The Tallahassee Sentinel
April 23, 1867
 

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Observations in Tropical Florida

(from a report made in the Spring of 1866 to Col. T.W. Osborn, by Col. Geo. F. Thompson, and never published before)

Continued

The next day we visited several of these men, and found them quietly engaged in their business.  Without informing them of the object of our visit, or giving them the least hint as to our intentions, we readily drew them in conversation in regard to all these topics suggested by the war.

They readily acknowledged that their sympathies and efforts had been with the rebellion and that the decision had been made, for all time, that the North and South must live together under one Government; and that to attempt again to resist the power of the general Government by force of arms, would be the height of folly, and that in their opinion, there was no intention, hopes or expectations among that class of people who were identified with the rebellion, of ever again resisting the will of Government by other means than those allowed by the constitution and laws of the country.

Most of these people owned a few slaves before the war, and several of them expressed themselves as glad that the system was abolished but had some fears that before the negroes and whites became familiar with the system of free labor, the negroes would occasion much trouble; and believed that the colored laborers were, and would be, too unreliable to justify any large operations in planting.  They universally scouted the idea that those who had been identified with the rebellion had any intention to or did persecute any man merely because of his difference of political opinion or action and in the several instances which we cited of such apparent purpose, said it was entirely for personal and other reasons than political.  They deprecated any such action for any reason, preferring that the law should step in and arrange all public and private grief in its accustomed mode.  Although we gave them several opportunities by our inquiries to manifest somewhat of that intense hatred to the Government and to those who were of Union sentiments, that they had been represented as holding, yet we failed to detect any ground for those highly colored statements which had been made.  We neither saw nor heard of any murdered victims of rebellious hate; no bands of roving desperadoes roaming through the country for their prey, which we would have a right to expect as the result of such a state of society as was represented to us; in fact, nothing to excite the fears or to discourage an honest, and courageous man.

One class of men inform us that the secessionists are as bad as ever; that they are thirsting for the blood of Union men, merely because of their sympathy and adherence to the Government.  The abused class represent themselves as having succumbed to the will of the government, and now claim to be Union men, desiring that all animosities shall be banished and an era of good feeling established.   Men of both of these classes are to be found in different parts of this whole district.

With these two diverse representations of facts, what is the truth in the matter, or what is the explanation of such a diversity of opinion?  I might content myself with having given the statements of each party, and leave the actual condition of public feeling for inference; but a word of two may serve to explain.  During the war, many of the Union men of the district, were forced into the rebel service; others fled from their homes and were hunted like wild beasts, even by their own former neighbors, their families, in many instances, rudely insulted, their houses burned, and their names made a hissing and a bye-word among all those who espoused the rebellion.  Others, again, volunteered in to the Federal service, and for this have suffered the loss of property at the hands of their neighbors.  On the return of these men to their places, they are freshly reminded of the indignities they have suffered, and neither can nor ever will forgive the agents of their misfortunes.  Their hatred is so intense that even if their neighbor should change his views and feelings, it would be exceedingly difficult for them to recognize it.

Unquestionably, this state of feeling conduces more or less to misrepresentations and exaggeration.  On the other hand, those who were secessionists, were the ruling class, always occupying places of trust and power.  The control of the public policy was invested in them.  As a class, they are more intelligent-the war ending in their defeat and impoverishment, with an experience which poorly qualifies them as a producing class, without the power to dictate to and control labor.  They understand very well that position and power must inevitably come to those who uphold the Government; and if they do not feel themselves in harmony with it, will conceal their opposition to it.  They applaud President Johnson, and point to their support of him, as indicative of their fealty to the Government.

Although they confess the utter defeat of the doctrine of State rights, by the war, yet their abandonment of that corner stone of the rebellion is not so radical but they yet despise the men who choose to sustain the Government against their State.  Between these two parties crimination begets re-crimination and all their difficulties of whatsoever nature become augmented and intensified by their political differences, either present or past.  I am of the opinion that more serious results are to be apprehended from a collision of these two classes in the settlement of their personal grievances, than from any efforts of any class to subvert, or to resist the Government.

Notwithstanding the most extravagant predictions made to us that we should find the people hostile and repulsive wherever we should go, we were in no single instance, rudely treated or made to feel that our presence was unwelcome.  Indeed, so far as the hostility of the people to Northern men is concerned,  I would as soon live in any part of Southern Florida as in the city of Washington or Boston.

The people, generally, express themselves as heartily in favor of an emigration from the North, and I think this feeling honestly arises from the conviction of the necessity of institutions of learning, going hand in hand with the system of free labor, to develope the resources of the country.  They have or effect to have an appreciation of the superior industry skill and enterprise of the people of the North.

In seeking information we have made our inquiries of men of all classes and pursuits in life.  The means of disseminating information in this district are so extremely limited, for want of post offices and communications, one part with another, that the absurd and extravagant statements circulate and become adopted as true, for want of contradiction.   Another misfortune for the people themselves is the fact that their former education was such as to lead them to place great confidence in such newspapers as the New York World; News and Metropolitan Record.  I believe these papers exert a more pernicious influence and tend to delay the growth of loyal sentiment more than any other cause.  In all such cases we have endeavored, temperately, yet firmly and kindly, to point out their mistake and to show them that all the misrepresentations of these papers are made, like the wares and fabric manufactured, for a market, and like the quack medicines of the day are purchased because the buyer is under the mistaken apprehension that they will effect a cure.
 

Stock Raising

The principal business of the people in the district, except at Key West, is raising stock; all other branches of industry are merely incidental.  They do not even pursue agriculture sufficiently to produce the corn for their own use.  At all places on our route across the State, we found it exceedingly difficult to obtain feed for our horses, and several parties informed us that they were obliged to haul their corn from sixty to ninety-five miles, paying from $2,25 to $2,50 per bushel at the place where obtained.  This arises, not so much because there are not lands suitable for the production of the crops, as from the exclusiveness with which the people are obliged to devote themselves to the care of the cattle.  One of the principal owners informed us that he was obliged "to live with his stock, and that he had but little time to be at home with his family, or to give any attention to improvements or conveniences about his house."  When we visited his house we found a part of his story to be but too true, for I doubt whether Adam and Eve had fewer comforts or conveniences for house-keeping than his family.  After very thorough inquiries of the most intelligent stock owners, both east and west of the Kissimmee river, in regard to the probable number of cattle at present grazing through the district, I place the estimate at 150,000 head.  When an entire stock is sold, the ruling price, at present, is six dollars per head; this would make a total value of $900,000.  Selected cattle for the Havana market bring from fourteen to eighteen dollars in gold, at the point of shipment.  Large numbers are shipped to Savannah and Charleston.  The cattle are generally small, the best of them netting no more than five or six hundred pounds.  Of one lot of 2500, which I saw put on board the steamer and bound for the Havana market, I do not think the nett average could be more than 350 pounds.
 

Habits and Manners

To speak of the habits and manners of living of the people, and represent them truthfully, might be considered a delicate undertaking, especially as we enjoyed, or rather, endured their hospitality on many occasions.  To say that they have no schools or churches, is enough to indicate their general condition; but this would be very far from giving a correct idea of the extent of their destitution.  In the first place, the men seem to have extremely limited ideas as to providing; and in the second place, the women appear to have no idea how to use what little is provided.
 

Food

The principal food is pork, corn bread, hominy and Hayti potatoes, and what these articles naturally lack in repulsiveness to a refined taste, is fully made up in the abominable manner in which they are cooked and served.  To cook a piece of meat, with them, means to fry it to the consistency of a piece of dry hide, and made about as palatable and digestible as live oak chips.  The corn bread is usually made (the process I have never learned) so as to be about as delicious and gratifying to the taste as an equal quantity of baked saw-dust.

The hominy is prepared by scalding with hot water, and the potatoes by boiling until the vegetable matter leaves to the water a proportion of about 1 to 100.

Grease is used excessively as food; indeed, so repulsive is the manner of cooking, that to a person of refined habits and taste, nothing but the direst necessity and a deep sense of moral obligation to preserve his own life, could induce him to undergo such a diet.  People living on the Gulf coast live much better, the art of cooking receiving much ore attention, and the articles of food being more numerous; in the interior, if we judge of the civilization of the inhabitants by the proficiency in the art of cooking and living generally, I fear the would take rank but little above the savages.  I have frequently sat down to the table when my olfactories and stomach have joined in a united protest against the task before them, and have only quieted them by the plea of necessity.
 

Houses

The log-house or hut, is universal, and might make a very comfortable residence.  They are usually raised two or three feet from the ground by props, which allow of a free circulation of air as well as hogs and other animals, under the house.  In a majority of instances they have no windows, and comparatively few houses are chinked up, so there is about as free circulation through as under the house.
 

(To be Continued)
 
 


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