Florida Frontiers Articles

Florida Frontiers: The Weekly Newspaper Articles of the Florida Historical Society is a weekly newspaper article covering history-based events, exhibitions, activities, places and people in Florida. The newspaper articles premiered in January 2014. We explore the relevance of Florida history to contemporary society and promote awareness of heritage and culture tourism options in the state.

In 1738, the first legally sanctioned free black settlement was established in what would become the United States.

El Pueblo de Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, popularly known as Fort Mose, was a community of former slaves who pledged allegiance to the King of Spain, became Catholic, and agreed to defend Spanish controlled Florida from invaders.

Located just north of St. Augustine, Fort Mose was the first line of defense against attack from British colonies. 

As part of the War of Jenkins Ear between Spain and Great Britain, General James Oglethorpe led an invading force into Spanish Florida. In the early morning of June 26, 1740, that invasion was repelled at Fort Mose.

Since 2010, an annual reenactment of the Bloody Battle of Fort Mose has been s... click title or here for the full article

The traditional culture of the Seminole Tribe of Florida is preserved at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum on the Big Cypress Reservation in south Florida, near Clewiston.

The state of the art museum and archival facility features permanent exhibitions and rotating gallery space, a research library, and an extensive collection of newspapers, oral histories, manuscripts, and artifacts including patchwork clothing, baskets, and dolls.

In the Seminole language Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki means “a place to learn” or “a place to remember.”

“That’s really what we hope to do here at the museum, is to educate the public but also to keep the traditions and culture alive within our own tribe,” says traditional arts coordinator Pedro Zepeda.

“We want this to be the source for tribal history a... click title or here for the full article

Artist Jackson Walker has dedicated his life to preserving Florida history through large oil paintings.

“I got to thinking about Florida, and my own family’s history, and it just kind of dawned on me, well that’s what you know, that’s where you live, that’s who you are,” says Walker.

His 48 x 72 inch painting “They called it La Florida: The First Landing of Ponce de León in Florida, April 2, 1513” will be on display July 17 through December 11 at the Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science in Cocoa as part of the “ArtCalusa: Reflections on Representation” exhibition.

The opening reception is this Friday evening from 6pm to 8pm. Tickets are available at www.myfloridahistory.org. Walker... click title or here for the full article

Hank Mattson is known as the “Cracker Cowboy Poet” who “tells it like it was.”

A native of Lake Placid in Highlands County, Mattson recites his poetry and discusses Florida’s pioneer culture at libraries, schools, and festivals throughout the state.

“When This Old Hat Was New” is a poem Mattson wrote about Jacob Summerlin’s life as a Florida cowman in the 1800s. Appalachian folk musicians Dana and Susan Robinson set the poem to music, and it earned the 2015 Will McLean Best New Florida Song Contest, selected first out of 42 entries.

Mattson’s poetry tells the stories of colorful characters from Florida’s pioneer past such as Jacob Summerlin, Bone Mizell, and Hamilton Disston, but much of it is also based on his own experience as a “Cracker cowman.”

“I don’t r... click title or here for the full article

The Plant system of railroads helped to create modern Florida.

When Henry B. Plant was born in 1819, Florida was still under Spanish control. By 1821, Florida was named a United States Territory, and in 1845 it became a state. Before his death in 1899, Plant helped to develop Florida with railways, steamships, and luxury hotels.

In discussions of railroads and their impact on Florida’s growth, Henry Flagler usually is the first person mentioned. Henry Plant and Henry Flagler were friendly competitors who sometimes worked together.

“They were equally as important,” says Sally Shifke, Museum Relations Coordinator for the Henry B. Plant Museum in Tampa. “I think the reason that Henry Plant doesn’t get quite as much recognition as Henry Flagler is that Henry Flagler’s p... click title or here for the full article

When the Seminole Indians first appeared in Florida in the 1700s, they occupied lands where other Native Americans had lived for thousands of years. Tribes such as the Calusa, Timucua, and Apalachee lived in Florida long before European contact in the 1500s.

While the archaeological record contains tools, pottery, and other artifacts, the visual record of pre-European contact people in Florida is very limited.

Since 1992, artist Theodore Morris has dedicated his career to creating realistic oil paintings depicting Florida’s prehistoric and indigenous populations.

Morris is one of a group of nine artists whose work will be shown in the exhibition “ArtCalusa: Reflections on Representation” at the Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science in Cocoa, July 17 through... click title or here for the full article

Naturalist, ornithologist, and artist John James Audubon first came to Florida in 1831 to capture images of Florida birds for his illustrated book “Birds of America.”

Audubon did not have a pleasurable stay in St. Augustine, complaining in his letters about hard rowing through the salt marshes, difficult wading through mud and water, and fighting sand flies and mosquitoes.

When Audubon returned to Florida in April 1832, he had a much more enjoyable stay in Key West, where he wrote that his “heart swelled with uncontrollable delight” upon his arrival. Audubon was the guest of John H. Geiger, whose home is now called the Audubon House.

“It was built in 1847 to 1849,” said Bob Merritt, director of operations for the Audubon House and Tropical Gardens. “Geiger was broug... click title or here for the full article

From 1925 through 1953, the luxury passenger train Orange Blossom Special traveled from New York City to Miami and back.

Other Florida stops included Jacksonville, Ft. Lauderdale, and Hollywood before the train returned north via Winter Haven, Bradenton, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Orlando, Gainesville, and Tallahassee.

The Orange Blossom Special came to Florida between mid-December and mid-April. Even more famous than this luxurious train and its wealthy passengers is the song “Orange Blossom Special.”

Tradition holds that the music to the song “Orange Blossom Special” was written by renowned fiddlers Chubby Wise and Irvin T. Rouse, and that the words were written later by Rouse’s brother Gordon.

“As the story goes, both Chubby Wise and Irvin Rouse visited the Or... click title or here for the full article

Senator Bob Graham has been called “the hardest working man in politics.”

Graham’s 38 years of public service included two terms as Governor of Florida from 1979 to 1987, and he represented Florida in the United States Senate from 1987 to 2005.

He famously spent more than 400 days working other people’s jobs, including days as a journalist, a fisherman, a construction worker, a truck driver, a barber, and in many other occupations.

Graham started his tradition of “work days” in 1974, while he was serving in the Florida Senate.

“I was chairman of the State Senate Education Committee, and I had been in some classrooms where I didn’t think civics was being taught very well,” says Graham.

“I mentioned that to some civics teachers and they said ‘the only wa... click title or here for the full article

With the publication of her novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe became the most famous writer in America. That book helped to fuel the raging debate over slavery in the United States.

When Stowe met President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, he reportedly said, “So you are the little lady who started this Great War.”

Often overlooked is the fact that Harriet Beecher Stowe is also one of the first and greatest proponents of Florida as a popular tourist destination.

Stowe began spending her winters in Mandarin, Florida, shortly after the Civil War ended. Her home was on the St. Johns River where she could sit on her porch and enjoy the natural environment. Stowe also traveled to places such as Silver Springs, St. Augustine, and Tallahassee, and wrote abou... click title or here for the full article

Every year in May, nearly 1,000 students from around the state meet in Tallahassee to compete in the annual Florida History Fair. Next month, the winners of this year’s competition will travel to College Park, Maryland to compete with state history fair winners from across the country.

“Florida History Fair is an opportunity for students from sixth grade to twelfth grade to participate in historical research and produce a product, either a documentary, an exhibit, a website, a historical paper, or a performance using primary sources,” says Trampas Alderman, curator of education at the Museum of Florida History, and coordinator of the state competition.

The student competitors at Florida History Fair must follow strict guidelines when preparing their papers, projects, and p... click title or here for the full article

The Florida Historical Society was established in 1856, making it the oldest existing cultural organization in the state. The independent, not-for-profit organization was founded in St. Augustine and moved to several other locations during the twentieth century before making Brevard County the permanent home of their statewide headquarters in 1992.

Based at the Library of Florida History in the old 1939 Post Office and Federal Building in downtown Cocoa, the FHS also operates the Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science adjacent to the Cocoa campus of Eastern Florida State College, and manages the Historic Rossetter House Museum and Gardens in Eau Gallie.

The organization’s statewide activities originating from Brevard County include the production and distribution of... click title or here for the full article

Cape Canaveral is the oldest name of a specific location to appear on a European map of what is now the continental United States.

Every manned mission into space originating from the United States has been launched from Cape Canaveral.

From the Spanish “discovery” of the New World to America’s manned exploration of space, Cape Canaveral helps define the boundaries of the Modern Era.

In the late 1400s, Spain was unified under Ferdinand and Isabella, who sponsored the first European exploration and settlement of what they thought of as the New World.

In 1513, Ponce de León literally put Florida on the map, and gave our state its name.

“There’s still a great deal of controversy and a great deal of debate as to where Ponce de León first makes landfall and... click title or here for the full article

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed as his motorcade drove through Dallas, Texas.

President Kennedy spent the week before his death in Florida.

After a short stay at his family’s winter residence in Palm Beach, Kennedy toured the NASA facilities at Cape Canaveral before visiting Tampa and Miami.

On his last day in Florida, President Kennedy met with Florida historian and Catholic priest Michael Gannon. As the first and only Catholic American president, Kennedy was particularly interested in Gannon’s area of expertise, Catholicism in Spanish Colonial Florida.

When Gannon spoke with President Kennedy on November 18, 1963, he was a priest in St. Augustine, preparing to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of the city.... click title or here for the full article

At 4:00 a.m. on April 1, 1864, an explosion disrupted the still waters of the St. Johns River as a Confederate mine ripped through the hull of the steamship Maple Leaf. The ship was transporting Union supplies during the Civil War.

“It was participating in the Southeast Atlantic Blockade as a troop transport,” says Keith Holland, founder of St. Johns Archaeological Expeditions, Inc.

“After the Battle of Olustee, which was a major Union defeat, all troops were called from surrounding areas, especially Charleston, to come to Jacksonville immediately. They had camped on Folly Island, an entire brigade, for about 20 months. It took the Quartermasters approximately a month to break down the entire camp, and load up all of the thousands of soldiers personal effects into boxes. T... click title or here for the full article

In the classic 1951 film “The African Queen,” a small steam boat with the same name is damaged on river rapids, shot at, and ultimately destroyed while being used as a makeshift torpedo against a German vessel at the beginning of World War I.

Models and prop boats were used during filming to portray the damage, and the real African Queen survived.

Today, the actual boat used in the film leaves a dock in Key Largo every two hours, taking history enthusiasts, movie lovers, and other sightseers on a trip down a canal, into the ocean and back.

“People just love this boat, especially if they’ve seen the movie,” says Michael Hewitt, who pilots the African Queen for no more than six passengers per cruise. “If they haven’t seen the movie, one thing’s for sure: when they tak... click title or here for the full article

William Bartram fought alligators, befriended Seminoles, and meticulously documented the flora and fauna of eighteenth century Florida.

His book “Travels through North and South Carolina, East and West Florida, the Cherokee Country, the Extensive Territories of the Muscogulges, or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Chactaws, Containing an Account of the Soil and Natural Productions of Those Regions, Together with Observations on the Manners of the Indians,” known today as “Bartram’s Travels,” is a classic work of Florida literature.

William Bartram was a naturalist, botanist, artist, and explorer who followed in the footsteps of his father, John Bartram.

“Without his father’s influence, William would have never gotten interested in botany,” says J.D. Sutton,... click title or here for the full article

Pirates have been romanticized in popular culture for more than a century.

We get our ideas about what pirates were like from sources such as the Robert Louis Stevenson novel “Treasure Island,” the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta “Pirates of Penzance,” and the fairytale “Peter Pan.” Dozens of films portray swashbuckling men of the sea, most recently the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series.

Most of what we think we know about pirates, based on these and other popular sources, is false. Take the concept of walking the plank.

“A lot of it has been fabricated by Hollywood and books and plays, and walking the plank is something that has never been documented in historical record,” says Zach Zacharias, senior curator of education and curator of history at the Museum of Arts a... click title or here for the full article

Ernest Hemingway, born in 1899, published his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, in 1926. He was living in Paris with the first of his four wives, Hadley Richardson. Hemingway divorced Richardson the following year.

Writer John Dos Passos suggested to Hemingway that he might enjoy Key West, Florida, and in March 1928, Hemingway visited the island for the first time.

“He fell in love with Key West, the lifestyle, the fishing, of course,” says Dave Gonzales, director at the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum. “He kept coming back to Key West over the next two years. He’d invite his friends from the ‘Lost Generation.’ John Dos Passos came down, (artist) Waldo Peirce, (writer) F. Scott Fitzgerald, and they’d come down for fishing trips in the spring mostly, but Hemingway would sp... click title or here for the full article

Many Florida towns were built around Seminole War forts and some, such as Fort Pierce, Fort Lauderdale, and Fort Myers, retain their fort names.

Fort Shackleford was constructed in 1855 during the Third Seminole War. Archaeologists continue to search for its exact location.

Archaeologist Annette Snapp is Operations Manager for the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Indian Museum in Clewiston, and is leading the effort to find Fort Shackleford.

Dr. Snapp will give a free presentation this Friday night at 7:00 for the Florida Historical Society Archaeological Institute at the Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science, 2201 Michigan Avenue in Cocoa.

Seminole Indians moved to Florida in the 1700s, to avoid the expanding American colonies. Runaway slaves found sanctuary h... click title or here for the full article

This week the nation is remembering a series of three marches in support of voting rights that took place fifty years ago. Peaceful protesters in Florida’s neighboring state of Alabama were attacked by police.

The demonstrations encouraged President Lyndon Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act.

Less than a year earlier, demonstrations in Florida helped lead Johnson to signing the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964.

In St. Augustine, attempts by protesters to peacefully demonstrate for civil rights were also met with threats and violence.

“I’m history. I was there,” says Barbara Vickers, who was 41 in the summer of 1964.

The night of greatest violence came on June 25, 1964, when peaceful demonstrators, both black and white, were attacked with bricks and s... click title or here for the full article

People have lived in Florida for more than 10,000 years.

March is Florida Archaeology Month, and the 2015 theme is “Innovators of the Archaic.” The Archaic Period began about 9,500 years ago and continued until about 3,000 years ago.

Florida is rich with Archaic Period archaeological sites. Stone tools, pottery with distinctive regional styles, and prehistoric architectural foundations called shell middens have been discovered throughout the state. More than 100 dugout canoes, some dating to 5,000 years ago, have been excavated at Newnans Lake in Alachua County.

One of the most important Archaic Period archaeological excavations in the world happened in Brevard County. In 1982, as construction began on the Windover Farms neighborhood in Titusville, ancient human rem... click title or here for the full article

The loud booming of cannon fire ripped through the north Florida pine forest fifteen miles east of Lake City as startled cavalry horses whinnied. Repeated rifle fire rang through the trees as more than 10,000 soldiers confronted each other on February 20, 1864, near Ocean Pond.

The Battle of Olustee was the largest conflict of the American Civil War fought on Florida soil.

Each side began with about 5,000 troops. When the three hour battle was over, 1,861 Union soldiers and 946 Confederate soldiers were dead.

“It is significant because it comes at a time when the United States is attempting to swing Southern states back into the Union,” says Sean Adams, associate professor of history at the University of Florida.

“There was an attempt, for example, to reconst... click title or here for the full article

Before the Hippie Movement of the 1960s promoted expanded consciousness, sexual freedom, and a widespread questioning of authority in American popular culture, the Beat Generation of the 1950s led a counterculture movement of their own.

The term “Beat Generation” brings to mind the City Lights Bookstore and Vesuvio Café in San Francisco, or poetry readings at smoky jazz clubs in New York, but it was in Florida that the leading writer of the movement, the man who coined that phrase, did some of his most important work.

Jack Kerouac is considered to be one of the most significant and influential writers of his generation. He was a primary figure of the Beat movement along with poet Allen Ginsberg and novelist William S. Burroughs.

Kerouac was living in Orlando when he... click title or here for the full article