Lately I’ve been brushing up on the history of the northcentral part of Florida where I grew up with a book I’ve been reading on Florida, “Cracker Times and Pioneer Lives,” edited by James M. Denham and Canter Brown Jr.
Attracted by generous land grants, Scotch-Irish families along the eastern coast began settling the northeast corner of eastern Florida in the late 1700s and early 1800s. In 1821, after it became a U.S. territory, more settlers from Georgia and South Carolina who were looking for land and a new beginning, began relocating to the area known as Columbia County. They gravitated toward a settlement called Alligator, which was the closest thing to a town at the time for those moving in and those already settled. The town was not named for the reptile, as one would assume about a community in Alligator-ridden Florida, but after an Indian chief called Alligator living there.
Until more and more people showed up looking to claim more and more land, there were a large number of Indians native to the area and they co-existed peacefully with the settlers. Eventually there would be four wars with the Indians and we all know who won, what with the help of President Andrew Jackson who was President in the mid-1800s. It would eventually be renamed Lake City. There were roads connecting the town with Jacksonville to the east, and Tallahassee (in the panhandle that was then known as “middle” Florida) to the west. Roads north linked it with the Suwannee River that Stephen Foster would later make famous…”way down upon the Swanee River, far far away.” Roads south linked it to another small community called Tampa. There were, and are, countless lakes in and around the community so the name fits.
According to the main contributor to this book, around the time the city was being renamed, a city in Utah being built by Joseph Smith and the “Mormons” and there was quite a bit of fuss by the locals when the the idea was put forth for changing the name to Lake City. Their concerns were eventually put to rest and Lake City it became. I think it’s interesting that I began my life in the environs of LAKE city and may live out to the end of my life in SALT LAKE city.
I was attracted to the book since I was looking to see if I could discover any of my ancestors between its pages. I hadn’t gotten too far in before familiar surnames from childhood began popping up. There were Keens, Witts, Brannens, Daniels, Raulersons and Waldrons, to mention just a few, all of whom brought faces and memories to life. And it’s possible I have come close to finding ancestors among Lake City’s pioneers. I can’t be sure because of the different surname spellings that may be due simply to poor spelling skills or lack of formal education. So there may be a connection between myself and the VANZANT pioneer in the Cracker book. (My paternal grandmother was a VINZANT (Vanzant?) before she traded it in for that of my grandfather.
What struck me most about the people who settled the community I was born into was not only the colorful sense of humor I noted, but the “smarts” they possessed in spite of their lack of formal education. You’d have to be pretty smart to eke out a living among the scrub oaks and on the sandy soils that make up northcentral Florida.
George Gillett Keen, who died around 1902, the main contributor, made an observation that struck me as it pretty much sums up my philosophy of life in very simple words. George said:
If we’re satisfied with our lot, and there’s love at home, then there is as much happiness in a cottage as there is in a mansion. But if there’s no love at home, there is no happiness for us anywhere.
We make our own troubles, three quarters of which are imaginary…what I call meeting trouble half way. If we’d take equal parts of common sense, reason and good judgement, mix them together, shake them up well, and take one teaspoonful every morning when we get up, we’d all get along better than we do.
Don’t jump up and down and cuss or try to find someone to lay the blame on. Home is whatever we make it–a little paradise or a howling wilderness.
Life’s a little like that too. I hope to remember now, everytime I’m trying to “meet trouble half way” what George wrote all those years ago. Because he was right, don’t you think?