Eli English, a pioneer settler of Fort Meade and Wauchula, Florida, was a veteran of the Third Seminole and Civil wars, merchant, and founding father of Wauchula.
Eli English was born November 10, 1831, Madison County, Florida. By late 1851, he was living on the Alafia River in Hillsborough County, Florida. There on October 23, 1851, he was married by the Rev. J. M. Hayman to Priscilla Carlton, born November 26, 1837, Thomas County, Georgia, daughter of Alderman and Martha Maria (Alderman) Carlton.
The young couple moved from the Alafia Settlement to near the Campground Branch ford near Fort Meade, in then Hillsborough County. The J. C. Ives Map of April 1856 showed Eli to be living west of the Peace River between the households of John Parker and Francis M. Durrance.
During the Third Seminole War, Eli served in four different militia companies. From January 3 to August 20, 1856, he held the rank of private in Capt. William B. Hooker's Indpt. Co., Fla. Mtd. Vols. In Capt. Leroy G. Lesley's Co., he was a private from August 20, 1856 to February 19, 1857. He as a private was enrolled August 25 to December 28, 1857 in Capt. James F. P. Johnston's Co. at Fort Meade and Fort Brooke, Manatee, and Istokpoga. Finally he served as a sergeant from March 31 to May 10, 1858 at Fort Brooke and Stafford Old Field in Capt. Francis M. Durrance's Co. At his first enlistment, Eli later described himself as being 5 feet 6 and one-half inches, with blue eyes, light hair, light complexion, and a farmer by occupation.
On June 14, 1856 Alderman Carlton, Priscilla's father and the commander of the garrison at Fort Meade, was killed while coming to the aid of the Willoughby Tillis family.
Eli and Priscilla were of the Baptist faith and early members of the Baptist Church of Christ at Peas Creek. The Rev. J. M. Hayman baptized Eli at Alafia on September 25, 1853. Minutes of the Baptist Church of Christ at Peas Creek for Saturday, September 29, 1855 show that at a service held at Bro. Seward's "a door was again opened for the reception of members when John C. Oates & his wife, Frances Oates, and Eli English & his wife, Priscilla English, came forward, and requested to be recognized by the Church to become members, and was received."
Further minutes indicate that Eli was requested to hand in his letter of membership on February 28, 1863. He had "acknowledged that he had one or two occasions used improper language and felt sorry for having done so, and asked the forgiveness of the church for haveing done so, that it was done in moments of excitement & he further said that he was induced to use unbecoming language to a woman."
Further deliberations show that on May 2, 1863 Eli had said that he would hand in his letter "the other matters against him not yet finally disposed of." On June 6, 1863, the committee handling his case stated Bro. English had "handed in his Church letter." On July 4, 1863, after the sermon by the Rev. J. M. Hayman, it was disclosed that Eli, who was present, had "made proper acknowledgements for wrongs he had done and expressed his sorrow for them and asked the Church to forgive him, which on motion was done."
Eli and Priscilla English were enumerated in the 1860 census of Hillsborough County in household 89/65. With the creation of Polk County in 1861, they became residents of it. On October 9, 1861, Eli defeated Silas McClelland to be elected County Coroner. In 1862 he was re-elected without opposition.
The 1863 Polk County tax roll listed Eli with: 200 acres of land valued at $400 with $200 of improvements; a $35-wagon; horses, $200; 66 cattle assessed at $480; household furniture, $75. He possessed no slaves. On August 1, 1863 in Polk County, he sold 200 acres for $900 to Robert N. Pylant.
During the Civil War, Eli enlisted as a private in 1863 in Capt. Francis A. Hendry's Co., Munnerlyn's Battalion in the Confederate service. Capt. Hendry, son of James Edward Hendry and Lydia (Carlton) Hendry, was a first cousin of Priscilla English. Capt. Hendry's Co., raised in Polk County, was composed of men who had been allowed to remain in service at home to provide for their families and round up and drive cattle to Baldwin and other points to be sent to the Confederate Army. Eli served until the war's end in 1865.
The 1867 Polk County tax roll recorded that Eli had: 4 horses, worth $225; 130 cattle valued at $440; a $15-carriage; and $50 of household furniture. On January 27, 1873, he purchased from Julius C. Rockner a square acre located fourteen feet from the southeast corner "of Eli English's storehouse, formerly known as the James Manley house," which included a house at Fort Meade.
About 1874, Eli and Priscilla English relocated to Fort Hartsuff in Manatee (now Hardee) County, Florida.
Jean Plowden in History of Hardee County related:
"This continued to be known as the Fort Hartsuff section until about 1874, when Eli English settled about one mile south of the present town site and opened a store. The place then became known as English. There was no other store or other business house south of Fort Meade. Mr. English hauled his goods by ox team from Tampa, seventy-five miles away, and it required about a week to make the round trip.
At that time there were only about seven families living in the immediate neighborhood. They were: W. Whitten, Eli English, Albert Carlton, W. P. McEwen, Lewis Carlton, W. A. McEwen, D. M. Cason."
Margaret Stringer in Watch Wauchula Win commented on the Englishes: "They settled on land about a half mile south of Main Street and east of what is now the Farmers' Market.
Soon after arrival Eli built a large one-story frame house which contained four bedrooms, a parlor and a combination kitchen-dining room. A front porch extended across two-thirds of the house and an open hall, called a dog trot, ran through the middle from front to rear porches."
In 1876 Fort Hartsuff Baptist Church (now First Baptist Church of Wauchula) was organized by the Rev. John W. Hendry with seven charter members. According to Tommy C. Underwood in "A Brief History of the First Baptist Church, Wauchula, Florida," Eli and Priscilla English became members during the first year.
The 1880 Manatee County census enumerated these families as neighbors: Milton C. and Loduskie McEwen, Thomas Wilkerson, Mitchell and Rebecca Alderman, Joseph and Sophia Bostick, Martha Keller, John Bostick, Dennis M. and Mytelda Cason, and Eli and Priscilla English.
Eli owned property on which the Florida Southern Railway was to in 1886 lay their tracks enroute to Punta Gorda. On September 24, 1881, he purchased for $1 per acre from the Internal Improvement Fund of Florida the SW1/4 of the SWl/4 of Section 3, Township 34 of Range 25, which was filed May 28, 1886. On April 13, 1883 he was granted by the United States the W1/2 of the NW1/4 of Section 10, and the E1/2 of the NE1/4 of Section 9, all in Township 34 South, Range 25 East, which was filed May 28, 1886.
On July 24, 1885, Eli and Priscilla English conveyed to the Florida Southern Railway the right of way one hundred twenty feet in width, sixty feet from the center of the located line of said Railroad Company's tract extending through the W1/2 of the NW1/4 of Section 10, and the E1/2 of the NE1/4 of Section 9, Township 34, Range 25, which was filed June 1, 1886.
Margaret Stringer in Watch Wauchula Win continued: "The land was granted with the provision that any time he or his wife had occasion to ride the train, it would stop in front of his house to pick them up and upon returning deliver them at their door rather than at the depot.
"It is reported that as long as the Englishes lived there, the railroad company lived up to its promise."
Jean Plowden in his History of Hardee County noted: "In 1886 the railroad was built through Wauchula. At that time the settlement was still called English and an effort was made to locate the railroad about a mile south of the present site. This was unsuccessful, however, and the railroad company built the railroad where it now stands. The town they named Wauchula."
A period of growth ensued in Wauchula with the town being platted in May 1886. The Town of Wauchula was incorporated on August 15, 1888, with filing of the action on December 11, 1888. This first incorporation, apparently, resulted in dechartering, as on September 29, 1902, an election was held at the Carlton store for voter approval of incorporation. The notice of the incorporation of the Town of Wauchula, dated October 6, 1902, was filed October 9, 1902 in Miscel. Book 2, page 318, of DeSoto County, Florida. The municipality's territorial limits were as follows: the SW1/4 of Section 3 and the SE1/4 of Section 4 of Township 34 South, Range 25 East, portions of which were Eli and Priscilla's property.
The Englishes commenced to sell most of their property, which land was to provide an impetus to further growth of the young town. Among the purchasers was Albert Carlton who on January 24, 1903, for $1,900 purchased their home site at 302 East Bay Street. Albert, a nephew, according to the Florida Times-Union of February 2, 1903, contemplated "dividing the land he recently purchased of Eli English into small plats and building a number of substantial cottages upon them. This tract of land contains some of the best land in this vicinity, and will make desirable homes and profitable truck and fruit farms."
Another sale, according to Mrs. Margaret Stringer, was the homestead to W. L. Warren in 1903, after which the Englishes built a new home on Stenstrom Road. She further relates that after Eli's death Priscilla bought a house on 6th Avenue East, opposite to what was to be the site of the First Baptist Church.
On July 29, 1902, Eli applied for a pension from his service in the Florida war with the Seminoles under the Act of June 27, 1902. M. E. Cason and Roscoe Brown appeared before D. M. Cason, Justice of the Peace, to attest to his application. Records available to this writer are incomplete as to whether his claim was approved.
Eli English died August 7, 1904 at Wauchula and was buried in the Wauchula Cemetery.
On September 28, 1904, Priscilla English of Wauchula applied for a widow's pension from Eli's service in the Third Seminole War. A. Yancy Teachy and L. O. Seward, both of Wauchula, supported her claim, which was approved. At her death she was receiving $36 per quarter.
On March 16, 1908 Priscilla applied for a pension as the widow of Eli English of Capt. F. A. Hendry's Co. Priscilla, of Wauchula, personally appeared before William Marion Hendry, Clerk of the Circuit Court of Lee County, Florida. J. J. Blount and F. J. Wilson, both of Fort Myers, gave a joint affidavit that they had served with Eli in Capt. Hendry's Co. Her claim was approved with pay from May 13, 1908 at the rate of $108 per annum.
Priscilla Carlton English died October 18, 1919 and was buried in Wauchula Cemetery.
Priscilla and Eli were childless, but she was a benefactor to many children. The Florida Baptist Children's Home had opened in Arcadia on February 1, 1904 and operated there until supplanted with a new orphanage in Lakeland in 1948. History of Florida Baptists (1949) by John L. Rosser illustrated her benevolence:
"A bequest, which amounted to $3,836.10 from Mrs. Priscilla English of Wauchula, supplemented by funds from a special campaign authorized, enabled the authorities to erect a two-story concrete building for a steam laundry. By authority of the Convention the structure was named the Priscilla English Memorial Laundry Building."
Tombstone of Eli English, Wauchula Cemetery
Tombstone of Priscilla English, Wauchula Cemetery
References: Englishes' Indian War pensions application, courtesy of Polk County Historical & Genealogical Library, Bartow, Fla.; CSA pension application files, Florida Archives; "Minutes of the Baptist Church of Christ at Peas Creek"; Jean Plowden, History of Hardee County, 1929; Margaret Stringer, Watch Wauchula Win, 1979; John L. Rosser, History of Florida Baptists, 1949;T. C. Underwood; Canter Brown, Jr.
This profile is adapted from the author's profiles in The Herald-Advocate (Wauchula, Fla.) of December 7, 1989 and Lineage of John Carlton, 1998.
January 17, 2001, October 18, 2001, March 23, 2011