Jesse H. Durrance, a pioneer settler of Fort Meade, was an Indian fighter, farmer, cattleman, and operator of a grist mill.
Joseph Durrance, father of Jesse, was born December 23, 1782 in South Carolina. He was the second of five children of William and Elizabeth (Williams) Durrance, natives of North Carolina, who had migrated to South Carolina and thence by 1787 to Georgia where they resided in Effingham and Tattnall counties.
Joseph Durrance lived principally in Tattnall and Bulloch counties. On May 15, 1804, he was commissioned Captain of Militia in the 44th District of Bulloch County. In 1814 he was elected as Tax Collector of Tattnall County. On May 30, 1816, Joseph was commissioned as Captain of the 41st Militia District of Tattnall County and served until December 14, 1822. On May 28, 1828, he assumed the office of Sheriff of Tattnall County. The 1831 Tax Digest showed him to have 1,100 acres. The Joseph Durrance family was living in Lowndes County in 1840, and, afterwards, moved to the Suwannee Springs area of Columbia County, Florida. In the early 1850s they resettled in the Homeland area of Hillsborough County, which became a part of the newly created Polk County in 1861. Joseph Durrance died March 29, 1862 and was buried at the old Durrance Cemetery, one mile east of Homeland.
Joseph Durrance had married about 1805 Cecelia "Celia" Tippins, daughter of Philip and Mary (Underwood) Tippins. She was born in Washington County, Georgia ca. 1789 and died between 1850 and 1860. Their children were: Augustus, Francis M., Celia Elizabeth (Mrs. Willoughby Tillis), William Hutto, Joseph Lemuel, Jesse Harris, George T., John Rufus, Mary Ann (Mrs. James D. Smith), Caroline (Mrs. Thomas Ellis), and Candacy.
Jesse Harris Durrance was born January 22, 1818 in Tattnall County, Georgia. Francis M. Durrance, brother of Jesse, had in 1838 served in Capt. Livingston's Company during the Second Seminole War, the earliest record of a family member in Florida. Whether Jesse also served during the conflict hasn't been determined; however, records of the Florida Archives show that Jepe [sic] H. Durrance received permit number 927 for land under terms of the Armed Occupation Act of August 1842. It is believed Jesse settled near Suwannee Springs in Columbia County as Willoughby Tillis, his brother-in-law had received permit number 928 under the Act and was known to have settled near Suwannee Springs.
By July 8, 1851, Francis M. Durrance was living in eastern Hillsborough County in that portion which later in 1861 became Polk County. Jesse and others of the family soon followed with the area later known as Homeland being their first residence. In the mid-1850s Jesse settled about nine miles southwest of Fort Meade.
According to Soldiers of Florida, Jesse H. Durrance served as enlisted man from December 29, 1855 to December 1857 in the company of his brother, Capt. Francis M. Durrance's Company, Florida Mounted Volunteers, during the Third Seminole War. Also serving in the company were brothers: William Hutto Durrance, Joseph Lemuel Durrance, George T. Durrance, and John Rufus Durrance, as well as, brothers-in-law, Willoughby Tillis and Thomas Ellis.
On June 14, 1856, a party of Indians attacked the Willoughby Tillis place, south of Fort Meade. Julian C. Durrance, a great-grandson of Jesse Harris Durrance, related to Carl Allen for The
Ledger of November 17, 1983 the version of Jesse's part in the battle as handed down through the family:
"Had not the corn needed plowing so badly, he would not have been out in the field so early that morning. He had stopped plowing again; the second time, he was sure now that he had heard gunshots coming from the Tillis homestead, which was just a few miles away.
"Jesse Harris Durrance was not a man to sit idly by when a neighbor was in trouble. So he unhitched his horse in the field, and rode him bareback to the house as fast as the horse could travel. Then, as he threw a saddle on the horse, he called to his wife to bring him his rifle and shells, and to secure herself inside the log home until he returned.
"When he reached the Tillis place, he found it had been attacked by Indians. He was advised not to follow across the open fields as this would put him in a dangerous position to be ambushed but within a short time, several men had gathered and started out after the Indians. They tracked them down Peace River until they reached just south of where Bowling Green is now located. Then a battle did take place. In the first few minutes, two of the men were killed, a Mr. Whiddon and a Mr. Alderman.
"Durrance, crouching low and following the banks, spotted an Indian in the top of a tall swamp cabbage that grew out of the water. As the Indian looked for a target, Durrance took careful aim and shot the Indian from the tree and watched him fall into the river."
Mr. Durrance's account varies slightly from other versions. Records of the time show that in the initial attack Lt. Alderman Carlton, Lott Whidden, and William Parker were killed. In the
action of June 16, 1856, Robert Prine and George Howell died in combat.
Jesse was again called to militia duty at the beginning of the Civil War. He served in Lt. J. R. Durrance's Detachment of Florida Mounted Volunteers at Fort Meade from July 14, 1861 to August 27, 1861.
A farmer and cattleman, Jesse, owned and operated a gristmill on the Mill Creek near his homestead, which was a favorite place for local farmers to gather, have their corn ground into grits or meal, and exchange fishing and hunting stories.
Soon after moving to Homeland, Jesse had married Priscilla Altman, born June 16, 1834, daughter of Sampson and Sarah Altman. The Altman family, not long after their enumeration in the 1850 census of Thomas County, Georgia, had resettled in what is now known as the Saddle Creek area of present-day Polk County. Jesse and Priscilla were members of the Bethel Methodist Church and later donated land for cemetery grounds.
Priscilla Altman Durrance died on May 17, 1891. Jesse Harris Durrance died on March 4, 1892. They are buried in New Hope Cemetery, west of Fort Meade.
Issue of Jesse H. and Priscilla (Altman) Durrance:
1. Martha Caroline Durrance, born October 30, 1853; died January 10, 1917; married February 24, 1878 Richard Harrison Peeples.
2. Mary Ellen Durrance, born February 4, 1855; died October 4, 1912; married on February 3, 1876 James Henry Carlton, son of John Sales and Martha Jane (Cason) Carlton.
3. Thomas Jefferson Durrance, born December 13, 1856; died on August 17, 1917; married on April 17, 1884 Margaret Delila Cason, daughter of Dennis Marion Cason and Mytelda (Lee) Cason.
4. Jesse Harris Durrance, born December 13, 1858; died January 7, 1939; married on January 7, 1885, Caroline "Carrie" Salome Durrance, daughter of Francis William and Mary Ann (Zipperer) Durrance.
5. Sarah Jennie Durrance, born November 27, 1860; died May 16, 1895; married on December 14, 1884 Francis Marion Tillis, son of Willoughby and Celia Elizabeth (Durrance) Tillis.
6. Joseph Giles Durrance, born July 22, 1863; died September 20, 1933; married on January 20, 1887 Etta Ocenia Sauls, daughter of Abraham and Mary Ann (Gaskins) Sauls.
7. Alice Ann Durrance, born May 27, 1864; died June 1936; married Floyd Douglas.
8. Augustus Lee Durrance, born May 14, 1868; died December 20, 1936; married in November 1891 Leila E. Cameron, daughter of Henry D. and Mary (Smith) Cameron.
9. Helen Candacy Durrance, born January 18, 1869; died May 31, 1902; married on December 15, 1898 David Elmer Davis.
10. Viola Cecelia Durrance, born October 24, 1870; died January 30, 1947; married on September 21, 1898 William Joseph Davis, son of W. W. Davis.
11. Ida Priscilla Durrance, born 1874; died 1922; married on November 5, 1896 Thomas Richard Starke.
References: Margaret Lewis Durrance and Ann Durrance Folk, 1986, Lineage of Joseph Durrance; Soldiers of Florida, 1903; J. Dale Durrance, "Justice: Pioneer Style-Jesse Harris Durrance," Polk County Historical Quarterly, September 1985; The Ledger, November 17, 1983.
This article is adapted from The Herald- Advocate (Wauchula, Fla.) of February 18, 1988.