A STORY OF THE EARLY SETTLEMENT OF FLORIDA
By F. A. Mann…One of Florida’s Most Brilliant Writers and Authors…1902
The origin of the term “Cracker,” as applied to the pioneer settlers of Florida and their descendants, sometimes by the ignorant and supercilious, as a term of reproach, is somewhat indefinite. They themselves are people of the stamp who make history, but do not write it.
Somewhat more than a century ago the vast territory now comprised in the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, the larger part of Georgia and Florida, was a wilderness infested by wild beasts, and, if possible, still wilder Indians, with the exception of a few points on the seacoasts of the two latter states, such as Savannah, Brunswick, Fernandina, St. Augustine and Pensacola, with an occasional military or trading posts inland.
But the land in its natural capacities for improvement was a goodly one. It was full of mountains, green clad to their very summits; streams, great and small, winding through fertile valleys amid great forests or traversing boundless plains on their way to debauchment into ocean and gulf. Full of agriculture and mineral possibilities its marvels and natural wealth wooed Huguenot, Spaniard and Englishmen strongly to attempt its conquest and possession.
But neither the adventurous French, the mailed followers of DeLeon, DeSoto and Menendez, nor the stubborn courage of Oglethorpe’s hardy colonists could succeed in permanently planting the fleur de lis of France, the cross of Spain or the meteor flag of England as symbols of dominance over this land. Beyond the range of their bow-shafts, their arquebus, muskets or cannon-balls, it was up to that time an untamed wilderness---a no-man’s land; for in those days, as later, no one recognized a valid title as resting in the aborigines who had held it with spear and bow and war-club from time immemorial.
No one, not even God, apparently, nor his antitype, whom our doughty ancestors believed was their paternal ancestors, had given these wild men of the woods, a jot or title of ownership, which could stand in law or justice. To wrest it from their grasp by might or cunning was therefore a moral, Christian duty.
Yet there were lions in their way that first must be overcome. Such lions that those of Spain and England grew faint of heart before and, to whom even the Numidian beasts, kings of the bloody Coliseum arena, were mere kittens.
What Spain and England could not do in two hundred years of costly effort has been done---and well done---by whom? By those called Crackers.
England heard the “crack of doom” at Yorktown from their rifles and then, when eight years of desolating war had ruined their small fortunes, they turned their eyes with longing to the lands beyond the mountains. And soon, with all their household wealth, chief amongst which were ox-goad, ax and wife, to the discordant notes of creaking bullock carts and cracking whips they clambered up the mountains eastern slopes and through such passes as that of Cumberland poured into the wilderness to found new common wealths.
No trumpets or drums heralded their coming, but the cliffs and forests reverberated with pistol-like reports of braided lash, joined to the more fatal ones of their rifles, forming the knell of bison and bear and panther and red Indian.
Outspread before them in all its vastness the land was there to choose from wherein to make their homes. Some chose to rear their cabins by Tennessee streams, cracking their corn into coarse, but wholesome meal in Indian mortars. Others toiled on far southward until they or their descendants, as plain, uncouth perhaps, certainly as unlearned, but as brave as their ancestry, faced the haughty Spaniard and fierce Seminole in the end to drive them out to the same tunes of oak-goads and rifles that echoed from the Cumberland cliffs.
Nobles of England today are proud to trace their ancestry back to Saxon swineherds like Gurth; but the Florida Cracker, who does not mayhap know the difference between a genealogical tree and a pine tree, nor cares for any coat-of-arms same the cow whip crossed with his trust rifle on his cabins rough wall, can trace his back to anything but a serf or slave, the owner perchance of razorbacks, but a free man as God and the wilderness made him—a man who cracked the nut in the wilderness, vainly essayed by Spanish battle-ax and English bayonet to win an inheritance of freedom for his sons and daughters that had no stain of fraud and dishonor upon it.
With such an origin what matters it as against him, that our Florida Cracker, in the isolation of his life, amid the pinewoods, the dark cypress swamps, the dense hammocks, with here and there on either hand blue ocean waves, shinning mirror lakes or winding rivers, has not much book learning—not always true wisdom’s fountain source; nor courtly polish, hiding craft and treachery; nor such greed of gold that he would sell his birthright, nay his soul and the souls of his friends to gain it—and so is out of fashion.
When one grown sick of veneered civilization, as one must who sees behind its mask, seeing the courtezan through her layers of paint as she is; looks into the whited sepulcher of fashionable hypocrisy, he cannot help but be glad that there are yet left these sons of the wilderness to exemplify genuine human nature, roughly perhaps,, but nevertheless more truly in its better qualities, than the polished gentleman, God save the mark, who representing modern culture, sneers at them in his heart as barbarians.
It is well for Florida that it has as its mainstay, especially politically, a still numerous people of this kind, for so long as this is so, there is an impregnable barrier across the road of those who would not hesitate to utterly demoralize and corrupt free and honest government in all its departments for present gain. So then, long live the Florida Cracker and may his tribe increase.
The Florida Cracker:
Source: The Florida Cracker: 5-17-1902
Transcribed, Formatted and Submitted
by Linda Flowers
Transcribed, Formatted and Submitted by Linda Flowers