Florida Frontiers 181

Florida Frontiers 181

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Florida Frontiers “Ponce de León Landed HERE!!”

Florida Today 8, Florida Frontiers “Ponce de León Landed HERE!!
Ben Brotemarkle

Five hundred and one years ago, Juan Ponce de León set sail from Puerto Rico in search of undiscovered land, slaves, and gold. His fleet of three ships included the Santiago, the San Cristóbal, and the Santa María de la Consolación.

The ships reached the northern end of the Bahamas by March 27, 1513, which was Easter Sunday. Ponce and his crew sailed for another few days until they sighted land on April 2. Because it was the Easter season, which the Spanish called the “Festival of Flowers,” and because of the beautiful landscape, Ponce named the land he saw “La Florida”—the land of flowers. The next day, on April 3, 1513, Ponce came ashore to claim this land for Spain.

But where was he? Where, exactly, did Ponce come ashore? That is the question explored in the original courtroom drama “Ponce de León Landed HERE!!” The production can be seen online at myfloridahistory.org/ponce.

For centuries, scholars, historians, students, and others have been arguing about where, exactly, Ponce de León landed on Florida’s east coast in 1513, when he gave our state its name.

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Florida Frontiers 178

Florida Frontiers 178

Florida Frontiers “The Mosquito Beaters Annual Gathering”

Florida Today,  Florida Frontiers “The Mosquito Beaters Annual Gathering”
Ben Brotemarkle

People who lived in Brevard County, Florida during the first half of the twentieth century will tell you shocking stories of dealing with mosquitos before DDT was developed as an insecticide. For example, they say that if you put your hand on a window screen on the shady side of a house, it took only a few seconds for the mosquitos to form a solid black mirror of your hand as they attempted to bite you through the wire mesh. Everyone had window screens, because there was no air conditioning.

Brevard County native George “Speedy” Harrell graduated from Rockledge High School in 1945, with thirty-two classmates. Harrell remembers using a “mosquito beater” to keep the blood suckers off of his mother as she put laundry on the line to dry, and to protect his brother as he milked a cow. Florida pioneers like the Harrell family would lash together palm fronds to create “mosquito beaters” to brush away swarms of the biting insects.

In 1986, when George “Speedy” Harrell decided to organize an annual gathering for people who lived in Brevard County prior to 1950, he chose to name the group Mosquito Beaters. Harrell says, “I thought it would be great if we had one day that we get together, not a funeral or a wedding.” The Twenty-ninth Annual Gathering of the Mosquito Beaters will be held Friday March 14 and Saturday, March 15, at the Walter Butler Community Center in Cocoa.

Every year, about 1,000 people attend the Mosquito Beaters Annual Gathering. The event is so popular that local high school class reunion activities are planned to coincide with it. There are no formal presentations or academic discussions. The gathering is just a large group of friends and family coming together to remember old times and talk about the way it used to be in East Central Florida.

Florida Frontiers “The Florida Historical Society Archaeological Institute”

Florida Frontiers “The Florida Historical Society Archaeological Institute” - Ben Brotemarkle

The Florida Historical Society (FHS), whose statewide headquarters are in Cocoa Village, is announcing today the establishment of a new department focusing on the intersection of history and archaeology. March is Florida Archaeology Month and just in time for the celebration, FHS is launching the Florida Historical Society Archaeological Institute (FHSAI).

Established in 1856, the Florida Historical Society has been supporting archaeology in the state for more than a century.

FHS was the first state-wide organization dedicated to the preservation of Florida history and prehistory, as stated in their 1905 constitution. It was the first state-wide organization to preserve Native American artifacts such as stone pipes, arrowheads, and pottery, and the first to actively promote and publish archaeological research dating back to the early 1900s.

As archaeology was just beginning to emerge as a discipline in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Clarence B. Moore traveled down the St. Johns River on the steamboat Gopher, stopping to investigate Native American burial mounds and other sites. Like most archaeology enthusiasts of his generation, Moore often did significant damage to the sites he explored, digging with reckless abandon instead of following the methodical procedures used by trained archaeologists today. Moore’s contributions to the study of Florida archaeology are important, though, because he meticulously documented what he found with detailed notes and illustrations.

Clarence B. Moore became a Member of the Florida Historical Society in 1907, and donated his written works to the Library of Florida History.

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Florida Frontiers 177

Florida Frontiers “Stetson Kennedy”

Florida Frontiers “Stetson Kennedy” — Ben Brotemarkle

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Author and activist Stetson Kennedy with Florida Historical Society executive director Ben Brotemarkle, celebrating the 2009 reprint of Kennedy’s classic 1942 book Palmetto Country at the Library of Florida History in Cocoa.

Carrying a cumbersome audio recorder that he called “the thing,” Stetson Kennedy traveled through rural backwoods, swamps, and small towns from north Florida to Key West, collecting oral histories, folktales, and work songs. He spoke with the diverse people of Florida including Cracker cowmen, Seminole Indians, Greek sponge divers, African American turpentine still workers, and Latin cigar rollers.

The result of Stetson Kennedy’s trek through Florida’s multicultural communities was the classic 1942 book Palmetto Country.

Born in Jacksonville in 1916, Stetson Kennedy traveled the world but always returned to Florida. He left his studies at the University of Florida in 1937 to join the Works Progress Administration’s Florida Writers Project, and was soon named the head of the unit on folklore, oral history, and socio-ethnic studies. During this period he was the supervisor of writer, folklorist, and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, who also collected material for the WPA.

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  1. DOCUMENTARY “HOPPIN’ RATTLESNAKES:
          ORAL HISTORIES OF BEACH RACING IN VOLUSIA COUNTY 1903-1958”
  2. APOLLO 8 MISSION RECORDINGS
  3. THE GULF ARCHAEOLOGY RESEARCH INSTITUTE

29:00 minutes (26.55 MB)

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  1. REMEMBERING PATRICK SMITH
  2. THE CELERY CITY STRING BAND AT SAME HOUSE PIONEER DAY
  3. THE CAROLINE P. ROSSETTER LEGACY
  4. VENERIAL DISEASE MONTH DURING WORLD WAR II

29:00 minutes (26.55 MB)

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  1. THE 25TH ANNUAL ZORA! FESTIVAL
  2. HURSTON’S WPA DOCUMENTS
  3. UNIQUE ART IN AN EATONVILLE CHURCH

29:00 minutes (26.55 MB)

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  1. JEFF KLINKENBERG “ALLIGATORS IN B FLAT”
  2. PENSACOLA SLAVE SHIP DOCUMENTS
  3. THE GREAT SOUTHERN CRACKER ROADSHOW

29:00 minutes (26.55 MB)

Florida Frontiers “The Barber-Mizell Family Feud”

Florida Frontiers “The Barber-Mizell Family Feud” — Ben Brotemarkle

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This illustration from the March 12, 1864 edition of Harper’s Weekly shows Union forces briefly occupying the Barber plantation during the Civil War.

Moses Barber had simply had enough of his cattle going missing. He believed that David Mizell and his friends were periodically stealing from his herd. His rage reached a point where Barber publically declared that if David Mizell set foot on his property again, he would be shot.

On February 21, 1870, David Mizell became the first casualty of the Barber-Mizell Family Feud. He was shot and killed on Barber property near Holopaw, Florida, in Osceola County.

Moses Barber first settled in North Florida in the 1830s. As the Seminoles were pushed to the south, Barber expanded his cattle operation into Central Florida. Some members of the Barber family built homes on the south end of the cattle run, near Fort Christmas. By the time the Civil War began in 1860, Moses Barber was a prominent and successful cattleman.

During the Civil War, Florida was the primary supplier of beef to the Confederate Army, and the Barber family had one of the largest cattle businesses in the state. Once the war was over, some of Barber’s fellow cowmen were taking part in the Reconstruction government, which he saw as a betrayal.

Florida Frontiers “The Caroline P. Rossetter Story”

large_CarolinePRossetterFloridaToday.jpgFlorida Frontiers “The Caroline P. Rossetter Story” — Ben Brotemarkle

Caroline P. Rossetter, at the tender age of 23, listened at the keyhole as a debate took place behind closed doors at the Standard Oil Company office in Louisville, Kentucky. Upon her father’s death, Carrie Rossetter requested that she be allowed to take over his Standard Oil Agency in Brevard County, Florida. That request sparked a heated discussion.

The year was 1921, and women had received the right to vote in the United States just months before. The idea of a woman being able to run a business was preposterous to some.

James W. Rossetter had moved his family to Eau Gallie, Florida in 1902, when Carrie was just four years old. He distributed Standard Oil products by boat up the Banana River to Cape Canaveral. Carrie had been working in her father’s office from the time she was fourteen. When James Rossetter died in 1921, Carrie desperately wanted to keep control of her father’s business.

Finally, Carrie heard a decisive voice rise over the din, saying “Let the little lady have it! She won’t last a year and we’ll give it to a man!” With that, Caroline P. Rossetter became the first female Standard Oil Agent.

The loudly stated prediction was at least partially accurate. Rossetter didn’t last a year as a Standard Oil Agent. She lasted 62 years, becoming one of the company’s most successful representatives until her retirement at the age of 85.

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Florida Frontiers “Zora Neale Hurston in Brevard County”

ZoraPhotoFloridaToday.jpgFlorida Today , Florida Frontiers “Zora Neale Hurston in Brevard County”
-  Ben Brotemarkle

On July 9, 1951, writer, folklorist, and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston wrote in a letter to Florida historian Jean Parker Waterbury: “Somehow, this one spot on earth feels like home to me.  I have always intended to come back here. That is why I am doing so much to make a go of it.”

It would be natural to assume that Hurston was writing about her adopted hometown of Eatonville, Florida. Growing up in Eatonville, the oldest incorporated municipality in the United States entirely governed by African Americans, instilled in Hurston a fierce confidence in her abilities and a unique perspective on race. Eatonville figures prominently in much of Hurston’s work, from her powerful 1928 essay How It Feels To Be Colored Me to her acclaimed 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God

Since 1990, the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community (P.E.C.) has celebrated their town’s most famous citizen with the annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities. Hurston will forever be associated with the historic town of Eatonville.    

Hurston, however, was not writing about Eatonville when she spoke of “the one spot on earth [that] feels like home to me” where she was “the happiest I have been in the last ten years” and where she wanted to “build a comfortable little new house” to live out the rest of her life.

Unknown to most, Zora Neale Hurston called Brevard County “home” for some of the happiest and most productive years of her life.