Leon County Origins


     

Information

On March 10, 1821, U.S. President James Monroe appointed General Andrew "Stonewall" Jackson, Commissioner of the United States to take possession of Florida and gave him the full powers of governor. Jackson accepted the office only on the condition that he could resign as soon as the territorial government was organized.

On July 17, 1821, Spain transferred Florida to the United States, and Jackson sent his resignation to the president in November. In all, Andrew Jackson visited Florida only three times: in 1814 during the War of 1812, in 1818 during the First Seminole War, and in 1821 to organize the first territorial government.

Tallahassee, Florida's Capital City, has a unique history. Nestled among the hills, red clay, and oaks of Florida's panhandle, Tallahassee may not seem like the typical Florida city. Yet the history of Florida and Tallahassee are closely connected. "Tallahassee" is an Apalachee Indian word meaning "old town" or "abandoned fields". The Apalachee Indians lived throughout the panhandle from 500 through the 1600s. In 1539, Hernando de Soto spent the first Christmas in the New World in the woods near the present State Capitol. As more Spanish colonists entered the panhandle, disease and fighting reduced the Apalachee Indian population until they left and the area became an abandoned village, thus it was called "Tallahassee".

When Florida became a territory of the United States in 1822, both St. Augustine and Pensacola, the major cities in Florida at the time, competed to be the Capital. Unable to come to an agreement, it was decided to locate the Capital at a point between the two cities. Tallahassee's tall hills attracted the search party, and in 1824 the City of Tallahassee was created, with a log cabin capital was quickly built.

Even though it was the state Capital, Tallahassee quickly acquired the reputation of an outlaw frontier town. Men on the street often carried guns and knives. Duels were a popular recreation. After passing through Tallahassee, Ralph Waldo Emerson called Tallahassee "a grotesque place...rapidly settled by public officers, land speculators, and desperados." To end this lawlessness, a small group of police officers were commissioned, and Tallahassee's Police Department has served the City ever since.

Leon County was created by the Legislative Council of the Territory of Florida at its first meeting in the City of Tallahassee. The Act, signed by Governor Duval on December 28, 1824, set up Leon County with the boundaries "comprehended within the line corresponding on the west by the Ochlocknee River, or the eastern boundary of Gadsden County, on the north by the boundary line of the state of Georgia, on the east by the river Suwannee, and on the south by the Gulf of Mexico." The original boundaries of Leon County have been modified by the creation of Jefferson County to the east in 1827, of Wakulla County to the south in 1828, and by minor Leon County was created by the Legislative changes in the western boundary in 1933.

The rich land quickly turned Leon County into a thriving agricultural area. Tallahassee had several large plantations that raised crops including cotton, corn and sweet potatoes. In 1860, 9,089 slaves lived in Tallahassee.

During the Civil War, Tallahassee was the only Confederate City east of the Mississippi that did not fall to Union troops. At a small battle that was waged at Natural Bridge, south of Tallahassee near the City of St. Marks, a put-together army of old men and students from the West Florida Seminary (now Florida State University) fought off an attack by Union troops.

After the Civil War, many of Tallahassee's large plantations were turned into hunting lodges for wealthy winter residents from the North. Times were tough, with more laborers than jobs, and many farmers were caught in the never ending cycle of share cropping. Yet Tallahassee slowly continued to grow. By 1950, Tallahassee's population reached 27,237, and farmers were no longer the majority of the rural population.

Almost since being named as the Capital, Tallahasseeans have fought back various attempts to move the Capital to another City. After the turn of the century, business men promoted hotels and lodging houses to insure that legislators had places to stay. In an effort to beautify the town, hundreds of dogwoods and oaks were planted along streets and in front yards and have become a symbol of Tallahassee. In the 60s, the town even organized "Springtime Tallahassee", an annual parade and celebration, in an effort to keep legislators from moving the Capital. With the dedication of the new Capital Complex in 1978, the threats of moving the Capitol were put to rest for the time.

Source: Leon County Tax Collector

Modifications and Original Content by Laverne Tornow

 

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