Jacob Summerlin

Jacob Summerlin
(February 20, 1820 - November 4, 1893),

aka the King of the Crackers and King of the Cracker Cow Hunters, was reputed to be the first child born in Florida after the land was ceded by Spain.

He is known for his contributions to the early settlement of Florida, and especially for founding the county seats of Orange and Polk counties, which are Orlando and Bartow, respectively. In the years prior to the Civil War, he was a slaveowner.

Born in Alachua County, Florida, Jacob learned to ride a horse and crack a whip by the age of seven. His father raised a few cattle. When Jacob turned 16, his father gave a few calves, and he made his way south into the wide open ranges of Central Florida. He earned much of his early fortune raising cattle in the Peace and Kissimmee river valleys. Wild cattle brought to North America by the Spanish conquistadors now roamed free across these vast stretches of land; enterpreneurs could capture, breed, drive and sell these cows for twelve to sixteen dollars each. Summerlin and his business partners (called crackers after the long whips they used to drive the cows) developed a lucrative trade with Havana and with the U.S. Naval Base at Key West.

He amassed a fortune of 15,000 to 20,000 of head of cattle during this period, and was considered one of the wealthiest Floridians before he reached age 40. In this pre-banking era, Jacob kept his gold and silver at his cabin in trunks, meal sacks, tin meat cans, woolen socks, cigar boxes, behind door frames, in the rafters, or tossed in a corner. He used his wealth to purchase large tracts of land sprawling from Fort Meade to Fort Myers. He bought a wharf at Punta Rassa in Lee County, and a thousand acres (4 km²) nearby for cow pens, some of which he rented to other cattlemen.

During the American Civil War, he was a blockade runner who smuggled beef and medicine to Confederate troops. He and his partners reportedly moved their shipping dock to Live Oak Point (present day Charlotte Harbor) where they could load their ships out of sight of the Union gun ships located at Boca Grande Pass. With Confederate money he earned, Summerlin bought the 160-acre (0.65 km²) Blount homestead, much of which would later be given to Polk County. After Conferate money became worthless, he began selling cattle to the Union soldiers at Fort Myers.

In 1865, after the American Civil War, Summerlin requested pardon from US President Andrew Jackson. A Unionist by his own admission, in his pardon request he claimed that he sold his "beeves" (beef) to Cuba at a hefty price, rather than to the Confederacy which was paying much less per head.

He claimed that during the war his operation was halted and he was "forced" to join the Cow Cavalry, serving in Captain Francis A. Hendry's Company A in the Ft. Meade area. In his request, he maintained that he "never fired a shot at a U. S. Citizen", obviously referring to Union soldiers. In 1867, he donated 120 acres (0.5 km²) of the Blount homestead land in the present-day town of Bartow; 40 acres for an institution of learning (aptly named the Summerlin Institute, now called Bartow High School, founded in 1887); 40 acres for establishment of a county seat and 20 acres for each of the town's two churches (Methodist and Baptist). He also personally donated $1100.00 for construction of Bartow's first two story building which housed the Masonic lodge and school.

Summerlin also owned land in Orange County where he opened the Summerlin Hotel. When Orlando's wooded courthouse burned in 1868, there was pressure to move the county seat to the then-larger town of Sanford. Summerlin offered to lend $10,000 to the county if it would locate their new brick courthouse and county seat in Orlando, whether or not the county repaid him. The county accepted his off and repaid him over a 10 year period. It was also Summerlin who donated a large tract of land in order for a fine park to be established in Orlando. That park is still maintained to his orders of it being kept beautiful. His sons named it Lake Eola, after a lady they both knew. In 1875, Orlando became incorporated under Florida law; on August 4th, Jacob Summerlin sat on the first Orlando City Council acting as Council president.

He died on November 4, 1893, aged 73, and was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Bartow.

[ Source: From Wikipedia - Submitted by Norita Moss ]

Pardon of Jacob Summerlin

This is a transcript of the Application for Pardon of Jacob Summerlin, dated September 12, 1865. Under President Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction Plan, most former Confederates could take the amnesty oath which operated as a pardon for their involvement in the "rebellion." There were a number of exceptions, however. One was if you were worth more than $20,000. These pardon applications were self-serving documents so they should be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, it is a significant document, considering Summerlin's involvement in providing cattle to the Confederate army and his subsequent membership in Hendry's Company.

[ Source: "Petition of Jacob Summerlin," September 12, 1865, Case Files of Applications of Former Confederates for Presidential Pardons, 1865-67, record group 94, M-1003, roll 15, NA.]

Tampa Fla Sept. 12th '65

To His Excellency,
Andrew Johnson, Prest U.S.
Washington D. C.

Your Petitioner Jacob Summerlin, who is a citizen of Polk County in the State of Florida, Respectfully represents:

1st--That he is worth more than twenty thousand dollars.

2nd--That he is, and has been all the time opposed to secession and in favor of the Union of all the States.

3rd--That he has been connected with the Rebellion as a Contractor to furnish Beef cattle to the armies of the so-called Confederate States, and that he was a private in Capt. F. A. Hendrys Co. of Col Munnerlyns Spec Batt of the Fla Cav; that he became a contractor as aforesaid in self defense because his property was principally in cattle, and the authories of the so-called Confederate States gave him his choice either to deliver his beef himself, & receive compensation therefor, or to have them impressed by military authority, and trust to the honesty of others & the chances of badly conducted systems of impressment for payment of his cattle. When the money was absolutely necessary for the support of himself & family. And that he was compelled to enter the service, as a private as aforesaid by the force of the conscript act.

4th--That in the Discharge of his various duties as a Contractor and as a private soldier he conducted himself with honesty and humanity. As a contractor, he gave every man his rights and opposed the Unionists no more than those that favored the Rebellion. And, as a private soldier he has never violated any of the rules of civilized warfare.

5th--That he has never been in an engagement during the war, has never fired a shot at a citizen of the United States, has never oppressed the families of refugees and never aided in persecuting any man or set of men for their opinions.

6th--That is he desirous of returning to his allegiance to the United States, and to be restored to the United States, and to be restored to all of his rights of property under the Constitution and the proclamations of the President. That he pledges himself to become and continue a faithful adherent to the Government and an honest law-abiding citizen thereof.

Therefor may it please Your Excellency to grant to him Executive Clemency and to restore him to all of his rights as a citizen of the United States and he will as in duty bound ever pray & etc.

Jacob Summerlin

Provisional Florida Governor William Marvin endorsed the application for Pardon.

[ Source: "Petition of Jacob Summerlin," September 12, 1865, Case Files of Applications of Former Confederates for Presidential Pardons, 1865-67, record group 94, M-1003, roll 15, NA. ] Contributed by Norita Moss


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