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John Mizell Pearce

By Spessard Stone

John Mizell Pearce, founder of the Pearce family in the Kissimmee River Valley of Florida, was born on November 17, 1834, Columbia County, Florida. In 1843, he moved with his parents, Levi and Mary Jane (Hooker) Pearce to the Alafia River settlement in Hillsborough County.

During the Third Seminole War, John M. Pearce served in several volunteer companies, including in Capt. William B. Hooker's Company. At one time, he was a scout, surveying Indian activities, in the Kissimmee Valley area .

On February 11, 1858 in Manatee County, Florida, John married Martha Ann Lanier, born September 11, 1837, Bulloch County, Georgia, daughter of Luke Pridgen and Mary B. (Williams) Lanier.

During the Civil War, he enlisted about 1863 in Capt. F. A. Hendry's Company, Col. J. C. Munnerlyn's Battalion, C. S. A., and served as orderly sergeant. He left the command at the disbanding of the Confederacy in consequence of the surrender in 1865.

John was a cattleman with extensive holdings. By 1862, he already owned 830 cattle. After the Civil War, he was headquartered at Fort Meade until 1875 when he moved his family to the Kissimmee River and settled on the western side of the river at Fort Basinger. There he built a log house and set up a ferry operation to serve travelers going across the river. Capt. Pearce was the last owner of the steamboat Mary Belle, which operated along the Kissimmee River until it was sunk about 1884. He also served as Deputy Sheriff of the eastern part of DeSoto County and was for a number of years the only law enforcement officer in the lower Kissimmee River Valley. When DeSoto County was established in 1887, Capt. Pearce obtained a license to continue operation of his ferry, which was granted December 3, 1887.

(Mural image above from Florida Archives is John Pearce's log house and out buildings on the west bank of the Kissimmee River).

John Mizell Pearce died on September 28, 1897 at Fort Basinger, DeSoto (now Highlands) County. (His widow’s pension application has Sept. 27, 1897, but his tombstone has Sept. 28.) His widow, Martha, later constructed a handsome home overlooking the Kissimmee River, which was later occupied by their granddaughter Edna Pearce Lockett. Capt. Pearce is buried in a small cemetery on the Pearce property.

On September 23, 1907, Martha A. Pearce applied for a widow’s pension as the widow of J. M. Pearce, who served in the military in the Home Guard. She gave her address as Bassenger, Fla. She stated she had resided continuously in Florida since 1852. An "X" was signed in lieu of signature. On October 1, 1907, Francis A. Hendry of LaBelle, Fla. and J. J. Blount of Fort Myers, Fla. appeared before George M. Hendry, notary public of Lee County, and gave a joint affidavit in the widow’s behalf. W. M. Hendry, Clerk of the Circuit Court of Lee County, certified the preceding affidavit. C. L. Keene, D. S. Williams, and D. J. Farabee of the Board of County Commissioners of DeSoto County on November 5, 1907 certified the application of an annuity for Martha A. Pearce. Her claim 6291 was approved February 8, 1907, with pay from November 11, 1907 at the rate of $120 per annum.

An interesting sidebar was a February 3, 1908 statement by C. G. Reagin, M. D., of Fort Meade, who, in continuance of her pension, stated: "...on Dec. 20th 1907 we operated upon her and removed an abdominal tumor weighing eight pounds...The removal of the tumor gave her a new lease on life..." Martha Pearce died September 27, 1911. Mrs. Pearce is buried beside John in a small cemetery on the Pearce property.

Issue of Capt. John Mizell Pearce and Martha Ann (Lanier) Pearce:

1. Mary Jane Pearce, born Feb. 26, 1859; died young.

2. Dock Pearce, born 1860; died 1926; married on June 26, 1885 Mary Roberts, daughter of James and Candacy (Mizell) Roberts.

3. Laura Pearce, born Sept. 1861; died 1910; married (1) Finley Gillespie; (2) Aug. 19, 1888, Robert Henry Alderman.

4. Frank Bartow Pearce, born Dec. 7, 1863; died June 20, 1928; married on May 23, 1885 Sarah Rebecca Roberts, daughter of James and Candacy (Mizell) Roberts.

5. William Sidney Pearce, born Jan. 3, 1866; died Feb. 27, 1944; married on May 13, 1894 Meroba Virginia Hollingsworth, daughter of Jacob Simeon & Virginia (Hagan) Hollingsworth.

6. Robert Lee Pearce, born Oct. 20, 1867; died July 26, 1943; married on Nov. 3, 1892 Martha Manda Walker, daughter of Jeremiah and Martha M. (Tumblin) Walker, Jr.

7. Virginia Pearce, born Dec. 18, 1869; died Jan. 3, 1936; married on March 29, 1888 Jacob O. Morgan, son of Eli O. and Leacy (Geiger) Morgan.

8. Susan E. “Dollie” Pearce, born 1873; died 1935; married (1) Aug. 2, 1894, John W. Peeples, son of William Hosea Peeples & Nancy (Clements) Peeples; (2) John David Whaley, Aug. 20, 1907

9. Mustow Given Pearce, born Sept. 5, 1875; died Oct. 10, 1929; married on Aug. 20, 1898 John Wroland Lamb, son of James Hall & Mary Jane Lamb.

10. Walter James Pearce, born July 26, 1880; died January 25, 1939; married on July 21, 1900 Helen Josephine Addison, daughter of William Townsend and Harriet (Godwin) Addison.

References: The preceding is adapted with his permission from Kyle VanLandingham's Pioneer Families of the Kissimmee River Valley (1976), pages 26-28, Martha A. Mizell's Confederate pension application from the Florida Archives, Tallahassee, Florida, Spessard Stone’s Heritage Of Edna Pearce Lockett, pp. 5-6, 1999, and family data of Sara Suzanne Lamb, Feb. 25, 2001.

February 26, 2001 & links = October 17, 2001 & mural February 17, 2002.