It is not uncommon to see immigration and migration references when processing local records collections, so it was not especially surprising to find a few when examining 1830s Richmond City deeds. Usually, however, the migration mentions are to states close to Virginia (North Carolina or Maryland) or in the west (Kentucky or Ohio). In this instance, however, the references were to Florida.
Contextualizing the migration of Virginians across several states, to reach what was in the 1830s the territory of Florida, was thought-provoking to say the least. The Richmond City deeds and supplementary documents themselves are not about Florida, but only allude to former Virginia residents who had made the move. Each mention carries a story which must be teased out with other resources, so it was interesting to dig a little deeper.
Each one of these pioneers had their own reasons for commencing their Florida odyssey. However, it was not uncommon for some to leave Virginia because they were being squeezed out as lands were taken up or depleted through overuse and poor land management. As a result, some Virginians packed up their families and moved to the territory of Florida in a search for virgin lands and, in some instances, the opportunity to recreate a plantation lifestyle that was no longer available to them in Virginia. According to Prince Achille Murat (1801-1847), himself a Florida planter and nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, some of these transplanted frontiersmen were wealthy planters who were lured through “extravagant promises of land speculation.” Murat’s wife, Catherine Willis Gray Murat (1803-1867), was a Virginia native herself and the great-grandniece of George Washington.
One of the first Florida-related names that popped up in the 1830s Richmond City deeds was that of Turbett R. Betton (sometimes spelled Turbot or Turbutt). By the time the deed was written, Betton (1795-1863) was an established justice of the peace in Tallahassee (“Territory of Florida, Leon County”). In this instance, he signed off on an affidavit (or “acknowledgement”) for John Parkhill, “a party to a certain deed” in the Richmond hustings court on 23 July 1830. Parkhill (1786-1856), was an Irish immigrant who moved to Richmond and then to Leon County, Florida, in the 1820s where he became a banker. He was also involved in the founding of the first railroad in Florida in 1831.
Betton, a merchant, is mentioned in the 22 November 1825 issue of the Phenix Gazette (Alexandria, Va.), as being one of an “emigration party” who left on a schooner, “for the new town of Tallahassee, in East Florida.” A November 1830 reprint in the Richmond Enquirer lists Betton as one of the persons responsible for arranging a ball for the aforementioned Achille Murat that same year.
Leon County Justice of the Peace Turbett Betton turns up again in an 1836 deed conveying Richmond property from Robert and Letitia Gamble of Jefferson County, Florida, to Bacon Tait (a notorious Richmond slave trader). Gamble (1781-1867) established Welaunee Plantation near Wacissa in Jefferson County, Florida, in 1826, having followed his brother John G. Gamble (1779–1852), who moved from Richmond to Tallahassee in 1821. John G. Gamble was an acquaintance of Thomas Jefferson and was one of the four men who posted bail for Aaron Burr during his 1807 (Florida-related) treason trial. Besides Betton, the other JP in the document is Samuel Henry Duval (1807-1841), a native of Buckingham County, Virginia. Duval was the builder and original owner of Bellevue Plantation in Tallahassee. Duval married another Virginian, Ellen Attaway Willis, the sister of Achille Murat’s wife, Princess Catherine Murat, who later lived at Bellevue Plantation after the Prince’s death in 1847.
Another deed concerning a Virginia-Florida transplant involves Fielding Archer Browne (1796-1852) and the partitioning/conveying of his Richmond property to Orris A. Browne, et al. As with Betton and Parkhill, Key West (“Territory of Florida, Monroe County”) Justice of the Peace Henry S. Waterhouse was simply signing off on an 1832 affidavit acknowledging that Fielding Browne was a party in an 1824 deed.
Born in James City County, Virginia, Fielding A. Browne wound up in Key West in the 1820s when the ship that he was traveling on ran aground off the coast. After he was brought ashore, he was so favorably impressed with the town that after he went back to Virginia, he returned to Key West to establish a salvage operation. Browne served as Key West’s collector of customs and in 1826 he was one of several residents who petitioned Congress for the establishment of a federal district court on the island. In 1831 he was appointed a commissioner on the Florida territorial council before serving as mayor of Key West for two terms (1833–1834 and 1835–1837).
Another interesting (if not Virginia-related) story was also revealed in researching the individuals named in these records. After a 20-year career as a physician in New York, Dr. Henry S. Waterhouse (the JP in the Browne affidavit) served as a professor at the University of Vermont before resigning in 1827 and moving to Key West for health reasons. Waterhouse continued with his medical practice and in 1829 was appointed the first postmaster for Key West. That same year he began offering a vaccine to “inoculate” the residents “for smallpox who may desire it.” A few years later he moved to Indian Key where he took up the duties of postmaster again before he died in 1835.