When I was growing up, I remember family stories my mother told me—cliff-hangers such as the scene of a brutal massacre in which the entire settlement was wiped out, except for a mysterious halt to the carnage just before my ancestor’s homestead was breached. Or dreamy remembrances of the drone of adult voices, engaged in never-ending discussions about politics, wafting in the balmy late night breezes above the sleepy heads of young ones lounging on the porch swing. Our childish minds thought those stories were just a wonderful divertisement specifically provided for our enjoyment. We had no concept of the historical value of the letters which originally bore those tales, no inkling that we were a link in a chain of historical preservation needing our participation to pass along.
Those stories all went back to a place I’ve never been, a barely perceptible speck on the map of northern Florida known as Wellborn. The McClellan homestead there staked out virgin territory well before the establishment of statehood. The territory was wild, and wildly disputed.
George McClellan took an active part in those years of what was then the Territory of Florida. He organized and was captain of the first company militia in his county to fight in the Seminole war. He served as a delegate in the state’s first constitutional convention in 1838, delivering a keynote address to that assembly. Owing to that document’s lack of direction regarding establishment of local governments, Florida counties were not originally administered by a board of supervisors or county commissioners, but by “judges,” and George subsequently served as a county judge. When the Florida territory settlements grew and his original county of Columbia was split to form Suwannee County, McClellan was there to serve as a surveyor. He later served two terms as representative to the state legislature.
Yet when I went to research the story behind the genealogical facts in my database on George Edmund McClellan, it was hard to find any entries to substantiate these details. Though I could find a narrative in an old, self-published book on this McClellan family (Kissin’ Cousins, compiled by Joe and Bonney McClellan in 1994), there was little other substantiated evidence available. I did find a Florida State Archives copy of a photograph of my ancestor, a couple historical narratives in the Suwannee County website, and a mention on both Find A Grave and Interment.net. But no source documents were referenced. While the entries on such internet sources as Geocaching are informative, I’d like to see documentation in a more official setting.
I did, after wandering around Google searches for a while, stumble upon an entry in Wikipedia listing the name of each delegate to Florida’s first constitutional convention. Many of the names were clickable, including George McClellan’s. The momentary thrill of that discovery, however, only led to a stub of an article inviting someone—someone—to fill in the blanks with some well-documented evidence.
Well, I can tell the story. But I don’t have the evidence—at least not from any online source. And it’s a long way from here to the Florida Archives.