The Bethel Baptist Institutional and First Baptist Churches of Jacksonville

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) undertook a survey of church and synagogue archives as part of the Historical Records Survey (HRS). In Florida, the WPA surveyed 5,500 churches and synagogues, and generated 20,000 pages of documentation on archival records held by these institutions. The entire WPA Church Records Collection is digitized and available on the Florida Memory website. This post highlights two Jacksonville churches included in the WPA’s Church Archives Inventory (CAI).

First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, located on Church and Hogan streets (ca. 1920s)

First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, located on Church and Hogan streets (ca. 1920s)

Bethel Baptist Institutional Church of Jacksonville, located on Hogan and Caroline streets (ca. 1900s)

Bethel Baptist Institutional Church of Jacksonville, located on Hogan and Caroline streets (ca. 1900s)

The surveys for the First Baptist and Bethel Baptist Institutional  churches in Jacksonville serve as examples that illustrate the value of the Church Archives Inventory (CAI) for researchers. One of the oldest churches in the Jacksonville area, First Baptist was founded in 1838 as Bethel Baptist Church. The six charter members included Reverend James McDonald, Elias Jaudon, their wives, and two African-American slaves, referred to in an interview accompanying the survey as Peggy and Bacchus. In the beginning, Bethel Baptist had a biracial congregation, relatively common for antebellum Baptist churches. By the time of the Civil War in 1861, Bethel Baptist counted “forty white members and two hundred fifty colored members.” During the war, the church, at that time located on West Street, served as a military hospital. Following the battle of Olustee in February 1864, federal troops brought the wounded to the church for treatment.

The Civil War left the church in a “deplorable condition.” According to Church Secretary Mrs. J. M. Aldridge, “the window panes [were] broken out, the plaster off the walls, and filth and dirt everywhere.” The Civil War also divided the congregation. African-Americans formed the Bethel Baptist Institutional Church, while white members established Tabernacle Baptist Church. The 1901 fire in downtown Jacksonville destroyed much of First Baptist Church (changed from Tabernacle Baptist in 1892). Church members quickly raised $16,000 to rebuild and completed construction on a new building in 1904. The church still occupied the rebuilt structure when survey workers arrived in the late 1930s. Property owned by the church at the time of the CAI survey included a pipe organ valued at $35,000.

Excerpt from page 2 of the survey for First Baptist Church

Excerpt from page 2 of the survey for First Baptist Church

The African-American Bethel Baptist Institutional Church of Jacksonville held equally impressive property. The field worker who completed the survey of Bethel Baptist Institutional noted that the church building was “[e]laborately constructed…of Renaissance and Mission type,” containing “70 art glass windows.” “The Deacons,” the survey explained, “receive their communion from individual silver glasses especially reserved for them.” The file for Bethel Baptist Institutional in Jacksonville also contains a church flier of the building and the pastor at the time, Reverend J. E. Ford. Despite being torn apart by segregation and the racial tensions that characterized the Jim Crow South, both First Baptist and Bethel Baptist Institutional attained landmark status as historic churches in the Jacksonville community.

Excerpt from page 2 of the survey for Bethel Baptist Institutional Church

Excerpt from page 2 of the survey for Bethel Baptist Institutional Church

The surveys for the First Baptist and Bethel Baptist Institutional churches in Jacksonville are just two of thousands of similar documents included in the WPA’s Church Archives Inventory (CAI) files for Florida. Emerging from these seemingly mundane surveys, intended by the WPA to be collected in an assembly line fashion, are rich glimpses into the history of Florida communities and their places of worship. By digitizing the Florida CAI, the State Library and Archives of Florida hopes to facilitate public access to these valuable historical resources and further the study of Florida history.

Fort Caroline

On June 22, 1564, French explorer René de Laudonnière (ca. 1529-1574) landed in Florida. Days later he established the settlement of Fort Caroline. The fort was situated near the mouth of the St. Johns River, known to the French as the River May, north of present-day Jacksonville. The French had previously explored the region during the expedition headed by Jean Ribault (1520-1565) in 1562.

Etching of Fort Caroline (1591)

Etching of Fort Caroline (1591)

Upon learning of Spanish ships landing south of Fort Caroline, the French launched a military expedition on September 10, 1565. A hurricane battered the French ships before they reached the upstart Spanish settlement of St. Augustine. The survivors came ashore several dozen miles south of their intended target.

Fort Matanzas, built about 1740 near the site of the Fort Caroline Massacre

Fort Matanzas, built about 1740 near the site of the Fort Caroline Massacre

Throughout September and October 1565, Spaniards under the command of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés (1519-1574) attacked French survivors returning to Fort Caroline. The Spanish assaults occurred near an inlet 15 miles south of St. Augustine, later named Matanzas (massacre in Spanish). The Fort Caroline Massacre, as the attack has come to be known, halted French colonization of Florida and ushered in a period of Spanish control over the peninsula that lasted until 1763.

Jacksonville Founded (June 15, 1822)

The city of Jacksonville was founded on June 15, 1822. Known to the British as Cow Ford, Jacksonville got its start near a site where cattle were ferried across the St. Johns River. Cow Ford is an English translation of the Muscogee word wacca pilatka, meaning cow crossing.

Jacksonville street scene (1882)

Jacksonville street scene (1882)

View of Jacksonville Harbor (1894)

View of Jacksonville Harbor (1894)

Jacksonville became the largest city in northeastern Florida and a major seaport along the Atlantic coast of the United States. The Spottswood Collection, a component of the Florida Photographic Collection, contains over 2,500 images of people and businesses in the Jacksonville area from 1916-1967.

Sawmill workers (1897)

Sawmill workers (1897)

Found a great photo of Jacksonville that we missed? Share it with us in the comments.

Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues and Theodor de Bry’s Images of Florida Indians

Artist and cartographer Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues (1533-1588) accompanied René de Laudonnière (ca. 1529-1574) to Florida in 1564. Laudonnière hoped to established a French settlement in the vicinity of the River May (St. Johns River), first explored by Jean Ribault (1520-1565) in April 1562. By June of 1564, the French had constructed Fort Caroline near the mouth of the St. Johns River.

Lithograph of the Timucua greeting the French, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

Lithograph of the Timucua greeting the French, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

In September 1565, Spanish soldiers led by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés (1519-1574) attacked the French. Le Moyne, charged with illustrating French progress, lost most of his work during the siege.

Engraving of the massacre at Fort Caroline, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

Engraving of the massacre at Fort Caroline, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

Following the rout of the French by the Spaniards, Le Moyne returned to Europe where he reproduced sketches of Florida from memory. In 1591, the Flemish engraver Theodor de Bry (1528-1598) published 42 engravings based on Le Moyne’s work.

Grieving widows approach the Chief, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

Grieving widows approach the Chief, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

De Bry’s renditions of Le Moyne’s sketches are both historically significant and highly controversial. Scholars contend that Le Moyne included features that do not match later depictions of the local Timucua Indians, and also that de Bry may have altered many of the images prior to publication. Artistic license is evident in several of the images included here. For example, in the above scene depicting the Timucua greeting the French, mountains are visible in what is supposed to be northeastern Florida.

Other elements provide clues into Timucuan culture. The Chief in the image above (“Grieving widows approach the Chief” ) is adorned with numerous tattoos. Because Europeans were largely unfamiliar with tattooing for decorative purposes, it appears unlikely that either Le Moyne or de Bry fabricated Timucuan body art. Later ethnographic information gathered by Europeans supports the notion that tattooing was quite common among the southeastern Indians.

Detail of the Chief, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

Detail of the Chief, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

Regardless of their authenticity, the images created by Le Moyne and published by de Bry constitute the earliest known visual representations of Florida and its indigenous people. Although the illustrations provide only a small window into the lives of the Timucua, they reveal a wealth of information about the goals and aspirations of the French and their efforts to promote the colonization of Florida.

Chief Saturiba goes to war, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

Chief Saturiba goes to war, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

Images such as “Chief Saturiba goes to war,” above, were meant to promote French colonization. This particular image conveyed the notion that the Timucua obeyed authority, were organized and fit for war, and could perhaps aid the French against their Spanish foes. The images depicted the Timucua as less sophisticated than Europeans, both in terms of dress and weaponry, and therefore they were potential candidates for accepting French religion and civilization.

Jean Ribault Explores the St. Johns River

The French arrive in Florida, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

The French arrive in Florida, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

On April 30, 1562, an expedition under the command of French explorer Jean Ribault (1520-1565) arrived at the mouth of the St. Johns River north of present-day Jacksonville. Ribault and his Huguenot (Protestant Calvinists) companions hoped to find religious freedom and to start a prosperous colony in the Americas.

Timucua Indians worshipping at the stone pillar erected by Jean Ribault, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

Timucua Indians worshipping at the stone pillar erected by Jean Ribault, from Theodor de Bry, Grand Voyages (1591)

After briefly exploring the St. Johns, which Ribault dubbed the River May, and erecting a stone pillar to mark their arrival, the French contingent continued northward along the Atlantic coast. They eventually landed near Royal Sound in what is now South Carolina and constructed a fortification named Charlesfort, in honor of the French monarch King Charles IX.

Drawing of Jean Ribault and his troops

Drawing of Jean Ribault and his troops

Ribault returned to Europe from Charlesfort, trying to garner support for further Protestant colonization in La Florida. He hoped to gain the patronage of Queen Elizabeth I of England, but was confined to the Tower of London under suspicion of espionage instead.

The French abandoned Charlesfort about one year after its founding, but returned to La Florida two years later in 1564 and established the short-lived settlement of Fort Caroline. An attack on Fort Caroline by the Spanish in September 1565 ended France’s efforts to colonize Florida. 

March 1862: Invasion!

Florida and the Civil War

This is the second in a series of monthly posts commemorating the sesquicentennial anniversary of Florida’s role in the American Civil War.

March 1862: Invasion!

The arrival of a Union invasion fleet off Amelia Island on March 3, 1862, was a startling but not unexpected event. As early as October 1861, Governor John Milton notified neighboring Confederate governors that a Union invasion fleet was steaming southward for a possible landing in Florida. Although the fleet’s target at that time was Port Royal, South Carolina, not Florida, ships from the flotilla eventually transported the Union expeditionary force that descended on Amelia Island in March.

Map of the harbor at Fernandina (1862)

Map of the harbor at Fernandina (1862)

For months, east coast Confederate and Unionist Floridians had expected Federal troops to land in Florida. Although a Federal raiding party occupied the Gulf port of Cedar Key in January 1862, under orders from General Robert E. Lee, General James H. Trapier, the commander of Confederate forces in the Department of Middle and East Florida (the area from the Atlantic to the Choctawhatchee River in the west), concentrated the bulk of his forces for the defense of Amelia Island. Meanwhile in Jacksonville, a city with a strong Unionist element, pro-Union men and women awaited the liberation of their city, where many of them were threatened by secessionist vigilance committees.

By March 1862, however, the Unionists had more cause for optimism than the secessionists. Confederate defeats in Tennessee during February resulted in the Richmond government’s decision to withdraw its troops from Florida to reinforce Tennessee. As the Union fleet approached, General Trapier ordered the withdrawal of his troops from Amelia Island. On March 4, the Federals occupied Fernandina after the last train carrying troops and fleeing civilians crossed the bridge to the mainland under the fire of the USS Ottawa, a Union gunboat. Fernandina remained under Union control for the rest of the war and became a place of refuge for hundreds of escaped slaves from Florida and southeast Georgia.

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Jacksonville Comedy

Motion picture scene
Motion picture scene from "Strangled Harmony"
Portrait of actor Oliver Hardy

You might not think of the words Jacksonville and comedy together. But in the early years of American movies, Jacksonville, Florida, experienced a brief turn in the spotlight as one of the hubs for filmmaking on the east coast.

The Vim Comedy Company, based in Jacksonville and New York, was one of several film studios operating in the Jacksonville area in the first three decades of the 20th century. Before going out of business in 1917, it employed such stars as Oliver “Babe” Hardy, Ethel Burton, Walter Stull, and Kate Price, as well as Swedish-born director Arvid Gillstrom.

Oliver Hardy began his film career and rise to international fame in Jacksonville, first at the Lubin studio, then with Vim and his own production company, and finally with the King Bee studio, which took over Vim after its repeated financial troubles.

Hardy, Price, and many of the other Jacksonville actors made permanent moves to Hollywood soon after the political atmosphere in Jacksonville turned against the movie industry due to accusations of fraud, ties to political corruption, and fear of endangering the public welfare with elaborate stunt sequences staged without city approval. The film Bouncing Baby shows stunts shot in the streets of Jacksonville.

In a recent episode of the TV show Downton Abbey, Mrs. Hughes was surprised that Carson knew who Theda Bara was. Who was Theda Bara and what was her connection to Florida?