San Marco: The Hermitage
James Box, the first attorney general of the province and a member of the Royal Council, owned the first tract upriver from the ferry landing. Box migrated to East Florida from Savannah, Georgia, where he had been a prominent attorney. His 500-acre tract was heavily wooded in the 1760s, with the first 100 acres in from the river covered by oak and hickory trees. A bay swamp covered ninety acres, and the rest of the tract was upland pine, one-hundred acres of which was cleared, fenced and cultivated. The estate, known to East Florida residents as "The Hermitage," had formal gardens, citrus groves, and comfortable buildings. After Box died in 1770, his widow continued to raise indigo at the estate. The property was inherited by his daughter, Charlotte Box, the wife of Francis Levett, Jr.
Jermyn Wright , the brother of Sir James Wright, Royal Governor of Georgia, rented this property in 1776 after his St. Marys River rice plantation was destroyed by rebel invaders during the American Revolution. Wright said "considerable land had been cleared" prior to his arrival and praised the potential for rice production in the "extensive swamp" on the tract. He also commented on the high quality of the dwelling house and slave quarters and the other "well framed convenient buildings not inferior" to any other settlement in the general vicinity of St. Augustine.
This southbank shoreline from Point La Vista to Downtown Jacksonville was in the 1770s the setting for farms owned by James Penman, Joshua Yallowley, John Holmes, James Box, and Phillip Lee. The section of the King's Road linking St. Augustine to the Cowford Ferry traversed each of these farms.
The 500-acre Hermitage estate granted to James Box once sat on the property adjoining the southside landing of the Fuller Warren Bridge. Looking down on the property today, it is hard to imagine that in the 1770s it was covered by oak and hickory trees, a large bay swamp, upland pine, and one-hundred acres of cleared, fenced, and cultivated acres. Box was the first attorney general of British East Florida and a member of the Royal Council.
In 1784 an inventory of the Hermitage listed a number of buildings all framed and boarded, including a dwelling house of forty square feet, a barn thirty by twenty feet, an overseers house twenty by sixteen feet, and a cooper's shop. A vegetable garden of one and one-half acres was under fence, along with a peach orchard and an orange grove. By the 1780s the main economic objective at the Hermitage had switched from indigo to naval stores. More than 22,000 pine trees were slashed and boxed to catch sap runoff for turpentine. Forty slaves were employed at the Hermitage, domiciled in twenty houses. The estate was well stocked with horses, cattle, sheep, hogs, and poultry. It had several good and convenient landings for shipping and was situated on the King's Road to St. Augustine.
T77/10/19-Francis Levett and Charlotte Box Levett; T77/18/24-Jermyn Wright; Mulcaster to Grant, July 24, 1772, James Grant Papers.