To try to imagine what life must’ve been like for the pioneers who built this place would be nearly impossible for any of us now. Florida in the first half of the 1800’s was truly a new frontier; untamed, unknown, and harsh. Many of its inland settlers of European descent relocated here from Georgia and the Carolinas with hopes of owning land and establishing solid futures for their children.
Thomas Dawsey was one such settler who came to Florida in 1819, just before it became a territory in 1821. He landed in what soon (1823) become Gadsden County looking for land to homestead. By 1827, he had acquired 160 acres of land where this home still sits. Within just a few short years, the Florida frontier saw stagecoach routes carved out for mail and passenger transport and increased movement into the center of the state. By 1830, one such stagecoach road ran through this area and records indicate that this home was a stop along the route and horse-changing station.
Just a few years after Dawsey relocated to this area of Florida, he and his family would move again, this time to Poplar Head, Alabama where he and his wife Elizabeth Hooks Dawsey lived until their deaths in 1854 on land granted to them from the federal government for James’ service during the Second Seminole War in Florida. Another new settler to the area, Joshua Davis from Laurens County, South Carolina, began buying parcels of Dawsey’s land in 1830, and by 1849, he owned the property and moved into this home with his wife Esther Gamble Monford and their 6 children. Davis would upgrade the original one-room 18’x27′ dressed timber structure by adding a rear porch, attic sleeping loft and east room, refurbished the interior/exterior with hand-beaded siding and added a separate kitchen in the rear. Within a decade by 1859, this home was the center point of a 1,440 acre cotton, tobacco and corn plantation. According to the census of that year, the Davis Plantation had 33 slaves, 6 horses and 135 cattle. It was responsible for the majority of tobacco production in Gadsden, the county’s principle crop, for the pre-Civil War period.
(Drawing of Joshua Davis c. mid- 1800’s- Image Courtesy and Property of the State Archive of Florida)
Joshua would pass away here in 1859, followed by his wife Esther in 1876. Their granddaughter Esther lived there for many years with her husband, Lieutenant Mortimer Boulware Bates, C.S.A. and their 9 children. Lieutenant Bates would pass away in 1930 and the home sat unused until the 1980’s when Davis descendants restored the home to its present condition. Today, it is still owned and maintained by Joshua’s direct line, the Avant Family.
[Esther Eliza Davis Bates (granddaughter to Joshua Davis) c. mid-1800’s; photo courtesy and property of the State Archive of Florida]
[A woman standing outside the Dawsey/Davis/Bates home c. 1900- Photo Courtesy and Property of the State Archive of Florida]
[Eula Bates outside of the home in 1902- great granddaughter of Joshua Davis- photo courtesy and property of the State Archive of Florida]
[The Dawsey/Davis/Bates/Avant home as it sat in the 1950’s when the Avant Family purchased it- Photo courtesy and property of the State Archive of Florida]
[Member of the Avant Family (Davis descendants) in front of the home in the 1980’s, after restoration- photo courtesy and property of the State Archive of Florida]
Do you think its original builders ever considered what the place would look like in 180+ years? Could they have imagined the world that it stands in now? I would think they should be very proud to know that even as everything around it has changed, this place has found continued use in many different times.
Thanks to the Florida Traces Blog for much of the research and information on this property.
*Please note that this property is guarded and can only be seen from the road as it presently belongs to a private hunting organization.*
[Mount Pleasant, Gadsden County, FL c. 1830’s]
Sometime in 1859, Laban and his wife Sarah relocated with 5 children from South Carolina to Putnam County, Florida. Over the next decade, they would build a homestead, a school, and have 4 more children, all while their country was torn in half by civil war. In 1861, while pregnant with their 6th child, their new home state seceded from the Nation, and within the year, Laban had joined the 9th Florida Infantry. Although he saw action at the Battle of Olustee, he was fortunate enough to return to Putnam County in 1864 to continue to grow his family until his passing in 1876.
As his children grew up, they would each marry and build homes within a mile from the original homestead. The youngest of these children being William who built this home for his bride, Sarah, in 1892 on the very property that his parents had settled 30 years before. To this day, Laban and Sarah’s descendants still farm this land, although this house is no longer in use.
[Putnam County, FL c. 1892]
As the sun lowers in the afternoon sky, another long day at the farm passes as so many before it. The cattle are herded in and the sounds of the rural landscape begin to shift as evening sets in. This perpetual cycle will restart each day as time and life and years go by.
For this forgotten little home, the outside world continues to trudge along. But for the few moments I stood here imagining and dreaming about what came before, time seemed to stand still.
[Levy County, FL c. early 1900’s]
If you take a few moments to look closely at this image, I think you’ll find an incredible story that unravels. The cuts of the hand-hewn boards tell us a lot about its carpenter, who probably harvested the wood for this home from this very property. The original log construction underneath and the seam where this home was extended tells the story of an expanding family, who adapted and grew on this new frontier. Like puzzle pieces, each detail tells a piece of the story.
I guess walls do talk.
[Bradford County, FL c. 1870’s]
In looking at this fallen door, I can envision those who turned it and stepped through it as the smells and sights of home greeted them. This door marked the start and end to their days and protected them from the outside world. In its small details, peeling paint, rusted features and simple form, you can see a family looking back.
[Suwannee County, FL- home c. 1880’s]