A Tour of Central Florida and the Lower West Coast
by George Franklin Thompson
© 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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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
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
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
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 [
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
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.
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
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 &
Therm 6:30 p.m. 62
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
Left Orange Grove at 6 o'clock with a fair wind all day, arrived at
Tampa at 5 p.m. distance 75 miles.
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
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
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.
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
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]
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
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.
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
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
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 [
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.
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
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
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
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.
in] this morning I started Gleason out by making
it appear that it was quite
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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:]
Residents of Miami known to Mr. Hughes of Tampa, Fla.
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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