SOURCE:  Marriage Licenses Volusia County Florida 1886-1889

Early History of Volusia County, Florida


Katherine C Everett

Early history of Volusia County, as is that of all Florida, before the white man came, is extremely fragmentary.  Archaeologists, have not yet been fully able to read records written in sand and stone and in great mounds left by a peaceful and, apparently, numerous people, now vanished.

From pottery, war weapons, articles of domestic use, skulls and bones found in the mounds, burial and otherwise, the scientists deduce that the ancient aborigines were a tall, active people, with crude, if any, tools of agriculture, who lived mainly by hunting and fishing.  From ashes and other contents of the mounds, lapses of time appear between extinct and inextinct habitations, showing life here for a period of at least several centuries.

Turtle Mound, in the south-east part of what is now Volusia County, highest point along the Atlantic coast of Florida, so great it led some early explorers to call it a small mountain, was the first land sighted by Ponce de Leon when he discovered Florida in March 1513.

De Leon seems to have sailed into what is now Mosquito Inlet and sent a boat load of men ashore to explore.  Geographers of today equate his chronicler's description of the "Rio de la Cruze" with the confluence of the Halifax and Indian rivers N. with Spruce Creek.

The Indians, usually described by early explorers as peaceful, greeted De Leon and his men with a shower of arrows and the Spaniards though unharmed, withdrew in disgust, and sailed further up the coast to make their first real landing in friendlier territory near where St. Augustine now stands.

The next white men to visit the section were members of Rene de Laudonniere's expedition, in 1564, who built Fort Caroline on the St John's River.  De'Erlach, French Chronicler, called the land "matchless", yet soft and pleasant of beauty….giant forests grow on high elevations, shore low.. Beach one of the finest in the world, hard and broad enough for a large army to march over…and tough the sun shine ever so brightly, moistened with the tides and cooled by the sea winds, it is seldom hot or uncomfortable."

Of the Indians, D'Erlaen described them as "medium in height, well proportioned, vary supple."  Not as dark as the tribes beyond the St. John's River, nor as savage in mien and speech, with "fine, regular features, high foreheads, lustrous eyes, spirited faces, pleasing manners, not exceliu by best gentlemen of France.  Good to be in their company."

Spanish Menendez explored through the country in 1566 trying to rind an outlet to the Gulf of Mexico, but failed.  He left to men, the first white settlers there abouts, to teach the Mayaca Indians Christianity.  They were not very successful.  Later, some Franciscan Friars converted many of the natives and built there a mission of San Salvador de Rayac.  Ruins of two other missions built by the Spaniards, may still be seen, one near New Smyrna, the other near Tomok River, but the one on the St. John's River has disappeared without a trace, unless a wild orange grove, probably descended from plantings by the Franciscans may be considered as such.

For more than 100 years the Franciscans and the Mayaca flourished.  Then Gov. Moore, of South Carolina colony, invaded Florida and turned savage Creek allies loose on the peaceful Florida tribes, who were no match for them nor for with them and other warlike tribes infiltrating from George.  They took refuge under Spanish protection during the years of skirmishing which followed.  The last of these peace-minded aborigines, it is said, were taken to Cuba when Spain ceded Florida to England around 1764.

Peace between England, France and Spain at this time gave England an unbroken line of colonies on the entire seacoast for the northern half of North America.

Florida flourished.  Groves of oranges were planted; sugar cane, indigo, hemp and cotton were planted.  The Turnbull settlement of new Smyrna was started.  Many land grants were made in what is now Volusia County, mostly large plantations.  The King's highway was built from a few miles south of New Smyrna to St. Augustine and beyond it to Cowford (later Jacksonville), and on to the George line.  The growth "in wealth and population not equaled again for a hundred years."

The Indians, who had not liked the Spaniards, made friends with the English to such an extent that when Florida, was re-ceded to Spain 1783, their chiefs asked the British governor to request his King to send a great canoe to take them away along with the British settlers.  When tactfully told that would be impossible, the Indians vowed that they would make constant war on "any Spaniard who stuck his nose out of St. Augustine", or any other city.

The English had done more to develop the country in twenty years than Span had in two hundred.  Traces of their occupancy can still be found today in place names and other ways, though when they went so did prosperity.  Volusia County again became a wilderness.  Except for a trading post or two and a scattering of Indian villages no record is found of anyone living in the section for many years.

The tremendous embarkation of British settlers back to England, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Nova Scotia, and even former Tories back to the new United States of America, left the trading firm of Panton, Leslie and Forbes, later John Forbes & C., as the last of British-born prosperity.  Gov. Zespedes, awaking finally, to the fact of the firms' great influence with the Indians, offered them special grants and inducements to remain.  Further, he began offering land grants to Englishmen to re-settle along the Halifax and Hillsboro rivers.

Under this more liberal policy, settlers began coming into the territory.  Followed by even more liberal policy by Zespedes' successor, by 1818 cotton, sugar and indigo plantations were again flourishing.  The treaty ceding Florida to the United States of America confirmed all such grants made before January, 1818 by Spain, consequently title to much land Volusia County, west of the Halifax Rives, rests, today, upon those old Spanish grants.

Andrew Jackson, first military Governor of the Territory of Florida, divided the Territory into two huge Counties, Escambia, with County Seat at Pensacola; St. John's, with St. Augustine as its County Seat.  All papers of the resent Volusia County were kept at St. Augustine until 1842.

Indian affairs quickly became an acute problem.  The warlike Creeks, Seminoles and other tribes that came down from Georgia the middle of the 18th century had, as before mentioned, practically destroyed or absorbed the peaceful aborigines, and kept the Spanish population, after the end of the English Occupation, pretty much confined to coastal towns.

Plantations are usually run by overseers, while the owners lived in St. Augustine.  Communications were poor.  The King's Road, disused, was overgrown; bridges over streams were wrecked by Indians.  Mail, usually brought in by boats carrying hunting or fishing parties, was infrequent.

After the United States took over, there was a strong demand by settlers, for removal of the Indians to their former hunting grounds.  The treaties of Payne's landing, 1832 and Port Gibson, 1833, tribal chiefs agreed to exchange their Florida homes for others further West promised them by the Government.  But this young chiefs and their adherents refused to comply with the agreements.  Efforts of the United States to enforce treaty conditions brought on the 3 Seminole War, lasting from 1832 to 1842, and costing many lives and more money than the amount that was paid to Spain for Florida.  Those Indians who managed to escape transportation to Oklahoma, fled into the swamps.  The Government let them stay there.

The area of the present Volusia County had been a veritable battle-ground.  When peace came, planters along the Halifax River had suffered to greatly and were too impoverished to work in their desolated fields.  Great plantations passed back to primeval wilderness.

The distance in Florida's scantily settled country were so great it was soon found that two judger per County could hardly carry on the legal work.  Also, the alternate seating's of the two legislative Council were heavy burdens to representatives living far from Pensacola one year and St. Augustine, the next.  A site for a new capital was chosen midway between the two cities.  Meanwhile, the tow enormous Counties began to have smaller ones carved from them.

The area of the present Volusia County carved under several Counties during the formative years of Florida.  The first transfer was from the original St. John's to Mosquito County.  Next she was part of Orange County in 1854 with a part of what is now Brevard Co., Volusia Co. was organized and named.  In 1870, Brevard was subtracted into a separate county.  

As now constituted, 1968, Volusia County "embraces that territory which lies between the Atlantic Ocean on the east, and the St. John's River on the west.  Sometimes known as the St. John 's River Peninsula, partly in the 29th and partly in the 30th degree of latitude.  It is bounded on the north by Flagler County and to the south by Brevard and Seminole Counties.

The name for the new County was taken from Volusia Landing on the St. John's River where, during the English Occupation, a Swiss by name of Volusia or Veluche had established a thriving business.  Earlier a tribe of Mayaca Indians had a village there, and shell mounds towering 60 feet above the river bank attest to their long occupancy in former years.

The Legislative act, creating the County, was passed by the House of the Florida Legistlature, December 18, 1854; by the Senate December 23rd and signed by Gov. James S Broome, December 29th, 1854.

Enterprise, a small town on Lake Monroe "an expansion on the St. John's River at that point:, was named as the County Seat.

Not many settlers lived in the area at this time.  Except at the towns of Enterprise and New Smyrna, the people were scattered around the County on the central and east and west sides.  Cattle raising, cutting timber and farming small patches were the main occupations.  Though there was little population increase, it was good game country and a good hotel at Enterprise flourished in hunting and fishing seasons.

In 1861 at the outbreak of the War Between the States only about twenty-five families lived there regularly.

The war touched the County lightly.  Numerous inlets along the seacoast offered excellent means for blockade running.  In pursuing one south vessel, U.S. Navy Ships bombarded New Smyrna and burned homes there.  A small land engagement took place near Volusia Landing.  The cattle raising in central and south Florida provided most of the beef that reached the Confederate commissary, and Volusia County did its share both in providing the beef and in the "Cow Cavalry", men and boys who were exempted from conscription because needed so badly for raising the cattle and driving them overland at certain seasons to points in Georgia or elsewhere to turn them over to the Confederate Government.

Now immigration after the War Between the States began when Charles and Andrew Bostrom sailed down from St. Augustine, up Matanas Bay as far as possible, the hauled their boat overland to the Halifax River.

About the same time, Dr. Hawks and several Army officers started the Florida land and Lumber Company, and bought land near what is now Port Orange.  They brought 500 families of freedmen to settle there.  The settlers disliked the sandy soil and most of them moved away.  In 1865 Dr. Hawks bought "Spanish Grant" two miles south of New Smyrna and founded the village of Hawks Parke, now Edgewater.

In 1871 a colony came down from Mansfield, Ohio and bought an old sugar plantation which had been deserted during the Seminole War, and named it Daytona, after Mathias Day, leader of the colony.  It had slow growth at first, then began to spread rapidly.  In 1876 a colony from New Britain, Connecticut, bought land five miles north of Daytona and founded New Britain, now Ormond.

New Smyrna began again to flourish.  Oak Hill, Port Orange, Holly Hill arouse.  Land drained by large canals was planted, usually with orange groves or as truck farms.  Those along the St. John's River, main stream of the west part of the County, developed most rapidly.  Enterprise grew awhile but removal of the County Seat to Deland in 1887 and slowing down of river traffic upon advent of railroads abated its progress.  High pine-ridge land east of St. John's River is fertile and well adapted to citrus growing.  Seville, Emporia, Barberville, Deland, De leon Springs, Lake Helen, Orange City were founded and grew, surrounded by good rural populations.

Deland grew the quickest.  In 1875 a log cabin, owned by Capt. John Rion was the only home there.  Twelve years later, there was a thriving town important enough to have the County Seat re-located there.

Located a few miles from the St. John's River, in high, rolling pineland, in places sixty feet above sea level, it was an ideal site to develop and a delightful and healthful place in which to live.

At the time, steamboat trips up the St. John's River and back to Jacksonville were popular with winter tourists.  Taking such and excursion, Henry Leland, wealthy, retired manufacturer of Fairport, new York, left the boat at a landing in central Florida and took a leisurely drive through the surrounding country, was delighted with it and went home and brought some twenty friends, so report says, to see and settle there if it impressed them as favorably as it had him.

They came, they saw, they were conquered, they settled, they named their settlement, Deland.

Greatly interested in education, Mr. Deland early started an Academy on Goodland Boulevard, the town's main street.  The first sessions were held in the newly built Baptist Church.  Later, Deland built a second structure for the school, which was called Deland Hall in his honor.  Considered exceptionally large when construction was under way, the building was outgrown by the end of the first school year.

At first Henry Deland met all school deficits out of his own pocket, then, as expenses grew, friends, notably John B. Stetson, joined in contributing, both money, time and labor.

More and more students poured in, from outside the city, from outside the State.  More departments were added.  Five thousand acres were donated to it.  A library was built with a thousand books bought as a beginning for its shelves.  The College grew and grew.  In the spring of 1887 it was chartered by the Legislature as a University.

Because of the interest, attention and money given it by John b. Stetson, who had now become the heaviest contributor to it, Mr. Deland insisted the name of the University be changed to become the John B. Stetson University.  Mr. Stetson demurred, but was persuaded and as the John B. Stetson University it has grown enormously in size, influence and prestige and continues to do so.

The city of Deland and Volusia County have grown greatly too, but names of the original settlers still linger on many of the streets - Capt. John Rich and his family gave their names to many of them - and many of the original names are still worn proudly by their descendants in Volusia County today.  Alexander, Allen, Brady, Burch, Campbell, Cannon, Codrington, Dade, Dreka, Howry, Hull, Jordan, Leete, Putnam, Painter, Roseborough, Stewart, Stith, Swift, Tillis, Taten, Vorrhis, Gilson, to name just a few.

Gov. James E. Broome, who signed the act creating Volusia was the grandfather of Judge James D. Broome, for many years an honored citizen of Leland, whose daughter and her family still live there.

Long since the shouting and the tumult died.  The Captains and, in this case, the Chief's departed.  The Seminoles who fled to the swamps to escape surrender, have, by treaty, obtained deed to the land where they chose to live.

Florida DAR members, descendants of men who fought successfully for freedom and the right of self-government, reach out helping hands to an equally and determinedly freedom-loving people, contributing in many ways to their projects, including scholarships for college students.  Billy Cypress, holder of such a scholarship, graduated, with a B.A. degree from Stetson University, in June, 1968.  Today, Lieut. Billy Cypress is in Viet Nam, helping the South Vietnamese struggle to keep their county free.

There are DAR members in Volusia County, too, who, feeling the tug of the land on them, look with sympathy on the young chiefs and their followers, willing to fight to the death for the right to live in their own land - especially at Coacoohee (Wildcat), who fought valiantly, led wisely, and was clever enough when wounded and captured, to escape from a supposedly unbreakable prison, and find his way to Mexico, to live and die a free man, rather than where those he considered tyrants demanded that he dwell.

And, so looking, the feel a certain price that Coacoochee was a son of Volusia, born and bred there, and also, that the County can take a justified pride in him as a native son.