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Rigdon Brown

By Spessard Stone


Rigdon Brown, pioneer settler of Bartow, Florida, was a farmer, legislator, veteran of the Seminole wars, and justice of the peace.

Rigdon Brown was born ca. 1790 in Franklin County, Georgia. He was a son of Meredith and Mary (Glover) Brown. About 1820, he married Esther Howell, born ca. 1800, Camden County, Georgia, daughter of Thomas Howell.

In the early 1820s, Rigdon moved to Florida where he soon began a long involvement in judicial service. First living in Duval County, he in 1822 served it as a justice of the peace. When Nassua County was created from Duval County on December 29, 1824, he became a resident of it and in March 1826 was appointed a justice. In 1830 Rigdon was living in Alachua County on the Suwannee River, in that portion which became part of Columbia County on February 4, 1832. On October 12, 1835, Rigdon was elected for a one-year term to represent Columbia County in the Legislative Council.

During the Second Seminole War, Rigdon enlisted as a private in December 1835 in McLemore's Mounted Co., Fla. Militia and served to 1836. He served as a private in Worth's Co. 1 (Warren's) Fla. Mil. in 1837 and also in Worth's Co., 2 East Fla. Mtd. Vols. He also served in Cone's Co., Fla. Mtd. Vols. for 3 months, 1840-41.

Rigdon in late 1842 moved his family to Itchepuckesassa (Plant City) in Hillsborough County under the Armed Occupation Act. He soon resumed his political activism. On April 28, 1846, Rigdon Brown and Jacob Summerlin were elected as justices of the peace from Itchepuckesassa. At the Democratic convention in September 1848 to nominate a state senator for Hillsborough, Hernando and Levy counties, Rigdon was convention chairman. On March 2, 1848, Rigdon was appointed guardian of the person and estate of Laomi Davis, a free mulatto man.

Rigdon shared with James W. Whidden in settling the Peace River Valley where he, probably by April 1849, moved about three miles northwest of now Bartow. Indian agent John Casey visited the James W. Whidden settlement on Whidden Creek in March 1849 while Lt. George G. Meade on November 27, 1849 confirmed with a visit Brown's settlement. Both settlements were, however, temporarily abandoned after the Indian attack at the Kennedy-Darling store in July 1849. In response, Capt. Simeon L. Sparkman's Company was organized July 25, 1849, and Rigdon and his sons, William and Rigdon H., served.

The 1850 census of Hillsborough County, dated 14th Nov. 1850, The River Settlement, enumerated in household # 240-243 present-day Bartow's first family, Rigdon and Esther Brown. Living with them was James White, a 34-year-old native of England. Rigdon owned four black slaves, who probably were William and Harriet Brown and their two infant children. Recorded in household # 241-244 were William Brown (Rigdon and Esther's older son) and his wife Sabra, and their children, Jane and William, and Patrick Scoot, a 48-year-old Irishman. (Younger son, Rigdon H. Brown, his wife Martha, stepchildren, Samantha and William Gay, and son Peter were living at Itchepuckesassa.)

A farmer and cattleman, Rigdon registered on December 23, 1851 his mark and brand: two swallowforks in one ear, swallowfork in the other, "B." When Rigdon homesteaded, he found an open cleared field of about 20 acres entirely surrounded by a forest of five oaks and red bay. On this land he raised 30 to 50 bushels of corn per acre.

Rigdon soon resumed his judicial service at Peas Creek. In May 1853, Rigdon was, with Francis M. Durrance, elected as a justice of the peace of Peas Creek and qualified June 2. In June of 1855, he and John Davidson were elected justices of the peace.

During the Third Seminole War, Rigdon and his sons, William and Rigdon H., served as privates in Capt. F. M. Durrance's Company, which was mustered in December 29, 1855 and mustered out August 1856.

The 1860 census of Hillsborough County listed Rigdon and Esther in household # 127/94. Daughter-in-law, Sabra Brown, widow of William, and William Brown (William and Sabra's 20-year-old son) were included in the family. Rigdon owned seven slaves in two households. Neighbors included the families of: Rabun Raulerson, Henry Mansfield (married Jane Brown, daughter of William and Sabra Brown), George Hambleton, James Hambleton, Stephen Hull, and Martha Brown (wife of Rigdon H. Brown). With the establishment of Polk County on February 8, 1861, Rigdon became a citizen of it.

During the Civil War, two members of the Brown family served in Company E, Seventh Florida Infantry, C.S.A. Rigdon H. Brown enlisted as a private at Camp Lee on April 10, 1862 and died September 23, 1862(?) at Lexington, Kentucky. William Henry Mansfield enlisted on April 10, 1862 as a 3rd Lieutenant, resigned June 21 1863, and died May 30, 1864.

In Polk County on August 4, 1863, Rigdon Brown sold 400 acres for $4,000 to Needham Yates. The 1863 Polk County Tax List showed Rigdon had eight slaves. After 1866, the family moved to Tampa where they were enumerated in the 1870 census.

Rigdon Brown died February 12, 1871 in Hillsborough County. His obituary in the Florida Peninsular of February 15, 1871 noted his authorship of a song, "The Poor Man's Labor Is Never Done." His will of August 1, 1866, probated May 17, 1872 in Polk County, named as heirs: his wife, Esther, and three grandchildren, William Brown, Jane Hendry (she married 2nd Charles Wesley Hendry, January 9, 1866 at Bartow), and Peter Brown (son of Rigdon H.).

Esther Brown died October 16, 1878 at the residence of Mrs. Sarah Howell in Hillsborough County. Her obituary in the Sunland Tribune of October 26, 1878 reported in part: "The deceased was the wife of the well known Rigdon Brown and sister of Joseph Howell. Both husband and brother have long preceded her to try the realities of an unknown world to the living. She was a faithful member of the Primitive Baptist Church."

Issue of Rigdon and Esther (Howell) Brown:

1. William Brown, born c1820, Camden Co., Ga.; died c1857; married Sabra Ann Scott on July 28, 1836 in Camden Co., Ga.

2. Rigdon H. Brown, born c1824; died September 23, 1862(?); married Martha H. Gay on August 27, 1845 in Hamilton Co., Fla. (Sources vary on his death, 1862 and 1863.)



"Poor Man's Work is Never Done," from Roy Palmer, A Touch on the Times: Songs of Social Change 1770-1914, 1974, pp. 138-139

References: James Robarts, Rigdon Brown genealogical chart; misc. election returns of Columbia County, Fla.; rolls of McLemore's, Worth's & Cone's companies; Armed Occupation Act permit no. 377, April 22, 1843; "Hillsborough County: Old Guardianship," "Record of Marks & Brands," Hillsborough County: Old Wills, respectively, South Florida Pioneers 15/16, p. 11, 7, p. 24, 17/18; Soldiers of Florida, 1903; administrator's notice for the estate of William Brown, Florida Peninsular, January 16, 1858; 1863 Polk Co. Tax List; ; Florida Penisular, February 15, 1871; Sunland Tribune, October 26, 1878.

This profile was published in the Polk County Historical Quarterly of September 1997.


February 06, 2001 & October 17, 2001