Christmas – A Florida Story

This is the time of year that blogs talk about Christmas and perhaps the joys of having families get together and experiencing snowflakes and cocoa filled with marshmallows.  

This year, 2020, a lot of people will be separated from their families and snow is not something expected here in Tampa, Florida. My Northern family will not be coming to Florida this winter.  It might be cold this Christmas as it was in 1837 when a huge contingent of 2,000 soldiers 1,000 horses and 70 wagons, headed southward from the St. Johns River in the Second Seminole War.

The men, mostly from South Carolina, knew they would not be home for Christmas and as a group they hated their leader General Abraham Eustis, a Virginian who seemed to have nothing positive to say about this force made of small town farming boys.   It had been two years since the massacre of Major Dade and his 111 reinforcement troops going from Fort Brooke (Tampa) to Fort King (Ocala) and the men still feared Seminole ambushes despite their huge contingent.

The scattering of settlers in what is now Orange County (Orlando) demanded better protection. The needs fit the plans of the U.S. Army to build a supply depot in the area to help push the Seminoles southward into the swamps of the Everglades.

On Christmas Day 1837, a site near a deserted Indian village located near a freshwater creek was selected and the troops commenced building a small, two-blockhouse fort of palmetto logs. Instead of naming the fort for a military hero which was the common practice, the place was called Fort Christmas.

Since the fort was designed for two companies, most of the troops lived in small tents. Captain N. S. Jarvis, a surgeon in the U.S. Army, recorded the men were miserable, but at least had a place to go inside.  He rode his horse into the deserted Indian village and was immediately covered with fleas.

Fort Christmas did not last long for the Seminoles had continued further southward and the depot at Jupiter Depot was closer to the action. In March 1838 Fort Christmas was abandoned and left to rot away in the Florida sun.

Yet today, the site has been reborn and honors both the soldiers and the early settlers of the region.  Fort Christmas was rebuilt complete with a museum honoring area history.   Seven Cracker buildings have been moved to establish one of Florida’s most authentic pioneer village.

A few miles south of Fort Christmas on US90 (East Colonial Drive out of Orlando) is the Christmas Post Office, usually quite reserved except for this time of the year when people mail out cards and packages with the Christmas, Florida, postmark.

About floridatraveler

Historian and travel writer M. C. Bob Leonard makes the Sunshine State his home base. Besides serving as content editor for several textbook publishers and as an Emeritus college professor, he moderates the FHIC at www.floridahistory.org
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