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Jump to sub In the mid-sixteenth century, Hernando de Soto of Spain reportedly established a temporary campsite in North Central Florida among a group of Native Americans. The Timucua Indians were conquered by the Carolina Yamasee in who were followed by the Seminoles in After a brief period of British occupation, Florida reverted to Spain and land grants were sold to those Spanish citizens who would settle in Florida.
From toeleven land grants were made in Marion County.
Settlements of white European Americans did not occur until after an treaty was passed that restricted Native Americans to the southern portion of Florida. InFort King was constructed just east of present-day Ocala. The fort continued to be occupied until the s. Marion County was established on March 25, and Fort King was named its county seat. One year later, Florida achieved statehood. At this time, Ocala replaced Fort King as the county seat. The city originally consisted of 80 blocks situated around a public square that was reserved for the construction of the county courthouse.
InMarion County received its first post office and the first newspaper was started.
Slaves comprised the labor force that supported the ante-bellum plantation economy and African Americans lived mainly on several large plantations. Main crops included corn, sugar cane, cotton, and tobacco. On January 10,Florida seceded from the Union. During the Civil War, Marion County, with its large workforce, served as a production center, providing food, clothing, and arms to the Confederate Army.
The Emancipation Proclamation of September 23, did not lead to a large-scale exodus from the plantations since many slaves were unaware of the edict. After the war ended inAfrican Americans continued to live in Marion County as free persons.
Reconstruction, Immediately following the war, lawlessness and chaos reigned. Intimidation tactics by former Confederate soldiers and sympathizers throughout Florida caused the Federal government to dispatch troops to the region. The Freedman's Bureau was created in to assist the former slave population. Many remained on the plantation and were given compensation for their employment.
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Most left and migrated to Florida's more populated areas. Efforts were begun to ensure enfranchisement of the African American population but these were diluted by the enactment of the so-called "Black Codes" laws specifically intended for African Americans. Restrictions upon the former slave population included vagrancy laws, regulation of weapons, and provisions for schools to be paid for by a tax on African American males.
Due to these actions, the Federal government again put Florida under military rule until July 25, when it was officially re-admitted into the Union. The Freedman's Bureau encouraged former slaves to submit applications to receive land under the Homestead Act of This law ended all cash sales of land in five public land states of the South and reserved the land for homesteaders.
Ex-Confederates were not eligible. Over 3, African Americans filed claims in Florida but they were often intimidated by the white population and many times, abandoned the land. The Bureau also promoted education among the former slave population and opened 87 schools around Florida. James H. Howard, a former slave owner, donated a parcel of land on the corner of Osceola and Third Streets for the first African American school in Ocala.
Financial support for Howard Academy, as well as teachers, came from the north.
In Ocala, a branch of the Freedman's Bureau was opened in African Americans in Ocala also began to organize separate churches shortly after the war. Inthe entire black membership of the Baptist Church, some 90 persons, withdrew to form the Mt. Moriah Baptist Church. Zion was also organized during this period by Tom Long, a circuit rider who traveled by horseback through Florida for the A.
On April 20,a meeting of 1, former slaves was held in Ocala.
There, Reverend Small appealed to the crowd to educate themselves and use their freedom wisely. Barker organized a company of black militia to enforce his rulings and former slaves were quickly appointed and elected to county offices. In Ocala and throughout Florida, African Americans made ificant advances during the Reconstruction period.
As early asAfrican Americans were serving in public office. InM. Simpson, and Singleton Coleman. One distinguished representative, Tom Long who'd helped organize Mt. Zion, introduced a bill establishing free public schools in Florida.
Without railro and telegraph, Ocala was fairly isolated in the first half of the nineteenth century.
Steamboats were first introduced in Florida in the s and by the s they were the main mode of transportation. By this period, the majority of steamboat pilots on the Ocklawaha River were African Americans. The Ocklawaha River was not only the main commercial shipping line but also brought tourists to Marion County.
The famed Ocklawaha run to Silver Springs was a "must-see" for tourists visiting Florida. As its popularity grew, and other tourist centers in Florida prospered, visitors began moving to the State. Post-Reconstruction, This led to a boom in commercial trade as well as providing easy access for visitors.
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By the s, the expanding railro were taking business away from the steamers. The railro resulted in a population increase in Marion County and the development of railroad towns near train stops. Also developing was the citrus industry, which boomed in Marion County between and the Big Freeze of After the freeze, farmers began to diversify their crops but other industries such as tourism, phosphate, and real estate pumped dollars and people into Ocala and Marion County.
InOcala suffered a setback when a yellow fever epidemic raged in Tampa and Jacksonville. Visitors were forbidden in the city.
Another tragedy struck when a downtown fire destroyed most of the major buildings in Ocala in Bybuildings were reconstructed in brick, granite, and metal. Within five years, Ocala was being dubbed "The Brick City. The majority of African American residents began to settle west of the downtown core. Several rail lines ran north-south and east-west through the neighborhood.
Ocala's main east-west thoroughfare, Broadway now Silver Springs Boulevardwas the commercial heart of downtown.
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The street was home to many of Ocala's most prosperous African American businessmen and leaders. African American Commercial Enterprises Despite a few setbacks, Ocala was experiencing a growth in population, visitation, and commercial and agricultural interests.
Some of Ocala's most distinguished African Americans lived, went to school, and worked in West Ocala. InF. The Ocala Bazaar became the largest store of its kind in Ocala, at one point employing 20 clerks to serve both both black and white customers.
Inhe was elected to City Council. Gden made his home in West Ocala in a large home in the block. Gden with several partners. It was the first African American corporation to be granted a charter by the State of Florida. The company was originally a building loan corporation but later added a realty investment company. Education in West Ocala Schools for African Americans in Marion County continued to grow and prosper in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.
ByHoward Academy was run by African American teachers. Tragedy struck when Howard Academy was destroyed by fire in ByMarion County had 38 black schools with a total of 2, students.