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Capt. F. A. Hendry Recalls Tampa In The 1850s

Edited by Spessard Stone from a typed copy by Theodore Lesley, found in the Lesley Collection, from a letter by F. A. Hendry to “Tampa in Ye Olden Times,” The Tampa Weekly Times, June 14, 1900, courtesy of Kyle VanLandingham, March 11, 2001

Thompsonville, Fla., June 9/ 00

To the Editor of the Times:

Dear Sir-I am a regular subscriber and reader of your valuable paper. It keeps fresh my memory of Tampa and its environments away back in the early fifties. My father James Edward Hendry moved from that good old county of Thomas, in the state of Georgia, during the winter of 1850 and 1851; settled in Hillsborough county, twenty-two miles east of Tampa on the Alafia river, then a wild frontier country. I was a line conductor of an ox train, landing at the objective point without collision or smashup, stopping at many stations along the line, and the old sandy roadbed and the watering places, as well as names of old timers along the way are fresh in my memory. Tampa was my father’s trading point. In Tampa we purchased our supplies. I was young then and terribly green, but observed men and things pretty closely. Some how or other, I made acquaintances of those dear old timers--old landmarks to whose precious memory Tampa stands in her glory, a monument wreathed in garlands of exquisitive beauty and sweetness. How precious the memory of those names of long ago days, now they loom up in the minds of those of us who have stood the storms and tempest of life with all the changing vicissitudes of time. How sad the thought, in a sense, when we recall the memory of the names of Darling and Kennedy, Leroy G. Lesley, C. L. Friebele, James McKay, W. G. Ferris, Judge Simon Turman, J. T. Givens, James Gettis, S. B. Todd, E. A. Lively, E. A. Clark, John Henderson, J. L. Lockhart, Sheriff Spencer, Dr. Crichton, Willie Wall, Jesse Carter, B. C. Leonardi, Joseph Casey, J. D. Haygood, W. B. Hooker, L. G. Cavocavish, J. T. Magbee, H. L. Crane, Mansell, Cooley, Menez, Stephens, Miranda, Haskins, Redbrook, Dr. Branch, Shanahan, Madison Post, Delaney and so many others which I can’t just now recall. Most of them have crossed over the river from whose bourne no traveler returns.

Tampa then, Tampa now, how changed. Then Tampa was a quiet pleasant little hamlet. No head lights, no thundering tread of the iron horse, no injunctions on right of way and electric lights were unknown. Today she is on dress parade and she is taking her place in the front rank of advanced civilization and her force of circumstances must keep step with this advanced age. I am an old timer living away down, low down on the frontier, rejoicing with this old town which I learned to love in my boyhood days. Many of the descendants of those old timers named above are in and around Tampa, men and women with their silvered looks, to them I extend my hearty congratulations.

Many incidents connected with myself and Tampa may be recorded. My father on occasion sent me to Tampa. It was in 1851. He handed me some change with a list of articles to purchase. One was an ounce of quinine to break the chills then putting in their work, as was common to all new settlers in that day, and said, “Go to the post office and get my mail.” Letters in those days were paid for when taken from the office, and it cost ten cents to take a letter out. Before reaching the office I had spent all my money. Mr. [Alfonso DeLaunay] Delaney was the postmaster. I called for letters for Mr. J. E. Hendry. He turned to the box and drew out several and threw them on the counter, stating the amount due. I did not take them up readily and stated my case. “Young man!” said he, “You should not call for mail matter without being prepared to pay for it.” He had a piercing eye; could look through a person at a glance. I told him he could do as he liked--send my father his letters or keep them. “Young man, you have an honest face. Take the letters to your father and tell him to send me the money soon.” I remember so well my feelings produced by the rebuke, and the nice compliment. Walking back to Mr. Ferris’ store it flashed to my mind that Mr. Ferris was my father’s merchant, would have gladly given me the money to take out the letters. Stepping in, I asked Mr. Ferris for the change. He handed it to me, and I returned and handed it to Postmaster Delaney. These little incidents make lasting impressions on the youthful mind and I mention it in connection with old-time events of that day. On the wharf one day in Tampa a young man narrated to me a very perilous adventure he had just passed through in Tampa bay in a sail boat. I knew nothing about sailing, but I was intensely interested. The young man spoke of the boat in the most flattering way, stating how staunch she was and how beautifully she had ridden the waves and stemmed the storm. A great burly-looking fellow had been listening to the story, and stepped up and said to him: “Young man, I have heard all you have said about that boat and your adventure. Every word you say have said is true, but if I hear of you making any wrong statements about that boat I will give you the d---dest cowhiding you ever had. That boat belongs to me,” said he. I was astounded, and my youthful bosom swelled with indignation.

I went up to the court house one evening to hear George Call, a cousin [of] “Uncle Wilk,” make a railroad speech. James McKay, sr. presided over the meeting. Mr. Call told the people of Tampa: “Ere long you will have a railroad.” This was in the ‘50s. Said he: “Where do you suppose the depot will be? Why, on the little island, just below your town, on the bay.” The meeting was an enthusiastic one. I remember that I was a member of the board of county commissioners at that time, and a call was made by the chair to know if there was any probability of the board taking any action toward encouraging construction of a railroad to Tampa. That was the first time in my life that occasion called me to say a word to public audience. How little indeed did the good people of Tampa know what was in store for them, how long it would be before she should hear the shrill whistle of a railroad engine, or feel the tremor of its thundering tread. Little did they know of the dire work of epidemic which soon followed taking off many worthy citizens. Little did they know of the valure[?] of war which was then spreading its dark wings over our happy and prosperous country, which would shake the foundations of our republic from the center to circumference, and sacrifice upon the altar of southern rights the brightest and most promising intellects of that day etc.

F. A. Hendry

[Written in margin by Theodore Lesley: “See the Peninsular Jan. 8, 1859 for account of this meeting. John T. Lesley was appointed secretary.”]

March 12, 2001