Thursday, July 19, 2018
Never Forget the Red Scarf
Red has always been an eye-catching color, and my maternal ancestors always seemed to be on the cutting edge of life, so perhaps that's why a certain story about the Charles family in northern Florida caught my eye. This story probably borders on legend, but it may involve some of my ancestors, even though I haven't found my way back that far in my family history. I'll share the story here as such—legend—until I can figure out a way to determine it was otherwise.
Yesterday, I mentioned that I am descended from the Charles family of Suwannee County in northern Florida. Although I can't yet determine the exact relationship between my third great-grandparents, Andrew and Delaney Townsend Charles, and the Charles family in this legend, considering the size of the region at that point in Florida history, there is a good chance there is a connection.
In my family, Andrew and Delaney's daughter, Emma, married William Henry McClellan, son of the same George Edmund McClellan who had been one of the signers of the original Florida state constitution. This Emma and her two brothers were apparently orphaned, as their parents each dropped out of the scene at about the same time, around 1860.
That same year—time of the 1860 census—the eleven year old Emma could be found in the household of Melburn and Drucilla Odum. After all these years of researching family history, it was only in the last few months that I figured out that Drucilla was sister of Emma's father, Andrew Charles.
Drucilla, as it turns out, is the one who will likely connect me with the more historic branch of the Charles family, the legendary Ruben and Rebecca Charles.
Ruben and Rebecca, it turns out, were originally settlers in this northern Florida region long before not only statehood, but also the years as a territorial possession of the United States. Apparently, during the waning years of the Spanish occupation of the area, Ruben and Rebecca Charles set up a trading post somewhere to the west of Saint Augustine.
In the course of their business, Ruben and Rebecca became friendly with some of the native people living further inland and established a long-lasting relationship with them. This was preceding the United States' 1821 purchase of Florida from Spain.
Eventually, the U.S. government decided to establish forts in the area, and built a military road stretching from Saint Augustine to Pensacola, which became known as the Bellamy Road. Astute businessman Ruben Charles was quick to establish a new business location along that stagecoach route and in 1824, built a trading post and ferry near the place now known as—this is a clue—Charles Springs.
Ruben and Rebecca Charles, still friends with the local tribe, nevertheless got caught in the inevitable tensions brought about by increasing numbers of American settlers and military personnel entering the region. As hostilities increased and communities in the area were attacked and burned, as the legend goes, the Charles' community was never attacked. However—and this is the legendary stipulation—the native tribe's leadership stipulated that they would never attack the Charles family as long as they wore a red scarf to signify who they were.
Though Ruben Charles may have died around 1840, this arrangement was still honored for all the members of the Charles family. As long as they were wearing that red scarf, the agreement would be honored.
One day, according to the legend, as the stagecoach was approaching to make its customary stop at the Charles' trading post, their daughter Mary rushed out to meet it, forgetting to wear her red scarf and she was mistakenly killed.
Though that event may border more on legend than history, it was not the only time tragedy struck the Charles family. In 1852, Rebecca Charles was shot while standing on her front porch. This, however, might not have been due to forgetfulness about that necessary red scarf; the Charles family's friendliness with the native population may itself have been the cause behind her death. In the recounting I found on the incident, the insinuation was that perhaps it was another white settler who had brought about her death, rather than any member of the inland tribe.
Eventually, political maneuvering and military action made way for an environment in which the red scarf no longer was needed. The Charles family continued to operate the ferry until about 1875, a much different era than the years in which their fledgling business was started.
While it is thrilling to discover that one's ancestors are the key figures in a local legend, I can't yet definitively claim that connection. I'm still stuck at the generation of Andrew and Drucilla Charles, brother and sister, who were children of an unnamed Charles man in northern Florida. While stories are fascinating, it is grunt work of a genealogical kind that will enable me to confirm that connection.
And that, as it turns out, isn't often as fascinating as those legends.