Oystering in Apalachicola

Oyster tonging

Oyster tonging

Oystering communities around the world take pride in the quality and freshness of their succulent bivalves, and Apalachicola is no exception. With its brackish waters and calm winds, Apalachicola Bay is a prime setting for both oysters and the industry built around them to thrive.

Young boy enjoying oyster at the Florida Seafood Festival - Apalachicola, Florida

Young boy enjoying oyster at the Florida Seafood Festival – Apalachicola, Florida

The people of Apalachicola possess skills, beliefs, and a spirit of generosity and perseverance that make the community unique. Crafts such as boat building or oyster tong making are passed down through generations, as are techniques for harvesting and shucking the oysters. Successful seafood distributors make the product available to the many restaurants and retailers in the region, and the community celebrates its heritage during the annual Florida Seafood Festival.

Miss Florida Seafood 1974, Rosalie Nichols, at the Florida Seafood Festival

Miss Florida Seafood 1974, Rosalie Nichols, at the Florida Seafood Festival

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Florida and the Civil War (March 1863)

“Vindictive, Unrelenting War”: The Burning of Jacksonville

One of the most enduring scenes from a movie depicting the Civil War remains the burning of Atlanta in Gone with the Wind (1939). Chaos, terror, and destruction surround Rhett and Scarlett as they flee the inferno. The scene’s fire portrays the actual fire set by retreating Confederates on September 1, 1864, as they pulled out of the city. On November 14, 1864, Union forces marching out of Atlanta set fire to hundreds of buildings. Atlanta remains the most famous example of the burning of a city during the Civil War; however, it was only one of many towns set to the torch during the struggle. Jacksonville, Florida, has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the first.

Excerpt from “Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 1861-1865: General Topographical Map, Sheet XII” (ca. 1865), showing northeast Florida

Excerpt from “Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 1861-1865: General Topographical Map, Sheet XII” (ca. 1865), showing northeast Florida

The initial war-related fire in Jacksonville occurred on March 11, 1862. That day, Federal gunboats approached the city in preparation for what would be the first of four Union occupations. The imminent arrival of Federal troops created panic. Loyal Confederates rushed to evacuate the city, and Confederate soldiers prepared to set fire to supplies they could not take away. Local mobs, angered by the presence of the city’s sizable pro-Union population, torched Northern-owned businesses and homes. Otis and Abby Keane watched as the mobs ransacked their hotel, the Judson House, before setting the building aflame. That night, those who had fled Jacksonville watched from across the St. Johns River as large sections of their city burned.

Advertisement for the Judson House, Jacksonville

Advertisement for the Judson House, Jacksonville

A year after the first fire, Jacksonville endured another inferno. This time the Federals were responsible for the destruction. On March 10, 1863, Union troops, spearheaded by two black regiments, the 1st and 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, arrived for what became the third Union occupation of Jacksonville. Facing little resistance, the regiments quickly gained control of the city. Signs of growing Confederate strength to the west, however, encouraged the Union to reinforce their position in Jacksonville with two additional infantry regiments, the 6th Connecticut and the 8th Maine, both all-white units.

Although the Federals were able to raid along the St. Johns River as far south as Palatka and maintain control of Jacksonville, Union preparations for renewed operations in South Carolina led to the decision to end the Jacksonville operation. On March 28, 1863, as Union troops prepared to leave the city by sea, fires broke out in the wake of the columns of the 6th Connecticut, whose soldiers had taken the opportunity to set fire to the city. As the Yankees left, rain and the quick arrival of Confederate troops combined to contain the fires; however, much of the city lay in ruins. One witness detailed the smoldering structures:

“The Episcopal and Catholic churches, the jail, Parkhurst Store, Miller’s Bar Room, Bisbee’s Store, and dwelling house, Dr. Baldwin’s house and that whole block. Mrs Foster’s house, Washington Hotel, one of Hoeg’s stores—nearest Millers—and every house from the Judson House above the Railroad to Mrs. Collins old house, (Lydia Foster’s House, Sadlers, etc. are among them).”

Unidentified Union Soldier

Unidentified Union Soldier

While the Union’s responsibility for the fire was clear enough, Confederate newspapers as well as Northern newspapers critical of the use of black troops denounced the black regiments as the agents of destruction. The majority of Northern papers placed the entire blame on the white soldiers of the 6th Connecticut and 8th Maine. As with most controversial historical incidents, however, the answer is not black or white. There seems little doubt that the two white regiments started the fires, but when it became clear that they were free to join in the torching, some black soldiers, according to witnesses, set fires as well. One Northern reporter who saw the burning city despaired that the war had taken a new and uglier turn from which there was no turning back, “Is this not war, vindictive, unrelenting war?”

The best history of the Union occupations of Jacksonville is Daniel L. Schafer, Thunder on the River: the Civil War in Northeast Florida (University Press of Florida, 2010). All quotations come from pages 159 and 161-162 of Schafer’s book.

Thomas Sidney Jesup and the Second Seminole War (Part Eight)

General Thomas Sidney Jesup commanded military operations against the Seminoles in Florida during the early stages of the conflict now known as the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). The Second Seminole War was the longest and costliest Indian War in United States history. Jesup’s field diary, available on Florida Memory, contains his perspective on the war from October 1, 1836, to May 30, 1837. This series of blog posts places significant entries from the Jesup diary in the context of the Seminole Wars and the history of Anglo-American Indian-African relations in the Southeast. Below is the eighth and final post in the series.

Thomas Sidney Jesup

Thomas Sidney Jesup left Florida in 1838. The mood of many Americans had turned against the General following the dubious capture of Osceola under a white flag of truce in October 1837. Northern politicians and abolitionists were especially critical of Jesup, particularly vocal opponents of Indian Removal. The time had long passed since Native Americans dominated the New England frontier, and northern politicians did not sympathize with their Southern counterparts.

Abolitionists, on the other hand, based their objections on the existence of slavery in the Southern states. They saw the Seminole Wars as more of a slave rebellion than anything else. Based on statements made early in the war, Jesup tended to agree. Abolitionists argued that if slavery did not exist there would be no runaway slaves, and hence, no Seminole Wars. Perhaps the best known abolitionist tract on the Seminole Wars is Joshua R. Giddings, The Exiles of Florida (1858).

Zachary Taylor assumed command of U.S. troops in Florida following Jesup’s departure. He was the next in line of a succession of officers that attempted to bring about a conclusion to the war, but it was not until 1842 that the conflict came to an end. Unlike other wars in U.S. history, there was neither a decisive battle, nor a detailed treaty that ended the Seminole Wars. The U.S. Army simply decided to stop pursuing the enemy. Most Seminoles had relocated to the deep recesses of the Everglades, and the troops lost the desire and the political backing to follow. By 1842, the government estimated that no more than 500 Seminoles remained in Florida.

Jesup would have welcomed the end of the war. Shortly after being relieved of his command in Florida, Jesup lobbied on behalf of the Seminoles to allow them to remain in South Florida. He concluded that the war did little good opening up new lands for settlement, as the area south of Lake Okeechobee was considered nothing more than an expansive, malarial swamp. The aftermath of the battles of Okeechobee and Loxahatchee had significantly reduced the number of Black Seminoles in Florida and thereafter escaped slaves ceased to be the primary concern of the U.S. Army.

However, tensions between the Americans and the Seminoles did not end in 1842. Another war nearly broke out in the late 1840s and, in 1855, a surveying team destroyed property at Billy Bowlegs’ camp in the Big Cypress Swamp. Bowlegs retaliated and thereafter began the Third Seminole War, which lasted until 1858. The war ended when Bowlegs agreed to surrender and emigrate with his people to the Indian Country west of the Mississippi River. When the steamboat Grey Cloud embarked from Tampa on May 8, 1858, it marked the last forced removal of Seminoles from Florida.

In the early 1880s, government officials attempted the first census of the Seminoles since the end of the third war. Two different enumerators found 208 and 296 Seminoles in Florida, respectively. It is likely that others, understandably suspicious of the government, hid from the census takers. In any case, the Seminole population in Florida had been reduced from approximately 5,000 to less than 300 as a result of forced removal and warfare.

The Seminole population recovered over the next several decades. They developed innovative means of adjusting to the new environmental realities of life in South Florida. The animal hide trade of the late 19th and early 20th centuries brought relative prosperity to Seminole families. For example, through the acquisition of sewing machines during the hide trade, Seminoles created the vivid patchwork clothing styles now synonymous with their culture. Patchwork designs are just one example of the new traditions invented by Florida Indians following the trauma of the Seminole Wars.

Life was certainly not easy for the Seminoles who remained in South Florida. The collapse of the hide trade impoverished Seminole communities from the 1920s until the emergence of income from casino gaming in the 1980s. The few bright spots for the Seminoles during their years of want were federally funded cattle, education, and health programs.

The present-day association of Seminoles with casino gaming has obscured the long and difficult history experienced by these people. The story told in this series on the Jesup’s field diary is certainly one of the darkest chapters in Seminole history. Nevertheless, the diary and the larger context in which it was produced have much to tell us about the changing nature of Anglo-American Indian-African relations, and the important place of the Seminole Wars in United States history.

Gideon v. Wainwright

March 18, 2013, marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision Gideon v. Wainwright. The decision confirmed the right of the individual to counsel, even in cases not involving capital offenses. U.S. Attorney General and Senator Robert Kennedy described the case as having changed the course of American legal history.

Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus submitted by Clarence Earl Gideon

Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus submitted by Clarence Earl Gideon

The case began when an obscure inmate in a Florida prison, Clarence Earl Gideon, picked up a pencil and began writing his own lawsuit against the Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections. Before the case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, however, the Florida Supreme Court heard the appeal of the original conviction. Clarence Earl Gideon was convicted of robbery after the judge in a circuit court refused his request for counsel and he was forced to defend himself. He was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. The Florida Supreme Court confirmed the circuit court ruling, denying Gideon’s appeal for a writ of habeas corpus, which would have freed him on the grounds that he had been imprisoned illegally.

In 1963, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned the ruling of the Florida court, thereby establishing the principle that state courts were required to provide defendants in criminal cases with legal counsel. The case was retried (this time with representation for Gideon) five months after the Supreme Court decision. Gideon was acquitted.

View Gideon’s historic petition for writ of habeas corpus on Florida Memory.

Florida State Prison mug shots of Clarence Earl Gideon: Raiford, Florida (1961)

Florida State Prison mug shots of Clarence Earl Gideon: Raiford, Florida (1961)

Portrait of Clarence Earl Gideon (1961?)

Thomas Sidney Jesup and the Second Seminole War (Part Seven)

General Thomas Sidney Jesup commanded military operations against the Seminoles in Florida during the early stages of the conflict now known as the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). The Second Seminole War was the longest and costliest Indian War in American history. Jesup’s field diary, available on Florida Memory, contains his perspective on the war from October 1, 1836, to May 30, 1837. This series of blog posts places significant entries from the Jesup diary in the context of the Seminole Wars and the history of Anglo-American Indian-African relations in the American South. Below is the sixth post in the series.

On March 18, 1837, Micanopy agreed to the articles of capitulation negotiated by Jumper, Holatoochee, and Cloud.

“Met Micanopy to day in council—Read and explained the articles of the Capitulation. He stated that he had authorized the chiefs, Jumper, Holahtoochee & Yaholoachee to sign that instrument for him, he…”

“Met Micanopy to day in council—Read and explained the articles of the Capitulation. He stated that he had authorized the chiefs, Jumper, Holahtoochee & Yaholoachee to sign that instrument for him, he…”

“…agreed to every article, and formally ratified it. He, Aligator, and John Hopony a friendly chief, dined with Gen[era]l J[esup]. Had a talk with Aligator after dinner in relation to the movement of his people to Tampa & thence west.”

“…agreed to every article, and formally ratified it. He, Aligator, and John Hopony a friendly chief, dined with Gen[era]l J[esup]. Had a talk with Aligator after dinner in relation to the movement of his people to Tampa & thence west.”

After the initial military successes by the Seminoles in December 1835 and early 1836, the United States Army responded with search and destroy-style tactics in order to undermine the Seminole resistance. As noted in a previous entry not all Florida Indians shared the same politics, nor did they all agree on the issue of removal.

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