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Sumter County, Florida

County History

Sumter County, Florida

 Sumter County, Florida, originally named Sumpter, was passed by both Houses and approved by the Governor on January 8, 1853. The county was named in honor of the Revolutionary War hero, General Thomas Sumter, who died in Sumter, South Carolina. The area has been the site for two of the Seminole Wars. The Dade Massacre in 1835 led to the start of the 2nd Seminole War. The Dade Battlefield Historic Site is a historical landmark in Sumter County. This Battlefield was named in recognition of Major Francis Dade, where as he and 106 men in his troop were ambushed by the Seminole Indians in a fight to protect their land. Less than a year later on November 21, 1836 the Battle of Wahoo Swamp took place. The death toll of this battle has yet to have been deciphered, because it still is not known how many of the Seminoles and their allies were killed. It is known however, that Major David Moniac, the first minority (and a Creek Indian who fought on the U.S. Side.) to graduate from West Point, was killed in this battle. He was laid to rest at the Dade Battlefield, but later reinterred at the National Cemetery with honors in St. Augustine, Florida with men who were killed in the Dade Battle. His family has won to have a Memorial Stone placed at the National Cemetery in Bushnell, Florida, because this was the county of his death. In late 1855, Colonel Harvey Brown, commander at Fort Myers, dispatched Lt. Hartstuff and some troops to scout the country SE of Lake Okeechobee. Two weeks into the mission, they were attacked by several indians and four army solders were killed. This started the 3rd Seminole War which came to a rapid conclusion. 

In 1860, the first census was taken with a population of 1,429. Early inhabitants were farmers, and many early pioneers were volunteers in the Southern Indian Wars. In the Secession Convention of 1861, Sumter County Representative, David G. Leigh, voted to leave the union. 

There were a number of boundary modifications in the county towards the end of the century. In 1871, the boundary between Polk and Sumter was altered. In 1872, a portion of Sumter was annexed to Orange County. On May 27, 1887, Lake County took portions of Sumter and Orange County, leaving Sumter with 574 square miles.

The citrus industry flourished by 1886 with over 100 orange growers in the county. The freeze of 1894-95 almost destroyed the citrus industry. The cattle industry began to grow quite quickly doubling the county's population within ten years. The cattle industry became the most important industry rivaled only by the vegetable industry. The grist mill was established in 1857 by Granville Bevill near Shady Brook, and was horse driven.

Earliest families were: (Please note that all dates are not exact as of yet:)

  • Caruthers - 1844, Tompkins Mill Creek 
  • William R. Nichols - 1848, NW part of county (Long Hammock)
  • Enoch Phelps - 1850, SE part of county (Mabel)
  • John, Elethorne and William Mobley, Center Hill (aka, Mobley Town,) 1839 to the Early 1920
  • The Hayes Family of Webster arrived in the early to mid 1850's in the area known as Webster.


  • Adamsville - Named for John Adams, who was the first citizen who settled on the Old Telegraph Road.
  • Alto - One of the many communities that no longer exists in Sumter County. Located north of Rutland and west of Oxford near the Withlacoochee River, all that is left is a cemetery. It is believed that the community was settled around the 1870's.
  • Bushnell - Established after construction of a post office on October 28, 1885. Named in honor of J.W. Bushnell who surveyed the route of Florida Railway & Navigation Co. Railroad. It now serves as the county seat since the old courthouse shown on the home page burned down in 1909.
  • Center Hill - Established in 1842, was once known as the Green Bean Capital of the World. This little town was settled in the late 1830's to the early 1840's by the Mobley and Beville Families.
  • Coleman - One of the earliest citizens was Dr. B.F. Coleman around 1882, he is listed in the Florida Gazette of 1886-7. This nice little town houses a nice Historical Village at the main turn of Warm Springs Rd and Hwy 301. This was created by the Caruthers family. 
  • Gant Lake - Located 3 1/2 miles SW of Webster, most of the new settlers came from Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas. In 1890 a Baptist Church was organized, listed among the founders are Rev. and Mrs. George Hayes, Mr. amd Mrs. Dan McCleod(Cloud), Mrs. Tom Wilson and Mrs. Hanritta Wilson. The land for the church was donated to the community for this purpose by Mr. J.B. Gant and Mr. George Hayes. Not long after the church was established a school was soon orgainized. The community was named in honor of Mr. John B. Gant, one of the earliest settlers of the Gant Lake area.
  • Indian Hill - Settled around the middle of 19th century, built its first baptist church which was later abandoned.
  • Mabel - Small community adjacent to State Road 50, named after Mrs. Mabel Phelps Page. You may want to check out most of this area around the Linden area. Mrs Phelps Page, is a member of  Enoch Phelps Family. This area holds an annual picnic called the Linden Cemetery Picnic. This has been a tradition in the area for a 100 + years.
  • Panasoffkee, Lake Panasoffkee - Means "valley of water", settled around 1880.
  • Orange Home - Possibly settled around 1870, featured beautiful homes and groves.
  • Oxford - Established around 1870, called Sandspur for the first few years but later changed to Oxford. One story of the name origin is that travelers were forced to employ the help of teams of oxen to cross the road in the rainy season, giving us "ox-ford"
  • Royal - One of the oldest communities in Sumter County. The little community sits South of Oxford off of Hwy 301and around the Hwy 475 area. Even though the community was once called Picketsville, after one of the earliest families, by 1880 the community was indentified on maps as the Royal Community. Some of the earlier settlers here were, Holly and Anderson. Most of the citizens either worked in the Timber Industry (Cummer Son Cypress Company,) or with the railroad.
  • Rutland - Located at eastern edge of Citrus County, history of this community goes back before 1857.  It was settled by the Rutland family and joins the Withlacoochee River.
  • St. Catherine - known earlier as "Massacre" and as "Dragem Junction", settled by 1855
  • Tarrytown - May have been named for Tarrytown, NY There is an indian mound about 1 1/2 miles south of the crossroads.
  • Wahoo - Named for territories between Bushnell and Withlacoochee River (Also has a 2nd Seminole Indian War Battlefield, known as the Battle of Wahoo Swamp. Located within it's boundries). You can go to any search engine on the web and type in the words Wahoo Swamp. You will be amazed what you will find.
  • Webster - Records on hand show that the City of Webster was settled around or before 1855 by the Hayes Famly. By 1869 George F. Hayes a County Postmaster applied for the name of "Orange Home" as the name of the town. Due to the fact that Sumter County already had a town by that name Mr. Hayes was turned down for it and was asked to submit another name for the town. Legend has it that he was sitting at his desk when he received the letter. Not knowing what to name the town he reached for the Webster Dictionary for help. He went no further than that, after he saw the words WEBSTER. He reapplied  for that name and he received it. Parson Brown, the developer of the famous Parson Brown Oranges, homesteaded in Webster and is buried in the Stewart Chapel Cementery.
  • Wildwood - One of the largest cities in Sumter County. This town got it's name (from a story I have been told) because during the Indian Wars, Sumter County was strong for the military action. There was a US Soldier who wanted to go to church, so he asked one of the settlers where the closest church was.  He was told that it was up the road in the (Wildwoods). Wildwood also was considered for the new county seat after the old courthouse in Sumterville burned down in 1909.

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