African American News and Genealogy

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

40-acre order pledged ex-slaves land on St. Johns

Jim Robison Special to the Sentinel Posted May 7, 2006 Got plans for the summer? I do. Books, books and more books.I just took my final exam for a UCF history class on the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, one of several classes I'm taking to get a better perspective on what was going on in this nation and the world during Florida's frontier years. That exam covered six books, including W.E. B. Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folk, the African-American scholar's 1903 collection of essays considered by many historians as essential reading. I read it some three decades ago, but that was long before I started writing Seminole's Past.I don't recall if this sentence jumped out at me then, but it sure did on re-reading. In his chapter "Of the Dawn of Freedom" on the Freedmen's Bureau created in the post-Civil War federal government's efforts to provide education and jobs for former slaves, Du Bois writes, "The islands from Charleston south, the abandoned rice fields along the rivers for thirty miles back from the sea, and the country bordering the St. Johns River, Florida, are reserved and set apart for the settlement of Negroes now made free by act of war."Du Bois is quoting from Union Gen. William T. Sherman's famed "Forty Acres and a Mule" provisions of his Field Order Number Fifteen. After the reference to the war, the actual document reads "and the proclamation of the President of the United States."Just consider what that order meant for the St. Johns River valley, which starts its northern flow just west of Vero Beach and meanders through the interior to become the east boundary of Seminole County before rolling on an eastern loop back to the Atlantic at Jacksonville. Seminole County's lakes Monroe, Jesup and Harney are really just wide spots along the St. Johns.All that land on both sides of the river and stretching inland for no specific distance was included in Sherman's order.Sherman, whose scorched-earth March to the Sea after burning Atlanta made him one of the most hated Union generals among Confederates, issued his order because so many freed slaves were following his army. Besides reserving a huge territory of abandoned lands in farms of up to 40 acres, Sherman later added mules from the Army's surplus herd. Full Story:,0,4614205.story?coll=orl-news-headlines-seminole


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