Lesser Known Florida Hurricanes: West Florida (1772)

The Atlantic hurricane season is once again upon us. It’s time for preparation… and a little history.

Some of the most famous storms in the annals of hurricane history made landfall in Florida. The Sunshine State is certainly not alone in suffering from tropical weather; Hugo, Gilbert, Katrina, Mitch, and Sandy immediately come to mind.

We remember the devastation from Andrew, Charley, Donna, Jeanne, Francis and many others, but what about the lesser known hurricanes in Florida history? This series of blog posts takes a look back at lesser known hurricanes and other tidbits concerning tropical weather in Florida history.

Today, we look back at Bernard Romans’ account of the West Florida Hurricane of 1772.

Excerpt from Romans’ “A General Map of the Southern British Colonies in America…” (1776), showing the area effected by the West Florida Hurricane of 1772

Excerpt from Romans’ “A General Map of the Southern British Colonies in America…” (1776), showing the area effected by the West Florida Hurricane of 1772

Between August 30 and September 3, 1772, a powerful hurricane battered West Florida. Bernard Romans—naturalist, cartographer, soldier, and author of A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida (1775)—wrote a vivid account of the storm. At the time the hurricane struck the northern Gulf coast, British Florida stretched from St. Augustine on the Atlantic Ocean, all the way to the Mississippi River near New Orleans. The British administered the colony as two provinces: East and West Florida.

Romans’ notes on the 1772 West Florida Hurricane are believed to be the only published account of the storm. Below is an excerpt from A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida, pages 4-5:

“The fatal hurricane of August 30, 31, September 1, 2, 3, anno 1772, was severely felt in West Florida, it destroyed the woods for about 30 miles from the sea coast in a terrible manner… [I]n Pensacola it did little or no mischief except the breaking down of all the wharfs but one; but farther westward, it was terrible… [A]t Mobile every thing was in confusion, vessels, boats, and goods were drove up in to the streets a great distance…all the vegetables were burned up by the salt water…all the lower floors of the houses were covered with water…”

Romans went on to describe the destruction of plantations near New Orleans on the Mississippi River and the hardships faced by residents of the area.

To learn more, see Bernard Romans, A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida… (University of Florida Press, 1962 [1775]).

A. Philip Randolph and the March on Washington

Florida native A. Philip Randolph helped initiate and direct the March on Washington in August 1963.

A. Philip Randolph, ca. 1940

A. Philip Randolph, ca. 1940

Asa Philip Randolph (1889-1979), the first president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, was born in Crescent City, Florida, and grew up in Jacksonville. The son of a Methodist minister, he attended the City College of New York and later published The Messenger, a radical black magazine. As a result of his efforts, the 1937 contract between the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the Pullman Company cut working hours, increased pay, and improved working conditions. Randolph was also a major factor in ending discrimination in defense plants and segregation in the U.S. military.

Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters convention in Washington, D.C., 1950s. Membership included African-American porters and maids who worked on the railway trains.

Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters convention in Washington, D.C., 1950s. Membership included African-American porters and maids who worked on the railway trains.

Fifty years ago this summer, Randolph helped initiate and direct the March on Washington – the largest civil rights demonstration in American history. Randolph first called for a demonstration at the U.S. Capitol in 1941 to protest employment discrimination. He played an instrumental role in the months leading up to the 1963 demonstration as the elder statesman of the “Big Six,” which included Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders from the largest civil rights organizations in the U.S. Randolph helped unite the various groups behind the common message of jobs and freedom.

Connect with the ‘Let Freedom Ring’ commemoration on Facebook at http://officialmlkdream50.com/ or on Twitter @DCMARCHMLK50.

Learn more about the Civil Rights Movement in Florida.

Florida and the Civil War (August 1863)

One War, Three States

On August 10, 1863, Confederate Private James Jewell wrote to his wife from camp about ten miles north of St. Marks, Florida:

“This is a pleasant looking place, but I tell you it felt like burning a fellow up here this evening . . . . I have no idea how long we will stay here, but I would not be surprised if we were here some time, if the flies don[']t take us away. I thought I had seen some flies before, but I never saw them half so bad in my life. We traveled over twenty five miles of as sandy a road as can be found any where. there is not a firm place I don’t think in the whole rout[e], and a part of the way looked like there never was anybody seen . . . .”

Private Jewel’s observations of Confederate military service in Florida were not untypical in the summer of 1863. Although Union ships and sailors were never far away—the Union maintained a blockading fleet off Florida’s coast and occupied several of the state’s coastal towns—a Confederate soldier in Florida was more likely to die from the brutal heat or disease carrying insects than Yankee guns.

General Robert E. Lee

General Robert E. Lee

Four hundred miles to the north, however, August 1863 was quite different for the Confederate troops defending Charleston, South Carolina, the state that formed the northern third of the Confederate military department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. In Charleston that August, Confederate forces endured a protracted Union assault on the city that began in July 1863, when Federal troops captured most of Morris Island situated on the southern shore of the mouth of Charleston Harbor. On August 22, 1863, Union guns on Morris Island began a bombardment of Charleston that would last for 587 days.

When considering Florida’s role in the Civil War, it is important to keep in mind that although the state was distant from the main battle fronts of the war it formed a link in a wider chain of command. This link evolved during 1861-1862 as the initial Confederate military department of South Carolina and Georgia became the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and East Florida and finally, in 1862, the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

Headquartered in South Carolina, the department was responsible for the defense of the coasts of the three states, which as early as November 1861 encountered Union invasion when the Federals landed on the coast of South Carolina, capturing Port Royal, a permanent base of operations from which the Union launched numerous assaults on the three states. Despite these operations, the Confederate government never considered the department a defensive priority. In fact, the department often had to give up troops to reinforce Confederate armies in Virginia and Tennessee, the primary areas of fighting for most of the war.

General Topographical Map, Sheet XII, ca. 1865

General Topographical Map, Sheet XII, ca. 1865

The department’s secondary importance did not mean that it did not have its share of prominent commanders, however. Three of the war’s most consequential Confederate generals led the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida: Robert E. Lee, John C. Pemberton, and P. G. T. Beauregard.

Lee arrived in the department in the wake of the Union capture of Port Royal and commanded the area until March 1862, when Pemberton succeeded him. Lee left the department to take up the position of top military advisor to Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Neither Lee nor Pemberton were popular in South Carolina—this was before Lee became the South’s most successful general.

Lee believed Union naval supremacy made it impossible to defend the coastal islands along the shores of his three state command. As a result, the Union occupied many of the islands, which contained wealthy cotton and rice plantations and thousands of slaves. The enraged and influential plantation owners blamed Lee and Pemberton, who was even less inclined to defend the coast than Lee, for their loss of property.

Beauregard, on the other hand, was a hero to South Carolinians. He led the Confederate capture of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor at the start of the war and commanded the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida during the height of the Union siege of Charleston in 1863.

General Pierre G.T. Beauregard, ca. 1865

General Pierre G.T. Beauregard, ca. 1865

When Beauregard left the department in April 1864, the war was entering a new phase as Union forces pushed into northern Georgia towards Atlanta. General William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops captured Atlanta in September 1864, marched across Georgia and broke the middle link of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, when his men captured Savannah, Georgia on December 21, 1864. Sherman’s subsequent march into the interior of South Carolina left Florida as the only portion of the department relatively free of Union troops. The final act of the department was the surrender of all Confederate forces in Florida in May 1865.

Private Jewel is quoted in Gary L. Doster, ed., Dear Sallie: The Letters of Confederate Private James Jewel (Winchester, Virginia: Angle Valley Press, 2011), 159-160. See John E. Johns, Florida During the Civil War (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1963) on the Confederate military command in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

Women’s Equality Day

A Joint Resolution of Congress in 1971 designated August 26th of each year as Women’s Equality Day and requested the President to issue a proclamation annually to commemorate that day. That Joint Resolution resulted in this 1972 Proclamation issued by President Richard Nixon.

Women's Rights Day Proclamation, 1972

The Proclamation was later presented to Roxcy O’Neal Bolton, the driving force behind the designation of August 26 as Women’s Equality Day.

Letter from Senator Edward J. Gurney to Roxcy Bolton, September 12, 1972

Letter from Senator Edward J. Gurney to Roxcy Bolton, September 12, 1972

A long-time Coral Gables resident and a 1984 inductee in the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame, Bolton is known in Florida for gaining access for women to the previously all-male lunchrooms at Burdines and Jordan Marsh department stores; for helping to end the practice of naming hurricanes only for women; and for opening the influential Tiger Bay political club to women.

Bolton was inspired by Eleanor Roosevelt’s stances on civil rights and was profoundly affected by her address at the 1956 Democratic National Convention, hearing her call to “help all of our people to a better life” as a personal call to action.

Roxcy Bolton with Eleanor Roosevelt at the Democratic National Convention, Chicago, 1956

Roxcy Bolton with Eleanor Roosevelt at the Democratic National Convention, Chicago, 1956

Roosevelt, who was a strong proponent of gender equality and supporter of working women, had her own sources of inspiration, including from Floridians. She met Mary McLeod Bethune at an education conference in 1927, gaining from her an understanding of racial issues and becoming a close friend of Bethune’s.

Eleanor Roosevelt with Mary McLeod Bethune (center) at Bethune Cookman College, Daytona Beach, 1952

Eleanor Roosevelt with Mary McLeod Bethune (center) at Bethune Cookman College, Daytona Beach, 1952

Don’t Miss That Bus!

August is Back to School Month… Better set your alarm, you don’t want to miss the bus!

Horse-drawn school bus, Jacksonville, 1898

Horse-drawn school bus, Jacksonville, 1898

 

Two horse school bus, Piedmont, ca. 1900

Two horse school bus, Piedmont, ca. 1900

 

Horse-drawn school bus, West Palm Beach, 1911

Horse-drawn school bus, West Palm Beach, 1911

 

First Alva and Lee County school bus, Alva, 1924

First Alva and Lee County school bus, Alva, 1924

 

School bus on Okeechobee Road, Fort Pierce, 1925

School bus on Okeechobee Road, Fort Pierce, 1925

 

Escambia County school bus at Future Farmers of America camp, Perdido Bay, 1930

Escambia County school bus at Future Farmers of America camp, Perdido Bay, 1930

 

Dade County school bus, 1937

Dade County school bus, 1937

Help Us Identify These People

Can you help us identify these football players? The photograph is from the Tallahassee Democrat Collection. It was taken in Tallahassee in 1953 and shows four young men who might be Lincoln or FAMU high school students.

Unidentified African American football players in Tallahassee, Florida, 1953

Unidentified African American football players in Tallahassee, Florida, 1953

If you have any information about this photograph, please let us know in the comments or contact us.

The Tallahassee Democrat Collection contains approximately 100,000 images of Tallahassee area people, places, and events from the 1950s to the 1970s. The State Archives of Florida is currently digitizing a selection of images from this collection. New images are added each week – stay tuned.

Join us at the R.A. Gray Building on October 11, 2013 for an Archives Month slideshow featuring images from the Tallahassee Democrat Collection.

Halpatiokee

This series looks at the etymology of Florida place names derived from the Muskogee and Hitchiti languages.

Many Florida place names owe their origins to Muskogee and Hitchiti, two of the languages spoken by members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. The persistence of Muskogee and Hitchiti words as modern Florida place names reflects the prominent role played by Native Americans in the region’s history.

Today’s word is Halpatiokee, literally meaning “alligator water.” The word can be translated into English as “alligator swamp.” According to scholars of Muskogee linguistics, the term is a combination of halpatter (alligator) and okee (water). The spelling Alpatiokee or Al-pa-ti-o-kee on the map below is a phonetic Anglicization of the Muskogee word.

Excerpt from “Map of the Seat of War in Florida” (1839)

Excerpt from “Map of the Seat of War in Florida” (1839)

In the 19th century, the Muskogee term halpatter was associated with a Seminole town in northern central Florida, known as Alligator to the Americans and now the site of Lake City. The term also referred to a Seminole War leader known as Halpatter Tustenuggee (Alligator Warrior). Other individuals may also have earned this name, which is a combination of a war title (Tustenuggee) and a town/clan name (Halpatter).

Today, at least three Florida place names include Halpatiokee. One is Halpatiokee Regional Park in Martin County, which encompasses part of the land identified as the Al-pa-ti-o-kee Swamp on the above “Map of the Seat of War in Florida” (1839). There are also roads named Halpatiokee in Palm Beach and Martin counties.

Even though the word appears to be a combination of halpatter and okee, it could have been erroneously recorded by American topographers. It is possible that the intended Muskogee term was halpattachobee, which can be translated as “big alligator,” as in this song performed by James E. Billie, Chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, at the 1996 Florida Folk Festival in White Springs:

“Big Alligator,” by James E. Billie

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For more information, see Jack B. Martin and Margaret McKane Mauldin, A Dictionary of Creek/Muskogee, with Notes on the Florida and Oklahoma Seminole Dialects of Creek (University of Nebraska Press, 2004). On settlement of Alligator and historical figures known as Halpatter Tustenuggee in the era of the Seminole Wars, see John K. Mahon, History of the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842 (University of Florida Press, 1991 [1967]); John T. Sprague, The Origins, Progress, and Conclusion of the Florida War (University of Tampa Press, 2000 [1848]); John R. Swanton, Early History of the Creek Indians and Their Neighbors (University of Florida Press, 1998 [1922]).

“Don’t be misled; we play Southern, but it’s Arab style”

The latest podcast features traditional Arab music performed by Rick and Mark Bateh from Jacksonville. Listen to the Bateh’s explain styles, techniques, and rhythms used in Arab music and demonstrate their skills to the crowd at the 1982 Florida Folk Festival in White Springs.

“Don’t be misled; we play Southern, but it’s Arab style”

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For more information about Arab music, see Habib Touma, The Music of the Arabs (Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 1996).

Hard Time Killing Floor Blues

“Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,” by John Cephas and Phil Wiggins

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This soulful blues tune is performed here with foreboding intensity by John Cephas and Phil Wiggins at the 1991 Florida Folk Festival in White Springs. “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” was originally penned and recorded in 1931 by delta blues legend Nehemiah Curtis “Skip” James.

John Cephas and Phil Wiggins performing at the Florida Folk Festival, White Springs, 1991

John Cephas and Phil Wiggins performing at the Florida Folk Festival, White Springs, 1991

Guitarist John Cephas (1930-2009) and harmonica player Phil Wiggins (1954- ), legends in their own right, were an acoustic blues duo hailing from Washington D.C. The pair were known for their Piedmont blues style, but as you can hear in the audio clip above, they perfectly capture the essence of “Skip” James’ delta blues. If this song sounds familiar to you, it was also performed in the Coen Brother’s film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” by musician and actor Chris Thomas King.

Wacahoota

This series looks at the etymology of Florida place names derived from the Muskogee and Hitchiti languages.

Many Florida place names owe their origins to Muskogee and Hitchiti, two of the languages spoken by members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. The persistence of Muskogee and Hitchiti words as modern Florida place names reflects the prominent role played by Native Americans in the region’s history.

Today’s term is Wacahoota, meaning “cowpen” or “cow barn.” According to scholars of Muskogee linguistics, the word is actually a combination of Spanish and Native languages: vaca (cow in Spanish) and hute/hoti (barn for cows in Muskogee).

Excerpt from "Map of the Seat of War in Florida," (1839)

Excerpt from “Map of the Seat of War in Florida,” (1839)

Shown as “Watkahootee” on the map excerpt above, the term is spelled Wacahoota today and refers to a crossroads southwest of Gainesville in Alachua County. In the early 19th century, Wacahoota was situated firmly in the heartland of the Alachua bands of Seminoles.

The Alachua Seminoles worked thousands of head of cattle on the wet prairies south of modern-day Gainesville, particularly on what is known today as Paynes Prairie. Payne refers to King Payne, leader of the Alachua Seminoles in the early 1800s. Previous leaders of this band were also tied to cattle ownership. For example, when William Bartram visited the area in the 1770s the leader of the Alachua Seminoles was known as the “Cowkeeper” to the British.

The “Map of the Seat of War in Florida” (1839) shows Watkahootee situated along a military road connecting the southern rim of the Alachua Prairie with the Suwannee River. This was likely the location of one or more cowpens used by Seminole cattlemen in the early 19th century. Since cattle grazed freely for most of the year, cow hunters used this location during round-ups and other times when necessary.

Other sources hint at the history of Seminole occupation in the modern Wacahoota area. Henry Washington, in a report to Robert Butler dated December 16, 1832, listed “Wacahootie” as among the lesser towns in the Alachua district. Another contemporary account includes “Wachitoka” situated between the Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers.

The presence of these towns on American inventories demonstrates the continuity of the name. However, given the known and frequent migration of Seminole bands during this time period, determining if a settlement remained in the same exact spot is difficult at best. It is likely that residents of a town or village retained the name for their settlement as they moved from one locale to the next as American settlers and the U.S. military pushed them further down the peninsula.

For more information, see John R. Swanton, Early History of the Creek Indians and Their Neighbors (University of Florida Press, 1998 [1922]); Jack B. Martin and Margaret McKane Mauldin, A Dictionary of Creek/Muskogee, with Notes on the Florida and Oklahoma Seminole Dialects of Creek (University of Nebraska Press, 2004).