History of Santa Rosa County, A King's County

by M. Luther King. Used with permission.



(This is a part of a series of memoirs of early Milton and Santa Rosa County from the memories of early settlers --this one from a writing, dating about 1920-1925, of Mr. W.J. Williams, Sr., son of W.L. Williams who came to Florida in 1818 from Georgia, to Dr. (Bud) McArthur and coming to me from a copy now in the hands of Mr. W.D. Robertson, Milton attorney.)  

W.J. Williams, an early settler.


"My earliest recollection of Milton was 65 or 70 years ago. There was a population of 500 or 600 persons, with only a few small stores. There was more business done then in Floridatown than in Milton, but it was thought that Floridatown was sickly and hence Milton began to grow and the other to go down. At that time Milton had not taken a name, being referred to as 'Scratch Ankle,' 'Hard Scrabble' and a few other hard names. I think the name Milton came from old Dr. Amos --his name was Milton Amos --he was the great grandfather of our present state auditor, Ernest Amos.

"There was no cotton raised in the county, but a great deal was hauled in from Alabama -from Geneva, Sparta, Andalusia. By the way, it was not Andalusia but Montezuma at that time. There were a great many cattle raised and sold in the county. Two large stock owners were Elizah Gaylor and Benjamin Cobb. They would let one pick their stock of large steers for $10.00 a head. These steers would weigh from 500 to 700 pounds each. A hunter could go into the woods any day and kill a deer or turkey -but we don't find them now -we also had wolves, bear and wild cats to depredate on stock -since then the large stocks have passed away.

"The stock men are now raising sheep instead of cattle. Mill and timber business has always been profitable in this county. Bill Mitchell ran a mill on Clear Creek for several years. He hauled the timber 8 miles to Milton. Sold it for $8.00 to $10.00 per thousand feet. He made about 2000 feet per day and made it profitable. Now the same lumber is worth double that price. We had 3 or 4 months schools in the winter, as the children were needed to help their parents on the farm in spring and summer. Tuition cost from $1.50 to $2.00 per month. There were no public schools then. Now we have public schools all over the county with from 5 to 8 months terms and our buildings are built by the school board from the people's taxes.

"The old Court House that was used before the present one was built was a wooden structure and stood about where the public school building now stands, just across the street from the McWhorter residence and the jail was about where Mr. Laird's residence now is. (To identify these locations it is necessary to remember that the first public school building occupied the site now occupied by Berryhill School building and an old plat now on file in the County Clerk's office will verify this.) The jail also was a wooden building. This also was known as Escambia County until about 1844. 1 don't remember the dates. Florida was a territory until about 1840 -I may be mistaken about the dates. (Actually Florida became a state of the United States, ceasing its territorial status in 1845; while the county was actually created in 1842 -the 21st.) The value of land at that time was very little. One dollar and twenty-five cents an acre was a good valuation. The same lands are now worth from eight to fifteen dollars or more for farming purposes. We did not know the value of our lands for farming until it began to be settled up by Alabamians.

"Mitchell operated his mill at or near the head of Clear Creek, some years before the Civil War. His mill, together with his stock of sheep and cattle, and his farm made him prosperous. He had a few slaves, who were good help both on the farm and in the mill, but he lost this help when the war came on. After the war he returned and began operating the mill again. His mill was one of these upright saws, as there were not many circular saws in the county at that time.

"I should not forget to mention what I know of the improvements of our little town of Mary Esther. I first knew it about the year 1875. There were only a few families there then, among them my old friend John Newton. He moved there from Walton County. (He) Built him (sic) a nice home and also a school building and taught school there many years. He tried to enlighten the people whom he served. He used his school building for preaching on Sunday and had an appointment six or eight miles in the woods. He walked out there once a month, but he told me he would give it up, as the people would not turn out to hear him preach. Why, said he, 'I walked out there the other day and called on a family near where my appointment was to be,'and said he, 'the girls came in and shook hands with me and they looked as if they had not bathed in a great while, they retired and after dressing, etc., they returned and I actually shook hands with them again. Well, I did that much good. Had them to wash their face and hands.' He told me one of his students after leaving school came to see him. He asked the young man how he was; he said, 'I am well, except I taken a cold the other day from getting my feet wet.'

"I always enjoyed being with the good old man, and felt wiser and better after leaving him. He was a good friend of mine. He had only a few neighbors at that time. The Rogers, Pryors, Capt. Scott, Oren Weekly, Tom Brooks, W.A. 'Watson, Mrs. Condon and then out in the woods were the Davises, the Oglesbys and a few others, and now the woods are lined with settlers. The turpentine men "have taken the county. They have stills all over that once wild part of this county and the beach is lined with hotels and stores.

"I would mention something of war times. I was appointed by the Confederate government as Tax Collector for Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties and C.W. Jones, father of John P. Jones, the present city attorney of Pensacola, was appointed assessor. We rode together over both counties as near as we dared to Pensacola and Milton. Jones then lived at Bluff Springs. We had to take one-tenth of every man's income or one-tenth of corn, syrup, potatoes, wool, etc., this was sent to camp for the soldiers, but we were allowed to compute it --put a price on it and let the farmer pay it in money and send it on to headquarters. Charley Jones was a funny fellow; as we would be riding along on horseback he would often stick spurs to his horse and gallop off ahead of me for a mile or so, then I would have to hurry to catch up with him.

"C.W. Jones was afterwards elected United States Senator. When the Yankees made their raid from Pensacola to Flomaton and Pollard and passed Bluff Springs, the river was very high and there were only a few dry ridges in the swamp. The settlers --Jones and the others had taken to the swamp before the enemy had gotten there. They burned the residences of those in their path, Jones' residence among the others. Capt. J.R. Mims, who was Captain of a company of State Troops, and his men fled to the swamp, and any other places, for safety as the Yankees passed. Capt. Mims was in the camp where the refugees were camped and in speaking of Capt. Mims afterwards, Jones said to him, 'Mims, do you know if I were going to preach today, what would be my text?' He said, 'I would use this scripture: Choose you this day whom you will serve.' "


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