History and Prehistory of - Manatee County Historical Society

History and Prehistory of
Terra Ceia
By Bill Burger and
Cathy Slusser
Manatee County Historical Society
Picnic Meeting at
Terra Ceia Village Improvement Association Hall
Terra Ceia, Florida
April 21, 2010
BILL BURGER: Welcome to the Terra Ceia Village Improvement Association Hall,
which Cathy will elaborate more on. This building was built in 1907 for, I believe,
$2,500 and it’s still standing. We’ve done a lot of improvements over the last 10 years:
exterior, new roof; interior, ceiling work. Our final effort will be toward restoring our
stage. Otherwise it is a fully functional stage with a dressing room on either side.
QUESTION from Audience: Was it always built to do what it’s doing now?
BILL BURGER: Yes, Ma’am. The Terra Ceia Village Improvement Association began
in 1901. The ladies had very many fund raising events to raise the money to buy the land
and then build the building. It is if not THE, then One-of-the oldest continuous civic
associations in the State of Florida. I don’t want to step on Cathy’s talk which is more on
history. Today I’m going to tell you a little bit about the Pre-history of our island here
starting with the big picture, which is “how people got to this hemisphere”. Between
16,000 to 18,000 years ago was the height of the last ice age, at which time the northern
portions of the western hemisphere were totally blocked by ice sheets. It wasn’t until
about 12,000 years ago that the sheets began to recede and a corridor formed between
those two ice sheets. Well, we have archeological evidence that date to 13,000 years ago
and sites in parts of Florida that date to 14,000 years ago. So people got here before those
corridors formed between the ice sheets.
All we can do is theorize how that happened. Probably using boats similar to what
the later Esquimo had, hide covered boats, and hunted marine mammals edges of the ice
floes and worked their way south. Presently there is some controversy as to which
direction they came from. So it’s looking like they may have come from Asia across the
Bering Straits but also perhaps across the Atlantic on the edges of Iceland and Greenland
to Newfoundland; again, following the marine mammals which were a rich source of
food, as well as fish as they made their way over to this part of the globe.
Now in our region, zooming down as I will to Terra Ceia, we have a number of
sites that date to this first era of human occupation: a large site in Tampa called the
Harney Flats site; two sites in Sarasota which are sinkhole-spring sites, Warm Mineral
Springs and Little Salt Springs, where finds have been made that date to between 10,000
and 11,000 years ago.
Now zooming in closer, here on Terra Ceia, or close by, the oldest finds which
have been made so far date to between 7,000 to 8,000 years B.C. These were found in
dredge materials, when U.S. 19 was extended to the Island. The U.S. 19 Bridge that you
cross when you come out to the Island, the south end of that bridge is mostly artificial,
dredge material, right there by the Crab Trap restaurant. Projectile points were found
there that date to between 7,000 to 8,000 years ago.
I make the point that I use the term “projectile points”. Most points that people
commonly call “arrowheads” are not arrowheads. They were either spear points or knives
or the points on short darts or spears that were thrown using a spear-thrower. The bow
and arrow does not come into Florida until about 700 A.D. in time. So most of those early
finds are not arrowheads. In fact, if you took one of those large points and put it on a
shaft, and tried to use it as an arrow, it would go “plink”. [Speaker demonstrate with arm,
a very short curve to the ground] Real arrowheads are very small.
Now the next era, which we call the archaic era and dates to about 7,000 to 1,000
B.C. is represented by scattered signs of projectile points in different locations around
Terra Ceia. There may be other sites, but since that time sea level has risen. Sea level got
close to where it is today about 3,000 B.C. So those early sites have been inundated.
One of the earliest ceramic sites that we have dates to about 1,200 B.C. It is up at
Bishop Harbor just to our north. That was discovered as a result of mosquito control
ditching through the mangrove swamps. There is no surface indication of the site at all. It
is below the water table, below the mangrove swamp. So you can see that sea level has
come up over the ages. Ceramics were invented about 2,000 B.C. at various locations.
South Carolina and somewhere along the St. John’s River valley as well. Perhaps another
area was close to Lake Okeechobee.
Now I don’t know – have any of you tried your hand at making pots, making
ceramics? [Laughter from audience] Made a few thick-bottomed ash trays. Usually
people try ceramics and stop at that point. I think for many generations, Mother’s Day
gifts have had very thick bottoms. [Laughter from audience] Well, if you’ve ever tried
pottery, you know that you can’t make a pot just using clay. You have to add a binder to
it, temper it, and in ceramics classes today it is typically “grog”, ground-up ceramic
material. The first ceramics that were made incorporated organic material, usually
Spanish moss, which was kneaded into the clay, holding the clay together, allowing the
pot to air dry and then fire. Over time other things were experimented with, including
sand, of course, and also ground limestone.
Through time, differences in the tempering agent and the designs on the pottery
can give us archeologists a relative date for when these particular sites date-to. Style has
changed over time, just as today, when you can look at a Corvette and a Model-T and you
know that the Model-T is older. Stylistic change is something we use in archeology to
determine the relative age of a site. For afterward, I have some examples of some of the
ceramics that are found in this part of Florida.
Now this earliest period of ceramics is, say, we have one site that I discovered by
Bishop Harbor, we also have sites that date to this era that are located on Perico Island,
where I’m currently involved in a project with the county. It’s the future site of the Neal
Preserve. Before you cross to Anna Maria Island, along Manatee Avenue, the south side
of the road would be the Neal Preserve. It’s the remnant of a very large archeological site
that in part dates back to almost 2,000 B.C. It’s the first kind of pottery: its fibertempered pottery, that’s found at that site.
Now as I mentioned, by about 3,000 B.C., sea level had risen to about where it is
today. With the rise of sea level and a generally warmer and rainier environment,
estuaries started to form, including Tampa Bay, Terra Ceia Bay and so forth. Now as
most of you know, estuaries are a rich source of food for fish and shellfish. These were
gathered and harvested by these first Floridians, these first Terra Ceians. The debris from
living off the land was thrown into mounds. Most archeology is about studying garbage
and that is what shell mounds are. Something I like to point out to folks, if you see a shell
mound, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Shaw’s Point or maybe the Bickel Mound
here on Terra Ceia and other archeological sites, you look at this and you think: “Man,
they really ate a lot of oysters and clams and so forth!” [Laughter from audience] Which
they did. But, if you take a sample of the shell midden, as it’s called, and screen it very
finely and pick through it, which is what we do in archeology, you find all the little bones
of the animals and the fish that they also ate.
I’ve got some archeological examples of some of the bones that we found in the
shelter. Now these few bones would probably represent a couple of pounds of meat. Sea
Turtle, various kinds of fish, shark, a good handfuls of bones. Now think how many
shells you could produce if you shucked oysters to get, let’s say, one hundred pounds of
oysters. You’d have a pile of shell this big! So you see that people get the wrong idea of
the diet of these prehistoric people when they see these big piles of shell mound. Most of
the diet was based on non-shellfish material.
Now shell was also the raw material for making much of their technology.
Geologically, good hard stone, called chert or commonly called flint, runs out at about
Hillsborough County. While the people here and further south had stone tools, they had
to trade for them or go to the quarry sites in Hillsborough County or further north to get
the raw material. They were very adept at figuring out how to make what they needed
from what they had. They had plenty of shell. Conch shell could have the interior
removed to make vessels such as this. By knocking a hole through the body of the conch,
and putting a handle to it, you’ve got a very useful hammering tool for opening other
material as well as - [he demonstrated by putting the shell “hammer” up against his head,
signifying an aggressive weapon] – perhaps ‘conk’-ing on the head. [Laughter from
audience] Where the phrase came from.
Now we do have some low grade sandstone in our area. It’s a good phosphate ore
which is a good honing material. If you took a conch tool like this and worked on the
edge of it you would wind up with a beveled edge tool such as this, which would be for
cutting wood. But think of cutting down a tree with something like this! You would also
use fire. Build a fire around the tree and burn and char it. People generally don’t realize
how hard shell is. It’s a very hard and durable material.
You can also take the column [wooden handle] out of the conch and use it like
this. [A slender bit of whelk shell is stuck crosswise through a hole in the handle] for use
as a hammer or for various tools for various tasks.
Now something that some of you may have been familiar with, these little
fighting conchs are a very typical artifact that we find on Terra Ceia in particular. This is
the West Indian Fighting Conch. For many, many years, archeologists have considered
this to be another hammer. Just put a stick through those two holes. But increasingly,
archeologists are of the opinion that these were net-sinkers. The Indians would make nets
out of wool out of the cabbage palm trees, make twine rope. Again, in the absence of
stone, these little conchs are quite heavy for their size. They would have a line of those
tied along the bottom of the net as sinkers. Back in the 1930s there was an excavation
issued by the Smithsonian done on a large mound in southern Hillsborough County, a
WPA project. And the archeologists, after they cleared the mound of vegetation, passed a
couple of these around to the uneducated workmen. They said: “Go out and pick up
everything that looks like this.” They picked up over a thousand! [From audience: “My
Goodness!”] I doubt that they are hammers! Because they are still fully functional.
[Bill pulls the map forward on its easel.] Now this is a schematic that a man did who
wrote a book several years ago in which he looked at archeological sites around the
Southeast. He studied a lot of reports and he came up with a series of scaled drawings and
this is somewhat idealized that shows the layout of the archeological sites here on Terra
Ceia. How many of you have been to the Bickel Mound? Quite a few of you, good. For
those who haven’t, it’s just that-a-way over on Bayshore [Road]. The Bickel Temple
Mound is indicated right here with the prime burial mound adjacent right to it.
The large shell mound, which is called the Abel shell mound, shell midden, along
Miguel Bay, probably began forming between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D. Again, it
represents the disposal of garbage from living off the land. Small piles of shell, one next
to the other, would coalesce. People would live and work on top of one and toss their
garbage over here, and over time there’s this long elevated ridge formed.
People often ask, well, why did they build these mounds? Well, for one thing, it
kept you up off the flood waters. It also gets you up above, well, maybe some of the bugs.
It gets you amongst some of them. Jim Kissick here will agree to that! There’s no doubt
that these native people had smudge fires going most of the time because the no-see-ums
were just as bad back then as they are today.
We also have to keep in mind that Florida was the recipient of many ideas from
elsewhere in the Southeastern United States as far as living ideas and construction
practices including the idea of building special burial mounds for the dead. The earliest
people hereabouts would bury their dead right in the village shell mound. By around, oh,
let’s say Year 0 in time, the idea of special mounds for the dead was introduced into
Florida. Somewhere around 200 A.D. in time, we had burial mound construction that is
called the Johnson Burial Mound and another one which is actually the parking area in
the Bickel Mound Park. They began construction about this period of time.
We do not know which came first. It is possible that one was used by one clan of
people and the other for another clan of people. These first burials were people, pardon
me, they were corpses, in the flesh. They were typically buried in the fetal position.
Now as time went on other ideas were introduced into the area, including the idea
of Temple Mounds, which is the Bickel Mound. Now very likely the Boots Point Mound.
Sorry to say this large mound was removed for road fill before it was professionally
investigated. So we will never know if it was actually a temple mound or not. But given
the size and orientation and the connection by a shell walkway to the burial mound, it
was likely a temple mound as well. From the little that is left here it appears to be a little
more recent in time than the Bickel Mound down here.
Now a temple mound was a foundation structure for a temple structure or for a
chief’s house or a clan house. Not everybody and not just anybody would have been
allowed to go up top. It would have been a reserved area. We know from early historical
accounts that in the temples, the cleaned bones of important people were kept stored.
Cyclically they would be buried in the mound, the temple would be burned down.
Another layer of earth, or of shell midden in this case, and the layer would be capped
over and a new temple would be built. So successive cyclical use of these temple mounds
we know occurred.
Out in front of the temple mound, as in the case of the Bickel Mound, you’d have
a large open area, a plaza where the people assemble to visit, probably, and the general
marketplace, but also to assemble to watch the ceremonies that would occur on top of the
temple. Now the Bickel Mound is about 20 feet in its elevation, at its highest point.
Which is pretty high for Terra Ceia. Like most people I live on a five foot high contour
line at my place on Terra Ceia, so 20 feet can be quite a bit in a relative sense .
We know we had one temple mound here [Bickel Mound] and probably another
at Boots Point. There was another temple mound at the Kennedy Place which was along
Bayshore, before you get to S.R. 19. There was another temple mound to the north of us
at Bishop Harbor. A very large one, the largest temple mound in the region, was built on
Snead Island’s Emerson Point. Anyone been to the Pointevant Complex on Emerson
Point? A large temple mound there and then just on the other side of the river towards
the mouth of the river the Pillsbury Mound was also a temple mound. They had a number
of temple mounds in this region.
In 1950 Dr. Ripley Bullen came here from the University at Gainesville and
conducted an archeological investigation. He excavated all around Terra Ceia. He
excavated most of what remained of Prine Burial Mound here at the park. He tested the
Bickel Mound, he tested the walkway that connected the Johnson Mound to Boots Point.
He also conducted tests in the Abel Shell Midden.
One of the people he interviewed was Ruth Abel, a long time resident of the
island who lived over here on the shell mound. She said that at one time there was a shell
walkway that connected the Prine Burial Mound to the big village area. Because of
subsequent use, farming and so on, Dr. Bullen couldn’t verify its physical presence.
She also said that there was a midden mound out here, out from the plaza area. That has
always been a curiosity to me as an archeologist. Over the last month I have been
conducting excavations in this area [the southwestern corner area of the Abel Shell
Midden] which date to 400 -600 A.D. I am currently trying to zone in on the area where
that mound may have been located in the plaza.
Voce from audience: “How big is it? What is the size?”
Bill Burger: Each of these squares on the map is 200 meters on a side, or 656 feet. Today,
Bayshore [Road] goes along the outside of the mound here. There’s a humpback bridge
over the outlet and heads over there. This is Tillet Bayou, so the V.I.A. is located in this
direction over here.
There is still more to be determined as to the sequence and dating of the people
who lived here. Interestingly, when Dr. Bullen excavated in the burial mound here at the
Madeira Bickel Mound Park, he found that there had been three uses of this burial
mound. As I mentioned, this and the other burial mound were originally used by people
who buried their dead in the flesh in a fetal position. Now in this burial mound, the next
use – the oldest is below us, right? – the next level up, the people would expose the dead
to decay then collect the bones and bury the bones in bundles, which is called a second
degree burial.
And then the third and final use of this burial mound, according to Mrs. Abel, was
in the flesh, extended prone burials. So there have been three uses for this burial mound
from its beginning.
Now in 1939, FDR established the commission that was supposed to decide, once
and for all, where DeSoto had landed. Dr. John Swanton, who was the only professional
in this otherwise political committee, determined after reading the Chronicles of the
DeSoto Expedition, that this was it. This was Ucita, the village that DeSoto occupied
shortly after his landing in 1539.
Voice from audience: Killed them all off!
Bill Burger: As I say, this was Dr. Swanton’s conclusion based on those three rather
sketchy accounts. No physical evidence of 16th Century material anywhere on Terra Ceia
has been found by general curiosity seekers, by Dr. Bullen, by anyone else.
Now much of the big shell midden along the Gulf edge was sold by its private
owners for road fill at 50-cents a cubic yard. And during those excavations, no obvious
Spanish artifacts showed up either.
Now back in the late 1980s, I worked for Dr. Gerald Milanich of the University of
Florida at Gainesville on the DeSoto Trail project, another attempt to determine “Where
did he land?” Dr. Milanich and Dr. Hudson of the University of Alabama had concluded
that DeSoto actually landed at and occupied a village at the mouth of the Little Manatee
River in Ruskin. I conducted many excavations in that area and found no physical
evidence there either! Because the site at the end of Shell Point Road in Ruskin – became
Shell Point Road! It was used for road fill. Now professionals have no doubt that DeSoto
landed somewhere along the southeastern coast of Tampa Bay. That’s the real
professionals, we’re solid on that. The actual site where, we don’t know, because so
many of these sites were destroyed and used for road fill.
Now during my work on the DeSoto Trail project, I also looked around Terra
Ceia and I did some work on the remains of the Boots Point area. What I did find there
was very interesting, because it included some Spanish material, but Spanish material that
dates to the Cuban fishing rancho era, sometime in the mid- to late-1600s approximately.
This included materials of Spanish manufacture and included Indian pottery made in
north Florida by mission-ized North Florida Indians who worked with the Cubans at
some of these ranchos. So we have evidence of that, but nothing earlier, no 16th Century.
Neither do we have any physical evidence of DeSoto at DeSoto National
Memorial in Bradenton, at Shaw’s Point as it was called historically. And the Fed is very
exact at making the point: That is the DeSoto National Memorial. They make no claim
that DeSoto landed there. It is something to memorialize the fact that DeSoto came in
somewhere in this part of Florida before heading north.
Now it is interesting that nothing has shown up here [he points to the map of the
Terra Ceia mound site] given that when DeSoto left Ucita and went north to Tallahassee,
where his campsite has been found, he left a hundred men with a lot of materials for six
weeks at this village. When he called them to come and join him, the story is that they
gave away a lot of stuff that they had to the locals. So you would expect to see a lot of
16-Century Spanish material in the general area of his landing spot. We haven’t seen it
here. So we’re still looking.
Something else I’d like to touch on quickly. It’s something that we in archeology
regularly get: who were the people I’ve been talking about, as far as the native people?
Now various people bandy about historical names that we do have from Spanish
prazas [spelling?], the Calusa people to the south, the Timucua to the north. I like to
make the analogy – just because a guy named Burger [he points to himself] lives on a
house in Terra Ceia that was built in 1919, it does not mean that Burger built that house
or that Burgers lived there 1,000 years ago. [Laughter from audience] You cannot take
the historic Indian tribal names and project them into pre-history. It is an illegitimate use
of the terms. There are many questions in archeology we will never be able to answer
unless somebody invents a time machine. Names are not preserved in the ground.
No from the Spanish we do have some names, Ucita, Tocobaga, Pujoy, Nagarete.
These were some of the named peoples here in the Tampa Bay area in the 1500s. We
know from the Spanish accounts that at different times Tampa Bay was under the thumb
of the Timucua to the north and by the early 1600s it was under the thumb of the Calusa
to the south. But I like to stress the point that the people of Tampa Bay were their own
selves. They were their own named entities and they have their own languages. In fact,
they had mutually unintelligible languages amongst themselves around Tampa Bay.
The Ucita, somewhere on the coast, spoke a different language from the Mocoso
who lived somewhere up the Alafia River. So you see, neither Timucua nor Calusa. They
were their own selves.
Now with Cathy’s agreement, I’m going to go into a bit more about the history
before I turn things over to her. This is a whole smaller map here.
Voice from audience: “Bill, I don’t mean to interrupt but where did the great Florida
collection at the Bishop Museum come from?”
Bill Burger: Montague Tallant’s collection. It came from all over Florida. He didn’t go as
far as Pensacola, but he did go through the panhandle, the north of Florida, not so much
on the St. Johns, but the center of Florida, Hernando, Pasco, Hardee, hereabouts and
down into the Glades. So yes, he was very active. And for his time he was doing work
that was no worse than many professional archeologists of his day. We try not to discount
him as just a potholer, a treasure hunter. Montague Tallant was actually pretty good for
what he was doing, compared to professionals. Were it not for his work, much of that
material would have been lost forever. It would be in the hands of private collectors,
never to be seen by the public or appreciated as it can be today in the collection of the
South Florida museum.
I mentioned the Rancho evidence, the Spanish rancho, or fishing station, at Boots
Point. From the material I found it probably looks maybe late 1600s or maybe 1700s. In
1783 Spain sent an expedition under Jose de la Vida to Tampa Bay to chart and map its
depths and assess it generally. This is 1783, the year before Spain got Florida back.
Britain had it for twenty years. This is a blow up of the map that he produced and on the
map are three spots where he indicated Cuban fishing ranchos operated. One of them was
most definitely on Snead Island. It was likely at the Portevant Mound complex. This was
the Rancho Emilia. To the north of it, here on Terra Ceia, was the Rancho de Rosie. It is
spelled R-o-s-i-e but it’s not “rose-y”. It’s “ro-zee-a”. And I’m concluding that that’s
where the name Terra Ceia comes from. It’s the “land of Rosia”. The personal name of
the Cuban fisherman whose establishment was probably at Boots Point where I found the
remains. They were mostly surface remains because most of the mound was mined away.
What evidence I found was just surface evidence.
There was another rancho located on what was probably Cabbage Key off the
Pinellas Peninsula. So in 1783 there were three ranchos located here. Most of the efforts
of the Cubans to catch, smoke, salt fish and roe were at Charlotte Harbor. We just have a
few ranchos up this way.
In 1793 another cartographic expedition was sent under Folse. [spelling?] also to
Tampa Bay but regrettably his map has never been found. We don’t have a copy of the
Vincente Folse map.
Something else I’d like to point out on this 1783 map. The major river that was
located and mapped, and was called the “river of manatees”, was the Little Manatee
River. So the first “Manati” river was not our Manatee of today. It was the Little Manatee
at Ruskin. It actually goes off the map. They charted way upstream up the Little Manatee
on that expedition.
Voice from audience: “How accurate is this?”
Bill Burger: I’ve tried to juxtapose modern place names as closely as I can and many
places fit quite well. This is Hillsborough Bay, this isn’t to scale, this is Old Tampa Bay,
the Little Manatee, Cockroach Bay, Piney Point, Terra Ceia Bay and the Manatee River,
Egmont Key, Passage Key and Anna Maria, Point Pinellas. But its artsy, compared to the
maps today. They didn’t have GPS, right? [Laughter from audience]
It’s interesting to see that like the label on the Avila map, we don’t have the
Folsch [?] map, what today’s Manatee River was called by both of them, was the River of
Oysters. The Oyster River. The reason for that was that the whole Manatee River was
blocked by what they took to be oyster beds, but was actually submerged shell middens,
from a lower seabed level from prehistoric native peoples. This was borne out when
dredging occurred in the early 1900s. A lot of shell artifacts showed up in the shell that
was being dredged from the river, particularly out from the mouth of Ware’s Creek. That
part of the river was blocked, almost all the way across the river, by these shell deposits.
Shell Midden Deposits.
The Oyster River was the first European name for today’s Manatee. One more
point and them I’m going to give it over to Cathy. When Fosch came in 1793, he came up
the River of Oysters, managed to come in on a good tide, and he got up to what was
clearly the Manatee Springs in East Bradenton. He found it to be the best possible
location for a settlement. He was pushing the Spanish government to establish a Coast
Guard station on Tampa Bay to keep the Brits, to keep the English, out of Tampa Bay.
The government never acted on his recommendation. But he definitely came to the
Mineral Spring, Indian Spring, in Old Manatee at that time.
Now in 1812, we had a Spanish fishing rancho on the north side of the mouth of
the Manatee River, probably on mounds on Snead Island. By Joaquin Caldes. Two years
later, his father, Jose Maria Caldes, joined him and started another rancho on the other
side of the river, probably at Shaw’s Point, today’s DeSoto National Memorial. They
operated there for some years. His father had a rancho down in Charlotte Harbor since
1784. So the old man came up and joined his son on either side of the mouth of the
Manatee River. In 1828, their claims came before the judge at Fort Brook, at Tampa, but
they were turned down. They denied their claims. We lose sight of the son. The father,
Jose Maria, moved back down to Charlotte Harbor. He commences operations on Useppa
Island where he lasts for a long, long period of time operating a large rancho down there.
Now in their plea to the U.S. Government at Fort Brooke, they described their ranchos
“on the Oyster River at Angola,” which is what they called their settlement at the mouth
of the river.
A couple of years ago I was the lead archeologist, some of you have probably
heard about the Angola project. In researching this, remember that “Angola” is what a
white Anglo-Saxon heard the Spaniard say up at the court at Fort Brooke and transcribed
it into English. What they actually said we’ll never know. But if we look in the
dictionaries, “angulus” in the Latin is probably a close term. It means “angle” or “hidden
place”. Now I’m running into speculation here, but I think it very likely that the tabby
ruin at DeSoto National Memorial was probably built by Jose Maria Caldes on the back
side of the shell mound, kind of hidden but right on the cove that is adjacent east of
DeSoto Memorial. I don’t know if you all are familiar with that nice cove there. It’s a
sheltered, protected and hidden place. Very deep water there, a good anchorage.
Now we know that in 1834 a Baltimore sea captain named William Bunce
established a rancho at Shaw’s Point, in that same location, which in one of his letters he
called “Angulo”. So I really think that is the source of the term of the Caldes father and
son, two extended families and their rancho operation. It really has nothing to do with
any runaway slave community. Now I was chief archeologist on the Angola Project and I
learned a lot. With no offense to Cathy Slusser [laughter from audience] I’ve heard a lot
about some historians and how far you should believe ‘em! I’m an archeologist. I’m not
from Missouri but “You’ve got to show me”! I’ve got to have physical concrete evidence.
I don’t buy “Just So Stories”.
Now there was a settlement of escaped Black Slaves who had fled Fort
Apalachicola, the large fort established on the Apalachicola River in 1814 by the British
during the War of 1812. They definitely fled down this way under the authority of
George Woodbine, who was a white Jamaican officer with the Brits. Woodbine’s Negro
establishment, to quote a letter from Andy Jackson, is what it was known as. It was
somewhere on Tampa Bay. Personally I think it was on the Little Manatee River.
Hopefully, funding one day will allow full investigations of that area. But the
speculations of a large escaped settlement at the Manatee Spring, has no proof in the
archives or in physical concrete evidence. As I say, it was a learning experience for me. I
will never read another historian quite as easily as I did back then. [Laughter of audience]
Question from audience: “This may be in your realm, or out. There’s a big spring, like a
well, down in the Court House front yard in downtown Bradenton.”
Bill Burger: Yeah. The Wishing Well.
Voice from Audience: “And there’s one down in Manatee, the Village of Manatee.”
Bill Burger: Yeah. That’s a real one.
Voice from Audience: “They are covered up. Why? Because there is no one there like a
keeper to keep kids from getting in it?”
Bill Burger: Well, I think Cathy can address the one at the Courthouse. I think that is
totally artificial. But the one in East Bradenton, the Manatee Mineral Spring, was a
recognized spring and fed a fairly big, well, not really big pond from which it flowed into
the river. Over a period of years it became a spot for dumping both illegal and by the City
of Bradenton. A friend of mine, in fact, John Tindall, he’s deceased but he used to live on
Terra Ceia, was contracted by the City of Bradenton to level out some of the street
sweepings that had been dumped in that low area. He was also contracted to bring in
more fill to further fill it in. So it’s very different today than what it was prehistorically
and historically when Gates and the first settlers came in.
Second Question from Audience: “What are we going to have to do in order to get the
United States, especially our corner down here, I’m from Michigan, they tear everything
down. Why don’t they make these places destination places by enhancing them and
making them worthy as a destination?”
Bill Burger: Yes, and a number of surveys, including those from the State of Florida,
funded by the Department of State, have shown that when you question visitors to Florida
visiting historic sites is second or third on their list of things to do. Right after Disney, of
course. But in this day and age, you know, the economy -- [he bends side to side to
demonstrate the ups and downs] it takes money to fix it, to buy them. Because that is the
only way you can preserve things, is to buy them. To fix them up, you all are familiar
with what restoration costs!
CATHY SLUSSER: I can just answer some of that question. I serve on the Realize
Bradenton Committee. We have a 10-Year Plan and one of the goals included in that 10
Year Plan is to make downtown Bradenton an Historic Destination. To get the Main
Street Area on the National Register of Historic Places and to have it nominated as a
Distinctive Destination, which is something done by the National Trust. So people do
recognize that that’s important. Again, as Bill said, with the economy, it makes it harder
to save a building because it involves such an investment in the restoration. But we’re
working on it.
Voice from audience: “Cathy, through the Historical Society, they fight and fight and
fight [partially inaudible] but we don’t have a ton of money to save these buildings …”
CATHY SLUSSER: Yes, and we are educating people to see how important these things
are and for them to preserve the building themselves. So we’re working on that.
Well, to kind of get back to Terra Ceia’s history, Bill has told you about the
prehistory and brought us up to the fishing ranchos. My job is to tell you about some of
the settlers who came after these Cuban fishermen and after the native peoples who lived
The settlement story of Terra Ceia begins in 1843 with the arrival of Joseph and
Julia Atzeroth. They came here from Germany. They had left Germany because of some
of the political problems that were occurring at that time. They made their way to New
York City with their daughter Eliza, who, by the time they got here to Florida was about
three. She was probably born just about the time they left Germany or on their way to
America. They went all the way down to New Orleans. They first had planned to stay in
Pennsylvania where there was a large group of German immigrants. But the cold weather
was affecting Julia. She was ill and the doctor said that she would feel better if she went
farther south. So they ended up in New Orleans but she was still very ill.
So they hired a German doctor to travel with them to Florida. They got to Fort
Brooke and when they arrived at Fort Brooke they lived there for a few months while
Joseph began scouting out the best place. The German doctor stayed with them, she was
that ill. Bill’s got a picture here of Julia, who became known as Madam Joe. NOOOT
because of the reason that you all are thinking of! [Laughter from audience] It was from
her German custom of calling her husband “Mr. Joe”. So others took up calling her
Madam Joe.
So they lived in Fort Brooke, which is what we called Tampa today, from a period
of time while Joseph surveyed the area. At that time the Armed Occupation Act was in
effect. This gave 160 acres of land free to any settler who would come, live on a piece of
property for five years, clear five acres and build a house. And serve in the militia. Joseph
decided that he would settle on Terra Ceia after some surveys.
When Julia arrived she was not pleased with Joseph’s selection. You can see
[from the picture] that Julia is quite a formidable woman in her own right and even
though she was ill, he had chosen this godforsaken island with bugs and swamps. Why
didn’t he choose something a little closer to civilization?
She got off the boat, picked up a grubbing hoe and started clearing land because
she was not going to live in a tent that he had erected. She wanted a house. In the process
of working she got well. We can say that it might have been the Terra Ceia climate. It
could have been the spring water she was drinking. I think it was just pure stubbornness.
[Laughter from audience and “Bravo!”]
She sent the German doctor packing and began her life with her husband Joseph
and her daughter Eliza here on Terra Ceia. Actually, Madam Joe is responsible, or partly
responsible, for me becoming an historian because my parents in 1978 and bought a
parcel of land that had the homestead of the Atzeroth family. It had even the foundation
stones of that log cabin that they built. One of the things that piqued my interest was that
my senior thesis in undergraduate school was on the Atzeroth family. My first speaking
engagement as a professional historian was to your group where I talked about Madam
Joe. So things have come full circle.
Today I’m going to tell you a little more than just the Atzeroth family although
they did become prosperous raising crops here on the island, building a farm. Eventually,
also building a store in Palmetto where they could sell the things they grew here.
Their daughter Eliza, when she got older, her first husband was a man named
Michael Dickens, who was supposed to be a cousin of Charles Dickens but he was a
scoundrel. Not only did he give her two daughters but he gave her a social disease. She
filed for divorce. We have her divorce papers at the historical records library but they
were never finalized. He eventually went off to the Civil War and never came back.
She assumed that he had died in the war and remarried, to William Fogarty, who
was one of four shipbuilding Irish brothers. Three of them came to Manatee County and
started Fogartyville in what we know today as west Bradenton. It’s between 26th and 43rd
Streets, the river and Manatee Avenue. So she somehow met William Fogarty. This
German Lutheran woman with two daughters and she married an Irish Catholic man who
was a shipbuilder. The really interesting thing about these two people is that Eliza had
been raised on Terra Ceia and in Palmetto. She, in her own right, had homesteaded a
piece of land, of farmland. William, a shipbuilder living closer to town, wanted to be a
farmer. He began farming her land on Terra Ceia but he also built her a house in
Fogartyville because she wanted to live in town. The two families went back and forth
between the two houses and eventually lived sort of happily ever after. Later on, William
did die and leave Eliza a widow. She moved to St. Petersburg.
Very interesting is that three of the houses that Eliza lived in are still standing and
have been preserved. The house on Terra Ceia that William built, the farmhouse, has
been moved to the other side of the island, owned by the De Lesline family and has been
restored. The house that William built for her in Fogartyville is still standing, lovingly
being taken care of by a private family and the third house that she lived in at St.
Petersburg is on the campus of the University of South Florida is a welcome center and
the home of the Florida History Center. So Eliza made her mark on our community and
even on St. Petersburg.
The Atzeroth family is probably the most recognized as the first settlers, but there
have been many other families who made Terra Ceia what it is. I’m going to just give
you a brief overview of some of those families and then I’m going to send you on a field
trip. I’ve brought with me a driving tour of Terra Ceia. It’s actually a bicycle tour but I’ll
let you drive. [Laughter from audience] So when you are all done here I’m going to give
you copies and you can go see where these people actually were.
As Bill said, the name of Terra Ceia has been debated because it doesn’t really
mean anything in any language. By 1897, the 1897 Directory said that Terra Ceia meant
“Heavenly Land.” Even though we can’t prove it, we go by it! Those of us who live here
say that except for the sand gnats, it is a heavenly land. Terra Ceia is about 1,000 acres.
You may think, a lot of people think, that Terra Ceia cuts off at U.S. 19 and this is Terra
Ceia. But it’s not. Terra Ceia extends all the way to Frog Creek with Tampa Bay on the
north and Terra Ceia Bay on the south.
So it is much larger than what you will drive today. The driving tour was
developed when I was a senior in college and it was intended to be a compact route. It
just takes in this area when Madam Joe lived and some of the other families. You will not
see all of Terra Ceia today. You must go on the other side to see all of Terra Ceia.
In 1897 there were 127 heads-of-household that are listed in the General
Directory and the primary crops that they grew here were citrus, vegetables and flowers.
The land was valued at between $500 and $1,000 an acre. This is in 1897. So the land
here was very rich and valuable for the people who came.
The Atzeroths arrived in 1843 and other than some later time Cuban fishermen,
they had the island to themselves for about 7 years, until around 1850 when the James
Green Williams family came here and settled up where the BP station is today. You’ll see
it on your map. The remains of their house is there. It is a cistern, part of an underground
collection system. When the first settlers came they needed to depend on rainwater. That
was their main source of fresh water. There was a small spring on the Atzeroth property
that the Atzeroths used. Most of the early settlers used rainwater. It wasn’t until later that
they discovered artesian water. Terra Ceia has fresh free-flowing water that just comes up
naturally out of the ground. In fact, I live in a house two houses down off of Sunset and
we still use artesian water to irrigate the pasture and feed the horses.
So the James Green Williams family came here and I will be telling you a bit
more about them later because they intermarried into another family that was important
to the history of Terra Ceia.
There were a couple of other families that came shortly after and one was William
Hallock who did not stay very long. He purchased property from Mrs. Atzeroth, from
Julia. He stayed here just for a short period of time, but long enough to build a house
which was purchased by the Abel family. Bill mentioned the Abels. They eventually
moved over onto the Indian Mound. But they did build a house that you will see on your
driving tour. That’s where the first school took place on the island. Mrs. Abel was a
schoolteacher and she taught classes there in her home before another school was built
But probably one of the most important Terra Ceia families was the Armstrong
family. Frank Armstrong came to Terra Ceia and Jim [Kissick] can tell you the story
better than I but I will tell you a little about what I know. You can talk to him another day
and he will tell you even more stories than I will tell you today. I’m constrained to tell
you just for a short period of time before you all fall asleep.
Frank Armstrong was at one time the largest landowner in Manatee County. The
property that he got here on Terra Ceia came to him through Emma Virginia Williams, a
descendant of the Williams family. Frank Armstrong was an entrepreneur. He had his
fingers in a lot of pies. One of the things that he did was to be part of the steamship line.
Early in the development of Terra Ceia it was the sailboats that would come in and out of
the bay. But later on steamboats began coming. These steamboats came from all over the
world. Frank Armstrong was part owner of a steamship company that would come into
Terra Ceia and dock at the dock that he owned. His store was out on the dock, bringing
people and goods for his store and also new settlers for the community. Frank Armstrong
advertised in newspapers all over the country. New settlers were arriving and they were
purchasing their land, some of their land, from him. They could purchase their supplies,
their seeds, anything they needed from his store. He would get them set up with whatever
they needed, even mules. He had a team of mules that he could sell. There was a really
great interview done with a man named Harry Snow where Harry Snow tells what it was
like to be a settler and live in the Palm View area and how they were able to go shopping
at Mr. Armstrong’s store.
He got to be so successful that in 1907 a newspaper said: “ In just one week, he
shipped 14 railroad cars of celery.” Frank Armstrong helped to develop not just Terra
Ceia but the area where our port is today. He grew citrus out there. He did lots of things
for the community and he’s a member of the agricultural hall of fame.
Another family that was important was the Jones family, Jesse Jones. They also
grew celery. Did you know that celery grew in Florida? That celery grew on Terra Ceia?
Jesse Jones lived diagonally thatway from here [she points]. I have a photograph showing
his house completely cleared. All those Brazilian Peppers that have grown up all over the
island were not there. He had a large celery farm.
Another family was the Joseph Tillette family which gave their name to Tillette
Bayou. Joseph Tillette actually lived in Myakka. He came to Terra Ceia on a hunting and
fishing trip. He liked it so much that he went back to Myakka, dismantled his house,
loaded it into a wagon and brought his family and the boards of his house here to Terra
Ceia where he re-erected it. That historic home has been incorporated into a modern
home. You can just barely see portions of it.
In the days when those families lived here, Bayshore Drive was the commercial district,
the center of the community. The boats came in and out and there were several docks that
families had. The stores were there. Frank Armstrong’s store was there, the Hubbard
family had a store there. There are some great pictures which I think are up in the back of
Bayshore where it is lined on both sides with stores and homes. It was really a little city
along Bayshore Drive.
But something happened around 1900 that changed all that. That was the arrival
of the railroad. When the railroad came in – and by the way, Frank Armstrong was also a
director of the railroad and instrumental in bringing the railroad here –it came up the
middle of Center Road. The spur line arrived there. The packing houses were located
there, so the commercial district migrated down that way.
Center Road was more social, the things that held the community together
socially. The V.I.A. Hall; the V.I.A., Bill has told you, was formed in 1901 and this
building was built in 1907. It was a Women’s Club until the 1950s. You men would not
have been allowed to join. You could come here for the socials and donated your money
but you weren’t allowed to be a member. Until the 1950s when a parcel of land that the
V.I.A. owned, over near where the BP gas station is, at a place called Seabreeze Point
that they had acquired from a man named Mr. Clyatt who had donated the land to them.
That all of a sudden became very valuable because U.S. 19 was coming through there.
The state purchased the land and then there was big business happening at that little
Women’s Club and all of a sudden the men were allowed to join and be on the Board of
Directors. [Laughter from audience] They were able to purchase another piece of land
over on the other side of the Bay that they renamed Seabreeze.
In 1894 there was a wooden school built right back behind where this building is.
In 1912 a brick school building was built where the little yellow house is. When they
built that house it was not planned to be up so high in the air. But the foundation of that
brick school, which had burned in the 1940s, was so sturdy that they couldn’t dig into it.
So they had to bring in fill, cover it up and build the house on top of it. Which I think is
really cool!
The Methodist Church was built in 1899 so this was the social area of the island.
Commercial along Bayshore until around 1900 and then moved down to where our Post
Office is located. You will see it later today. That was built as a bank building in 1912.
Terra Ceia had a lot of business going on. A lot of money was coming in through the
island because of the agriculture and the arrival of the railroad. So the Bank of Terra Ceia
was formed. This was a bustling community with lots of things happening. People knew
where Terra Ceia was all over the country. They knew Terra Ceia citrus and celery. Terra
Ceia was really a widely known name.
Then in 1926 there was a hurricane that came through South Florida and it
impacted Terra Ceia. It wasn’t a direct hit but it impacted the island with lots of flooding.
In fact I interviewed a woman who tells me the story. She lived over on Horseshoe Loop.
The winds got so bad and the water began to get so high that the father loaded the whole
family up in their Model-T car and he drove right here. This was the highest point on the
island. They rode out the storm sitting in that car. To this day that is her most vivid
memory. [Laughter from audience]
But you know what was happening in Florida in the late 1920s, the real estate
boom was going bust and a hurricane came through. There was a failure of a large
railroad on the east coast. Florida went into the Great Depression three years before the
rest of the country. The Bank of Terra Ceia managed to hold on until 1931 before it
closed but not before it eventually was able to pay off all its depositors. Terra Ceia
became not as bustling. There was still some farming, still some citrus going on. But it
wasn’t the big boom town that was prior to that. Now today we are known as the little
sleepy suburban
[End of Video]