Beecher Point

A London merchant and Member of Parliament from Weymouth named John Tucker received title to two 500-acre tracts and another of 1,000 acres, all located east of the St. Johns River across from his 20,000-acre grant on Oklawaha River. The first 500-acre tract was at today's Welaka Springs and Stephens Point, while the second was to the south at today's Beecher Point. The 500-acre tracts were selected by Gideon DuPont, a South Carolina man whom Henry Laurens said returned to Charleston in "raptures" concerning the quality of East Florida land he had surveyed. For the 1,000-acre property, DuPont selected a site midway between Stephens Point and Beecher Point, today in the vicinity of Welaka. In a March 1768 letter to Governor Grant, John Tucker referred to the location of the tracts as "Johnson Spring," perhaps borrowing the name from John Bartram's description of the vicinity in a diary he kept while exploring the St. Johns River in 1765-1766. The diary was later published in Dr. William's Stork's "Account of East Florida" and read by many of the London absentee landowners.

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The images above and below of the canals cut into Stephens Point illustrate how heavily some sections of the St. Johns River have been developed in recent decades. Stephens Point was called Johnson Spring when John Bartram visited here in 1765, shortly before it was granted to the London merchant John Tucker.

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The three tracts totaling 2,000 acres granted to John Tucker in the 1760s lay between Stephens Point and Beecher Point, and included today's Welaka and Welaka Springs. Beecher Point, shown here on the left at the entrance to Little Lake George, was named Mount Hope by John Bartram.

Plat Map for Tucker, Catherwood, Roupel

This region captured the imagination of John Bartram during his exploration of the St. Johns River. He wrote in his diary that he left Spalding's Lower Store on the morning of December 27 and traveled five miles upriver to land "on a high bluff, on the east-side of the river, at Johnson's Spring, a run of clear and sweet water" from where he walked for several miles inspecting the "thick woody but loamy ground," and the trees, vegetation, creeks and swamps. He stopped at the bottom of a steep hill about five hundred yards from the river to examine two flowing springs, one "a large fountain (big enough to turn a mill) of warm clear water of a very offensive taste, and smelt like bilge-water, or the washings of a gun-barrel...." A mile or two away he stopped at another "prodigious large fountain of clear water of loathsome taste... it directly formed a large deep creek 40 or 50 yards wide to the river, and deep enough for a large boat to swim loaded to its head, which boils up near 8 foot deep from under the shelly rocks: 'tis full of large fish, as cats, garr, mullets, and several other kinds, and plenty of alligators."

After lodging for the night at Johnson's Bluff amidst "plenty of what is called wild limes," Bartram canoed "a few miles to Mount Hope, at the entrance of a little lake, the east and south-side of which is pine-land, reaching to Johnson's Bluff, except a point of good swamp: Mount Hope is 50 yards long and 30 wide, near 20 foot high, composed all of fresh water snail and muscle-shells of various dimensions...; these are very fertile soils as far as the shells reach, and if not the only, yet the common planting grounds of the former Florida Indians, as is proved by the numerous pieces of broken Indian pots scattered all over all these shelly bluffs, and the vestiges of the corn hills still remaining, although many pretty large live oaks, red-cedars, and palms, now grow upon them."

John Bartram viewed Mount Hope in 1765, before the landscape was dramatically altered by European planters. In 1774, William Bartram stopped again at “Mount Hope, so named by my father John Bartram....It is a very high shelly bluff, upon the little lake. It was at that time a fine Orange grove, but now cleared and converted into a large Indigo plantation, the property of an English gentleman, under the care of an agent.”

The agent in charge of the indigo plantation was Joseph Stout, who established his main residence at Mount Hope, from where he supervised operations at Johnson's Springs (Welaka Springs) and at Tucker's Oklawaha River tract. Stout, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, had trained under Dr. William Stork, an oculist, in London, where he met and married Mary Rolph Stout. The Stouts accompanied Dr. William Stork from London on the "Aurora" in 1768, along with three English carpenters in the employ of Tucker: William Collins, William Hart, and Henry Hicks. Stork had been hired by Tucker and several other grantees to locate and establish their East Florida plantations.

Stork described his work for Mr. Tucker in a letter dated May 15, 1768, to Lord Beresford, the Bishop of Ossory. Stork was in East Florida at the time, purporting to be in the process of locating land grants for Beresford, Sir Archibald and Mr. Duncant Grant, and others. About Tucker he wrote: "Several considerable Plantations have been established since my arrival, every foot of Land upon St. Johns River is taken up and a great Deal already settled, I have established a Plantation upon St. Johns River for Mr. Tucker, consisting of six white people and 25 Negroes. I have already built five Houses and 16 Negro houses upon it, and have about 60 acres cleared & planted."

In Governor James Grant's opinion Stork was an incompetent who left a trail of disaster for Tucker and the other grantees when he died in 1768. Tucker agreed with this assessment in a March 1769 letter to the governor: "I see more and more how greatly mistaken I was in trusting to Doctor Stork as a manager...he was not only incapable of judging how to conduct a plantation properly...[he also lacked] common honesty." Tucker accused Stork of denying food to the white indentures and black slaves at Mount Hope while he fed the provisions to his own slaves. Spencer Mann, a merchant in St. Augustine, was hired as agent of Tucker's plantation affairs, and Stout was installed as overseer and superintendent, with orders to keep a daily journal to supply Tucker with accurate and current information.

That journal has not been found, but one letter, from Stout to his wife's mother, has survived. In a letter written at Mount Tucker, East Florida, July 24, 1769, Stout mentioned that he and his "little boy" were well, but that Mary "was sick and has bin now this ten days but hope she will be better sune. We are very plasently situated on the River St. Johns. The Lands on both sides of the River belong to Mr. Tucker. We live on the East side of the River. The land is not very good. On the west side the land is much better but not so plasent nor dry enough. I received letters from Mr. Tucker when I rec'd yours. He writes me that he has sent for 40 negroes more & 20 I have. I shall begin to make a plantation on the west side of the River when the rest of the negroes arrive. The crop that I shall make this year will be midling but much better than last year. This contrey is plesent enough. We have litel or no winter. We have no snow nor ice and if there is a litel ice it is gone when the sun rises. Most of the Trees & fields are green all the year but the lands in general are not so good as I expected...."

Tucker told Governor Grant that with the help of an honest agent he intended to help "make East Florida a thriving and flourishing province," and to accomplish this he would "spare no expense." Consequently, he ordered forty enslaved men and women from Henry Laurens in Charleston, and soon thereafter ordered a like number from Richard Oswald. The latter were to be delivered directly from Bance Island in the mouth of the Sierra Leone River in West Africa. Both orders were for equal numbers of men and women. Tucker also purchased slaves from John Graham at Charleston, but when more men than women were supplied, he wrote Grant in April 1769: "As I intend to make all my black servants as happy as the nature of their servitude will admit, I have added ten women more to the twenty mentioned in my other letter, and design in future to provide each of the men slaves with a wife as a means of keeping them at home and do their work cheerfully."

The total number of black workers purchased by Tucker can not be determined, but one hundred would be a safe estimate. It is clear that two separate estates were operated, one on the east of the St. Johns River under Joseph Stout's direction, and another under management of an overseer from South Carolina that may have been on the Oklawaha River. James Grant observed the two estates in 1771 and sent Tucker a disappointing report: "I find your overseers will not have much to send to market. They have made provisions but indigo and rice must increase in quantity. Stout is industrious but I should rather think too indulgent to your Negroes. The other overseer drives harder which he has been accustomed to in Carolina, upon the whole I believe they are good people but I tell Mr. Man [Spencer Man of St. Augustine, Tucker's agent] that it would not be amiss if he could contrive to take away a little lenity (sic) from Stout and a little severity from the other."

Stout remained in Tucker's employ until 1779, when he purchased a tract on the Matanzas River south of St. Augustine and became a planter in his own right. The residence at Mount Tucker had been far enough south on the St. Johns River to escape the raids from Georgia that had destroyed many estates further downriver. Four sons were born to the Stouts during their years in East Florida, the first at a home they purchased on George Street in St. Augustine where Mary lived before moving to Mount Tucker.

At the Matanzas, the Stout family fully expected to prosper and establish a small fortune. But the Peace of Paris in 1783 dashed those hopes. East Florida was ceded to Spain and owners of real estate had little hope of receiving a fair return for their investments and labor. In desperation, Mary Stout penned a letter to her brother in London.

"...Because we have allways been alarmed with some Bad thing or other from our enimes that have been on all sides of us for this long time past so I thought no news would be good news but now the worst thing that could have hapened for us is come at last. We know not what to do nor whear to go all our property being hear and very litell of it can be moved--only our few Slaves and Live Stock. When we came away from Mount Tucker the land office was shut up So that we could run no Land but were obliged to by and payed a very great price for what we got and have bin at a great expence for Improvement Besides the troble and slavery of all our famarly black and white so that we thought this being the 4th year we should sartainly have made a great deel of or produs. We have been at a great expence for repairing and raising a new roof to the house in town...Nobody hear but what are dissatisfied to the Last digree. We are all very busy apraising our property according to the request of Lord Hawk's Letter to our Governor....You will pleas to make your self acquainted at the London tavern where East Florida propriotors meet and give in the papers that will be sent you by the first ship.

You must try to see Denis Rolle if you can and tell him you are my Brother. He may perhaps be of some service to you in the affair. I should be glad if you can see him and if he comes out hear again you must write By him and if mothor can see him I should Be glad and Return thanks for his and his Lady's kindness to me when I came to this Contrey. I lived next door to them when my son Joseph was born. They were the first friends met with hear. Pray send your Brother word what price indigo brings at home for our last years crop lays upon our hands and will fetch no price hear. My Dear Brother, if you should but see our plantation you would be very sory to Leave it and have such poor hopes of ever geting any thing for it. My house in town is valued at three hondred pound Stirling. The Land we live on cost us two hondred pound Sterling. It is not yet aprised nor our Stock of Catell, hogs etc...."

In 1785, the Stout family migrated to Nassau, New Providence Island. Mary wrote to tell her brother Daniel that they were forced to sell their St. Augustine home and lot for half its value (£106.17.6, or "4000 dolars" as she called "the value of dolars in Florida." She wrote that they were able to bring to Nassau "our slaves of negro men and women and children with us here to this place. As to our Cattle, Cows and horses we broght none of them. One very fine mare was sold for eight dolars. The rest are gone--some stolen, some ran away and some died so all lost to us. The hogs and fowls of difrent kinds we broght for Sea Store and got a few hear safe. Two boats and new shingles were left behind. The boats valued at £12 and shingles at £3...."

Mary was able to start a small mercantile business, and Joseph purchased a small piece of land. Mary said they were granted additional land by the government at the "East end of Providence about 5 miles from where we live." After several disastrous years the Stout family's financial condition improved, aided by Joseph's purchase of inexpensive enslaved men from a slave ship that arrived in Nassau direct from Africa. The cotton plantation became successful, Mary kept her small retail store in operation, and the family seems to have prospered. Mary Rolph Stout died in Nassau circa 1822, the date of decease of Joseph Stout is not known.

Bibliographic Information

A Note On Sources

T77/17/4 the Memorial of John Tucker. Correspondence between Tucker and Grant on the dates indicated above are in JGP. John Bartram, "Diary of a Journey," 37-38; William Bartram, Travels , 64. The letters written by Joseph and Mary Stout are in Barbara Gorely Teller, "The Case of Some Inhabitants of East Florida," Florida Historical Quarterly Vol. 33, No. 2 (October 1954), 97-110.