Titusville, Florida Centennial — 1867-1967
Settlement Of BrevardIn 1821 when the United States purchased Florida, few settlers lived south of St. Augustine due to the presence of the belligerent Seminoles. An exception was the exceptional Captain Douglas Dummitt.
In 1807 the enactment by the English of the Abolitionist Act forced Colonel Thomas Dummit to flee his plantation on Barbados Island, to find refuge in St. Augustine. During this flight he and his son, the famous Captain Douglas Dummitt, sailed past the Cape Canaveral area. It is related that as they passed the Cape the two men smelled the fragrance of wild orange blossoms and young Douglas Dummitt resolved that he would someday return and cultivate these wild oranges. Eleven years later Captain Dummitt fulfilled his resolution when he returned to Cape Canaveral armed with some budwood stock from the Spanish orange trees of St. Augustine. Dummitt built his home and planted his orange grove on land granted to him for helping to subdue the Seminoles. This land was located on Spaceport property several miles north of where the Vertical Assembly Building now stands.
The Dummitt groves survived and flourished under the guidance of Captain Dummitt and gained widespread recognition. Dummitt was able to ship the fruit commercially to the port at St. Augustine by using large canoes made from cypress logs. Each orange was individually wiped clean and packed in barrels between layers of dried Spanish moss.
Although the war with the Seminoles that began in 1835 lasted almost seven years, the Brevard area was scarcely affected and the Dummitt groves remained intact. However, during the Civil War they went unattended since all slaves had been sold on the auction block prior to the outbreak of the hostilities. In 1869 the groves were revived and had an annual production of around 700,000 oranges. They were recognized as the largest in the State.
In 1842 Congress passed the Armed Occupation Act which gave to any settler a 160 acre grant of government land in Florida anywhere south of what is now Palatka. The hooker was that the settler was required to successfully hold his acreage against the Indians for seven years before he became the lawful owner. Pursuant to this Legislative grant, a colony of approximately forty heads of family was established on the Indian River. A vital member of this colony was Captain Burnham.
Robert Hanson, in his manuscript, East Coast Memoirs, 1837 to 1886, describes in interesting detail some of these early pioneers. Among them were John Hutchinson, a carpenter from Georgia and Col. Samuel H. Peck, a banker and cotton broker from Augusta, Georgia. These men are immortalized in Hutchinson's Island and Peck's Lake.
James Middleton was a ship's carpenter from Georgia and was said to be a very useful man in the settlement. His value was lessened somewhat by the fact that he was an incurable practical joker. He was much liked by some but bitterly hated by his victims.
James Price was an English sailor who was the best oarsman of all the settlers. He had a terrific booming voice and was a great singer of chants and nautical songs. His tremendous singing voice often disturbed the still nights and penetrated the quietness for miles.
Another settler was referred to only as Crazy Ned. He was a Swedish sailor who in his younger days had fallen from a ship's mast to the deck below. Hanson wrote, ", . . his right leg was shattered and he had lost some of his brains, which caused his intellect to be flighty and he limped in a most comical manner and at every step seemed to be about to dive headlong into the earth. He was of slight figure, beardless and pale, and very irritable, especially when the irresponsible Middleton was near."
A Savannah cobbler who had a reputation for poor workmanship was known only as "Cobber". Hanson wrote that he, " ... was white haired and red nosed and could detect the aroma of whiskey more than a mile away, and if grog was being served even a long distance off he would scent it in a minute, drop his work and come charging through the weeds to get his share in such haste and with such swift goat-like leaps and yells till all hands would rush for their rifles expecting each minute to see a band of painted Seminoles intent on scalping the whole community."
Other recorded members of the colony were Ossian B. Hart who afterwards became a Governor of the State. Hart was a capable lawyer and a fine musician. Another professional man was Doctor Holbrook, a talented physician from Charleston. He brought to the settlement his "valuable library" and his only solace in life was said to be his flute and his books.
Life in this early colony was concerned with agriculture pursuits and the pleasures of the hunt. The nearest civilization was St. Augustine and New Smyrna on the north and Key West on the south. Everyone in the colony knew everyone's family history and ancestry. In times of sickness and trouble each helped the other according to their means so that no one seriously suffered or lacked anything. All of the settlers were on friendly terms with the Indians who lived in the back country and visited the coast from time to time to fish and trade. The Indians particularly admired Captain Burnham for his athletic prowess and his ability in the use and construction of firearms.
As an additional means of support, Burnham purchased a schooner and christened it the "Josephine" The schooner was used to travel to Charleston where there was an English export market for the green turtle which at that time grew in great numbers in the Indian River. Previously the turtles had not fared well on their trips to market and many had to be thrown overboard. Burnham made small wooden tubs to rest their heads upon and each morning had their eyes sprinkled with salt water. Therefore, his cargo always arrived in good shape and found a ready market. The enterprising Burnham was also the first man to grow pineapples in this area.
On March 3, 1845, President John Tyler signed the bill which made Florida the 27th state. Titusville was then in St. Lucie County which was much larger than Brevard County is today. The 1850 census showed a county population of 139 persons. On January 6, 1855 the name of the county was changed to Brevard in honor of Judge Theodore Washington Brevard, who for twelve years, was comptroller of the State.
In August of 1849, while Burnham was absent from the Indian River Settlement on one of his trips to Charleston, the Indians killed a trader who had a. small store near the colony. The murdered trader had a past reputation for cheating the Indians in any trade. Fear of an impending massacre spread and developed into a state of panic. Although there were mixed emotions as to the best move, all the settlers decided to leave at once for St. Augustine. The unanimity of the decision was influenced by the fact that there was only one schooner available and those left behind would, therefore, be stranded. The entire settlement, loaded with the few possessions they could carry, sailed that very afternoon for St. Augustine. Thus the armed occupation settlement on the Indian River abruptly disbanded in August of 1849.
An interesting incident occurred on this flight to St. Augustine. A brother-in-law of the murdered trader, Captain Russel, injured his arm in his departing haste. On the first night at sea he went into the dark cabin of the ship in search of a bottle of salve to rub upon his wounded arm. However, in the dark he, by mistake, emptied instead a bottle of ink upon his arm. With the coming of daylight he viewed his now black arm with horror, feeling certain that mortification had begun. It is said that several on board knew of his mistake but remained silent because of their personal dislike for him. As the trip progressed he became more and more frantic and promptly upon arrival hunted up a doctor friend and insisted that he amputate to preven-t the mortification from spreading. Although the doctor assured him that his arm would heal, Russel would not be dissuaded and for the balance of his days he walked around with one arm.
In 1853 Captain Burnham, somewhat through the influence of his friend Dummitt, received the appointment as lighthouse keeper at Cape Canaveral. This lighthouse had been built in 1847 and Burnham's predecessors were William Carpenter and John Scobie. Captain Burnham occupied this position until his death thirty-five years later in April of 1886. The descendants of Burnham placed in the west front of St. Gabriel's Episcopal Church in Titusville three stained glass windows in memory of the Captain, his wife and his son who was killed during the war.
According to the records of the Post Office Department a post office was established at Sand Point on November 11, 1859. The area which now includes Titusville and LaGrange was known as Sand Point in the 1850's and 1860's. One day the old man who was the postmaster for the few who lived in the back country deserted his post without any explanation. Some months later Captain Dummitt received a letter from the Post Office Department saying that the old postmaster owed the Government sixty cents and that Dummitt was liable on the old man's bond. It is said that Dummitt replied that he did not remember signing the man's bond, but rather than have the burden of a lawsuit with the National Government he paid the sixty cents and thus settled the claim without litigation.