Polk County, Florida


1808 - 1895

Tahly (Tapley) Tullos and John Tellis received land grants in the Burke County, Georgia area in the 1790's. John Tullos later settled in Effingham County and is shown there in the early 1800's with his children Temple, Stephen and Willoughby Tullis.

Tapley A. Tullis was in Tattnall County in 1805 with his son, Richard Teillos. Tapley died in Camden County, Georgia in 1818 and his heirs were named in a land transaction after his death: Tapley A. Tullis, Jr., Richard Tullis, Joseph Tullis, Leonard G. Jackson and Israel Barber (the last two being sons-in-law).

Willoughby Tillis/Tullis was born in Camden County, Georgia on December 10, 1808. This family used "Tullis" until about 1850 when the census listed them as "Tillis". It is believed that Willoughby was the son of one of the three sons of Tapley A. Tullis since that group was residing in Camden County at the time of his birth.

Tapley, Jr. had a son named Wiloby born 1839. Joseph had no sons born prior to 1815. Therefore it is very possible that Richard Tullis born about 1785 is the father of Willoughby Tillis/Tullis. Willoughby had one known brother, Richard Tillis/Tullis, born in Camden County on January 5, 1818.

Willoughby served several enlistments during the Indian wars in the early 1800's in Florida. He was a private in Captain McLemare's Company of Florida Volunteers from December 4, 1835 to March 26, 1836. He served as sergeant in Captain Robert Brown's Company of Florida Volunteers from May 22 to September 22, 1836. He enrolled September 23, 1836 at Fort Reed as a private in Captain William M. Reed's Company, 1st Regiment (Warren's) Florida Mounted Volunteers and served until January 27, 1837, when he was discharged at Fort Gilliland. He was 1st Lieutenant in Captain James Edward's Company, 1st Regiment (Warren's), Florida Militia. He enrolled January 27, 1837 at Fort Reed and was mustered in at Fort Beckham on March 27, 1837. He was mustered out with the company at Fort Beckham on June 5, 1837.

Willoughby Tillis married Mary Hinson about 1832. They had two children:

1. Lafayette Tillis, born c1833; died in Confederate service.

2. Dempsey Tillis, born c1835; mustered in to Company F, 2nd Florida Infantry in Jackson County, Florida; wounded at Gettysburg July 3, 1863 and later died.

Mary (Hinson) Tillis left Willoughby and returned to Telfair County, Georgia apparently to her father's home. On May 2, 1838 Willioughby Tillis filed the following Bill of Complaint:

To His Honour Robert Raymond Reid, Judge of the Superior Court for the Eastern District of Florida. In chancery.

Humbly complaining to your honour shewth your orator Willoughby Tillis of said district, that he has been lawfully married for about six years to his wife Mary Tillis formally Mary Hinson and that during that period he had _____ times behaved himself towards her as a kind and affectionate husband and afforded her all the conforts in his home and acted towards her in all respects as his duty and marital vows & his obligations as a good citizen and husband required, but may it please your Honour, your orator further sheweth that not withstanding, his said kind and affectionate & dutiful treatment, his said wife Mary voluntarily and without just cause but from her own wilfulness, _______ of the duty of a married woman & forgetful of her vows to your orator __________, left the bed and board of your orator on or about the thirteenth of March in the year one thousand eight-hundred and thirty-seven and left the Territory of Florida and went to reside in Telfair County in the State of Georgia, that your orator has used every means which could _______ a kind & affectionate husband to induce his wife to return, that he has written to her and sent messengers to her urging and _______ her to return and that finding these ineffective he has himself gone in person and conjured her to return to her duties as a wife but in vain, and that she always positively refuses to return, and declared and protested that she never would return and your orator being informed that one year's continued separation is sufficient to entitle him to a divorce under the laws of this Territory; now charges that his said wife Mary up to the time of filing this bill has been continually absent from him without his consent by separation for more than one year and still is so absent; and your orator relying upon the sufficiency of this charge is willing from delicacy to throw a veil over the rest of her conduct and praise your Honour that his said wife is absent from the Territory. Your Honour will graciously make an order of publication requiring her to appear before your Honour's court at the proper time and hence to answer this bill, and that your Honoour will be graciously pleased when said order of publication shall have been made for a sufficient length of time and the answer of his said wife is not filed or if filed contains no denial of the allegations in this bill or if containing such denial, it is not sustained by proper testimony to grant to your orator a decree of divorce, a vinculo matrimonii from his said wife Mary and such other and further relief in the premises as to your Honour may deam good and consistent with equity & your conscience.

The following legal add appeared in The Florida Herald which was published in St. Augustine, Florida



Willoughby Tillis
Mary Tillis

On motion of the complainants, and it having been made to appear by affidavit that the defendant, Mary Tillis, formerly Mary Hinson, is out of this Territory, and in the United States, IT IS ORDERED, That the said Mary Tillis shall appear and answer the said Complainants bill of complaint, on or before the third of August next, otherwise a hearing will be had whether the facts charged in said bill, and a decree passed in the same manner as if the defendant had appeared and was present in Court.

And it is further ordered, That this order be published once a week, until the said third day of August next, in the Florida Herald. Dated at St. Augustine, this 2nd day of May, 1838.

Judge Supr. Court, Dist. E. F.

The court received the following reply from Mary Tillis:

State of Georgia
Telfair County
November 8, 1839

To the Honourable Judge Reed
of the District of East Florida.


Whereas my husband Willaby Tillis has sued for a divorce and has asserted a many false assertions. Sir I deny and do declare them to be false. The intreatment that I received from his hand and on account of Mrs. Smily that I was forbiden to leave him. He has also repeatedly offered me certain sums to leave him, but I never would consent to it after finding that he could not prevail on me to do so.

He at last sent me away and he now has accused me of leaving him. I hope, therefore, that the laws of our land would abhor such an act. I am willing to come and live with him if I knew that he would foresake this his Mrs. Smily and have been willing all the time to do so. He further sent me away without the first cent, where with to support me and two little children and he is now living with the said Mrs. "S" as I have been very creditably informed and which can very easily be proven in an open _______.
Sir, I hope that you will see me right and as I believe you to be a gentleman who would see all disrespected castoff foresaken wives and children for such a detested harlot.

So therefore, as I am not able to take charge of the suit, I hope you will conform and detect all such. He was also, when I was living with him, constantly after the said Mrs. "S", when at home misused me so that my life was almost a misery to me.

I am here, a matter of two hundred miles distant and am not able to come to court for it is all that I can do by my own labor to procure food for myself and my two little children. I will also cite to you some honourable ladies as the county of Columbia affords who can tell the entreatments that I have undergone. I would name Mrs. Caraway, Mrs. McClellan, Mrs. Roper and a number of others.

Therefore, I hope you will see a poor unfortunate woman righted in this all important matter.

I am Sir respectfully yours,

Mary Tillis

Seaborn J. Ross testified that "the conduct of said Willoughby Tillis towards his wife, was kind and affectionate, that she was plentifully provided for as much so as folks are in the county and that she had a comfortable home, that Willoughby was a man of as much peacableness as the common run of men and that he is industrious and thrifty." Other citizens of Columbia County concurred with Mr. Ross's opinion of Willoughby Tillis.

Willoughby was granted a divorce from Mary Tillis on November 23, 1840. He later married Penny Smiley and it is believed that they had one child:

3. Matilda Tillis, born c1841; married Green Taylor February 15, 1858.

Penny Smiley Tillis died in 1841/1842 in Columbia County, Florida. Willoughby Tillis married Celia Elizabeth Durrance on October 16, 1843 near Suwannee Springs in Columbia County, Florida. She was born April 24, 1813 (pension papers give April 24, 1814), in Tatnall County, Georgia daughter of Joseph and Cecelia (Tippins) Durrance. Their children:

4. Mary Ann Tillis, born April 22, 1845; died October 14, 1861.

5. Twin who died at birth.

6. Twin who died at birth.

7. Richard Calhoun Tillis, born January 29, 1848; married Martha Ann Hawthorn October 25, 1874.

8. James Dallas Tillis, born August 22, 1849; married on December 31, 1884 Hattie Viola Powell, daughter of John Wesley and Sarah Elizabeth (Derr) Powell.

9. Caroline Augusta Tillis, born October 6, 1850; died September 3, 1931; married John Calhoun Jordan, son of William and Jane A. Jordan on June 28, 1882.

10. Candacy M. Tillis, born May 18, 1852; died at age 12.

11. William Washington Tillis, born November 30, 1854; died March 8, 1935; married on February 9, 1881 Martha Ann Crum, daughter of James Burnett & Ann Caroine (Phelps) Crum.

12. Francis Marion Tillis, born July 7, 1857; died July 14, 1930; married on December 14, 1884 Sarah Jennie Durrance, daughter of Jesse Harris & Priscilla (Altman) Durrance.

Willoughby Tillis lived in Columbia County, Florida until about 1850 when the family moved to Hillsborough County to Ozona (now Clearwater). They later lived in Tampa about 1/2 mile north of the Hillsborough River where the old fair grounds were. Between the 20th and the last of December 1855 they moved to within three and a half miles south of Fort Meade. They had left Tampa to seek fertile grazing lands for the cattle and horses. After repeated warnings from travelers that the Seminole Indians were ravaging nearby homes, Willoughbly Tillis moved his family closer to Fort Meade and shared a house with an Underhill family. Fort Meade was not a regular fort but consisted of a strong log block-house built by the soldiers of the garrison, providing quarters for them and a commissary of provisions for them and the settlers, and around this building were grouped the various families in their rough built houses where they had gathered for temporary protection.

James Dallas Tillis described the events of June 1856: "One night my baby brother, William W., was taken suddenly ill. My father and mother alarmed over his condition remained up until late caring for him. After midnight, my father persuaded my mother to lie down and obtain a much needed rest. At sunup she arose and quietly prepared to go to the cattlepen to do the morning milking, which was usually my father's job, but as he had remained up all night with the ill baby, she wished to spare him the necessity of attending to this. This gentle consideration on her part undoubtedly saved father's life.

"Waking our Negro maid, Aunt Line, my brother, Calhoun and myself, we made our way in the dim morning light to the cattlepen. Mother and Aunt Line advanced towards the cows From the first moment my mother realized that al was not well with the cattle. The cows were restless and milled around, pushing against one another incessantly.

"Suddenly, the cow at whose side she knelt bowed its head as though to charge and peered in fear towards the worm rail fence. Mother followed the gaze, peering between the bars of the crude fence was the cooper-colored face of an Indian; she instantly discerned in the half light many other faces lying close against the rails.

"My mother did not hesitate. Crying loudly, 'Indians! Run for the house!' she suited her advice to actions. I can well remember my sensation at hearing that dread cry! My brother and myself bolted in the direction of the house. I stumbled and fell. Precious moments were lost. The Indians were now firing rapidly. I rounded the smoke house. A bullet struck the corner by which my small head had just passed. I skimmed a corner of the rail fence, scarcely touching the top. Under ordinary conditions I could never have cleared it so easily. Fear lends wings to our feet!

"After what seemed to us all an unendurable time we reached the door of our house. My fahter, who had heard our racing footsteps, rushed to the door, frantically trying to load his gun. He pushed us past him, shouting within, 'My gun won't fire! Underhill, if yours will, for God's sake, shoot!' He then slammed the door and shot the wooden bolt in place. Not one moment too soon! A bullet from an Indian's gun splintered the planks and ploughed through the forehead of Aunt Line; she was painfully wounded but my mother eventually nursed her back to health.

"My father and Mr. Underhill took up their places at each side of the brick chimney and fired on the Indians who were hiding behind the corner of the fence. Mr. Underhill on his first shot brought down one who fell outside the enclosure between the pen and the smokehouse.

"As the smoke from the guns of father and Mr. Underhill indicated their positions to the Indians, they were obliged to fire and jump back to safety. This of course forced them to fire much more slowly than their enemies. One bullet struck a crack near father's leaning body, but the logs were so finely notched that the bullet was deflected and my father's life was spared. He ever afterwards boasted of the fine workmanship of our house."

The sound of the firing was heard at Fort Meade. Lieutenant Alderman Carlton hurriedly mounted six men: Daniel Carlton, John C. Oates, William Parker, William McCullough, Henry Hollingsworth & Lot Whidden. James D. Tillis continues:

"The galloping hoofbeats of their approaching horses warned our enemies, who crawled from their position behind our cattlepen and fortified themselves in the south end of a ten acre field to the south end of our house. Lt. Carlton was the first to round our house in a cloud of dust. He called out 'Where are the Indians?' My father indicated their direction, but shouted, 'How many men have you, Lieutenant?' 'Only seven', was the reply. Father cried out warningly, 'You are outnumbered more than two to one!'

"Lt. Carlton whirled to give his command, but at that moment William Parker sighted the Indians moving cautiously in the field, and calling, 'Come on boys, we'll charge them!' wheeled his horse and tore for the field. Behind him followed the others.

"Three raced down one side of the field and four down the other, closing in on the Indians in a cloud of dust. But the crouching Seminoles had the advantage. They were stationary. Their brave attackers were mounted and moving rapidly. The Indians fired. Lt. Carlton, William Parker and Lot Whidden fell dead; John Henry Hollingsworth was badly wounded.

"McCullough infuriated at the death of his comrades, dismounted and ran towards an Indian whom he spied secreted behind a pine tree. Pulling him out, he grappled with him, man to man. Daniel Carlton ran to his aid. Between them they beat the Indian to the ground and cut his throat with his own hunting knife. Oates and McCullough then dragged the wounded Hollingsworth back to our house."

Daniel Carlton rode to Fort Fraser to contact Captain F. M. Durrance (brother of Celia (Durrance) Tillis). He later returned with a company of 50 men and tracked down the Seminoles.

The Tillis family later moved back to their old homeplace south of Fort Meade. They were listed there in the 1860 Hillsborough County census with neighbors Thomas Sumerall, Stephen Hollingsworth, William McCullou, T. J. Curry, Margaret Brooker, William Allen, Robert Cascott, John Powell, and J. M. Pierce. They later lived in Bartow but eventually moved back to Fort Meade. Their home was burned during the Civil War. James D. Tillis states:

"Our old home place south of Fort Meade was burned by a band of deserters scattered all over the southern counties on way to Fort Myers, where they joined the Federal army. Some of them came back once or twice. On the first raid they came to our house and to Thomas Underhill's——took Thomas Underhill a prisoner and killed him. Came on to our place and my father was away. They took all his horses and wagons&mdash?—loaded up with provisions, corn, fodder and meat——took the Negro men and all firearms and went back to Fort Myers. Some months after that they came up and had a sham battle on Bow Legs Creek on the east side of the river, and the old man Jim Lanier was killed there. They then crossed the river and back to the west side and burned our home and all that we had."

Willoughby Tillis applied for a pension on August 11, 1892. He gave his age as 84 years and his residence as Fort Meade, Florida. He stated that his Discharge Certificate from his Seminole Indian war service was burned during the War of the Rebellion when the U. S. Army burned his home. He said that the time of his enlistment in 1835 he was 27 years old, 5' 8" tall with dark complexion, gray eyes and black hair. His occupation was farming and that he was born in Camden County, Georgia. His pension was approved and he received $8 per month until his death on January 1, 1895. The following obituary appeared:


Willoughby Tillis, one of the oldest settlers of Florida died at his home near Fort Meade last Tuesday, and was on Wednesday buried at New Hope Church. He was eighty-six years old at the time of his death and had lived in Florida about seventy years. He leaves a wife, his third, now eighty years of age, and a daughter, Mrs. J. C. Jordan, and four sons, Calhoun, Dallas, William and Marion.

Mr. Tillis was a member of the Methodist Church, & the funeral services were conducted by Rev. J. York, assisted by J. W. Boyd, W. H. Johnson, F. F. Beville and J. H. Watson, of the Masonic Lodge, of this city, of which the deceased was a member.

Mrs. Celia E. Tillis, aged 80 years and a resident of Fort Meade applied for a widow's pension on March 14, 1895. She received it until her death on July 14, 1899. The following appeared in the local newspaper:


On Friday, the 14th inst, at the old homestead near Fort Meade, Mrs. Celia E. Tillis, familiarly and lovingly known to nearly everybody as "Grandma Tillis" died after long and patient suffering and waiting for the final summons. Mrs. Tillis had lived sixteen years beyond the alloted three score and ten, being 86 years of age last April. The interment took place at New Hope Church on Saturday afternoon. Mrs. Tillis leaves a large number of children, Sheriff Tillis being one of them, and many grandchildren and other relatives to mourn her absence.

SOURCES: Camden County, Georgia deeds; Census: 1820 Tattnall County, Georgia, 1820 Camden County, Georgia, 1850 Columbia County, 1860 Hillsborough County, Florida; bounty land applications of Joseph Tullis & Tapley A. Tullis; New Hope Cemetery, Polk County, Florida; Soldiers of Florida; pension of Willoughby Tillis & widow's pension of Celia E. Tillis, National Archives; Tillis family file, Polk County History Library, Bartow, Florida; affidavit of Mr. & Mrs. James D. .Tillis, May 5, 1938; "Thrilling Story of Battle with Indians near Fort Meade found among papers of pioneer family", Tampa Sunday Tribune, April 4, 1954; info from Mrs. Leslie Davis Watson, Calgary, Alberta, Canada; Tillis family Bible; Index to the Headright & Bounty Grants of Georgia 1756 - 1909; Polk County & Hillsborough County marriage records.


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