1842 - Early Homesteaders
In 1842, after the Second Seminole War, the area of what would later become South Lake County was now open territory, since most of the Seminoles living in the area had been forced out during the war.
Families that began migrating to the area had no roads, so existing Native American trails were followed.
The first Post Office in the area was established in Okahumpka in 1845.
Prior to 1851, settlers had already arrived to the west of Groveland in the area that would be called Linden.
The Third Seminole War (1855 to 1858) was still being fought when some of our ancestors begin to arrive.
The new residents obtained property through land grants, signed by Presidents Pierce or Buchanan, or by "homesteading" and other means.
1851-1852 - Slone's Ridge
In 1851-1852, a large caravan of wagons arrived in this area from Georgia. Among those traveling in the wagon caravan would be the first known settlers to arrive in the area that would become known as Slone's Ridge.
The settlement was named after, future veteran of the War of Northern Agression (Civil War), Captain William W. Slone, who left his family here to go fight for the Confederacy. William served as a Captain in Florida's Cow Cavalry, along with his 1st cousin and fellow settler Lieutenant Daniel Sloan. (Read more about them below).
William Slone homesteaded 200 acres. He had to fight off panthers, bers, wild cats, and the occasional Seminole raiding party. William went on to father 18 children. (An old-timer once reported that Slone Ridge was originally called Tuscanooga Hammock. However, this has not been documented.)
The names of these early 1851 Slone Ridge settlers were:
William W. Slone and his wife Rebecca - One account states that Mr. Slone had to fight off some local Native Americans and was forced to abandon his homestead twice during the raids. He also had to fight off panthers and bears that were plentiful in the area at the time.
Robert Jackson Slone - Brother of William W. Slone. One account said he was single upon arrival.
Alexander L. Slone - Brother of William W. Slone. One account said he was single upon arrival.
Ealon Slone - Sister of William W. Slone. Married George Matthew Merritt. (It is not clear if they were part of the 1851 wagon train or if they came later.)
Children of George Merritt and Ealon Slone who remained in the Slone Ridge area were:
Evander Merritt (Father to William, Ollie, Kelly, and Daisy)
Elizabeth Merritt (Married Leonard Robbins, 1869, and moved to nearby Tuscanooga). She was a midwife and her medicine bag can be seen at the museum.
Frederick Lucius Merritt
Robert James Merritt (Married Oregon Sloan, daughter of Daniel Sloan, c.1871)
Virginia Merritt (Married Linton Sloan, son of Daniel Sloan, c. 1870)
A family history left by B. J. Merritt (GHS Class of '34) of Bay Lake tells of his early family members arriving to the area west of what would become Mascotte in covered wagons in the mid-1800s and their encounters with the local Seminoles. Some were friendly, but some were not.
Why SLOAN and SLONE spelling of the name?
John Sloan had two sons: John (b. 1784) and William (b. 1787).
William went on to become a Georgia State Senator in 1837. William changed the spelling of his last name to Slone, for an unknown reason. William's son, William W., migrated here in 1851 and became a Confederate Captain. The area was later named after him.
A son of John Sloan and 1st cousin to Capt. William W. Slone, Lt. Daniel Sloan, came to this area in 1866. Built in 1866, the house of Daniel Sloan is believed to be the first in what would become Taylorville. Daniel was a circuit riding Baptist preacher, farmer, and cattleman. He was also a 1st Leutinent in Florida's Cow Cavalry in the Confederate Army. He is buried at Dukes Cemetery [1st LT, CO B, 1 BN - B. 1811 D. 1888].
Descendants of the Slone and Sloan families still reside on the same lands that have been passed down for 170 years.
1860s - Tuscanooga
Not long after the the settling of Slone Ridge, people began settling an area further north that would become known as Tuscanooga.
Tuscanooga had previously been a 900 acre island that was inhabited by Native Americans and was part of the Seminole Indian Reservation.
The area was named after their leader and chief, Halpatter Tustenugee. Records indicate there were somewhere between 180 to 300 members of the tribe living there. These Natives participated in the successful ambush of Major Dade and his troops at the site of today's Dade Battlefield State Park in Bushnell.
Other nearby tribal camps were located at Okahumpka and northwest of Center Hill. It is likely that these groups also took part in the battle. Read more about the Seminole Tribe of Tuscanooga here: 1835-1842 - The Second Seminole War
As was common for the time, the settlers of Slone Ridge and Tuscanooga began to intermarry and form familial bonds.
Early Settlers of Tuscanooga:
William Leonard Robbins - Abt. 1865-1866
Matthew Pridgeon Merritt - 1867
William Jordan Watson - 1870
Newton Stewart, Jr. - Abt. 1890
Archibald Gano - In the mid 1890s he moved from Villa City after the Great Freeze of 1895.
Granville Beville Robbins - Born in 1874 at Tuscanooga. He was later hired to build the first structure in Taylorville, which was a storage shed for the Taylor Brothers. It was used to store the supplies needed for their turpentine business.
The early settlers built a one-room cabin that served as both school and church with people attending from other nearby settlements. it was built on the same spot as today's Tuscanooga Baptist Church.
The circuit-riding preacher, Daniel Sloan, came to the area once a month. Jordan Watson (mentioned above) became the first permanent pastor. Jordan Watson's 3rd great grandson, Casey Ferguson, currently serves as pastor of the Tuscanooga Church.
In 1897, separate structures were built for the school and church. The teacher at this school, along with a member of the Robbins family, is also known for having contributed to the building of a supply shed for the Taylor brothers, which was the first structure built in the town of Taylorville.
The 1897 church building was destroyed in 1919 by a tropical storm. Worshippers then attended elsewhere until 1929 when they reconvened. The new church gathered under an oak tree as they sat on wood boards laid across boxes.
During the Depression Era, in 1933, an open air structure with a sawdust floor was erected which consisted of a roof supported by wooden poles. While it did not have any walls, a three foot high railing was used to enclose the structure in order to keep the wild hogs from interrupting the services.
Life of The Early Settlers
Hard work was required to tame the land, which had to be cleared.
Trees were cut down and the logs hewn, for making the cabins, before homes could be built or fields laid out for farming.
Labor was done by hand and settlers had to camp in tents or wagons until the homes were completed.
Fence rails were split out of pine, cypress, and cedar.
Corn was made into hominy, cornmeal, and grits. Various vegetables, such as beans or peas, were dried for the winter months. Some wild berries were eaten as food. Sugar and syrup were made from the sugar cane that would be grown.
Cows, deer, wild turkey, hogs, rabbits, squirrels, fish, and chickens provided their meat. The beef was pickled or dried and pork was cured and smoked for preserving. Butter was churned from the cows' milk. Chickens provided meat and eggs. Feathers from the chickens were used for mattresses and pillows.
Cotton was a necessary crop grown here in the mid-late 1800s. Clothing was made of cotton cloth that was hand-loomed from cotton thread made on their own spinning wheels. Bedspreads and sheets were also made out of the homespun cotton fabric. They made their own dyes from pokeberries, hickory bark, and indigo plant.
The early settlers were not only farmers, as many of them also raised cattle.
Without any stores in the area, many of these early settlers eventually had to go to Leesburg (first settled in 1857) for supplies. They would trade their crops, deer hides, and sugar cane syrup in exchange for products such as ammunition, coffee, flour, and salt. A trip to Leesburg was a three day adventure. They would ride on horse or ox pulled wagons through the trails that meandered through the swamps and forests. Along the way, they would camp in tents or in their covered wagons at what became known as Bugg Spring in Okahumpka. The second day they would get to Leesburg to do their shopping and camp again at Bugg Spring on the way back.
You can read more about the history of Bugg Spring and Okahumpka here: 1830s-1870s - The Swamp Fox of Okahumpka and Bugg Spring
A Tribute to Our Pioneer Women
These local pioneer women had to be tough to survive! First, let us mention the large families. Most of the families had more than 10 children. For example: William Slone had 18 children; Daniel Sloan had 14 children; and Matthew Pridgeon Merritt had 10 children.
These women raised families in a time of:
&nbs;no running water or indoor plumbing,
&nbs;no electricity or air conditioning,
&nbs;no modern cook stoves or refrigeration,
&nbs;no ready-prepared food (they had to churn their own butter, grind sugar cane for syrup, etc.),
&nbs;no comfortable means of transportation
&nbs;no modern medicines or hygiene products.
They had to wash clothes in a kettle over an open fire, with soap that they had made themselves. The clothes were sewn with thread from the cotton which these women grew and spun.
A personal story passed down from the family of Elizabeth (Merritt) Robbins:
In 1878, after nine years of marriage, Elizabeth's husband died leaving her with four children (ages 2 to 6), plus two step-children from his first marriage (his first wife died). Back then, there was no such thing as social security, Medicaid, or government handouts, so most people in need received assistance from churches and neighbors. However, for pioneer women, like Elizabeth, churches and neighbors, were few and far between, so they had to step up and perform double duty. With the use of her fishing pole and shotgun, Elizabeth helped to provide food for her family in addition to the tending of her garden. She also raised cows, which provided milk.
While fishing one day for food, a fish hook became caught in her hand. What does a pioneer woman do when there's no doctor or any means to get help? She removed the pocket knife from her apron and, without anesthetic, cut the hook out of her own hand.
[Contributors: Mary Helen Myers, Jason Brown]