Anya Jabour


In October 1826, Laura Wirt wrote to her cousin, Louisa Cabell Carrington, regarding her forthcoming marriage and move from her parents’ comfortable home in the Upper South to a lonely plantation in the newly-opened Florida territory. “I cannot endure the thought! The very prospect breaks my heart!” she exclaimed. 1 But, like many southern women, Laura found that her own preferences had little weight when set against her male relatives’ eagerness to achieve the fabled wealth of the Florida frontier. Laura’s father, U.S. Attorney General William Wirt, and her uncles, Robert and John Gamble of Richmond, Virginia, had invested in Florida as soon as the new territory’s land auctions began in 1825. Upon her marriage to Thomas Randall, an ambitious but unsuccessful Maryland lawyer, Laura would receive a marriage portion of a plantation near Tallahassee, where Randall had obtained a position as a judge in the Florida Court of Appeals. Land was what drew the Randalls and their nearest neighbors, the Gambles, to the frontier. In Jefferson County, the Randalls and their relatives became members of a group of leading planters in what Jerrell H. Shofner has described as the heart of Middle Florida’s antebellum plantation belt. Despite her own reluctance, Laura Wirt Randall traveled with her husband to her new home in late 1827.