A Tour of Central Florida and the Lower West Coast
by George Franklin Thompson
© 1999 University of Florida, George A. Smathers Libraries
November 22, 1865 through December 21, 1865
[On inside front cover in pencil]
Journal of Geo. F. Thompson, as Inspector, Bureau Freedmen, Refugees
and Abandoned Lands, on a tour of central Florida and the Lower West Coast,
Paines Prairie--p. 21
Silver Springs--p. 40
Tampa--p. 54, 100
Manatee River--p. 59
[On first leaf in pencil]
Ft. Myers--p. 91
[in ink, the beginning of Thompson's handwriting]
Geo F. Thompson.
[no page number]
[added in pencil]
Left New York on 22nd Nov for Savannah on steamer "Euterpe" [Enterprise?] arrived
Savannah on 25th 10:30 p.m., staid at Pulaski Hotel until 29th when I took
Steamer "City Point" at 4 p.m. for Jacksonville where I arrived 30th at
9:30 a.m. There found Captain G.W. Beach C.S. with whom I staid untill
December 2nd at 4 a.m. when I took the train for Tallahassee arriving there
about 8 p.m. Stopped at the City Hotel a miserably kept house, it
had very poor fare and very high charges. Here found Captain Demington
C.S. who, with Captain S. L. McHenry for adjt. Genl., Capt W.H. Burtow
A.G.M.. for Quartermaster, constitute the staff of Col. J. W. Osborn, Asst.
Commissioner, Bureau F.R. & A.L. for Florida. Reported to Col.
Osborn on 3rd Dec when he assigned me as Inspector for the 5th District
of Florida, consisting [
[no page number]
of the counties of Volusia, Orange, Polk, Hillsboro, Manatee, Munroe,
Dade & Broward. Mr. [?] W. H. Gleason of Eau Claire, Wis. was
appointed Special Agent to accompany me on the tour, and we made our arrangements
to travel together, obtaining horses & equipments of Capt. Burlow A.G.M.
for the purpose.
Left Tallahassee for Jacksonville on Wednesday Dec 6th at 8 a.m. arrived
at Jacksonville at 10 p.m. delayed two hours by train getting off track.
The most noticeable thing on the way from Tallahassee to Jacksonville is
the excessive stupidity and lack of a spirit of enterprise and accommodation
on the part of the employees of the Rail Road. The train was advertised
to start at 7 a.m. and knowing my peculiar weakness to over-sleep myself
in the morning, I solicited [
of] the landlord to wake me as early as 5
a.m. in the morning that I might have plenty of time to get in readiness
for the train. This I felt to be more than usually important as I
had to see that the three horses (Gleason's the orderlie's and my own)
were put in a car to be transported
As good fortune would have it I awoke shortly after daylight and supposing
it to be quite late, jumped out of bed, and taking a hasty glance at my
watch thought it was past 6 o'clock. Hurrying on my clothes I hastened
down stairs and feeling some what enraged with the remissness of the landlord
commenced giving vent to my feelings in expressions of disgust with the
neglect and want of promptness on the part of the Hotel Keeper.
After berating him somewhat sourly with the strongest language I could
command, and sending the first colored American citizen I could find to
arouse the landlord and Mr. Gleason, my travelling companion, I turned
to a very quiet man seated on a bench on the porch and directed
my conversation to him in particular when he very quietly [?] observed
"You will get used to such things after you have lived in this country
Never! I said, I would rather die than be so stupid.
I thought so once myself, "said he."
Then you are not a native of Florida, are you?
Oh, no. I was from New Hampshire and came to this country fourteen
years ago and have learned to get along with all the delays and this lack
of business habits.
His first expression convinced me that it was [
a [ expression] matter [?] of his own experience, and then
I commenced to make inquiries in regard to the country, people, land, and
especially the political [ feeling] condition of the state.
I informed him that I was from
Massachusetts, which seemed to unloosen his tongue, and looking first
to the right and then to the left to see if any one was watching him or
listening to the conversation, he said
"Come this way, I don't like these people to see me talking of these
things for the fact is, the Election is but just over, and they are like
a hive of bees or nest of hornets which has been stirred up with a large
stick and they are buzzing around trying to find victims upon whom they
can vent their spleen, and I do not care to become one of their victims.
I am now living in Florida. I came from Georgia to avoid the Rebel
Army as the alternative was given me, either to go into the Army or leave
and leaving the Union I chose the latter." After conversing with
this gentleman several minutes, the landlord came out rubbing his eyes
with his fists looking more like a half-grown bear than a gentlemanly and
accommodating Hotel Keeper, when I began to open my battery of invective
upon him for his want of fidelity and the danger of my being left by the
"Oh! You have plenty of time, it's only half past five now, plenty
of time! Plenty of time!!"
Upon taking a calm view of my watch I found I had made a mistake of
only one hour, which [
was] proved to be very fortunate,
as I doubt if he would have awakened untill now if some one had not aroused
him. After partaking of a break-
fast such as Kings seldom have, vis "hog & hominy" we started for
the Depot some half a mile distant and on arriving there were doomed to
another trial of patience and good nature. The train should have
started at 7 a.m., but by dint of the masterly inactivity of the agent,
conductor, and every other employee of the road we started about 15 minutes
past 8 and then I presume it was by the consent of the baggage master or
After taking a seat in the car and composing myself a little I began
to look around for objects of interest and was not long in finding two.
One was the dilapidated, dirty and uncomfortable condition of the car,
and the other a young lady
from the country, whose attire and general appearance indicated her
origin, as being from the "poor white trash." After she had taken
a full survey of all the passengers, she pulled from her pocket a red handkerchief,
or what there was left, of what once was one, and commenced tearing it
into strips about an inch wide. My fears were at once excited, as
thoughts of suicide flushed through my mind. I [
determined, if she should attempt such an act, that I would become a hero
by saving her life and returning her to her parents unharmed. After
she had deliberately arranged the strips, under my eagle eye she stooped
over and gently raising the lower extremities of her crinoline
she placed them upon some part of her person not visible to me and
as I saw no signs of strangulation concluded that these could be no immediate
We arrived at Lake City, distant from Tallahassee 105 miles about 4
p.m., and here we were doomed to another disappointment. The car
containing our horses could not or rather would not go forward any
further untill the next day on account of the road from Lake City to Jacksonville
being under the control of another Corporation, and neither company being
any agents to labor for the interest of the corporations and the accomodation
of the travelling public. The agent promised that the
car should come forward with the horses the next morning and we concluded
to proceed to Jacksonville and meet our horses at Baldwin to go to Gainesville
on Saturday morning.
We arrived at Jacksonville about 10 p.m. after being delayed about two
hours by another train being across the track about 10 miles from Jacksonville.
On arriving at J. I proceeded to the Quarters of Captain Griest C.S. who
welcomed me to his home, with the usual commisary honors.
Jacksonville, December 7th
This is the National Thanksgiving and of course I devote myself to the
usual rejoicings of the day. The people of this place are cognisant
that there is such a country
as the United States and though they do not all close their places
of business yet there is a strong indication that a large part of the business
men here are disposed to recognise the national authority. About
two thirds of the places of business are closed, only the small two-cent-stores
and few shops being open for trade. It is remarkable how the Jew
finds his way into every nook and corner of the country, large enough to
squeese a three cent piece into it. I think if you should drop a
penny into the crevice of a rock ten thousand feet below the surface of
the Earth and should examine the place twelve months afterward, you would
Jew or his shadow there with a store 6 x 8 filled with every conceivable
notion trying to get it by trade. This place has a full store of
this class of trades people, whether they are a desirable population for
any country is a point upon which I have very decided opinions but as my
opinions on this matter cannot be law I forbear their expression.
Thermometer today 64 to 70.
We find no train leaves Jacksonville for Baldwin before tomorrow morning
consequently must remain here untill tomorrow morning at 4 o'clock.
The train runs from Jacksonville to Tallahassee only every other
day, this is owing to the want of two things, one of which being supplied,
the other would soon come to exist, vis, 1st want of Rolling stock 2nd
want of enterprise and business capacity. The distance between these
two places is 165 miles and there is no difficulty in arranging a daily
train provided they had a reasonable amount of enterprise. We spent
most of the day in making arrangements for our tour by purchases and setting
the route which we would travel. We went into one store and in making
our selections of the different articles naturally engaged the man in conversation
about the country, soil, rivers, and in fact everything which might be
important or gratifying to our curiosity. We were thus pushing our
inquiries when in turn
the man made of us the usual inquiry of a Southerner, vis "What part
of the country are you from?" I answered for myself, that I was from
Massachusetts, when from that moment he turned from me and seemed to feel
that he had nothing further to say. The change in his manners was
so marked that my companions concluded that the way to silence a rabid
secessionist was to hail from Mass. He was a sort of Mongrel New
York Dutchman who had emigrated to Florida years ago and managed to crawl
down lower and get slimier than any native born Southerner could do.
There is a degree of despicable meanness which a renegade Northerner can
and does reach which a native Southerner can never degrade himself to.
About 4 o'clock p.m. I was surprised to see Mr. Foster come into the
room and was glad to see him for the purpose of arranging for my monthly
papers. I advised him in reference to my business. Saw Mrs.
Foster who appeared in excellent health. The thermometer today stood
at 69 without varying much through the day or evening. Tomorrow morning
we start for Gainesville via Baldwin where we expect to find our horses.
I arose this morning at 3 o'clock and made my toilet and reached the
Depot about 4 o'clock with Mr. Gleason and Mr. Rowley, a young man from
Conn. and formerly connected with the 7th Regt from that state, as private,
but from his
appearance and intelligence would have honored a commission.
In getting into the car I thought I had left my transportation papers in
my room & stepped out and asked the conductor how long before the train
would start. He informed me very shortly. 10 minutes.
I immediately started for the room ¼ of a mile distant running through
the sand and bush and just made the time almost entirely exhausted and
not finding my papers at the room, commenced a more thorough search in
my pockets and succeeded in finding them; and felt not a little vexed with
myself for being so negligent in putting them up as not to have remembered
where they were put. However, it was a lesson, hereafter to be more
careful in arranging such things.
We arrived at Baldwin, distant from Jacksonville about 20 miles about
7 a.m. and found our orderly with the horses. The conductor in the
Gainesville road informed me with an air of dignity which would appear
more appropriate to a rich man like "Uncle Samuel" than a subordinate on
a Florida Rail Road, that he could not take the horses for want of a car.
I told him that it seemed to me that it was his business to get
a car if he had none. Or at any rate to provide the transportation
in some way, but he replied with his usual dignity that he couldn't and
that was the end of the controversy." I then determined to send them
through the country to [
that] for Gainesville the distance
being only about 50 miles
and they would be required to wait at Baldwin untill the next Tuesday
before they could be transported over the road. We took Breakfast
at this place and concluded to take the train for G'ville at 8 o'clock
arriving at that place about 12. M., where we found Mr. W. Root formerly
private in 2'# Indiania Vols. In Army Potomac.
The country from B. to G. is level & sandy, covered with a growth
of pine not heavy enough for timber in any great quantity, but suitable
for the Turpentine business and noticed several rude manufactories for
this article on the way. The country is very sparsely settled and
the appearance of the inhabitants indicates that common schools and churches
of a high order do not exist in great numbers if at all.
We remained at Gainesville untill Monday morning. The weather
was cloudy and rainy during our stay which did not add to the beauty of the place.
It is a settlement of about 500 inhabitants with a church and stores.
Here we saw a Mr. Sanchez [
Nichols] who owns a tract of
land of about 6000 acres covered with live oak in the neighborhood of Indian
River which he offers to sell for 8 dollars per acre. He is laboring
under the impression that the stock of live oak is nearly exhausted and
that it will be a necessity for the government to purchase this tract at
his price for the building of its ships. But this idea only indicates
how [curious?] are the views entertained as to the extent and productions
of this coun[page break]
-try. An occurrence happened here showing the grade of civilization
which prevails. A Dr. Clay, said to be a cousin of Henry Clay, had
an altercation with a defeated political candidate in the last election
when the argument of Dr. Clay became demonstrative upon the face and head
of the defeated candidate and if it did not produce conviction at least
produced a liberal flow of blood highly mixed with a poor quality of whiskey.
Here also I saw for the first time the operation of ginning cotton.
The cotton gin is a machine which separates the seed from the staple and
is the invention of Eli Whitney an ingenious Yankee of Westborough, Mass.
This mill had seven pins and was operated by a Yankee 14 years from Taunton,
The average amount of clean cotton turned out per day by such machine
is about 150 lbs and this man received 4 cents per pound for ginning besides
the seed which is worth about 25 cents per bushel. It required a
man to each machine who receive about one dollar per day for their labor.
Dec 10th Sunday
We had heard much said here about some "sinks," as they are called,
small bodies of water with no visible outlets, situated about 3 miles from
Gainesville, being filled with dead fish and alligators, so we decided
to appropriate this day to their examination.
Mr. Gleason & myself started out immediately after
breakfast to visit them. We found them bordering on the edge
of what is called Paines' Prairie, formerly called the Alachua Savana, a
low body of land about 15 miles in length and 7 in width. They number
some half a dozen small irregular bodies of water running towards the southwest
northwest] slowly & [ into one] from
the last one no outlet could be seen except a slight eddying on the outer
edge as though the water had found a subterranean passage through a fissure
of the rock beneath. The entire surface of the water was completely
covered with dead fish and alligators on the body of water which had the
subterranean outlet and upon the surface of the other ponds some half a
dozen in number. There were hundreds of thousands of fish
with their mouths just protruding into the air gasping in the agonies
of death. So numerous were they that the sound of their gasping resembled
the noise of a heavy shower of rain.
There were 20 to 25 alligators floating upon the surface, from 5 to
10 feet in length, in a state of decomposition. In the ponds were
numerous live ones feeding upon the dead fish. The stench was so
intense that it extended its noxious smell for a distance of two miles.
That part of the lake or pond having the outlet is reported to have a depth
of more than a hundred feet. The cause of the fish dying is not understood
by the inhabitants. It appears to be that it is the result of the
exhaustion of the oxygen in the water, for I
can hardly believe that such innumerable numbers of fish could exist
for any length of time in so small a quantity of water. This prairie
was overflowed a year ago and it is probably that the fish increased to
such numbers as not to be supported in the small ponds to which they were
driven when the waters receded from the plain. The rock formation
near and around these ponds is pure limestone. Indeed so soft is
it that you can easily dig it out with a spade.
After gratifying our curiosity and sense of smell here, we returned
to Gainesville through the Hammock in which we found many depressions on
the surface, in a tunnel shape. A Hammock is a piece of land covered
Hard wood and is always considered the most desirable tracts.
The soil is richer and more productive and more especially adapted to grains
and fruits, while the Pine lands are suitable for cotton, cane, and rice.
We arrived at our Hotel about 4 o'clock and after regaling ourselves took
a seat in the sitting room and passed the evening in conversation untill
we retired to bed to forget our weariness and become refreshed for our
journey in the morrow. Thermometer stood at 64.
11th December Monday
This morning about 11 o'clock we had our horses at the door ready to
commence our journey to Tampa. We left Gainesville and travelled
southwest towards Ocala crossing Paines' Prairie and found nothing
particular interesting untill 8 or ten miles on our way when we passed
a low marshy tract about 4 miles in length and from 1 to 2 miles in width
and if I should state my belief as to the number of wild ducks there found
I feel [?] I should find few to credit my story.
I know that to judge correctly of numbers in such cases requires much
experience, and after resolving in my own mind what would be a fair estimate
of the number of Ducks in that space I ventured the inquiry of my companions
as to the number. Mr. Gleason, who has travelled extensively, after
stopping and surveying the field or as much as could
plainly be seen said that there could not be less than a million but
I had previously fixed my estimate at 300,000 and I believe could they
have been gathered and counted the number would have exceeded rather than
fallen short of that number.
We rode our horses towards the edge of the water and as they ascended
near us, the sound of their flying was like the thunder. We passed
on with the intention of stopping at the house of Colonel McCormick 22
miles from Gainesville but we missed our way and found ourselves at night
fall on a narrow strip of land extending into Orange Lake. Finding that
the darkness would prevent us from retracing our steps a dis[page break]
-tance of about four miles we exercised a little philosophy and made
the best of our mistake and spread our blankets on the ground in the woods,
built a rousing fire, and went to bed supperless.
Our horses found but little better than ourselves for the only feed
we could give them was the long bundles of Spanish moss hanging from the
trees. This Spanish moss is found in abundance in the hammocks, and
it is suitable after proper dressing, [for] as a substitute for hair in
the manufacture of mattresses or stuffed chairs. The process of preparation
is to bury the moss in the soil, or water rot it, and then after drying,
the outside covering comes off by threshing and leaves a fine and wiry
fibre quite similar to
horse hair. It is very abundant throughout the counties of Alachua
and Marion and I doubt not throughout the state.
During the night the sky became clouded and the rain came pattering
down upon us, but our blankets were sufficient to keep us perfectly dry
and the thermometer indicated about 68. We experienced no inconveniences
from cold. We arose about 7 o'clock [12th Dec] and perambulated the
forest which gave us shelter and to our utter astonishment we found it
to contain orange groves with the fruit hanging in large and tempting clusters.
We found not less than 20,000 orange trees bearing what is termed the sour
bitter sweet"] orange. All that is necessary to
bear the most delicious sweet orange is to graft unto the stock the
desired kind, and the third year you have the fruit in abundance.
Without doubt the "bitter sweet," or sour orange is capable of producing
a brandy of superior flavor but the better way, and the more profitable,
would be to graft in the sweet orange and obtain a fruit which would
command a high price in the Northern market. The cabbage Palmetto
also abounds and from an examination of its structure I am satisfied may
be profitably manufactured into cordage or paper of superior strength.
Dec 12th Tuesday
The early part of the morn-
ing was spent in "prospecting" the narrow strip of land upon which
we made our bed the night previous and about 11 o'clock resumed our saddles
for the journey to Col McCormicks with empty stomachs and enthusiastic
After following several trails in the dense wood in hope to find a shorter
route to our goal we finally reached the main road and shortly afterward
met a citizen going to Micanopy of whom we inquired the most direct route
to Col McCormicks. We parted from him but little wiser as to the
course, but kept on our way relying more upon our own judgement and the
information we could gather
from the negroes then anything we could get from the white people,
not because the whites are disinclined to give all the information they
have but our principal difficulty was in appreciating all the crooks and
turns they would mention, while as a general thing the negro was more direct
in his statements & could confine himself to the point.
[overwritten with the words The day before] (We arrived
at Micanopy at 12 M. This is a "southern town" and as I am
in a hurry to get to my destination for the day cannot stop to describe
its dingy stores and houses, its loafers and hangers on and universal appearance
of shiftlessness but will leave this part of my task for a future time).
After pursuing a zig-zag route for about 12 miles we came to the plantation
of a late Dr. Paine where
we found an old colored man busily at work surrounded by his family
of children and a lot of hogs. On coming up to him he laid aside
his adze and readily communicated his wrongs. He said that since
'Freedom came in" his old mistress (Mrs. Paine) had been very exacting
and severe with them, requiring of them every chicken & pig and delaying
the payment of the wages which she had promised. After directing
him to make known all his wrongs to the judge of Probate, whom he knew,
we rode on past the family mansion towards Col McCormicks, arriving there
about 3 p.m.
On entering the house we took the first opportunity to inform the Mistress
of the house that we had excellent appetites when she very cheerfully gave
directions to have a dinner prepared for us. While the dinner
was in preparation we engaged a lively conversation with the Mistress of
the house (Miss Carman) in regard to the country, its products, the people,
their habits manners customs, &c. We found her to be a very careful
observer of passing events and capable of forming a correct judgement of
men & things. She iterates the story we had heard so much in
regard to the negro, that he would not work except under compulsion but
yet, could see that the whites and especially the former owners do not
try to alleviate the difficulty but rather rejoice in the evil because
it proves their old theory that the negro is incapable of caring for himself
and that slavery is the natural condition of the race.
She informed us that the
Emancipation of the negro had wrought a great change already and instanced
the case of the killing of a negro by one of her neighbors as a case in
point. It seems that Marion Paine, one of the family previously referred
to, had an altercation with a negro boy and becoming exasperated threw
a knot of wood at the boy striking him down senseless and shortly after
expired. Under the old system Marion might have gone before a magistrate
and made a statement of the case and been released, but now, knowing that
under the new order of things the negro boy had a right to life and that
he (Marion) was amenable to the military authorities for one of
the worst of crimes he felt the cord chafing his neck and fled and I believe
to this day has not been
found to answer for his crime. Unquestionably his friends are
knowing as to his whereabouts and provide him with the necessary means
to evade detection. On inquiry of Miss Carman if there had ever been
any cases where the owner had killed a slave without being molested by
the civil authorities under the old system, she answered very readily,
Dinner was now announced and we readily repaired to the dining room
where we appeased our appetites on the feast set before us. About
4:30 we left McCormicks and proceeded on our journey and had not gone far
before it commenced raining, but forward was our word and through forest
and in the rain we travelled untill about 8 o'clock we espied a light off
at our right and we made for it.
After wandering some time in the darkness we came to a fence which
obstructed our progress but the fence soon gave way and on we went to the
light. When within about 300 yards of the house we were saluted by
half a dozen big dogs and warned to approach no further but our case would
not allow us to heed their warning voices and up to the house we rode drenched
with rain. The house proved to be a rude, leaky shanty with a white
man, a big wench, and some half dozen mulatto children for occupants.
Can you keep some of us here tonight, was my inquiry. "No I cannot
nohow" was the answer and after surveying the premises we concluded he
was right in his meaning.
if not in his grammar for there was but one room to the shanty and
a very large part of that intruded upon by the fire place. The white
man however volunteered to pilot us to "General Owens" who, he said, had
a large house and would gladly welcome us to his hospitalitie, so, calling
two or three of his mulatto boys to bring a pitch pine torch we followed
on Mr. Owens about ¼ mile distant. On arriving at the "Generals"
house I knocked, but he had retired and I repeated the summons some half
dozen times when at last I heard the sound of footsteps inside and soon
the door was slowly and furtively opened, and a bushy Indian head presented
"What do you want and who are you!" inquired Mr. Owens.
Four travellers, I answered, would like shelter for ourselves and feed
for our horses. "Where are you from?" again inquired Mr. Owens.
I am an officer of the U.S. Army. One is a soldier & one from
Wisconsin and one a native Floridian. Are any of you of the 1st or
2nd Regt Florida troops in the Federal service? No sir: I answered.
I would rather have a pole cat in my house than one of those d__d scoundrels,
and never, when I know it can one of them enter, replied Mr or "General"
After he was satisfied that we did not belong to that class which he
detested above all others, we were invited to come in and were offered
all the comforts his home afforded.
Dec 13th Wednesday
In the morning we were bountifully served and after breakfast had a
long conversation with Mr Owens in regard to the country, soil, climate,
negroes, free labor &c &c.
He informed us that the desire was almost universal among the old planters
& slave holders to sell their estates and remove to some more congenial
section. He was among that class, and would like to sell his property
He said that the object of their special hate was the man who, during
the war had joined the Federal service and fought the Confederacy.
That the old organization called Regulators would attend to all those cases
and that if they attempted to settle in this county [country ?] they would
be disposed of summarily. That "they would under no circumstances
whatever be allowed to live here." Indeed so full and free was information
on these points that we were partially satisfied that it was the serious
intention of the returned rebels to make war upon those who had adhered
to the Union through all the trials of the rebellion.
After bidding Mr Owens good morning we proceeded on our way to Ocala
via Silver Springs. We arrived at this place about 1 p.m. This
is one of the most enchanting natural scenes I have ever seen. The
spring is at the head of Ocklawaha river in Marion County 5 miles North
East of Ocala. It forms a Pond or small Lake [
and I should judge at the deepest point would measure 45 feet.
The water is very clear so that you can easily discern the bottom at any
place in passing over it in a boat. The fish as well as any object
in the water has the appearance of silver and probably from this peculiarity
it derives its name. Could the spring be located in New York or some
place where its beauty and perhaps medicinal properties be appreciated
it would be a popular place of resort.
We left the spring at 3 p.m. and proceeded on our way towards Ocala
and after making 3 or 4 miles stopped at a cabin by the road to inquire
the most direct route to that place, when we were overtaken by a man on
horseback who appeared to be
travelling to the same point. On making known to him that Brookeville
was our objective point, he told us it would be nearer to go by his house
and if we chose to do so could be entertained at his house for the night.
We gladly accepted his information and invitation, (for which we paid $6.-
the next morning) and followed him home. His name was McGahajan and
we found him [a] very pleasant and communicative on all matters of our
He, as well as Owens with whom we staid the night before, was a Captain
in the rebel army and his views and sympathies were all with that class
of men. He had no faith in the disposition or capacity of the freedman
to take care of himself, and despaired of employing them to any advantage.
He related to us several instances of negro theiving which were really
-able. One case, was of a negro preacher whom he had owned, and
while a slave had never had occasion to suspect his honesty, but since
he became free, had detected him in stealing an axe, a hog, and most positively
denying having had anything to do with, or knowledge of the theft, but
as two of Mr McGahajan's boys had witnessed the whole transaction there
could be no doubt about the theft or the perpetrator.
Mr McG has no faith in free negro labor and is anxious to sell his property.
The land is a rich hammock soil and capable of producing cotton, corn,
sugar cane, sweet potatoes and oranges and other fruits in abundance.
He holds the lands as worth from 10 to 15 dollars per acre and I should
judge were well worth the money, as they produce form 150 to 175 pounds
of the long staple or Sea Island cotton, or 1200 to 1500 pounds of sugar
& 250 gallons of syrup, or from 300 to 400 bushels sweet potatoes.
per acre. He also confirmed our opinion in regard to the purpose
of the "Regulators" as related to us by Mr Owens. His sympathies
are fully with the "regulators" but does not appear at all like a man who
would resort to extreme measures, such as murder to accomplish his purpose.
He is an instance of what a bad tool the system of slavery can make out
of a naturally good man.
December 14th Thursday Therm. 64 7 a.m.
We left Mr McGahajans' this morning about 8:30 and made Sumterville
our objective point, distant about 25 miles. We found nothing particularly
interesting or noticeable on our route except the sinks or Ponds which
are small bodies of water formed for a Tunnel shaft by a depression of
the surface of the ground and in which the water is held. Many of
are fed or made by springs in their center. They are circular
and vary from 40 to 75 feet in diameter and from 10 to 75 ft in depth.
These furnish a supply of water for cattle and for use of the people who
live in their neighborhood. The land passed over today seems to be
of a poorer quality as we get into Sumter County and is covered with a
growth of small pine, too diminutive for lumber. There is however
occasionally a hammock covered with a fair growth of white, red & water
oak and some bay trees. We arrived at Sumterville at 5 p.m. and obtained
shelter and subsistence for ourselves and horses with a Mr Brunch.
Therm. 64 6 p.m.
December 15th Friday Thermometer 51 6 a.m.
Left Sumter this morning about 8 o'clock and proceeded direc to to
distant about 12 miles where we arrived about 11 a.m. We here
crossed the Withlacoochee River on a Ferry boat kept by Mr. Munroe.
The river at this point is about 100 yards in width and 10 feet in depth.
The channel below and above the crossing is almost completely filled with
what is called "Water Lettuce" and would prove a serious obstruction to
the advance of a boat, There is an abundance of game [in the river]
such as ducks and snipes or plover [?] in this section. After we
crossed the River the land for 5 or 6 miles appeared to be poor and sterile
with an occasional exception of a small amount of Hammock. Timber
not very plenty. Pine very small and generally unfit for anything
As we came nearer Brookeville however the soil seemed to assume a darker
and the surface of the county more undulating untill you reach Brookeville
which sits upon quite an elevation of land, such as in New England would
be called a hill. The water too seems to find vent [?] from the hill
sides in springs and looks as cool and clear as could be desired. In fact
I have seen no soil or surface in Florida which has better or more encouraging
appearances than this in Brookville & vicinity.
On reaching Brookville about 4 p.m. we made inquiry for Judge P.G. Wall
to whom I had a letter of Introduction form Colonel Osborne, and found
that his residence was 5 miles west of the town. We pushed forward
and arrived at the judge's at 5 p.m., where we were welcomed to the hospitalities
of his house. The Judge is a very plain man in appearance but you
cannot be in his presence long with-
out being impressed with his intelligence and candour. He is
a positive man & has decided opinions on all topics to which you direct
his attention. His opinion seems to be, that if the negro is left
to himself will in course of time become extinct; but he is not the kind
of man to see them go to destitution without making an effort to better
their condition. Though formerly owning about 60 slaves he has not
treasured up a feeling of bitterness toward the negro because he is emancipated
as a majority of slave holders seemed to have done; but desires to have
them educated and made useful to one another and the community.
He has a plantation of about 1500 acres on which he resides and as he
is getting well into years desires to sell or lease the same. He
is also Executor of
an Estate of about 2500 acres which he would like to lease on the most
liberal terms. As it is stocked with mules cattle & hogs with
plenty of tools and appurtenances for making sugar it affords an enterprising
man a good chance for making $13,000.
Thermometer 7 p.m. 56
December 16th Saturday Therm 6:30 p.m. 65
After partaking of a bountiful breakfast Judge Wall accompanied us
to a part of his Plantation to view the quality of the Hammock soil and
the timber. We found a dark, sandy soil of great depth covered with
white, red & water and an occasional live oak. Red bay, Persimmon &
Magnolia. The sight was truly refreshing after having seen so much
small and useless Pine
during our journey from Gainesville. It seemed to me to be better
soil and to present more encouragement to a man disposed to become a farmer
than any lands I had seen in the state, and were I disposed to become such
should up to this time have no hesitation in locating myself in Hernando
After viewing his premises to our gratification we returned to the house
and made arrangements to continue our journey and here it is necessary
to speak of a little incident having a bearing upon a loss we suffered
today, if it may be called a loss. Before leaving the Judge's I procured
about 24 pounds of sweet potatoes so that in case it became necessary to
camp out we might have something to eat, and
gave the orderly accompanying us, directions to distribute them in
our several saddle bags, but after bidding the Judge & family good
morning and mounted my horse I noticed there were no potatoes in my saddle
bags and asked the orderley what he had done with them when he said he
had them on his horse.
I thought no more of the matter untill we had passed on several miles,
when we looked back and no orderley could be seen. Supposing him
to be still coming on behind we kept our way untill towards night we became
satisfied that it was a deliberate movement of his to desert us.
As there was a courier from Capt. Martin A.L.M. came on with us from Tallahassee
and with whom he had been on the
most intimate terms during the journey and returned this morning, we
concluded it was an arrangement to return with him to Tallahassee.
As our business required us to advance rather than retreat we deemed
it better to pursue our duty rather than a faithless orderly and without
stopping to put on mourning for our loss we hurried on untill at dark we
arrived at the house of Mr. Townsend where we were admitted for the night.
Mr T. was absent and we attended to our horses in person and after that
duty done we repaired to the shanty for our supper, which being a "short
horse" was soon ruined. I will not attempt a description of our meal
but if any one wants to live poor, die poor, and be damned let him become
poor white trash of Florida. Thermometer 7 p.m. 68
December 17th Sunday Therm. 6 a.m. 64
Arose at sunrise and left this dirty uncomfortable place for Tampa,
distant 12 miles. Forded Hillsboro River which was about 3 feet deep
& 40 rods in width and after passing through a miserable piece of country
arrived at Tampa about 12 M tired, hungry, and not much cleaner than the
law allows. Spent the balance of the day in resting from our labor.
Thermometer at 7 p.m. 74
December 18th Monday Therm. 8 a.m. 70
This morning after breakfast we took occasion to examine the town of
Tampa and find it a place of about 800 inhabitants, 600 whites and about
200 colored. The principal business of the whites is trading that
of the colored labor and to which they (the negro) seem to devote
themselves with commendable assiduity. There is no suffering among
them for they seem impressed with the necessity of providing for themselves
by labor and it is difficult to find one without an engagement or prospect
of one. We wanted to employ one to accompany us on a trip to Charlotte
Harbor and the Caloosahachee River but found it very difficult to find
one and when at last we succeeded
in doing so we could not arrange with him for less than one dollar
per day and found and as the service required was not important enough
to warrant the expenditure we concluded to get along without.
We were informed that labor was in such demand that an ordinary laborer
was worth one dollar per day. This is a very important place being
the principal Depot of supplies for the country north of Caloosahachee
River and west of the Kissimmee but notwithstanding the superior location
of the town and the facilities for doing an extensive business there is
wanting the energy and enterprise to stimulate production in the interior
of those articles of real worth in the market. Fruits are cultivated
to very little extent, scarcely sufficient for the wants of the producer
though the climate and soil are specially adapted
to the production of oranges, grapes, figs &c in abundance.
The soil in and around Tampa is a light sandy formation, extending to a
great depth and to a casual observer would appear very sterile, but upon
examination will be found to have the qualities necessary for all kinds
of vegetables and fruits common to southern Florida.
Our land lady had a small gardens [near?] her house where Peas, turnips
& radishes appeared to flourish remarkably for the winter months.
As we desired to be on our journey as soon as possible, and our horses
were unfit to proceed we concluded to make a visit to Manatee, Charlotte
Harbor & Caloosahachee River in a small boat so we effected our arrangement
with Louis Bell who was formerly the Mail
Carrier between Tampa & Fort Myers and well acquainted with the
Our arrangements being made we only awaited a fair wind to take us
down the Bay. Thermometer 7 p.m. 66
December 19th Tuesday. Them 7 a.m.
We still remain at Tampa but have determined to start on our trip tomorrow.
Today has been spent in getting our supplies and completing the arrangement
for a coast voyage.
Thermometer 7 p.m. 64
December 20th Wednesday Therm 7 a.m. 67
Started this morning at 10 o'clock for Charlotte Harbor. The
wind was against us and were obliged to row the boat for about 5 miles.
when] The channel being narrow
as the day advanced the wind from the South East increased and we made
rather poor headway and as the sun was going down found ourselves at Gadsdens
Point, where we landed & fixed our camp for the night. The musquitoes
annoyed us exceedingly and being too warm to cover our heads with our blankets
we concluded to make our beds on the beach where we came very near being
flanked by the sand flies. After exercising a little patience we
fell asleep and passed the night very comfortably.
Thermometer 8 p.m. 66
December 21st Thursday. Therm 6 a.m. 60
Left Gadsdens Point at 6:30 and beat against the wind all day making
Teresea [Terra Ceia] Bay at dusk where we cast  anchor. Eat
a few mouthfuls of Pork and Hard Tack and slept in the boat at night.
[To page 59 cont.]
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