Marion County, Florida's Sugar Cane Industry
Recollections of Marion L. Payne

The early settler tells of the Ante Bellum days and how the once rich sugar country could be revived with modern methods.

Ocala, June 6-Speaking of sugar, did you know that at the outbreak of the war between the states there were in Marion County something like 6000 or 7000 acres of sugar cane and sugar mills which made and shipped large quantities of sugar by water to Savannah and Charleston? Marin L. Payne, one of Marion County’s best known farmer, who has lived in this county since 1859, says that twenty to thirty barrels to the acre were made in those days in this section of Florida on the high hammock lands and along the Oklawaha river and Mr. Payne says that on the same land today the production can be made much greater, because of the improved methods of planting and cultivating, the better varieties of cane now to be had, modern mills and the development of sugar chemistry.

Mr. Cane was born in Micanopy, in 1847 and spent his early years on the big plantations that flourished in this part of Florida before the war. What he says, therefore, is authoritative. Gen. Dunkin L. Clinch, says Mr. Payne, was among the growers of cane, having from 300 to 350 acres planted near the site of old Fort Drane, about a mile southwest of Irvine, which the general had been in command of. General Clinch had a sugar mill on his plantation which was operated with twelve horses. This was not the largest mill in the county, however. The Marshalls who had over 200 acres in cane on the Oklawaha river, had a much larger mill operated by steam. Silver Springs, Payne’s Landing and Orange Springs, were the shipping points on the river at that time. Barges were towed by small steamers to Palatka and larger steamers piled between that point and Savannah, Charleston and other ports. 

Mr. Payne is of the opinion that the rich, rolling hammock lands of Marion county will make as much syrup and sugar as the Everglades and of a finer quality. He was asked why sugar cane growing on an extensive scale had not been revived after the war in this county. His reply was that the war did away with slave labor, which had been plentiful, the unsettled conditions of reconstruction followed, the orange industry was planted and other developments drew attention. The main reason, however, Mr. Payne says, was that the planting of cane on a large scale, requires a considerable investment and capital has not turned its attention in this direction. He believes that money can be made in this county in the growing of cane for syrup or sugar. As a year in and year out proposition it is much ahead of trucking, he says. Money is now being made by those who are growing cane on a small scale in this county. 

Mr. Payne says that the Spaniards did not produce cane in this part of the state and that the remains of old sugar mills, now to be seen in various parts of the county, are not the remains of old Spanish mills, as some suppose, but of the plantation mills. 

According to Mr. Payne the plantations in this county were from 3000 to 100,000 acres in size. The largest single acreage under cultivation, however, did not exceed 3,500 acres, according to his recollection. At the outbreak of the war there were between 40,000 and 50,000 acres of cotton in Marion county, Mr. Payne estimates. Tobacco was grown extensively. Corn was another big crop. On Mr. Payne’s grandfather’s plantation, on top of the hill, about a quarter of a mile south of McIntosh, on the west side of what is now the Dixie Highway, five acres of tobacco was raised and made into cigars and sold for $10,000. It will be of interest to know that just across the road from this five acres, twenty acres of cabbage this season brought $10,000. The site of the town of McIntosh, by the way, was once sold by Mr. Payne for 80 cents an acre. 

Mr. and Mrs. Payne have been living on their farm near Fairfield for forty-three years. It is one of the best farms in the county, located on a ridge and surrounded by luxuriant hardwood forests. The hospitable home of the Paynes, shaded by immense trees, is situated on a hill 210 feet above sea level. Mrs. Payne, before her marriage, was a Miss DuPuis, a daughter of David Spice DuPuis, who came to Florida from South Carolina and was owner of a large plantation near McIntosh. Mr. Payne’s family came from Virginia. 

Source: Tampa Tribune: 6-7-20

Transcribed, Formatted and Submitted by Linda Flowers

 

 

 



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