The French in Early Florida: The Eye of the Hurricane

John T. McGrath, University Press of Florida, 2000

McGrath’s book is the most complete modern account of France’s ultimately frustrated attempts to settle a colony in Florida in the 16th century. In 1562, Huguenot explorer Jean Ribault charted the Southeastern coast, and two years later his lieutenant, René Goulaine de Laudonnière, returned to establish Fort Caroline on St. Johns Bluff in present-day Jacksonville. The colony existed for less than two years before the Spanish arrived under Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565. A successful surprise assault on Fort Caroline ended France’s hopes of a thriving colony and forever altered the course of Florida history.

The Timucua

Jerald T. Milanich, Blackwell Publications, 1996

Long before Jacksonville was founded, the Timucua lived across north Florida and southern Georgia for thousands of years. Among the first North American natives to encounter Europeans, they allied with the French and were later incorporated into the Spanish mission system. Greatly affected by European disease, slavery, and warfare, they declined severely by the 18th century, and the few remaining Timucua left for Cuba with the Spanish in 1763. Milanich’s book is a great overview of the millennia-long story of the North Florida’s indigenous people. It’s a great place to start for anyone wanting to know more about the Timucua and the earliest history of the Jacksonville area.

Almost Hollywood: The Forgotten Story of Jacksonville, Florida

Blair Miller, Hamilton Books, 2013

Another account of filmmaking in Jacksonville during the silent era, Blair Miller’s work explores the over 30 studios that called Jacksonville home in the 1910s and the changing cultural and political tides that ultimately saw the industry uprooting for Hollywood by the 1920s.

Jacksonville in the 1920s

Andrew R. Nicholas, Arcadia Publishing, 2021

Part of Arcadia’s Images of America series, this book chronicles the people and places of Jacksonville a century ago in the “Roaring 20s”. This was a boom period for the city, still recovering from the Great Fire of 1901. Many of Jacksonville’s signature buildings date to this period, as did many that have since been demolished. Jacksonville in the 1920s covers various parts of Jacksonville at the time, and the final chapter shows what some of those spots look like today. To order a copy, go here.

Pioneer Family: Life on Florida’s Twentieth-Century Frontier

Michel Oesterreicher, University of Alabama Press, 1996

Pioneer Family is Michel Oesterreicher’s account of her hardworking rural family - and a lifestyle that has vanished from the Jacksonville area. Her parents, Hugie and Oleta Oesterreicher, grew up on farms in what was then the wild area between Jacksonville and St. Augustine in the early 20th century. It is a valuable, personal portrait of what it was like to live in this region in the not so distant past.

An American Beach for African Americans

Marsha Dean Phelts, University Press of Florida, 1997 (first edition)

Best known as a vacation resort, American Beach in Nassau County has a storied African-American history dating back to the 18th century. Initially part of the Harrison plantation, the area was granted to formerly enslaved Gullah-Geechee freedmen after the Civil War. In 1935, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, president of Jacksonville’s Afro-American Life Insurance Company, developed American Beach as the region’s prime oceanfront resort for African Americans during the days of segregation. Phelts’ book explores the history and continuing significance of American Beach, one of Northeast Florida’s cultural treasures.

A Yankee in a Confederate Town: The Journal of Calvin L. Robinson

Calvin L. Robinson (author), Anne Robinson Clancy (editor), Pineapple Press, 2002

Calvin L. Robinson was a prominent businessman and ardent Unionist living in Jacksonville at the time of the Civil War. Living in exile for much of the war, he later returned and reestablished himself in business and Reconstruction causes. His personal journal, edited and published by one of his descendants, offers insight into the events of the day from a perspective often overlooked in earlier writing on the Civil War.

American Beach: A Saga of Race, Wealth, and Memory

Russ Rymer, HarperCollins, 1998

Another book chronicling the storied history and continuing importance of American Beach, an oceanfront getaway for African-Americans during the days of segregation, and still a cultural treasure of the First Coast. Much attention is given to the life of the Beach Lady, MaVynee Betsch, great-granddaughter of American Beach’s founder Abraham Lincoln Lewis and a lifelong advocate for preserving her community.

Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley: African Princess, Florida Slave, Plantation Slaveowner

Daniel L. Schafer, University Press of Florida, 2010

Anna Madgigine Jai was an enslaved 13-year-old Wolof princess when she married Zepheniah Kingsley, a plantation owner and slave trader in Spanish Florida. The couple became two of the most unusual slave owners in the South, with Anna going on to manage plantations on her own, including the Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island. When Florida became a U.S. territory and laws became unfavorable for free blacks and mixed raced individuals, they relocated to Haiti. After Zephaniah’s death, Anna returned to Florida where she successfully disputed her husband’s relatives’ claims on her property. This book by University of North Florida emeritus professor of history Daniel L. Schafer uncovers Anna Kingsley’s improbable life, from the Wolof court to the plantations of Florida to a quiet life in the free black community of present-day Arlington.

Thunder on the River: The Civil War in Northeast Florida

Daniel L. Schafer, University Press of Florida, 2010.

This book on the First Coast before, during and after the American Civil War is a greatly expanded update on Schafer’s previous book Jacksonville’s Ordeal By Fire: A Civil War History. At the time, Florida was the most remote and least populated state, but Northeast Florida saw its fair share of action and political intrigue during the war. Though largely ignored in later public memory, Jacksonville was home to a sizeable Unionist contingent and the staging ground for campaigns like the Battle of Olustee and the Battle at Horse Creek.

William Bartram and the Ghost Plantations of British East Florida

Daniel L. Schafer, University Press of Florida, 2010

In this book, Schafer discusses William Bartram’s exploration of Florida in the 1770s, finding a discrepancy between the untouched wilderness that Bartram described and the increasingly developed state of the area under British control.

Zephaniah Kingsley Jr. and the Atlantic World

Daniel L. Schafer, University Press of Florida, 2013

Here, Schafer provides a detailed account of the life and times of unorthodox slaveholder Zephaniah Kingsley. Kingsley, a polygamist with nine children by four African wives, including Anna Kingsley, relied upon the Spanish system of slavery to guarantee rights to his children. When the new American government started implementing more oppressive laws, Kingsley became an advocate for reform, and ultimately moved with his family and freed slaves to the free black nation of Haiti. Schafer’s book puts Kingsley in the context of his times, and covers his transition from slave trader to planter to emancipator.

Palmetto Leaves

Harriet Beecher Stowe, James R. Osgood and Company, 1873 (various reprintings)

Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the 1851 abolitionist novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, came to Northeast Florida in 1867, ultimately settling in Mandarin, where she founded a church and a school that taught black and white citizens alike. There she wrote Palmetto Leaves, a travel memoir that is perhaps the first promotional work about Florida. It describes the region’s exotic scenery and Stowe’s activities, and calls on white Americans to ensure African-Americans have a place in reconstructing Florida. The book inspired many others to visit and invest in Florida and has been republished many times, and can be read online here.

Harriet Beecher Stowe in Florida, 1867 – 1884

Olav Thulesius, McFarland, 2001

Harriet Beecher Stowe, internationally famous author of the antislavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, spent her winters in what is now Jacksonville from 1867 to 1884. From her cottage in the town of Mandarin, she put her abolitionist views into practice and produced some of her most important writings. Thulesius’s book is a thorough account of Stowe’s time in the Sunshine State and her lasting impact on it.

Old Hickory’s Town : An Illustrated History of Jacksonville

James Robertson Ward, Florida Publishing Company, 1985

Though it can be hard to find today, this beautifully illustrated coffee table book by Jacksonville writer James R. Ward contains a wealth of information about the River City, from the earliest days into the 1970s. The book was the brainchild of Florida Times-Union publisher J.J. Daniels, who recruited Ward to write the text and John S. Walters to edit.

100 Things to Do in Jacksonville Before You Die

Amy West, Reedy Press, 2020

Jacksonville Beach-based travel writer Amy West offers an insider’s guide to some of Jacksonville’s most interesting and iconic spots. From the breweries making up Jacksonville’s booming craft beer scene to the world class Jacksonville Zoo to the surreal surroundings of Skeleton Beach, West dives deep to expose her hometown’s often underestimated charms. To purchased a copy, click here.

Historic Photos of Jacksonville

Carolyn Williams, Turner, 2006

For this attractive coffee table book, late UNF history professor Carolyn Williams scoured local, state, and national archives for photographs that could provide special insight into Jacksonville’s past. With a particular focus on the parts of history less frequently explored, the book arranges pictures by era, ranging from the 1850s – including some of the earliest photos taken in Jacksonville – into the 1960s. Turner Publishing Company published a somewhat condensed version of the book, titled Remembering Jacksonville, in 2010.

Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage

Wayne Wood, University Press of Florida, 1989 (first edition; republished several times)

Written by Jacksonville historian Wayne Wood with Joel McEachin and Steve Tool, Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage is one of the best and most popular books ever written about the city. The book includes historical sketches of many Jacksonville neighborhoods and regions, and photos and blurbs covering hundreds of the city’s architecturally and historically significant buildings. It is an invaluable resource for exploring the city and seeing how it has grown over time.

Article by Bill Delaney. Contact Bill at

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