I've been reviewing Dr. Shoffner's History of Jackson County and Stanleyâ€™s History of Jackson County (1950) so we can reflect on our early history.
In 1822 there were only two towns in Florida, St. Augustine and Pensacola. In 1826 people could buy land from the federal government by bid. Most of it was bought for about a $1.25 per acre. That was the year Elijah Bryan got his first land. From that time on every account Iâ€™ve read always considered the land the land in north Jackson County to be the richest in Florida. People were moving in, mostly from North Carolina and Georgia and establishing their plantations.
Social affairs and government were developing rapidly. The first grand jury met in 1824 at Widow Hull's place. They reported nothing of a criminal nature was brought before them and they knew nothing of that sort in the county.
On May 8, 1825, the first election held in the territory was to elect their representative to Congress. Here are the results of that race. Notice we have changed in three years from four counties to ten and Jackson casts the most votes.
Roads were needed and contracts were let for them. They were usually about 8 feet wide and were made by merely cutting the trees. Often there were no bridges. The people traveled by ox cart, wagons and carriages. If they couldn't ford the stream, they just didn't go.
As an indication of how this area was developing faster than the rest of the state, the first constitution was written at St. Joseph (now Port St. Joe) in 1838. At that time we had four towns in the county. They were Ocheesee, Marianna, Webville and Campbellton and we had about 4,500 people.
In 1860, Key West and Pensacola were the largest cities in the state, each having about 2,900 people. Our main ports were Pensacola, Fernandina, St. Augustine, Jacksonville and Cedar Key. At that time it was virtually impossible to go over land to Pensacola. People wishing to go there usually went to Nealâ€™s Landing and took a steamboat to Apalachicola, then a coastal steamer.
With that background we go back to the Erwin House.
During the 1850s John M.F. Erwin had the largest store in Greenwood. It was located in his yard at the intersection of Fort and Bryan Roads. In 1852, he was an active leader in the development of the Democratic Party, along with John Coe, John Milton and James F. McClellan. The Greenwood Post Office was opened in 1848 and he served as Post Master in 1857. He was elected to the State House of Representatives in 1858 as the Democrats were rising in power and the Whigs were declining. On 22, September 1860 he was commissioned as Captain in State Forces by the Secretary of State. He resigned his commission in 1864 to become a member of the Florida Legislature.
After the war, a convention was held in Tallahassee on 25, October 1865 to set up a government to replace the Confederate Government. Allen Bush, F.B. Callaway and Felix Lesley represented Jackson County. They repealed the secession ordinance repudiated the state debt and abolished slavery. They also called for a state militia. John M.F. Erwin was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of its first regiment. This was a very difficult position in a very difficult time.
From this time on, all conditions in Jackson County declined. At times the place was under marshal law with federal troops stationed here. Elections were abolished with all offices filled by the federally appointed Governor. Many of the planters lost their land. Schools were closed. Many churches ceased to meet. All public offices were filled by carpetbaggers, scalawags or freed slaves. Vigilante groups roamed the county. Over a 150 people were murdered and not a single person was ever convicted for any of these. In 1871, Secretary of State Jonathan C. Gibbs, a black man made an investigation and reported the following:
The end view shows an addition to the Erwin House. A story has been handed down through the family since the war indicating that a man known as a night rider dwelt there. He was never seen.
In the next picture made in an upstairs bedroom Laurence Pender III is standing by the door where he put out his hand to receive food. When things settled down the hand was never seen again.
Think of the amazing change that occurred from the 1825 Grand Jury Report to 1871. After an election held in 1876 the carpetbaggers and scalawags left the state, and normalcy began to return.