Tallahassee FLORIDIAN
28 September 1888.

Robert Gamble Jr.

 Knowing that, in the years gone by Major Robert Gamble, of Tallahassee, had owned and operated immense sugar plantations and sugar works in Manatee county, we requested that he furnish us with a history of his sugar planting and manufacturing for publication in the IMMIGRATION FLORIDIAN. In compliance with our request he contributes the following:

 DEAR SIR: I am in the receipt of yours of August 24, in which you request me to give you for your "IMMIGRATION FLORIDIAN" the history of my sugar planting on the Manatee river. I will endeavor to comply as nearly as I can with your wishes.

 In 1844 I carried ten of my negro men to the river and commenced operations; this was just at the close of the seven years war with the Seminoles, so that after living in a stockade for that length of time upon the extreme frontiers of Middle Florida, I found myself again living upon the frontier, there being no white face between me and the Everglades. At this time most of the rich lands on the Manatee were in the hands of men who about the end of the war availed themselves of an Act of Congress styles the "Armed Occupation Law." Under this law every armed man who occupied a quarter section under the provisions of this act for five consecutive years, erecting a house and putting into cultivation during that period five acres of land, would on proof of compliance with the conditions of his "permit receive from the Government a deed to his 160 acres. Upon my arrival I found the dense hammock tenanted by intelligent men, nearly all mechanics of great skill. There were blacksmiths, boiler makers, workers in iron in the higher branches of the art, cabinet makers, carpenters, brick-layers, &c., &c., and by availing myself of the services of these men, I was enabled to overcome, when I commenced the erection of my buildings, what otherwise, in a country so entirely cut off and remote from the resources of civilization could have proved almost insuperable obstacles. There were no settlements in the interior; the nearest town, then a mere village, was Tampa, some forty miles to the north, and it only accessible by water, there being no roads. Our only communication with the outer world was a small sloop of about 12 tons which was built by one of the artisans above alluded to. The boat once in a month to six weeks plied to the port of Saint Marks bringing us our letters and papers, all supplies of provisions and other matters, and carrying the few passengers who passed between these points.

The following year I carried down an additional force and a small quantity of the seed and continued from year to year to increase the laborers. The labor of clearing these lands and fitting them for cultivation exceeded any of my past experience in clearing the primeval forests of Middle Florida. In addition to the removal of the dense forest growth it was necessary to carry out an extensive system of drainage.

 These Manatee lands, in the ages past, constituted the ancient bed of the river or other an estuary or arm of the Bay of Tampa, the Manatee river entering it at the eastern bound.

 An upheaval of the country northward raised this bed from the ancient sea level about ten degrees so that the waters were thrown more to the south, where the soil was nothing but sand.

 The topography of these lands was very peculiar, the base being limestone, superimposed upon which were various beds of marl, and upon this a strata of chocolate colored argillaceous soil, filled with finely attriterated fosil bone of the manatee, and also many entire ribs of this mammal completely petrified; this constituted the true soil, but upon this was the surface soil, sand and vegetable matter. This substratum of limestone was dense in innumerable places, forming basins or ponds varying from one-fourth acre to six or eight acres.

During the rainy season the ponds were filled and were gradually depleted by evaporation the succeeding dry season. The ---- in these ponds was a rich
unctuous muck approaching to clay in its texture, while all the lands which lay between them and above their high water mark, was the usual light gray
soil, with the chocolate soil described above. Between these rich lands and the river, on the south, was a small sand prairie, acting as a dam and
effectually preventing the escape of the heavy rainfall of our rainy season. Running my level over the tract determined the lowest point touching the
prairie. From this point I started my system of ditches, the main trunks running north and south, and east and west, but dug to different levels,
according to the profile of the land, to avoid unnecessary depths of the ditches. These ditches, in the hammock, varied from one foot wide, one
and-a-half deep to 4 feet wide and --- feet deep, the larger ditches being excavated for three or four feet of their depth through a kind of hard
concrete of shell; in other places through limestone, requiring the use of gunpowder. The lineal length of these ditches, great and small, was sixteen
miles, and the ditch or canal across the prairie was, in its widest part, 20 feet, and in its deepest, 9 feet. In fact, I created a permanent creek, which
runs to this day.

In 1849 I erected my first set of sugar works; they were of frame; the boiling-house 40x30 feet, the draining-house 60x30, the mill-house 30x30. My
machinery consisted of a fifty-horse steam engine. My mill was, for those days, a gigantic affair, a horizontal of 3 rollers 5 feet long, the largest roller
weighing five tons.

With this structure I took off my first crop in 1849-50, and had scarcely finished rolling when the whole was burned, crop and all. The crop consisted of
80,000 lbs. of sugar and 4,000 gallons of molasses. This was a terrible blow, and I had to commence de novo.

I had saved largely of seed cane from this crop, had extended the area of cane land, and would largely increase the acreage of cane for 1850-51. In
addition, therefore, to this increased cultivation, the provision of fuel, and some 250 hogsheads, which had to be made on the plantation, and all other
ordinary requisites for taking off a crop of sugar about three times as large as one just lost, I had to construct anew and complete, and on a much more
extensive plan, a new establishment.

This I determined should be of brick. The buildings which I erected were as follows:

The mill-house 40x40, walls 18 feet high; boiling-house 40x40, walls 16 feet high; cooling-house 40x40, walls 12 feet high; draining-house 40x60, walls 8
feet high.

All of these brick were made on the spot and by my own force, and with the exception of one white workman, as boss brick-layer, they were all laid by
my own negroes; the most intelligent being selected and under the tuition and guidance of Mr. Godard, who was one of the "armed occupationists" and a
master workman, they did good and loyal work.

The roof frames of those houses were massy, it being my intent at a future day to cover with slate. The carpentry of this work was done by contract,
but all the timber was sawed by hand on the plantation, as was all the lumber of every kind used in construction. This work was all completed in time to
take off the crop of 1850-51. This crop consisted of 231,000 pounds sugar and 11,550 gallons molasses.

The crop of 1851-52. This crop was cut short by frost. Recurring to my journal I find the following record:


"December 19. Ice during the night.

"January 14. Ice in the pools until 10 o'clock A.M. Thermometer 26 degrees at sunrise.

"January 17. Ice.

"January 20. Icicles hanging to steam chimney. Thermometer 26 degrees.

"January 22, 23, 27, 28. 29. Ice, very cold weather.

"The crop of 1851-52 was 163 hogsheads sugar, 195,000 pounds, and 8,150 gallons of molasses.

"The cane was much hurt by the frost of 19th December, and entirely destroyed by that of 14th January.

Crop of 1852-53 was 156,000 pounds sugar and 7,000 gallons molasses.

Crop of 1853-54 was 363,000 pounds of sugar and 15,150 gallons of molasses.

"This year I erected a second draining house, also of brick, 40 X 60 feet. These draining houses on each side of the central alley contained cisterns for
holding molasses, extending the whole length of the house, each 3 feet deep, lined with hydraulic cement; the hogsheads were placed on beams over
these cisterns. My boiling house was furnished with 2 sets of kettles arranged along each side, each set consisting of 5 open kettles, headed by a steam
kettle, in which the syrup was concentrated to sugar. An 8 horse engine furnished the steam to operate these steam kettles, and one of the Hard's
centrifugal draining machines, the first one I believe which he made. This engine was also used to drive a gis mill and one of Page's circular saws, and
from the time of its erection furnished all the lumber for the plantation, including staves for hogsheads. The largest kettle in each of the open range
kettles held 500 gallons. My mill was raised on massy brickwork, capped with 3 tiers of heavy timber, 16 inches square, bolted together by heavy rods,
which were anchored in the base of the brick work and stood some 10 feet above the kettles, and the came was carried up to it by and endless band
composed of wooden slats and iron chains, and extending from the mill far into the cane yard; this carrier was 5 feet wide and moved in a trough 14
inches deep, and while the mill was in motion a solid mass of cane 5 feet wide and 14 inches high passed continuously between the rollers, and was so
effectually crushed that the bagasse as it passed from the rollers was nearly as dry as tinder, cut in two at every joint, and if applied to the mouth
while inhaling would produce partial suffocation by its dry impalable powder.

"The crop of 1854-5 was 303,600 pounds sugar and 12,650 gallons molasses.

"The records of 1855-6 and of 1856-7 have been mislaid.

"In 1854-5-6 we were again involved in war with the Seminoles and I was again compelled to fortify. was furnished with arms by the military
authorities, Regulars, then stationed at Tampa, and we worked with arms stacked and sentinels on watch. We had many alarms but no attack upon my
post, but my neighbor, Dr. Braden, was not so fortunate, and his escape was remarkable. The family were at supper, the favorite hour for Indian onsets;
a servant woman was looking out from an upper window upon the pine forest, which came up almost to the door, a bright moonlight night, when her
attention was attracted by many dark objects slowly and silently approaching the house. At first she paid little attention, supposing them to be hogs or
calves, but one emerging for a moment from cover, showed her that they were Indians. With the utmost presence of mind she quietly descended the
stairs, crossing the hall n full view of the Indians with a quiet step, she advanced to the table, and without uttering a word, blew out the light. At the
same instant a rush was heard of men jumping from the porch which ran along the front of the house and under the windows of the dining room. In a
whisper she communicated the presence of the Indians, and the Doctor and his son seized their guns, which were near at hand, and for a while, a sharp
fusilade was exchanged. The Doctor fortunately was armed with a repeating rifle, which I had presented him, having a revolving disc, with radiating
chambers, 9 in number. The Doctor discharged these very rapidly and evidently impressed the savages that the house was strongly garrisoned.

"Failing in their attempt to surprise the family, they moved off to his plantation, where they surprised and carried off a number of his slaves. A prompt
pursuit was made by a handful of citizens, and following the trail a day and night, just at daylight of the second day they came upon the Indian camp. The
negroes discovered the advancing rescuers, and, running to them, drew the attention of the Seminoles, who instantly took to flight, plunging into a deep
creek upon whose borders they were encamped. They were fired upon and several killed. I left the Manatee in the spring of 1856, placing the plantation
in the care of another party. In 1858-9 I sold the plantation and the whole estate, lands, slaves, stock of every kind, to Messrs. Coffield & Davis, sugar
planters in Louisiana, for $190,000. These sugar house buildings were destroyed by fire during the possession of Messrs. Coffield & Davis, and the
teams, negroes, &c., &c., were removed to their estate in Louisiana. This section of the State fell into the hands of the Federal troops early in the
war, who wantonly broke and destroyed the massy machinery and kettles.

"The war coming on immediately and the negroes emancipated, these gentlemen were ruined, and their ruin involved that of their creditors. These lands,
some, 3300 acres, are now selling from $50 to $100 per acre. The section of country upon the Manatee river is by far the most attractive portion of
South Florida. That portion of the river upon which these fine lands lie is, except during the rainy season, as salt as the sea is; in some parts, a mile or a
mile and a half wide, filled with a great variety of fine fish and numerous oyster bars.

"All the fuel consumed in making my sugar and driving my machinery had to be procured 3 miles down and upon the opposite side of this broad river.
Laborers and teams were dispatched from the plantation, who cut and hauled it to the river bank. There it was loaded upon large flats, 40 feet long and
42 feet wide, boated to the landing of my place and thence hauled three-fourths of a mile to the furnace. These scows were built with the supervision
and carpentry of a happy-go-lucky sort of a character who found his way into our wilderness. Finding that he had some knowledge of the character of
timbers required for ship building, in 1851 I placed him over a gang of m axemen and got out some 3,000 cubic feet of live oak ship timber. This venture
proved so valuable that in 1851-2 I contracted with a shipwright, who brought with him from New England a dozen laborers, more or less skilled. To
these I added as many negro axemen, and during the winter of 1851-2 I had ready for market some 6,000 cubic feet of live oak ship timbers, nearly all
of which was cut from the land thus cleared and in cultivation, the trees having been deadened. A cargo of this, insured for $3,500, was lost in a storm
near St. Joseph's Bay. Small cargoes were sold and sent to Key West and to New Orleans, and in 1853 I purchased the brig TEHMENTESSEE for
$7,000, to carry timber to New York, and chartered and loaded several other large vessels. In addition to the live oak I cut and delivered long side
vessels some half dozen cargoes of palmetto logs, required to for wharves on the coast of Texas.

"These ventures, together with my normal duties as a planter and the erection of a substantial two-storied brick dwelling containing 10 rooms, and in
part covered with iron, constituted the sum of my operations between 1844 and 1856, at which latter period I returned to Middle Florida.

Robert Gamble

My thanks to Jim Johnson for ferreting out and posting this excerpt from the Floridian on his Floridiana e-zine at:  http://www.angelfire.com/fl3/floridiana/4.html