In 1824, Richard Keith Call purchased 640 acres of land adjoining the city limits of the newly established territorial capital of Florida. By the early 1830s, Call had constructed an impressive brick and stucco residence on his property less than one mile north of Tallahassee. This home, known today as The Grove, stands as a testament to Call and his descendants who worked tirelessly to retain family ownership of the property and preserve the integrity of the structure.
The Grove is one of the most significant antebellum structures in Florida. Call and his descendants inhabited The Grove for nearly 200 years, attesting to the determination of the family and to the skilled craftsmanship demonstrated in the construction of the home. The Grove stands out among similar structures built in the early 1800s in the sophisticated techniques used to construct the home.
African slave labor built the home while Call oversaw the design and construction. Benjamin Chaires, a wealthy planter and early resident of Tallahassee, and Jesse Willis, owner of the first brickyard in the territorial capital, assisted Call.
Much of the material used to build The Grove was harvested on site. Bricks came from clay pits dug on the property and fired in specially built kilns. One clay pit was believed to be near what is now the intersection of North Monroe Street and Fourth Avenue, in Tallahassee's midtown district. Pine trees harvested on Call's land became beams and floorboards.
Because Call built the home under frontier conditions, some supplies, such as marble for the fireplace mantles, had to be imported.
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"General Call's Land," noted near the top of the map, constituted 640 acres immediately north of the city of Tallahassee in 1829.
Call planned to build an iron balcony on the south facade, directly above the main entrance. In anticipation of the balcony, Call constructed a door on the second story and put iron brackets into place. However, the iron balcony was lost at sea en route to St. Marks, Florida. One version of the story claims pirates attacked the ship carrying the balcony and other furnishings for the home. More likely, bad weather caused the shipwreck. The second story door remains in place today, forever without a balcony on which to open.
Call built the home hoping to start a family in the new territory of Florida.
Richard Keith Call married Mary Letitia Kirkman in 1824 at Andrew Jackson’s Tennessee home, The Hermitage. Call was a protégé of Jackson, having served under the future president during the Creek War of 1813-1814. Because her family disapproved of the marriage—particularly Call’s desire to take Mary to the far-flung territory of Florida—Jackson gave Mary away at their wedding. Shortly thereafter, Mary and Richard relocated to the Florida frontier.
Although never entirely completed, The Grove was certainly inhabited at the time of Mary Kirkman Call’s death in 1836. Call’s wife became ill as her husband prepared for service in the Second Seminole War. Call was aboard a transport vessel bound for Tampa when he learned that Mary did not have long to live. Call left the ship and the troops under his command in Apalachee Bay and sped towards The Grove.
When Call arrived, his wife had already passed away. According to Call’s daughter, Ellen Call Long, her father rode his horse so furiously the day of her mother’s death that the animal died of exhaustion as he approached the family home.
Sadly, six of the Richard and Mary's children died in childhood. Richard, Mary and several of their children are buried in the family cemetery north of the main house at The Grove.
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Richard Keith Call was a major figure in territorial Florida and during the early statehood period. Call twice served as territorial Governor, 1836-1839 and 1841-1844. He was a founding member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Tallahassee and greatly influenced the sale and distribution of public lands in the territory. Throughout Call’s political career, The Grove was the social center for Florida’s elected officials.
Using his appointment as Receiver of Public Monies, Call acquired significant property holdings in Leon County. By 1840, Call owned over 60 slaves, 6,000 acres of land in Leon County and city lots in Tallahassee valued at $20,000. According to Leon County tax records from 1860, Call held 118 Africans in bondage, making him one of the largest slave owners in the area on the eve of the Civil War.
In addition to real estate and agricultural holdings, Call helped found and finance the Tallahassee Railroad Company, which built the first rail lines in the territory from Tallahassee to St. Marks.
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Call twice served as territorial Governor, 1836-1839 and 1841-1844.
Call owned two plantations, The Grove, near town, and Orchard Pond, near Lake Jackson. Limited agricultural activities took place at The Grove. After Mary's death, Call focused on his Orchard Pond property and other investments. He wrote to Ellen Kirkman, Mary Call’s mother, in 1846: "I spend my time principally on the plantation, in which I take great interest," adding, "I have a large crop." (See Call's letter to Kirkman.)
Call’s plantations produced 167 bales of cotton in 1860. A wealthy planter, Call raised cash crops to sell and food crops to feed his family and slaves. He attended a planter’s conference in New Orleans in 1852 dedicated to promoting diversification and self-sufficiency for large estates in the south.
Ellen Call Long, Richard's eldest daughter, took control of The Grove in 1851. For the next decade Richard Keith Call lived at his Lake Jackson plantation, Orchard Pond, until moving to The Grove in about 1860 for health reasons.
When Florida voted to secede from the Union on January 10, 1861, Call stood on the steps of The Grove wielding a cane high in the air and proclaimed to the secessionists: "You have opened the gates of hell, from which shall flow the curses of the damned which shall sink you to perdition."
Call was a unionist, but certainly not an abolitionist. He believed firmly in the institution of slavery and argued for the superiority of the white race. In a letter to John S. Littell in February 1861, Call referred to African slaves as "wild barbarian[s], to be tamed and civilized by the discipline of slavery." (See Call's letter to Littell.)
Call wrote to the editor of the Tallahassee Sentinel in November 1860 about the "perversion" of the Declaration of Independence by northern Republicans who sought to extend equal rights to African slaves. Call declared, "Can anyone doubt… [equality] was intended by our fathers to apply only to the white man, to our own Anglo Saxon race?" (See Call's letter to Hart.)
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