Writing of the two weeks she had just spent in “oppression and misery” in Florida, Mary Chestnut, the opinionated South Carolina aristocrat, saw her trip through Fernandina to Charleston in 1860 as a return “to the world”— her world of the civilized South.1 While Florida towns such as Fernandina did not offer the fine cultural characteristics of Charleston, the peninsular state— especially the five counties comprising “Middle Florida”— was as much a part of the political, social, and economic world of the South as was South Carolina. Like the older state, Florida became one of the first members of the Confederate States of America— ready to fight for the survival of a way of life, which included the institution of racial slavery. Favorable geographic and climatic conditions helped to encourage in Middle Florida what had become by 1861 an entrenched system of racial control. Beyond its similarity to the older South, Florida had its own long tradition of slavery which could be traced back to the Spanish colonial era.2 Because of differences in local conditions, however, there were variances in the way the institution of slavery operated in Florida as compared to its older neighboring states. One of the most notable differences was in the way skilled slaves were used in frontier Florida. In the older states, urban centers, such as Richmond, with its Tredegar Iron Works, or New Orleans, with its extensive port facilities and worldwide commerce, employed large numbers of skilled slaves who were “hired out” from their owners and whose work experiences differed greatly from that of slaves on the plantations.3 Except for the cotton port of Apalachicola and the thriving river town of Jacksonville, Florida was still largely a rural, agricultural state where plantations were the focal points of economic production and social life.4 Nevertheless, skilled black slaves contributed in important ways to the development of Florida— both before and after the Civil War. Black carpenters, blacksmiths, cooks, domestic servants, and midwives, among others, added immeasurably to the mosaic that was Florida. But, during the 1850s, when cotton was highly profitable, Middle Florida planters found it more advantageous to work their male slaves, whether skilled or not, in the field. Work which had often been performed by skilled male slaves was increasingly left to white workers. This was not the case, however, with women— and a few of the men— who continued to be highly valued by Florida slaveholders as domestic servants.
Linsin, Christopher E.
"Skilled Slave Labor in Florida: 1850-1860,"
Florida Historical Quarterly: Vol. 75:
2, Article 6.
Available at: https://stars.library.ucf.edu/fhq/vol75/iss2/6