Editor’s Note: William Hope lived from 1808 to 1898. He was an early settler of Hernando County and the postmaster of the post office established in Melendez (one of the towns that became Brooksville). The Hope family is considered one of the founding families of Brooksville. In January 9, 1891, William gave an interview about his life to W. F. Stovall, editor and publisher of the Polk City News.
This article is provided courtesy of Robert Martinez, Old Brooksville In Photos & Stories.
I will be 83 years old next February. Fifty-seven years ago (1834) I ate dinner in Jacksonville. I was on my way from Liberty County, Georgia to Newnansville in Alachua County in this state, then a territory. I was camped on the back of what was called Brandy Creek on the outskirts of Jacksonville. What is now the largest city in the state was then a small village on the banks of St. Johns. It had no tavern that amounted to anything, no railroads, no steamboats, well nothing just a little place. I might have done better for myself by purchasing property and remaining there for land was of little value, but I was a farmer and looking for a farming country. Since then I have had an interesting life on the frontier. Always an advocate of progress, I was the first white inhabitant of what is now Hernando County.
When I arrived in Newnansville, the United States Court was in session. There I met a group of noble pioneers, men who won an honorable place in the history of Florida. Together we fought Indians, entered the wilds of the peninsula, leveled the forests, and opened the fairest state in the Union to our children and to others following them from other states. Of all the fearless band then assembled at Newnansville, only two are left - Thomas C. Ellis of Gainesville and myself. There is no better man in the state than Tom Ellis. I have known him for 57 years and have never known him to do anything of which he need be ashamed.
C. F. Jenkins followed us into this country. He was as true as steel and is still living in Homosassa. I settled at a place near Paine’s Prairie and lived there until the Indian War broke out. We erected forts as places of refuge for our women and children, and then men went on the warpath. Those were times that tested men.
It was during the 1855-56 war (Indian War) that I came to Choctahatchee Prairie where I now live. Three other families came with me. We were the first white people in this country. At the time it was part of Alachua County which then extended from its present northern boundary at the Hillsborough River. Not many legal papers were served here then. D. I. Yulee was our lawyer, and a queer one he was, but very persistent. And what he couldn’t gain by knowledge, he gained by perseverance. If Yulee had lived and remained in Congress, he would have had our Indian War claims paid long ago. I don’t know what the matter is with Call. He is one of us and knows what we went through. We depend on him and still hope he will get our claims paid. But I have lived without the $10,000 due me for 30 years and can continue.
The county seat of Alachua County was Newnansville. It is hard to realize how large the county was. The site of the present city of Gainesville was a wilderness in which wild game abounded with little fear of molestation. There was fine grazing on the prairie, and not only wild game, but fat cattle and hogs ranged there in all that great area - from where Gainesville now stands to Tampa Bay. There wasn’t a house in Gainesville. Ocala, Micanopy, Leesburg, Sumterville and Brooksville are all of a recent date, and the large population now inhabiting that area that I had ridden over had nothing to attract my attention but wild game and even wilder savages. I would have remained on the place I had settled on the prairie if I could have secured titles, but it was embraced in the Arredondo (Spanish) grant, which had not been passed on by the courts. So I pushed on and it was a good move. I got good title to 4,000 acres of fine land, and in its sand I will be laid to final rest. I say it was a good move for in Alachua, the orange is not a success, while here without fertilizing I have raised the grove which now supports me with greater ease than the 200 slaves I once owned.
The fertility of our lands were soon noised abroad, and this part of the county was settled with first-class people from Georgia and South Carolina, men with positions and standing were recognized. Their descendants are here yet, and they stand the peers of any of the recent importations. We erected mills and built churches and school houses. Ministers and teachers came. One of the first preachers we had was the venerable editor of the Palatka Herald, who was a Methodist circuit rider, and we were all glad to see him once a month. Brother Pratt was a jovial fellow and carried the Gospel to our firesides as a pleasant message and not an anathema from the throne of an avenging God.
Among the good men I remember who vied with each other in advancing civilization were Capt. James McKay, W. F. Mayo, Judge James Geittis and O. B. Hart of Tampa, P. G. Wall, Fred E. Lykes, W. F. Mayo, and others of Hernando County. Our expectations were fully realized as to the fertility of the soil. It yielded abundantly, and we were happy and contented. Hon. Thomas P. King of Gainesville was the judge of our circuit court, for at that time we had been admitted as a state.
Those good men have passed away except for P. G. Wall and Judge King. Our old judge was good enough for us. His legs though were the smallest I ever saw, always got there and never ran away. And although the recent importations keep others on the bench, we were always satisfied when Judge King passed upon our differences, for we tried him and knew what he is made of. But a large part of our recent immigration left their country for their country’s good, and it is justice that they don’t want. They think we old fellows and our children are fools by the side of them, but we old fellows know all about each other and each other’s needs. A new order of things is on hand now. Our Negroes were freed and we were left to scuffle. We were equal to the emergency. Our lands were fertile and soon brought the fine orange groves into bearing, and I guess we have got a chapter that will run smoother.
You must excuse me. I am not as spry as I used to be. I must go and see about my sheep on the prairie. The eagles are trying to eat all my lambs, and it keeps me busy to drive them off. And besides, I can’t shoot a rifle as good as I could when I was young, although I killed two eagles the other day. Hope I will see you again next Christmas.