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Great Plantation

The Great Plantations

In the 19th century, life on the big estates near the Ancient City lent flavor to local society and people from plantation families often became permanent residents.

Early in the century, Col. Thomas Henery Dummett, born in Barbados, acquired vast holdings to the south of St. Augustine and seedlings from his orange trees provided a start for the vast Indian River groves which came later. His family lived on a plantation on the Halifax and Tomoka Rivers near what is now Ormond, and when the Seminoles took to the warpath, he decided to move his family to St. Augustine for safety. He rented a house at the corner of St. George and St. Francis streets, then known as the Governor's Palace, which had stood empty for some years and needed much renovation and refurbishing. Life in a town practically under siege proved exciting.

One of the Dummett daughters was returning home one night from a visit with friends nearby, accompanied by a man servant sent to escort her, when they were challenged by a patrol. They did not hear the officer shout "Halt!" However, they did hear the rattle of muskets as the soldiers ran after them and were preparing to fire. The girl fell, half-fainting, through her front door, narrowly escaping getting shot.

It did not take the officers of the St. Augustine garrison long to discover the charms of the Dummett sisters, since the military headquarters was just across, the street. Three of them married army officers, and Elizabeth's husband, Col. W. J. Hardee, in 1855 bought the house in which they, had all lived. Anna, alone of the Dummett girls, did not marry, but it fell to her lot to raise 10 motherless nieces when her sisters died young. Anna took care of them all in the old house on St. Francis Street and lived until 1899. She is buried in the National Cemetery.

Another girl from a plantation is remembered to this day in St. Augustine. She was Fanny Brigham, born in Albany, N.Y., who came to live at Black Point on the St. Johns, when her father purchased this estate, now the site of the Naval Air Station.

The house at Black Point was a huge, rambling affair with a 95-foot piazza. River steamers often stopped at the wharf, and the passengers, thinking the house was a hotel, often wandered up the broad pathway. Mrs. Brigham was an invalid, so Miss Fanny often acted as her father's hostess when he entertained his friends from the north, many of them prominent in the steel industry.

She remembers going boating with one of them - Andrew Carnegie. One day a yacht tied up at the wharf, and its owner called on Fanny's father to tell him that he had just bought 1,000 acres nearby and ask if his daughter would consent to christen the new plantation. Its name was Orange Park.

Just across the river at Mandarin lived Harriet Beecher Stowe and her husband. In an interview given in 1936, Miss Fanny recalls her many visits to the Stowe's. "What gorgeous times we did have at Mandarin, parties, serenades there and along the river." But she was annoyed by other uninvited visitors who jostled to peer through the window at the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Oct. 24, 1878, Miss Fanny was married under the big oaks at Black Point to W. W. Dewhurst, whose family owned Oak Grove, just next to Black Point. She refused to say the word "obey" and reports in her interview: "My husband used to say the first ten years he did not know where he stood, the second ten he was a little better informed, and after fifty years he felt quite safe." Dewhurst had been appointed postmaster in St. Augustine and the young couple moved there to live, first setting up housekeeping in the Post Office Building.

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