• Sunrise over the Fort George River in the Timucuan Preserve.

    Timucuan

    Ecological & Historic Preserve Florida

Diary of Gertrude Rollins Wilson

Diary of Gertrude Rollins Wilson, G. W. Wilson transcribed by Dena Snodgrass, 1979

Transcribed from a 1979 transcription including notes and remarks by Dena Snodgrass on March 13, 2009, by Betty Jones at the National Park Service, Kingsley Plantation.

DIARY GERTRUDE ROLLINS WILSON

Excerpts:

My father repaired the house which at that time showed marks of cannon balls on its walls, and went to work to rehabilitate the plantation. He set out about 100 acres of orange trees, planted sugar cane and other crops but found it hard to manage the freed slaves. He imported some Swedes but the venture was not a success as all they wanted was passage to America.

The orange trees grew splendidly and in time supported the plantation. There was a lemon grove on the extreme northwest of the house that may have been planted in Kingsley’s time. The orange groves were near the house, both east and west, while the fields further south were kept for sweet potatoes, corn and oats. The oats was cut for hay for the stock.

When the hotel was built I believed considerable produce was sold there but I have no remembrance of it, being too young. I do remember a long line of cold frames used to start tender vegetables. My mother had a beautiful rose garden and many other plants about the house.

In 1877 my father formed a company to build a hotel on the island and sell home sites to Northern visitors. His partners were a Mr. Porter from Upland, Pennsylvania and a Dr. George Hall, a botanist. A number of people came to the hotel and several places were sold.

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I believe the end of the first Hotel Company followed a severe epidemic of yellow fever. I know that Mr. Porter and Mr. Hall went away and never returned.

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My father was a great student, a love of books, and I have what was in those days a considerable library which he collected. He was a most earnest horticulturalist and his friendship with Dr. Hall enabled him to collect many rare and interesting plants from all over the world. It was from him that I learned to study botany seriously and my mother was equally devoted to horticulture.

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Dr. George Hall, one of my father’s partners in the first hotel venture, bought the plot of land now belonging to Dr. Manning’s family. While we were north on our usual summer trip he gave orders to George Fletcher to build him an exact duplicate of our house. When we returned one room was completed with the little castle on top. My mother was naturally upset and my father stopped the work and no more of the house was ever built. The little square room is still there and forms the kitchen part of the Manning House.

(Note by DS: George Fletcher was the architect of the hotel. The Manning house is now the home of Mr. Chappelle. Mr. Frank Hill is checking the grounds there to see if any trees may have been introduced.)

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(When she was a child): We did not have much money to spend, nor was money ever talked about before us children. We lived on the products grown on the place. We had milk, cottage cheese, and occasionally veal. We had chickens and plenty of eggs. Then there were the pigs to be killed in the Fall, and hams to be cured. There was the river full of fish, crabs, oysters, clams, shrimp and ducks and other birds for the shooting… and occasionally wild turkey, quail sometimes, also rice birds when the oats were in seed. We raised sweet potatoes, corn and ground our own hominy and meal. We planted three crops of vegetables, radishes, lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, cauliflower, peas and beans, also cow peas. We grew our own sugar cane and made our own syrup. In fact, we lived well all the year round. We had our own fruit: oranges, lemons, bananas, persimmons, both cultivated and wild. We had quantities of nuts: pecan, hickory and peanuts. We had fine peaches and quinces and grapes.

Old Uncle Jim was one of the remaining Negroes brought from Africa. He could tell with dramatic fervor of the long sea voyage and the delightful experience when they were taken to the well in front of the house and allowed their first drink of fresh water from the dripping bucket brought up from the deep well by the sweep.

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As soon as we were old enough to appreciate nature we children were each given a live oak tree which was called by our names. My tree was a beautiful spreading Twin Oak under which I buried all my pets whenever they died. It sood in a park of an acre or more. Paul’s tree was a little further along the avenue called Moss Avenue and was equally fine. When Paul died my parents had a marble tablet made with the simple words, Paul’s Tree. This remained in the tree for many years. The Fort George Club now has the tablet and has agreed to my replacing it in the tree. Onslow’s tree was burned by a coon hunter when he treed a coon in its branches.

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The reference to flowers that I mentioned is not in the diary but in the mimeographed article by Mrs. Wilson, copy of which Mr. Stevenson has. See page 6: Mrs. Wilson mentions cherry-laurels on the walk to the river. I have a picture from about 1900 showing small sabal palms in a double row to the river.

See page 11: the flowers I had in mind are listed here. I know of no existing narcissus or jonquils and I don’t know what “fairy lilies” are. But snow drops from Fort George are plentiful in the garden of the Manning house in Jacksonville. Dr. Manning married a Lewis from Tallahassee. Their home is now the home of the Manning daughter: Mrs. W.M. Bliss... Mrs. Manning often told me how she had brought them up from Fort George Island.

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Dena Snodgrass
May 23, 1979

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