10. Susie King Taylor describes Civil War era Jacksonville from a USCT (Union) perspective
Susan King Taylor was the only African American nurse to publish a memoir of her Civil War experiences, including her time in Jacksonville. Born into slavery, as a child Taylor was allowed to live with her grandmother Dolly in Savannah. There, Dolly was successful in illegally helping her grandchild learn how to read and write. Her illegal education process ended when her grandmother was arrested for singing freedom hymns on the eve of the Civil War. Soon her family fled to Union protection, and commanding officers, impressed with Taylor’s ability to read and write, assisted her in organizing a school for the former enslaved. She soon became the country’s first Black Army nurse while also teaching soldiers how to read and write during their off-duty hours despite never being paid for her work.
Traveling with the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops, she found herself in Jacksonville when the regiment was given orders with the objective to occupy the city, conduct raids and become a magnet for escaped enslaved along the St. Johns River. Here, she recalled arriving on the steamer John Adams in March 1863, seeing rebel men fleeing the city and leaving the women behind, and their regiment successfully driving Confederate General Finegan back during a skirmish to complete their mission. A Georgia Women of Achievement 2018 inductee, after the war Taylor opened schools in Savannah and Midway before moving to Boston, only returning to the Aouth occasionally. Many of those she taught to read and write became some of the first residents to settle LaVilla.
9. The curly fry was invented in Moncrief
“My dad’s brother Leroy made the machine that curled the fries. I could dig it up. My dad could have had a patent on it, but he couldn’t read nor write, so he got bamboozled.” - Wendy Holley.
A little Jacksonville history that most may not know: Holley’s BBQ, a local joint in business in Moncrief since 1937, is said to be the place where curly fries were invented. In a 2019 book written by Mark Winne, Food Town USA, Seven Unlikely Cities That Are Changing The Way We Eat, the author visited the Jacksonville hole-in-wall and asked the owner if the curly fry rumor was true. Despite not being officially credited with the invention or largely promoted by the mainstream, Holley’s continues its tradition of serving up ribs and curly fries.
8. Escaped Kingsley Plantation sorcerer and root doctor attempts to seize Charleston
Gullah Jack is a historical figure with local ties that you likely don’t know. Born in Africa, Gullah Jack was purchased as a prisoner of war at Zanguebar by Zephaniah Kingsley and shipped to America in 1806. Enslaved at Kingsley Plantation, Gullah Jack was one of forty who either escaped or were taken as prisoners during an 1812 Seminole raid of the plantation. By 1821, Jack had ended up in Charleston, becoming a member of a church also attended by Denmark Vesey.
Described as a powerful sorcerer and root doctor with a massive beard of unkempt whiskers, Gullah Jack became one of Vesey’s lieutenants in a planned revolt to seize the city, kill its slaveholders, and liberate the enslaved to sail to the Black republic of Haiti for freedom. The plan was betrayed, leading to the quick death of Vesey and capture of Gullah Jack. During his trial, Gullah Jack put on a show that had many questioning if he really was a part of the rebellion. However, his demeanor changed as he was reprimanded for trying to bewitch witnesses, leading to his condemnation and hanging on July 12, 1822. 197 years after his death, he is still admired for his strong African cultural and spiritual influence and his willingness to sacrifice his life for the freedom of his fellow enslaved.
7. Negro Leagues superstar and first African American MLB manager attended Edward Waters University
John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil, Jr (1911-2006) was a popular Negro leagues player and the first African American coach in Major League Baseball. He also credited Jacksonville as the jump-off point for his famous career and lifetime achievements. At the time of O’Neil’s childhood, only four high schools existed in Florida where African Americans could attend. Seeking a life that offered more than working in celery fields, O’Neil left rural Sarasota to live with relatives in Jacksonville to complete high school and start college.
Moving to town in 1929 and playing with city boys at what was then Edward Waters College, O’Neil was given the nickname “Country” because of his rural upbringing. Under the guidance of legendary coach Ox Clemons, O’Neil excelled, eventually leaving town in 1934 to play for the Miami Giants, Memphis Red Sox and Kansas City Monarchs during the course of his Negro League Baseball career. Becoming a Negro League manager and scout in 1948, he sent more African Americans to the Major Leagues than any other individual during his career. In 1962, this culminated with the Chicago Cubs Nation making Buck O’Neil the first African American manager of a Major League team.
6. Ghost town Yukon had ties to the 18th-century Mulberry Grove Plantation
In 1787, the Spanish granted a large tract of land on the west bank of the St. Johns River to Timothy Hollingsworth, who established the Mulberry Grove Plantation. Following the Civil War, the plantation’s last owner, Arthur M. Reed, deeded a portion of the property to his former enslaved workers. A community called “Blackpoint Settlement” grew, eventually becoming the Town of Yukon. The community was situated across the railroad tracks from what’s now Naval Air Station Jacksonville between Roosevelt Blvd and the Ortega River. During its heyday, Yukon had paved streets, sidewalks, a downtown business district, hundreds of residences and its own railroad depot.
Designated as a flight and safety hazard, Yukon was essentially closed down by the Navy in July 1963 and most of its buildings were demolished. Much of the cleared property became Tillie K. Fowler Regional Park. However, if one pays attention, several elements of Jacksonville’s ghost town, including the Mulberry Grove Plantation cemetery for enslaved people and freedmen, eerily live on in an area being reclaimed by mother nature.