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A Tour of Central Florida and the Lower West Coast

by George Franklin Thompson



Copyright © 1999 University of Florida, George A. Smathers Libraries

December 22st, 1865 through January 20, 1866

[continued from p. 59]

December 22d  Friday.  Therm  7 a.m.  61
Left Teresea [Terra Ceia] Bay at daylight and put into Manatee River landing at the right bank of the mouth of the river and cooked our coffee & Pork.  Here we found on the bank, facing the Bay several mounds of shell from 20 to 40 feet high.  These shells are an almost inexhaustible source of fertility to the adjacent lands and are particularly adapted to the growth of oranges, lemons, & Limes.  How they came there no one can tell.  Some suppose them to have been washed up by the waters of the Bay others, that this was a place selected by the Indians for fishing and obtaining their supplies of oysters.


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The Manatee River derives its name from the fact that in these waters years ago large numbers of fish of that name were found here.  The signification of the words is cow-fish on account of its having either a real or fanciful similarity to that animal.  They are said to have been taken weighing from 500 to 1200 pounds and upon the beach may now be found the bones of the animal or fish in a petrified state.  There are some dilapidated buildings yet standing unoccupied.  The soils appears rich and productive.  We found an excellent spring of fresh water a short distance from our landing.

After partaking of a hearty breakfast of Pork & Bread we proceeded up the river 6 miles and stopped at the house


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of Joseph Asteroth, formerly a sutler with the Army of 1836, who kindly invited us to dinner.  He has a farm of 150 acres of Hammock & Prairie land which we examined and I should judge it to be [of] excellent soil.  He has but little under cultivation but what he has is done thoroughly, like all Dutch farmers he uses the spade quite as freely as the plough.  He is getting well in years and is desirous of selling out his property.  Besides the 150 acres mentioned he has another tract of 160 acres with 500 head of cattle & 200 hogs all of which he would sell for $4,000.

There is a well of excellent water near the house and but a few rods distant a mineral spring impregnated with Iron.  The Manatee is a beautiful river and abounds with fish.  The country is said



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to be very healthy and judging from what I saw believe it to be so.  Asteroth says he has always had quite a number of invalids at his house during the winter months from the North but the war occurring they ceased to patronize him.  About 2 p.m. we went up the river about 4 miles to the Plantation of Davis & Scofield.  Reaching here nearly at dark we had time only to make arrangements for stopping over night with Mr A McNeal Agent for the proprietors or [present?] [previous?] owners.  Therm.  8 p.m.  52

December 23d Saturday.  Therm  7 a.m.  56
After breakfast this morning Mr. McNeal invited us to make an examination of the Plantation of which


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he is Agent.  It comprises about 4000 acres.  Mostly Hammock land of which about 2000 have been under cultivation untill the war commenced in 1861.  The product raised was the sugar cane.  There were on the plantation at that time about 200 slaves, but one account of the disturbance or some other reason, all but 11 were removed to Louisiana and only enough left to care for the plantation.

The land is of superior quality and is easily cultivated.  The house is a large concrete mansion and though now somewhat out of repair could easily be put in condition to afford comfort & protection.  A large Sugar Mill stood upon this plantation for the grinding & crushing of the cane.  Worked by Steam power.  There were 24 kettles for boiling


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the juice of the cane, containing from 60 to 80 Gallons.  The amount of Sugar made when in full operation was about 300 Hogsheads of 1000 pounds each and [about] from 8 to 10,000 gallons of Syrup.  In 1864 nothing was done in the manufacture of sugar or the raising of any crop, and in fact no amount has been cultivated since the rebellion commenced as Davis & Co removed the negroes in the commencement of the war to Louisiana.  The land has been resting and the consequence is that all that which had before been under cultivation is now grown up with a rank weed and the coarse [green?].  The soil affords evidence of great richness and capable of producing under proper cultivation immense crops of corn, cane Potatoes & Fruits.


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There are now 11 negroes at this place and all anxious to be doing something.  I took occasion to enquire of them if they were well treated by Mr McNeal and if he had performed his part of the agreement for their labor and not one had any complaint to make.  I advised them to hire out and work faithfully according to contract which they all seemed disposed to do, though some were anxious to own some land to commence a home for themselves.  In my opinion some effort should be made by the Bureau or those other charitable organizations, to settle men of that class upon the Government lands and let them develop the country under proper supervision.  They would be adding to the taxable wealth of the State


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and be identifying themselves with its interests and would become personally interested in maintaining the laws and stimulating industry among their own class and possibly put the whites to shame for their laziness.

Thus far we have noticed that though the whites are disposed to give the negroes a bad name by saying 'they will not work" the negroes are the only ones whom we find at work, the whites preferring to spend their time & strength in berating the Freedman.

The Manatee River is a beautiful stream filled with fish and oysters and is navigable for a distance of ten miles from its mouth for vessels drawing 8 feet of water.  After examining the country as much as we desired we took to our boat about


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10:30 o'clock and proceeded down the river into Sarasota Bay and [landed for the night at] remained in the boat all night near Cedar Island.

December 24th Sunday  Therm  7 a.m.  60
At daylight this morning started for the Orange Grove about 5 miles distant and arrived at 7:30.
Here is a Grove of about 250 orange trees and 100 Lemon, we round them loaded with fruit, the oranges were delicious and so well did they take our fancy that we bought 200 for $4 and obtained breakfast (?) at Mr Whitakers.  And such a breakfast.  The Gods seldom feast upon the like that was served us.  One of the peculiarities of the people and the most damning one is the fact that they will live


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upon the most inferior food if more easily obtained.  Mr Whitaker is not an isolated case.  He is the representative of the larger part of the people, that is the common people, and to speak truly of him is to represent them all correctly.  What do you suppose we feasted upon 'this morning.'  Do not be in too much hurry and I will tell you.  It was stinking salt fish and bread!!!  Mr Whitaker has about 5000 head of cattle but he is too lazy and shiftless to kill one.

He has 150 acres of land most any part of which will produce Potatoes and other vegetables, but he is too indolent to cultivate them.  The Bay, about 80 rods from his house, is alive with nice Mullet, Grouper, Red-fish & oysters but it requires exertion to get them consequently Mr. W. cannot or will


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not have them.  He lives in a rickety old shell of a shanty or rather in two or three of them, for they are very small and contemptible, when there is a very good frame put up for a very respectable dwelling and only requires a little work to make himself and family comfortable and bear the semblance of respectability but work is required and the "nigger won't work" so Mr Whitaker is obliged to live poor, die poor and probably will be damned.  All this is charged to the "nigger" though there isn't one within 12 miles of him.  These are the people we are trying to conciliate in Florida.

After paying him for the oranges &c (I do not wish to call it by its proper name as it would look bad on paper) we took our departure and went to Big Sarasota Inlet.


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where we camped, bathed, cooked, and slept during the night on the beach.  The musquitoes annoyed us so much however that we rose about 1 a.m. and commenced fishing to pass the time.  After catching two or three nice pan fish, cooking & eating them we tried it again with better success.
Thermometer  7:30  68

December 25th  Monday.  Therm   6 a.m.  66
The wind being unfavorable to go outside this morning we concluded to wait awhile, but becoming impatient about 12 M we started for Little Sarasota Bar and after poling rowing & sailing found ourselves at 6 p.m. halted by an Oyster Bar which shelved [?] entirely across the Channel about 80 feet wide.  Not wishing to


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be detained by so insignificant a cause we pulled off our boots, rolled up our pants & sleeves and commenced making a channel by throwing out oysters.  After working about 2 hours we made a channel through which the water reached quite freely, and were in hopes that the current would wash the sand sufficient to let our boat pass in the morning so we devoted an hour to culinary matters, and laid ourselves down in the boat to sleep but sleep we could not so we commenced fighting . . . M-u-s-q-u-i-t-o-e-s!!

Dec 26th Tuesday.  Therm  68
We kept up this amusement untill daybreak when finding that the water had not accomplished so much as we had expected, we stripped to the work and with a spade finished what the current failed to do.  We were


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detained here by the low tide untill 3 p.m..

While waiting for the tide we traversed the main land for two or three miles which we found to be Hammock land with the limestone cropping out at various points.  There was a thick growth of Palmetto small oak and other brush which made it almost impenetrable.  We made our way along side a small creek the banks of which were covered with monstrous Alligators which had crawled out to sun.  Not liking their looks we introduced a few Minie balls into their bodies to see them jump and were highly gratified at the exhibition of their sprightliness.

One of them jumped up about 4 feet and started for the water as fast as his ungainly legs would


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carry him.  Another daring [?] to be braver than the rest stood with head erect as if to mock us with his courage for about 5 minutes when a ball introduced under & just back of his fore leg induced him to lie over on his back very quickly as though attacked with intense pain in the heart & bowels.  These were the largest Alligators we had seen being from 14 to 18 feet in length.

At 3 p.m. after some considerable pulling and hauling we had our boat over the bar and started again with high hopes when we soon found the water too shallow to take us over into deep water and for a distance of two miles we worked our passage by pushing


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the boat along much to our disgust and inconvenience being about as wet as though we had been wrecking [?] or sponging.  We finally made an Island about 5 miles from Sarasota Bar which we named Cast Net Folly on account of leaving a cast-net there the next morning.
Therm.  8 p.m.  64

December 27th  Wednesday
Therm  6 a.m.  61
Left Cast-Net Folly this morning for Little Sarasota and reached there at 2 p.m. but the wind still came quite strong from the South East.  Could not get outside to make the run to Little Gasparilla so we ran down to


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the main land at Rine Spring and took on board a supply of fresh water and came back part way to a small Island and camped for the night.

It proved to be a very uncomfortable place for the musquitoes & gnats or sand flies annoyed us so that we obtained but little rest during the night.  All the Islands upon which we have landed thus far are composed entirely of the debris of shell & coral rock and having but little vegetable matter in them and possessing but little evidence of fertility I conclude they are worth but little except as fishing retreats.  Thermometer  8 p.m.  68

December 28th  Thursday  Therm  6:30  62
Left the Island this morning about 10 o'clock and went up to Little Sarasota but the wind still coming from the South East


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we concluded to make our camp on [the] Sarasota Island.  After arranging for the night we tried our hand at fishing.  Attaching the largest hook we had to a bed cord we threw it out and in a few moments hauled in a small shark weighing about 50 pounds.  We also hooked a Tarpon of about 300 pounds weight but he managed to extricate himself and he was lost to us very much to our mortification.

I caught several very fine red fish which served for our supper as well as my own amusement.  This Island is of the same character of the rest though with a larger mixture of vegetable matter.  There may be twenty or thirty acres fit for cultivation but the chief objection to attempting it is the fact that [they] it is liable to be overflowed in case of some storms and very high tides.


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December 29th  Friday  Therm  6 a.m.  58
At daylight this morning we found the wind had changed around to N.E. and we started outside for Charlotte Harbor.  We made the run from Little Sarasota to Little Gasparilla a distance of 38 miles between daylight & 5 p.m.  We began to fear (3 p.m.) that we should not be able to make an entrance over the bar for the wind ceased to come from the N.E. and showed signs of springing up from the South East.  We barely got over the bar before the wind sprang up [and] with great fury from S.E. and had we been outside would have been obliged to put back to our starting point in the morning.  We landed on Little Gasparilla and made ourselves as comfortable as possible, for the night.  The bar is called in the Map, Buen Nueva.  Therm  8 p.m.  61


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December 30th  Saturday  Therm  7 a.m. 62
Left Little Gasparilla this morning about 10 o'clock for Peace Creek.  Had head wind all day and consequently made but little progress.   At dusk cast anchor near an Island about 7 miles from mouth of Peace Creek.  Here we were attacked by Musquitoes at first by Brigade then by Division and afterwards by Corps and doubting our ability to withstand their severe [?] charges we concluded it would be wiser to retreat.  Consequently we fell back about two miles and passed a miserable night in the boat.

December 31st Sunday
At daylight this morning we made our way as best we could for Pease Creek arriving at Punta Gorda about 12 M.  Passing up the river about 10 miles we found


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a Steamer ("Gov Marvin") at anchor in the channel awaiting for cattle.  We here found Liet. J.C. Shaw with a detachment of the 99th U.S.C.J. (39 men) who welcomed us to the hospitalities of his quarters.

The business of this section is exclusively Stock Raising & here we had an opportunity to learn somewhat of the business and the manner in which it is conducted.  Mr. [James] McKay is the principal shipper of cattle.  He owns the Steamer "Gov Marvin" and runs regularly, or as often as he can from either Tampa or Pease Creek to Havana.  He purchases the cattle of the Stock Raisers at from 10 to 15 dollars (in gold) per head and sells them in Havana up from 17 to 27 dollars in gold.  The cattle are very small and inferior in appearance and if offered in New York market would provoke jeers and ridicule rather than offers to purchase.  The best of them will dress [?] about 500 nett.


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but the greater part of them would not nett more than 300 to 350 pounds.

Jacob Summerlin of Polk County is reputed to be the largest Stock raiser in the county having between 15 & 20,000 head.  In fact, he told us he did not know how many cattle he had but supposed the number to be about 20,000. From the best information we could gather I should judge that the number of cattle now grazing in the counties of Hillsboro Manatee Munroe & Broward would approximate 100,000.  They are nearly as wild and fleet of foot as the deer and only those who are trained to the business could succeed in herding them.  Mr Summerlin had a party of ten or twelve men with him to herd and load the cattle.  They are the poor class in the country & termed "crackers."  They were as a class


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entirely destitute, ignorant and generally ambitious only for enough to eat regardless of quality to satisfy their hunger.  They are governed almost exclusively by the cattle proprietors and present a sorry spectacle of what depths of ignorance and stupidity human nature is capable.

Mr Summerlin is a man of naturally great will power but devoid of culture in any of the refinements of life.  The poor look up to him as their superior and revere his ideas as law.  Though rough & uncouth in exterior from what we learn of him by others I believe he has a kind heart for quite a number testify that during the war he assisted the families of both refugees and rebels and reli[e]ved a great amount of suffering by furnishing bread and meat to them.  He was a rebel, but I judge from his conversation


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he was one from policy and not from principle.  On asking him, what was the feeling of the prominent men, as far as he knew, toward the U.S. Government? He very promptly replied "I will tell you sir, though they pretend to accept the result yet their hatred is just as intense as ever and if an opportunity is offered by a quarrel between France and the United States they would do all they could to break down the government."  He does not consider the county from the Manatee River south worth settling & cultivation but such an opinion from him is worth but little when you consider that the settlement of the county would destroy the ranges for cattle and thereby ruin his business.
The year 1865 is exhausted and I feel in sympathy with it.  Amen.



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January 1, 1866.  Monday  Therm 7 a.m.  68
Feeling unwell today I concluded to keep as quiet as possible for fear I might be attacked with disease, however I could not resist a very kind invitation from Mr McKay to go on board the "Marvin" and take dinner.  Mr McKay is an Elderly Gentleman of Scotch birth large commanding in person open, frank countenance gentlemanly & kind to every one he meets.  Full of energy and enterprise he gives to Tampa whatever of life and business it possesses.  In fact we find that the people of that place dated and regulated about everything by McKay's movements.  If they were to clear a piece of ground or plant a patch of Potatoes it would be contingent upon McKays bringing the necessary implements & seed from Key West or Havana.


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During the war he however floated with the current into secession and I presume with the defeat of the rebellion glided as gracefully back to Unionism as any man in Florida.  On board the Steamer we found Judge Gettis of Tampa, the judge of the Circuit Court elected thereto by the people for his ability and rebellious proclivities.  He is a thin cadaverous looking man and if Phrenology has any foundation in reason, is more cunning than profound.  He is an instance of what great change, the southern climate and the institutions of the south have wrought in Northern men from time immemorial.  He insists that a man necessarily becomes enervated in the southern country in the course of two or three years residence and soon becomes assimilated to those around him in


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manner & habits.  I could not help thinking while he was talking in that strain, that he intended it as a justification of himself quite as much as it really was a libel upon Nature.  He sings the old song "the nigger won't" but excuses the white man by libelling Nature.
Therm  8 p.m. 74

January 2nd  Tuesday.  Therm  7 a.m.  68
It was very warm & uncomfortable last night the musquitoes & sand flies being out in full force, allowed us but little rest.  The face of the country bordering on Peace Creek is generally low [and level] and is subject to overflow from the river at times and inundation in the wet season by rains.  The soil is sandy and covered with a sparse growth of small pine unfit for timber in any quantity.  There are numerous


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ponds supplied by the heavy rains but now are getting very low and some are completely dry and a heavy growth of coarse grass has come up unfit for animals.  In passing through the country for a distance of about 10 miles south west from McKays wharf the appearance of the country does not materially differ from that immediately bordering on the River.  Up the river however 8 or ten miles it appears to be a little higher.  The land might be rendered fit for cultivation by a thorough system of ditching & draining, but one objection to this section is the difficulty of obtaining fresh water.  Wells sunk within ¼ mile of the river supply a brackish water, very unpleasant to drink if not absolutely injurious.  In this section I think a population would be obliged to depend upon the


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clouds rather then springs for their fresh water.  We here find plenty of game such as deer snipes & ducks, & wild turkeys.  The river is well supplied with fish.  Mullet being the most common, though the Tarpon & Jew fish are taken in great numbers.

The River is very wide being from 1 to 3 miles in width for a distance of 8 miles from its mouth with a crooked channel.  Vessels drawing 8 feet may proceed up as far as the mouth of Prairie Creek.
Therm  7 p.m. 62

January 3rd  Wednesday  Therm  7 a.m.  64
The wind this morning fair (N.E.) at 9 o'clock we left Lt. Shaw's camp and proceeded down the river, on our way to the Caloosahachee River, Fort Myers being our objective point.  We had a splendid run from our starting point and expected


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to make Fort Myers at night supposing it to be only 51 miles but we were convinced of our mistake by reexamining the chart when we found it to be 65 miles.  It commenced raining about 1 p.m. today and kept increasing in quantity untill at 4:30 we were obliged to put in at Sword Point for the night.  We here built a rousing fire upon the beach, extemporized a tent from the Main sail, cooked our supper and retired to rest.  The storm was violent out side and we considered ourselves very fortunate in having made a landing as we did.
About midnight however the rain ceased and the wind shifted around to the northwest running the thermometer down to 48 and reminding us of ice bergs, furs & overcoats.


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January 4th  Thursday  Therm  7 a.m.  44
Left Sword Point at daylight this morning for Fort Myers, distant 21 miles, on getting out into the channel we found a strong current against us and the wind having shifted back to the North East we had both to contend against.
After proceeding about 10 miles the wind and tide proved too much for us and we were obliged to put in at a point called Red Fish Point where we spent the balance of the day in perambulating through the woods and the night in trying to keep warm.  The country along the river here is like all the rest of the river banks, low and subject to overflow.  No Timber.  Plenty of Mangroves and back from the river 2 miles small pine.


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Indeed as we come from Manatee south the pine seems to grow smaller and if it continues in the same ratio I shall expect to see it run down to small sprigs 40 miles below the river.  Therm  7 p.m. 44.

January 5th  Friday.  Therm 8 a.m. 50
Left Red Fish Point at 7:30 a.m. wind & tide against us.  After beating up the River 3 hours we were nearly chilled through and were obliged to effect a landing to warm ourselves.  Staid on shore 1:30 minutes when we took to boat refreshed and kept on our way. Passing the point where Gen. Harney escaped in his night clothes from the Indians in 36 or 37 and finally at 5:30 p.m. effected a landing at Fort Myers.


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Here we put up at the home of the only resident at this place, Mr. McClenathan.  He was a Refugee during the war and his appearance as well as that of his family indicated that he had endured a great deal more than he had enjoyed during the last three or four years.  I was reminded of the Irishman who said that, "When I first came to this country I hadn't a rag to my back and now I'm all rags."
Therm 10 p.m.  44.

January 6th Saturday  Therm 8:30 a.m. 38
This morning after breakfast we took horses and in company with Mr. McClenathan [we] visited the famous sulphur spring of the not less famous Indian Chief "Billy Bowlegs" about one mile distant from the old Garrison East occupied by our troops.


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The spring is about half a mile south from the river.  The water is warm and very clear & resembles somewhat the waters of Silver Spring in Marion County.  We drank of it and found it to be impregnated with sulphur but not so strongly as to be unpleasant to the taste.  It gurgles up in a sort of a cave or hollow surrounded by a growth of small trees & shrubs.  It is really a beautiful retreat and doubtless here the Seminole Chief formed his plans of attack upon the white man.  On seeing the place I could not help admiring the taste even of the savage in its selection.  It even surpasses the more educated whites of Florida.  After gratifying our sight of this point of interest we started in the direction of Ostero Bay.  (Ostero is probably the Spanish for Oyster).


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After travelling south about 12 miles we came to this place or approximated to it.  The surface of the county is so low that the waters of the Bay extend up from its immediate bed and spreads over a vast surface to a slight depth.  So that to get into the bay from the land side requires a small boat to go down in some of the small creeks leading into the the Bay.  There is a peculiarity in the formation on the Caloosahachee which is not noticeable in any other part of the State through which we have travelled and it is this.  On the bank of the river the soil is from two to three feet in depth resting upon a bed of solid lime rock and as you proceed to Ostero Bay the surface soil becomes thinner and thinner untill at the Bay the rock protrudes itself upon


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the surface.  You will notice the gradual change by the growth of the pine & cypress diminishing as you approach the Bay.  On the River for instance the Pine [will] be found from 8 to 12 inches in diameter and diminishes in size untill at the Bay it does not generally exceed 8 inches.

At Fort Myers is an Orange Grove of about 300 trees, 150 Lemon several cocoa nut and [a few Pine] a few Almond & Lime trees.  They are in bad condition at present many of them having been blown over by high winds and all of them requiring trimming.  The buildings are in very bad condition.  The floors of the Hospital building having been taken out, ceiling battered off windows & doors broken and destroyed one or two large


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wooden cisterns demolished and the smaller buildings formerly occupied as Officers Quarters almost utterly ruined.  There were four cisterns yet remaining which with little labor might be made serviceable for holding fresh water.

One would suppose from the appearance of things that no one had been there for the last five years except to destroy.  The wharves have suffered as well as the buildings but their destruction is probably owing more to natural causes than a spirit of vandalism.

There is plenty of cypress of small size in the vicinity of Fort Myers about large enough for fence posts.  In our journey to Ostero Bay & back we scarcely found 50 trees of sufficient size for saw logs.  There is plenty of game here.  Seen wild turkies Bear


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ducks &c &c.  The river is a beautiful stream about 2 miles in width with a crooked channel and of a depth sufficient for vessels drawing about 4 feet to Ft. Myers.
Therm  7 p.m.  48

January 7th Sunday  Therm  7:30 44
Left Fort Myers for Tampa at 8 a.m. with a fair wind made Punta Rosa at 11 o'clock where we stopped to obtain a supply [a supply] of fresh water.  Here we found four Connecticutt men engaged in the fishing business (Messrs Davy, Bennett & Co)  They employ 18 men and have put up 1800 Quintales of fish since October last.  The fish sell in Havana for 7 dollars per quintal (in gold).  They invited us to dinner (which gratefully accepted) where


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we discussed or rather devoured as Christians only can to our entire satisfaction the first good meal for 3 weeks.  Leaving Punta Rosa at 1 o'clock we reached Captiva Island at 5:30 p.m. where we camped for the night.  This island is good for nothing except to help hold the world together and afford a resting place for weary travellers.
Therm 6 p.m.  55

January 8th Monday.  Therm 6 a.m.  53
Left Captiva at 6 o'clock.  Stopped at Fort Casey on Casey's Island at 11:30 where we found another fishing enterprise under Manuel Gonzales a Spaniard from Key West.  In two months time he with 11 men had taken and cured 800 Quintales of fish.  (Mullet).  He leaves tomorrow for Havana with his cargo.


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This island has about 150 acres of land fit for cultivation.  On this island are two cocoa nut trees the first full grown ones I have seen, those at Ft. Myers being small and immature.

We left this island at 12:30, passed Boca Grande at 3 p.m., Big Gasparilla at 5 p.m., and reached Little Gasparilla or Boca Nueva at 5:50 just as violent tornado commenced on the Gulf Coast.  Here we camped for the night.

January 9th Tuesday  Therm 7 a.m.  61
Could not get out to go on the coast.  The wind strong and dead-a-head, remained on Gasparilla & toured the adjacent land & fished & fatted [fasted?].
Therm 6:30 p.m.  62


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January 10th Wednesday  [Therm] Same as 9th

January 11th Thursday
Left Little Gasparilla this morning at 6 o'clock and passed over the bar into the Gulf of Mexico.  Proceeded along the coast and passed Little Sarasota at 2 p.m. and arrived at Big Sarasota inlet at 3 p.m. where we entered Sarasota Bay and steered directly for the orange grove of Mr. Whitaker arriving at the place at 4:30 p.m. distant from the inlet 7 miles.  Here we obtained 100 oranges some supper.  (Great improvement on our last meal there, thanks to Mrs. W. not Mr. W.)  Slept on board the boat during the night.
Therm at dark about 62

January 12th [Thursday] Friday  Therm 6:30  63
Left Orange Grove at 6 o'clock with a fair wind all day, arrived at Tampa at 5 p.m. distance 75 miles.


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January 13th Saturday
On our arrival last night we were met by a motley group of men & boys loafing around the wharf to discern who had arrived.  A great deal of anxiety had been felt for the safety of Mr. Bell by his friends, and we were not entirely destitute of them even in Tampa for several welcomed us back and seemed glad that we had escaped in the violent gale of the 8th.  Here we learned that during that terrible tornado the gunboat "Narcissus" had been lost off Egmont Key with 29 or 31 souls on board, and not one survived to tell the tale.  There was another loss of life from Tampa, two men were out fishing in the bay and being overtaken by the storm on their way home were capsized and lost.  One of the bodies had been found but the other was still


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missing.  The people of Tampa sincerely lamented this latter loss for these men were very useful in furnishing fish and oysters to the town.  I don't know as I can remember any expressions of regret at the loss of the Gunboat [^]& crew, though doubtless some of them did sincerely regret it.  Mrs. Roberts seemed more than ordinarily pleased with our return for having an eye to the profitable, she recognized us as paying visitors.  She was formerly a Connecticutt woman and from what she says, together with what I judge she must have been, when young probably married a Southerner with the high-expectations of being a lady.  But her experience proves to her as well as others that misfortunes happen to the best of folks and her experience shows the effect of slavery upon conjugal relations sometimes to be anything but conducive to harmony and happiness.


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It seems that Dr. Roberts acquired a habit of spending his evenings elsewhere than at home, where a man of domestic feelings should, and the result was an internecine war.  The Dr. coming out second best in the contest concluded to divide the house with his spouse, giving here the inside and himself the outside.  Since which times Mrs. R. has lived a sort of widowhood, said by some to be of the vegetable species.

We have found an old [fellow] man 82 years old by the name Yourmans from a place about 10 miles from Tallahassee.  He was one of those old dyed-in-the-wool defenders of slavery from scriptural grounds which to an intelligent man excite pity and disgust, pity that that human nature is capable of being so demented, and disgust that a man should have lived so long and learned so little.


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He was punctual in his religious habit of asking a blessing at every meal and seemed to me to think his entrance to Heaven beyond a doubt.  If such men have no difficulty in being saved, I think the Hindoo has a very respectable chance without the interference of American missionaries.  On asking him about the productiveness of his farm he could give no definite information, had even too limited knowledge to give a respectable guess.  Said he raised "right smart" crops.  How many bushels of sweet Potatoes could you raise to the acre?  Said he, I don't know, I never measured them but I reckon will nigh on to 45 bushels. How many bushels of corn did you get from an acre?  I don't know but I reckon well nigh on to 15 bushels.  He said he came down to Tampa to see if he couldn't find some "mush" upon which he could


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raise some Rice.  I suggested to Mr. Gleason, though not in the old man's hearing, that his time would be much more appropriately employed in looking up a suitable burial place.

January 14.  Sunday.
This was a beautiful morning but we just begin to feel exhausted from our trip, and today we have done little but yawn and shield [?] ourselves and make ourselves as comfortable as possible.  The old man is too old and demented to afford us much amusement in quizzing him and the topics which naturally became subjects of conversation or controversy get old and stale and Gleason and myself agree generally so well in matters of opinion that we naturally grew [grow]


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reticent.  Mrs. Roberts however like a great many other women has a great deal to say but when condensed into real practical common sense amounts to a very little, so we take little pleasure there.  The streets of Tampa are so sandy that it is about as difficult to get around here as through the snow at home.  People here are comparatively indifferent about going to church.  They congregate at the corners of the streets, on the wharf, or go bout riding, or fishing, & amuse one another by telling oft told tales, drinking poor whiskey and laying around generally.

We went over to the Garrison and saw Capt. Harding and spent an hour or so very pleasantly with him and his Lieutenants Lagenderf and Hawley.  Harding appears to be an American "paddy," that is, he has a good deal of the paddy's look about


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him with his general uncouthness & want of refinement.  Enjoys fun, a pipe and glass of whiskey as frequent as Put [Pat?].  Lagenderf is weak generally, weak in the head, weak in body, weak in spirit, in fact has about as few qualities to commend him to any man I ever saw.  He was repulsive to me at first sight and the more I saw of him the more I began to hate him.  He says he is from Massachusetts.  If that is true I hope he always will be for I don't think Massachusetts has any place for that kind of man unless it is the Potters Field.  Hawley is from Connecticutt and appears a nice little gentlemanly fellow, pleasant, affable, well behaved and withal has some streaks of good common sense which helps a man wonderfully.


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The Steamer "Gov Marvin" owned by Mr McKay of Tampa and named after the Provisional Governor of Florida, arrived this evening from Key-West and Havana bringing quite a number of passengers.  Among them were Judge Beckwith of New Orleans and a Dr. Davis formerly Surgeon in the U.S. Army. The Judge is a brother of Genl Amos Beckwith of the Subsistence Department U.S.A., but I don't know as that is any recommendation where the Genl is best known.  I think the Judge is a much abler man than the Genl though apparently several years younger.  The Dr. is an Elderly Gentleman of the old Virginia pattern, pleasant, sociable and intelligent, though very evidently the last three or four years have furrowed his face quite deeply.  He has been to Havana some little time and comes


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back to commence life anew having lost about all his property during the War.  I say his name is Davis, I am not so sure of that however.  He was formerly a Consul at one of the Mexican Ports and if I recollect correctly, under Fillmore.  The old fellow appears very much subdued and evidently has made up his mind that the Universal Yanke [?] Nation is a big thing.

January 15  Monday.
Today we visited Mr. Hughes with whom we made ourselves acquainted in our first visit to Tampa on account of the representation made by Captain Ireland of the intense hostility of the people to the Government, and Mr. Hughes was among the number that he mentioned as belonging to that clan of men.


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Our main object today was to ascertain the State of the rivers across the Country as Mr. Hughes then informed us on our former visit that he was going to ride out to Bartow in a few days [then].  He says that the water has not in all probability subsided enough to allow us to cross the Kissimmee without some difficulty if not danger.  He represents the water as overflowing the banks on both sides for a distance of several miles & if not deep enough to hinder travel yet might cause us to lose sight of the trail and get lost, and we might find ourselves under obligations to travel many miles without finding any person to direct us in the right way.  To make sure of visiting Dade County, therefore, we determined to [strike] go to Key-West and there procure a small boat and go down inside the Keys.


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We tried to prevail upon Mr. Bell to take us to Key-West and from there to the Miami while we were at Fort Myers but he represented the danger as being very great, in such a boat as his, and did not at all like the proposition and we thought it poor policy to force him to go against his own judgement.  Mr. McKays Steamer starts Wednesday morning and we have plenty of writing to occupy our time untill then and we divided our time between the citizens of Tampa and our writing table.

Mr. Beckwith proves himself a very companionable man and seems to have a thorough knowledge of a great many things outside the legal profession.  Among other  things he called our attention to the Sisal Hemp and today we found some in Mr. Fletchers


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Garden and obtained several leaves from which we extracted the fibre.  Beckwith says he is interested in the culture and manufacture of this Hemp in Campechy and has been for some time.  He represented that one great object in coming to Tampa was to ascertain from actual observation whether the plant is injured by the frost in so high a Lattitude.  The general impression is that the frost kills the plant, but here see plants ten years old as fresh and hardy as can be desired, indeed shows no sign of having been injured in the least.

The great [difficulty] [^] obstacle in making the plant available and profitable is the difficulty in separating the fibre from the vegetable matter.  Beckwiths plan is substantially as follows.  Run the leaves through heavy rollers similar to those of pressing


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the juice of the Sugar Cane put the juice in vat and let it ferment.  After it has fermented the juice becomes ascetic in character, as soon as it gets into this state immerse the leaves and let them remain untill the liquid dissolves the vegetable matter, which ordinarily will not be more than about 24 hours.  After the vegetable matter is dissolved [ife] the fibre is easily cleansed by rinsing in fresh water, then expose to dry, and pack.  This theory is very plausible for the juice is very strong and in one kind of leaf sufficiently so to take the skin from your tongue and mouth.

One question which often presents itself to my mind is, If the Negro is so lazy and will not work why is it that some of these lazy fellows are not seen.  There


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certainly are none roaming about the streets idle, and nothing suits a Negro any better if he has nothing to do but to loaf around and show himself.  The fact is they are about the only ones I see at work.  They are driving carts, doing the heavy work about the stores, at work as carpenters, masons, Gardeners, and doing what little work that is done in this town.  So far as this place is concerned the charge is a falsehood, and it seems to be iterated and re-iterated to divert attention from the indolence of the white man.

January 17th  Wednesday
Yesterday we spent in writing and visiting different parts of the town.  Early [in] this morning I started Gleason out by making it appear that it was quite


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late and unless we hurried we should be too late to get on board the "Gov Marvin" for Key-West.  Between the annoyance of the fleas and the heat, I slept very little last night and was glad to see a glimmer of light to justify getting up.  We awoke Beckwith in the next room and soon made our appearance at the wharf where we found a small boat in readiness to take us to the Steamer about 5 miles distant.

There is only 5 or 6 feet of water immediately at the town and the channel from Hillsboro Bay into Hillsboro River is very narrow and tortuous and steamers of greater draught are obliged to anchor down 5 or 6 miles and lighter [lighten?] off their freights and passengers.  We had a pleasant ride to the Steamer but were somewhat mortified to find that the tide


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was out and the steamer aground and consequently we had to wait untill high tide about 3 p.m.  There were about 250 head of cattle on board bound for Havana and while were waiting for the tide the hands attempted to get on board a couple more steers.  They were as wild as hawks and could be induced to come on board only by force.  They had a long line & lassooed them and then dragged them aboard by main force.

While here a couple of Oystermen came along side towing the dead body of one of the men drowned in the Gale of the 8th inst.  His name was John Montiokee, a son of the Indian Agent, living near to Kissimmee.  John was a cross between the Negro and Spanish.  His father being a Spaniard and mother a Negress.  He was spoken of as being a very fine young man and


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but very recently married.  They towed the body up to town where it was afterwards decently buried.  Our list of passengers was rather light and we had to amuse ourselves as best we could.  After dark the wind increased and the Surf rolled up the big waves against the Steamer and [--] rocked us in "the cradle of the deep" very much to the annoyance of Mr Gleason's stomach, and it in turn seemed all at once to take a great dislike to his last meal.  I felt remarkably well and experienced none of those sensations, which on the water leads a person to set a light estimate on life.  Gleason, however is very easily afflicted and during this trip my only enjoyment was in witnessing his torture.


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January 18.  Thursday.
We were fortunate enough to rise early enough this morning to witness a sun rise at sea.  To attempt a description of such a view would be too much for me so I will not attempt what I know would result in entire failure.  The only event today to break the monotony of our trip was the throwing overboard of one of the steers which died on board.  As it floated behind us I could not help thinking what a sweet morsel for the fish & sharks instead of the Cubans!!!

I was surprised at the [character] [^] quality of the cattle when they were put on board & remarked to Mr McKay that they seemed very small and poor for beef, but he say the Havana people do not feel so particular about their fresh beef as people of our own Country, in fact almost anything


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will pass in the Havana market which has the name fresh beef attached to it.  I do not think the lot would average more than 300 lbs or 350 at the most each.  I would as soon think of eating a piece of dog as such meat at home yet I am informed that in June or July after [^] [when] the cattle have a chance to renew their flesh, it is as tender and delicious as any beef in the country.  Mr McKay pays from 10 to 16 dollars in Gold per head at the place where he receives them and usually gets in Havana from 17 to 26 coll. And has sold them for even as high a price as 50 dollars.  The Cuban Spanish people are a peculiar race and have some very odd notions.

About 5 p.m. we came in sight of Key-West.  The island looks like a very thriving city at the distance and with Fort Taylor on the S.W.



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corner commands the approach to the main land.  After a great deal of backing & filling in which the captain of the "Gov Marvin" displayed a great deal of incapacity to manage a Steamer, the crew finally reached the wharf with a line and we finally executed a landing just about dark.  Mr. Gleason had a letter of introduction to Geo Phillips the Postmaster and we made for his house about as fast as our legs would conveniently carry us.  To our surprise and gratification it proved to be the "Russell House" and we were sure of effecting a lodgement without further travel.  Mr Phillips was a Northern man, had lived here and at Fort Jefferson quite a number of years, but had seemed to lose but very little of the Yankee peculiarity [?].


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January 19th.  Friday.
Our first business this morning after breakfast was to engage a boat for the voyage to Miami, so I went to the Quarter Masters Office and there found a very gentlemanly officer in the person of Liet. Major D.H. Kinzie of the 5th U.S. Artillery.  After showing him my orders, he very pleasantly said he would have a boat rigged up & manned for me as early as possible.  I here met General Seymour of Olustee fame, and he volunteered his opinion as to the practicability of my intended tour.  It was at that time my design to visit not only Dade County but the County bordering on Indian River.

The General informed me that he had been all over the country from Indian River down to Cape Sable, and that in his opinion the whole country was good


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for nothing but a hunting ground for the Indians and pasturage for cattle, that no white man could ever live there; first, on account of the impossibility of ever cultivating the soil, and second even if the soil would admit of it, the insects and vermin would of themselves be sufficient to break up any settlement.  He said, Also that to attempt to go into Indian River Inlet, in nine times out of ten would swamp the boat and drown the crew.  The whole country was not worth, in his estimation the risk of a single life.

The General had been over the country during the Seminole War and doubtless had found everything as forbidding and repulsive as he represented, but I took into account that he went as an officer, not from choice, but in obedience to orders


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and not upon the most pleasing mission in the world.  A man travelling through a country where he may expect a rifle pointed at him from any of the numerous pines he sees, will not be likely to see much beauty or many points of interest.  A prisoner may ride through Central Park on his way to the gallows, and the chances are that it will be a very uninteresting place to him.

I thanked the General for the information he had given me but informed him that being decided to visit the county I did not feel like abandoning the tour because of the worthlessness of the country or the dangers attending the voyage and bid him good morning and left the Office.  The balance of the day we spent in reconnoitering the town.


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January 20th.  Saturday:



[End of journal entries]

[Although the journal is numbered to Page 216, the only other entry, on 213, is the following:]

January 1st, A.D., 1866
This is to certify that Toby Starks has given his obligation to live with me till Jan. [June?] 1867 for such portion 10th of the crop and will not fail to do his part as far as he is able.
Toby Stark
X
His mark
Copy of paper given Toby Starke by Jackson Clifton, Broward County, 14 miles from Burrville. [Bussville?].

[A note taped to the back cover of the journal reads:]

[obverse]
Residents of Miami known to Mr. Hughes of Tampa, Fla.
[reverse]
William Wagoner
Nicholas Adams
"French Mike"
Mr. Ferguson,  Key-West-
Mr. Fletcher [?], Miami
 
[Thompson's tour did not stop with these last entries.  He continued his travels into South Florida and reported on his impressions in the more formal reports that he published in The Tallahassee Sentinel].


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