who sweated his collar down describing "hell fire and damnation" to the
gradually melting [offenders], stopping occasionally to have congregation
join with him in [hymns?], which would bring the tottering damned to the
altar (such as Almost Persuaded). Or some enthusiastic deacon
would approach the miserable sinner and ask if he could escort him to the
Altar of the Lord.
Two women revivalists came to Tacoma one fall holding meetings in the
little pink school house (still standing) in the evenings, but in the afternoons
meeting at houses and conducting prayer meetings for persons they felt
might be damned. One afternoon they were holding this meeting in
a house where the wife was quite devout but her husband "belonged to the
Devil." In the midst of this meeting the husband rushed in the room
where everyone was on their knees praying for his soul. He knelt
among them, crying that the Devil had chased him with his pitch fork and
he wanted protection and wished to be saved. That evening in church
he got up much to the surprise of all who knew him and told how the Devil
hid behind an orange tree and when he was plowing, had jumped at him with
his pitch fork and tried to catch him before he found sanctuary among these
good sisters (all quite interesting and dramatic to the congregation).
The next afternoon the young men of our neighborhood put this act on (one
was the sinner and another took the part of the Devil with a pitchfork
from the hay mow). Others took the parts of the two revival sisters
and the ladies. What audience we had kept this parody to themselves
for a while, but the news leaked out and was enjoyed by others.
[Editor's note: Smith's account of black church meetings, which
he depicts as beset with fighting, is omitted].
We would have literary societies usually held on Friday evening; also
debating societies (we settled a good many important and serious questions
but the world did not seem to take any notice of our findings and would
roll on just as if nothing had happened). When money was needed for
a good cause an ice cream sociable was [held], a big dish of ice cream
for 10 cents (and sometimes that seemed a lot). Vanilla, fresh strawberry,
and chocolate cream were about the only flavors we had. The ice came
down from Gainesville where there was an ice factory started about 1880.
The ice was frozen in 100 lb. cakes and for shipping it was put in large
gunny sacks with saw dust poured between ice and bag to keep it from melting
away before it reached its destination. [Even] at that about a quarter
of the ice had melted before you rescued it.
The older boys and men
made the ice cream out back of the church or school house. Two or
three large freezers were used. The strongest fellow had the job
of turning the crank of the biggest freezer for when the cream was nearly
ready to serve you could hardly make that crank go round. The girls
and ladies did the serving and the weekly paper would have a write up of
the event and close by saying "a good time was had by all."
On New Years it was the custom in Tacoma, and other places possibly,
for the young men of the neighborhood to give the young ladies "a chicken
pilleau dinner," even the coffee and cakes to be served by the young gallants.
Afterwards the dishes would be washed by these swains unless we felt especially
flush and could hire a negro woman.
Every boy knew how to cook chicken pilleau and cook it well. They
also knew how to fry fish to a turn as well as how to catch them.
In the spring speckle perch were biting and we would then have fish frys,
everybody invited. There was always picnics on Fourth of July.
Some of the last of the watermelons were on ice and there was always ice
cream freezers of cream. Watermelon and ice cream do not mix as a
dessert after a picnic meal and some of the youngsters would be awfully
sick for a little while in the afternoon.
There were amateur plays gotten up to raise money (maybe for some heathen
who may have had a prefectly good religion of his own) or for some other
good cause: adults, 25 cents, children, 10 cents. Sometimes we would
have a public Christmas Tree. The year after the "Big Freeze" we
had one in the school house. It certainly was a white Christmas
tree, about 90 percent of the presents were handkerchiefs, due to the lack
of moeny to buy more expensive gifts. If I remember right,
I received sixteen handkerchiefs that evening and did not have a cold
for a long time after, so had no use for them.
Each hamlet or village had a one room school house. A little box
stove kept us warm on cold days, fed usually with sticks of pine wood with
kindling of fat pine. A water bucket and dipper [was] in a
handy spot near the front doors. A long bench in front of [the] teacher's
desk [was] where you recited your lessons sitting. When spelling,
you stood (this was so you could go head or foot with more ease.
It was easier to go foot).
We had no flag so could not go through
the ceremony of allegience. We loved our country, naturally.
We had no other idea. Some of us who attended these flagless schools
and lived to pay income taxes have done so without a thought of making
a false report, or in time of war we were the first to enlist. From
these little one room school houses (some were painted red and some had
no paint at all) came a high percent of children, when they became adults,
were above the average person who had been to college and graduated.
From our schools we used to saw we "quituated." I only saw one boy
who was expelled from our schools. He licked the teacher so badly
one day that the school had to be closed for a few days till the teacher
was able to carry on, which was a joy to the boys in this school for it
meant a holiday. Later in his life this expelled boy held a responsible
position with the Pullman Co.
School opened at 8:30 A.M. sun time (everyone used sun time except the
railroads, which was Standard, about 35 minutes slower than Standard).
There was a 15 minute recess in A.M. and P.M. with an hour for lunch, which
most of us took in a basket or tin pail consisting of a piece of meat or
hard boiled egg, bread, or corn bread (sometimes biscuit). A dessert
of cake or small bottle of syrup to eat with bread or biscuit (you hurried
with this lunch for you wanted as much time to play as you could before
school took in). When the bell rang you headed for the water pail
which often had crumbs in it from children getting thirsty right after
their lunch or maybe the pail would be empty and tow of the boys would
get it filled from the nearest neighbor's pump or well. Sometimes
[it was] more than a quarter of a mile from [the] school house but we never
[Passages on Racial Violence]
There was an Indian (do not know what tribe) named George in Tacoma,
evidently some member of a tribe of some importance for Georgies Pond is
named for him (this is a little body of water over which the railroad trestle
runs). Occasionally there were negros about who had Indian blood
in their veins. My father had a negro man and his wife living in
a cabin on our place who used to work for us. [They] had considerable
Indian in their make up, straight noses and fairly long straight hair and
not too dark reddish skin. Both [were] good workers. The man
must have gotten in some trouble with the whites for a posse came around
to lynch him one night. The Indian-negro knew about it and was able
to get away. He never came back and finally his family joined him
wherever he was . . .
Another mysterious disappearance [was] of a negro fireman on a locomotive
on a run through the center of the state. This was the period when
engineers were trying (and did) get white firemen, for the firemen of today
would be the locomotive engineers of tomorrow. So the men at the throttle
decided to scare the negro firemen into leaving this important railroad
One morning this locomotive engineer started on his run with the negro
fireman. That afternoon at the end of the run the engineer was firing
his engine as well as running it. Some probably knew (and they were
right) that the fireman had been hit in the head with a monkey-wrench,
then thrown in the firebox, for no one ever heard or [saw?] any sign of
him after that. It was not long before white firemen were taking
the places of negro wood heavers . . .
In the early nineties we had a negro desperado loose among us.
He killed a number of negros and a few white men. The sheriff and
his posse were not able to capture him. One night a negro who was
traveling with him shot him in his back for the reward. The desperado's
index finger on his right hand (trigger-finger) was cut off and put in
alcohol in a bottle. A piece of the rope negros and white men were
hung with also was a choice trophy to be carried about and exhibited until
the next person was hung. The popular method of hanging around Micanopy
was to get a box or barrel for the doomed one to stand on while the rope
was flung over a good stout live oak limb, then kick the article out from
under his feet, and shoot the body full of holes as he dangled there, not
to be cut down till some time next day, as I discovered one morning when
riding into Micanopy on an errand. (If you will please remember that
the whites were outnumbered maybe 4 to 1 by the negros, it was necessary
to take strong measures to protect our families in those earlier days .
[Editor's note: This final chilling image, a stark contrast to
the nostalgic vision of Micanopy presented elsewhere, is the last
passage in which Smith discusses Alachua County. From here he moves
on immediately to a discussion of the Plant and Flagler railroad systems
and to the sights of St. Augustine.]
Smith's Acknowledgements and Informants
I am indebted to the following names: my kin, my friends, my neighbors
of my boyhood at Tacoma, Fla., where I was born, who have at times told
me many interesting facts and stories worth recording of this interesting
part of the state.
Mr. Frysmouth, an old Indian scout born in Alachua Co. [who] lived
Mr. Chamberlin, of Connecticutt, [who came to] Florida before the Civil
War [and] fought in the Confederacy.
Mr. John Barr, [the] first grower to plant forty acres of oranges,
a big grove then.
Mr. Wolfenden, of Wisconsin, [who] settled in Evinston [and] was a
successful orange grower.
Capt. Evins from South Carolina; [the town of] Evinston was named for
him about 1873.
Dr. Richard Reese, from Alabama, and early settler of Arredondo, also
Mr. M.L. Wood, of New York, first man to get the Morse code by ear,
settled in Tacoma.
Mr. George Avent, born at Micanopy, President of the Florida National
Mrs. B.F. Mathews-nee-Baughtnight, born at Wacahoota, lived at Tacoma.
Mr. and Mrs. W.A. Smith (my grandfather and grandmother) from Massachusetts,
Wisconsin, and New York.
Mr. W.C. Smith (my father) who had a good sense of humor and was a
good orange man.
Mrs. Margaret Reese Smith, my dear wife who has assisted me greatly.
February 2, 1942
James Calvert Smith
Abridged and Edited by James G. Cusick
P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History