A Rich Historical Heritage

The "Origins & History of the Palm Beaches" digital archive contains 40 original full-text articles profiling the history of Palm Beach County. The archive is a companion site to "Palm Beach County Issues & Views." Both sites are edited by Robert I. Davidsson, author of the book "Indian River: A History of the Ais Indians in Spanish Florida" and related articles about Florida's past. This archive is the winner of the Florida Historical Society's 2019 Hampton Dunn Digital Media Award.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Glades, Lake Worth Share 'Father of Sugar's' Legacy

By Bob Davidsson
        A pioneer once known as the "Father of the Sugar Industry" in western Palm Beach County also designed and promoted the town site for what became the City of Lake Worth.
        Frederick Edward "F.E." Bryant (1875-1946) emigrated from England in 1894 to study American agricultural techniques. He established a dairy farm in Colorado with his brother, Harold J. Bryant.
        While visiting South Florida in 1909, F.E. Bryant decided to stake his future in the development of agriculture in the Everglades. He established the Palm Beach Farms Corporation with his brother to farm the rich soil in Palm Beach County.
        To prevent the chronic flooding of agricultural and residential lands, Bryant became a founding member of the Lake Worth Drainage District (LWDD). The LWDD was created June 15, 1915, under the authority of the Florida Legislature's 1913 General Drainage laws, with the mission of "providing improvements for the purpose of making the area habitable for both settlement and agriculture."

The Bryants Design the Future of Lake Worth
        Following the death of her husband, Samuel, pioneer landowner and former African slave Fannie James sold her holdings in what became the downtown core area of the future City of Lake Worth to the Bryants' Palm Beach Farms Company.
        By the time Lake Worth was incorporated in June 1913, the Bryant brothers had already created the blueprint used for future growth. In the summer of 1912, the Bryants completed a platted survey of the town. It included 55 miles of streets and 7,000 residential lots ranging from 25 to 50 feet in width.
        The small city lots were purposely designed as part of a sales campaign by the Bryant brothers and partner William Greenwood. In 1910, F.E. Bryant purchased large tracts of farmland in the Glades. He sold these sections of land  to investors with small town plots in Lake Worth offered as a bonus incentive.
        The five-acre rural farm tracts sold for $250, including the 25-foot city lot incentives. The Bryant and Greenwood company promoted their development plan nationwide, and sponsored a land auction in 1912. Some of the rural tracts purchased by out-of-state investors were in submerged marshland, which in an unexpected way spurred growth in Lake Worth as new residents were forced to live in their city lots.
        A platted strip of land along the Lake Worth Lagoon was left undeveloped for a future park. It was named Bryant Park in honor of the early developers who promoted the City of Lake Worth.
        Today, Bryant Park extends about six blocks along the shore of the Intracoastal Waterway, south of Lake Avenue. The waterfront park features a covered band shell with seating, one-mile heart trail, public boat ramps, fishing pier, picnic pavilion and playground.

Bryant Creates the Community of Azucar (Sugar)
        During World War I, America experienced a shortage of sugar and was dependent on foreign sources. F.E. Bryant lobbied the U.S. Department of Agriculture to build an experimental sugarcane field station at Canal Point. It continues to serve the agricultural community today.
        Bryant and partner G.T. Anderson formed the Florida Sugar and Food Products Company in 1921. The same year, Bryant built the county's first sugar mill east of Pahokee.
        The farming entrepreneur named this first sugar plantation "Azucar" - the Spanish word for sugar. Bryant envisioned a model farming community for the mainly black sugarcane workers.
        He funded the Beulah Land School (founded in 1909) at Azucar through a grant from the Julius Rosenwald Foundation for the children of the African-American farm workers. The school was renamed Azucar in 1914, and became the Bryant School for grades one through eight in 1941. It closed its doors in 1966.
        Bryant merged his Florida Sugar and Food Products Company with the Southern Sugar Company to raise capital for his agricultural projects during the 1920s. The Southern Sugar Company, in turn, was purchased by automobile tire magnate and General Motors executive Charles Mott during the Great Depression, resulting in the creation of U.S. Sugar in April 1931.
        Bryant served as the superintendent of the Eastern Division of U.S. Sugar, and as a company vice president until his death in 1946.
        In 1934, Bryant built a white two-story mansion at Azucar that became known as the "Bryant House". It was used by family members and visiting guests of U.S. Sugar while they were in the Glades.
        After his death, the Bryant House changed ownership. His former mansion was badly damaged during Hurricane Wilma in 2005. The property was taken over by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2011. The remaining ruins of the Bryant mansion were demolished on June 27, 2016.
        F.E. Bryant also resided  with his wife, Minnie (born 1880), in the Town of Palm Beach during the 1930s and 1940s, setting a precedent for future sugar tycoons. His residence was located at 434 Sea Spray Ave. in Palm Beach.
        Bryant died Dec. 6, 1946 at the age of 72. U.S. Sugar renamed the unincorporated community of Azucar as "Bryant" in his honor, and placed a memorial plaque at the site.
        The memorial reads, "Mr. Bryant established Azucar and began the development of sugar production in the Everglades."
        "His foresight and courage, vision and fortitude, were largely responsible for successful development of the upper Glades," the plaque states. "His qualities as a leader and humanitarian will always be remembered by those who knew him."
        The "Bryant Sugar House" mill opened in the rural community in 1962. At that time, it was the largest sugarcane processing plant in the world. The Bryant mill closed in 2007.
        Today, the community of Bryant is one of many ghost towns in the Glades. A drive along Old Connor Road (off U.S. 98) will lead you to the skeletal remains of the sugar mill and overgrown streets that once served the homes of the sugarcane workers.       
(c.) Davidsson, 2019.
*NOTE:  Article also reprinted with permission in the Feb. 6, 2019 edition of "Okeechobee News". See additional articles below and archived in Older Posts.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Samuel Colt Tests Repeating Rifles at Ft. Jupiter: 1838

By Bob Davidsson
        On March 11, 1838, firearms inventor and innovator Samuel Colt (1814-62) arrived at Fort Jupiter and tested his new repeating rifle amid rave reviews by its Army officers and garrison.
        Gen. Thomas Sidney Jesup, the Army commander in Florida, and the field officers at Fort Jupiter who tested Colt's revolutionary rapid-fire rifle, believed the new firearm could have ended the prolonged Second Seminole War (1835-42) if a contract was approved by Congress to arm the troops with the innovative weapon.
        It didn't happen. Instead, the Indian war dragged on for four more years to an inconclusive ending, resulting in hundreds of needless deaths, mainly caused by diseases in the subtropical climate.
        The missed opportunity by Congress to arm its troops with a superior weapon is even more amazing due to the fact that Army field tests and supporting correspondence from Fort Jupiter was entered into the Congressional record for the first session of the 26th Congress.
        Colt's production of the first "Model Ring Level" revolving cylinder repeating rifle began in 1837 at his Patent Arms Manufacturing Company factory in Patterson, N.J. It was produced in tandem with the Colt-Patterson handgun, the first commercial pistol with a revolving cylinder. The design was patented on Feb. 25, 1836 and remained in production until 1842.
        The eight-shot revolving cylinder in Colt's repeating rifle allowed a trained soldier to fire 16 shots in 30 seconds, as compared to a maximum of two shots fired from the standard Army musket in use during the Seminole wars.
        In the winter of 1838, Colt petitioned the federal government for an Army contract to mass produce his patented rifle. A seven-member military review board in Washington, D.C.,  gave the firearm an unfavorable ruling in March for what it cited as a "lack of durability".

Samuel Colt's Field Tests at Fort Jupiter: 1838
        Undeterred, Colt requested a second review, and immediately set sail for the Jupiter Inlet to test his unconventional weapon in field conditions at the newly built Fort Jupiter. He arrived at Fort Jupiter, the temporary headquarters of General Jesup's army, on March 11 with 100 of his new Model Ring Level rifles and several Colt-Patterson revolvers.
        In the 19th century biography, "Armsmear: The Home, The Arms, The Armory of Samuel Colt: A Memorial," author Henry Bernard reported, "Colt passed a hard winter among the Florida swamps and Everglades, but made the acquaintance of many officers, some of whom were lifelong friends."
        The field tests for Colt's repeating rifles were conducted by Captains William Thompkins, John Graham and William Fulton of the Second Dragoons regiment at Fort Jupiter. The rifles were tested for force, accuracy, penetration, celerity of fire, exposure to the weather, and safety.
        The Colt rifle passed all six experiments. The panel of officers sent their findings to Congress in a review entitled "The Report of the Board of Officers of the Second Dragoons for the Trial of Samuel Colt's Repeating Rifle."
        The report concluded, "The board would express, as their opinion, that 100 or more of these rifles, as they now are, might be placed  in the hands of soldiers now to be found in the Second Regiment of Dragoons, who, when occasion offered, might be formed into one or more companies, that could be employed  on some emergency with greatest efficiency."
        "And it is firmly the opinion of the board," the three officers reported, "that when this firearm is once introduced, and its superiority over every other weapon known, it will be universally used."
       General Jesup, who was stationed with his army at Fort Jupiter during the winter of 1838, was so impressed with Colt's repeating rifle that he outfitted a company of the Second Dragoons with 50 of Colt's firearms - the first used by the U.S. Army in a field of battle.
        The general personally authorized the purchase for $125 per rifle, or a total agreed price of $6,250. Colt also sold several of his early model Colt-Patterson revolving handguns to officers for their personal use.
        Sgt. P.W. Henry of the Second Dragoons was one of the noncommissioned officers using the experimental rifle at Fort Jupiter. He reported to its inventor, "When passing through Indian country, I always felt myself safer with one of your rifles in my hands, then if I was attended by a body of 10 or 15 men armed with the common musket or carbine."
        A leading advocate for Colt's repeating rifle was Lt. Col. William Harney of the Second Dragoons. Harney served as the garrison commander at Fort Jupiter during its construction in 1838. In a February 1839 letter to Colt, he predicted, "It is my honest opinion that no other guns than those of your invention will be used in a few years."
        After a company of his Second Dragoons was armed with the repeating rifles, Col. Harney overoptimistically reported, "I honestly believed but for these arms, the Indians would now be luxuriating in the Everglades."
        The Seminoles held captive at Fort Jupiter, following the January 1838 Battle of Loxahatchee, observed the testing of Colt's Model Ring Level rifles. They called the new weapon "great medicine."
        Ironically, less than two years after the repeating rifle was tested, Col. Harney allowed 14 of the weapons to fall into the hands of  hostile Seminoles when his patrol was ambushed near the Caloosahatchee River while en route from Fort Brooke to Fort Myers.
        Col. Harney and his men were forced to flee, leaving behind the 14 Colt patent rifles obtained at Fort Jupiter, six carbines, one keg of powder and percussion caps. Fortunately for the U.S. Army, the Seminoles lacked a source of ammunition for the repeating rifles, and thus they were useless.

A Castaway, Bankruptcy and His Rise to Fame and Fortune
        Colt's return voyage from the Jupiter Inlet to Washington, D.C., in the spring of 1838 became a disaster for the inventor, his new invention, and his firearms company.
        In "Samuel Colt: A Memorial," biographer Henry Bernard states, "On the 10th of April 1838, while going from Fort Jupiter to St. Augustine, the vessel was delayed by head winds, and Colonel Colt with two other gentlemen and a crew of four, started from her in a small boat for the beach."
        "When about a mile from it," the memoir continues, "the boat swamped among the breakers. Thus he lost all his baggage, and was himself four hours in the water, until assistance came from the shore, narrowing escaping with his life."
        "He was at the same time so unfortunate as to lose his pocketbook, containing among other papers, a government draft belonging to the company, which occasioned much serious inconvenience and blame, a long time elapsing before it could be replaced," the narrative concludes.
        Colt spent the remainder of 1838 and 1839 in Washington, D.C., replacing lost documents and lobbying Congress to approve an order for his repeating rifle. In May 1840, a second board of U.S. Army officers voted unanimously in favor of an arms contract.
        However, before Congress could reach a decision, Colt's Patent Arms Manufacturing Company factory closed due to lack of funds. He was forced to declare bankruptcy. The New Jersey-based factory produced 1,456 revolving cylinder rifles and carbines, 462 shotguns and 2,300 revolver handguns between 1836-42, but without a government military contract, the company could not remain solvent.
        Due to his company's insolvency, the U.S. Commission on Military Affairs suspended further consideration of  Colt's patented repeating rifles. The inventor discontinued future designs for rotating cylinder rifles, and instead reorganized his "Patents Arms Company" for the manufacture of revolving handguns, which became known as "revolvers".
        The new Republic of Texas placed a major order for the second generation of Colt-Patterson revolvers, which were soon adopted by the Texas Rangers. During the Mexican War (1846-48), Gen. Zachary Taylor dispatched Ranger Captain Samuel Walker to meet with Colt to discuss design improvements.
        The resulting Colt-Walker revolver had greater range and fire power. It was used by the elite U.S. Mounted Rifles, consisting of Texas Rangers and volunteers, throughout the remainder of the war. The battle-tested Colt revolvers earned their place in the U.S. military arsenal.
        During the Civil War, the Colt Patent Arms Company filled military orders for both the Union and Confederacy. His revolvers became a standard weapon for officers and cavalry troopers in both armies.
        When Colt died of "inflammatory rheumatism" (complications from gout) on June 10, 1862, he was one of the wealthiest men in America. His company and "Armsmear" mansion were inherited by his son.
        Colt firearms continued to play an important role in U.S. history after his death. The Colt Single Action Army Revolver - popularly known as the "Peacemaker" - was introduced in 1873 and continued in production until 1892. It was widely used by lawmen and Army units along America's frontier, earning the title of  "The Gun That Won the West".
(c.) Davidsson. 2019.
*NOTE: This is the third in a trilogy of local articles about the Seminole Wars. See additional articles below and archived in Older Posts.