What was Florida like when the first white settlers got here? We can only imagine the hazards—the native population, alligators, mosquitoes, and poisonous arachnids. Add to this a list of climate changes—hurricanes, droughts, tornadoes, lightning strikes, and the economics of settling a new land—its unknown character.
One man, not from Florida, said in 1829, “no man would immigrate to Florida–no not from hell itself!” Obviously, he was wrong; because these first settlers came, and now, almost two hundred years later, they are still coming.
In my family, came seven-year-old Mary Adeline Walker with her parents; and later her grandparents followed. She is my third great-grandmother, and she came to Jefferson County, Florida, in 1829. We have important records and resources about her, but no diaries or journals from her or her immediate family. There are diaries and journals from other people, though, who lived in this area during territorial Florida.
Using Mary as my primary character, I wrote a book entitled “Palmetto Pioneers: The Emigrants.” It is one of a three-part series. The final book ends in Monticello during reconstruction, after the Civil War. The first book begins when Mary’s family migrates from South Carolina. They brought with them on the journey a foundation herd of cattle.
They primarily dealt with cattle, but like most good farmers, they varied their livestock and crops to diversify their risks. Mary is one of eleven children, primarily boys, a real plus for the family’s operations, which were in Jefferson County.
The book, written in a genre called narrative nonfiction, may be classified in a sub-genre called family history writing. It uses elements of creative writing to present a factual, true story. It uses literary techniques usually reserved for writing fiction, such as dialog, scene-setting, and narrative arcs. But I rooted it in facts. No part of the story is made up or fabricated unless the author signals otherwise.
A clear example of this type of genre is the book, “1776”, by David McCullough. McCullough extensively researched this subject using both American and British archives to create a powerful drama with extraordinary narrative vitality.
For “Palmetto Pioneers,” the territorial Florida time period was extensively researched, and a bibliography follows at the end of the book. I divided it into time periods such as “Life in South Carolina,” “The Migration,”, “Life in Territorial Florida,” and “The Indian Wars.” I limited their life in South Carolina to reflecting on why they left and what they needed to bring, but it doesn’t tell the reader. Instead, it shows these events.
In the first book are scenes that reflect the realities of living in Florida. The reader sees what Florida was like through Mary’s eyes. The reader can also see her and her husband’s place in Florida history.
There is no family tree in this book, but it references an online Ancestry tree that is public and accessible to anyone without a membership. Many of Mary’s brothers and sisters, as well as her own children, left Monticello and settled in many other parts of Florida, such as DeSoto, Citrus, Putnam, Marion, Bradford, Madison, Suwannee, Levy, Indian River, Brevard, Dade, Duval, Okeechobee, and many more counties. Two families went to Texas, and their descendants still live there.
One can find the first book of the series on Amazon, and there are soft-cover copies at two businesses in Monticello, Florida—Oh Happy Days Gifts and Vintage Antiques. On Amazon, the books are almost $25 for hardcover and softcover but only $9.99 for the e-book.