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History Of Florida Crackers

Florida cracker is a necessary term used for the Florida pioneers that were primarily farmers and cattle ranchers. Cracker Cowboys are referred to as cow hunters. They are distinguished by their taste in the architecture of their Florida homes, music, and food. They have introduced their style of cooking, known as cracker cuisine.

It is said that Florida crackers were colonial-era British and American settlers. Their ancestors first arrived in 1763 when Spain had made a Florida trade to Britain after its victory (Britain’s) over France in world war 1.Florida crackers settled there. They brought up their culture and traditions in Florida. The signature dish of Florida, key lime pie, is also introduced by Florida crackers.

For more information, I will be sharing some precise information from the well-written articles of tampamagazine and Florida backroads travel.

extract from tampamagazine about he history of florida crackers by derek herscovici

“Spain’s attempts to colonize the interior of Florida were abandoned by the early 1700s. Spanish colonists retreated to the fortress towns of St. Augustine and Pensacola or departed for their Caribbean holdings in Cuba and Hispaniola (the island now made up of the Dominican Republic and Haiti), leaving behind massive herds of Andalusian cattle, an ancestor of today’s modern Texas longhorn. Prized for the hardiness and resistance to parasites the breed had developed living in Florida, these cattle were turned loose or escaped their enclosures, multiplying and spreading across North America in record numbers. The cattle drove Florida’s economy for much of the 19th century and helped create today’s state economy. Without these cattle, the cracker cowboy, the most mythic Florida frontiersmen, would not have existed. 

Battles fought between indigenous Native Americans and the Spanish and English settlers in Florida were fueled to no small degree by the various cattle rustlers on both sides who sought to control the large, wild herds of the interior and land grazed on. Ahalya, “the Cowkeeper” and the first chief of the Alachua band of the Seminole tribe, took territorial control of modern-day Paynes Prairie and an abandoned Spanish cattle ranch in the early 1700s, quickly amassing enough wild cows to earn his namesake. The village he and his people established before his death in 1784, Cuscowilla, later became the first documented American town in the Florida territory under its current name, Micanopy. Rather than import or drive more cattle into Florida, the two sides instead warred over the existing population until the settlers could displace the natives.

The second generation to settle in the Florida territory after the Spanish were pioneers who traveled south through the state between the American Revolution and the Civil War. Spain and England still disputed control of Florida, so settlers in the state lived outside the political power of both nations. Cattle rustlers, charged with rounding up the loose cattle in Central Florida, used long, braided leather bullwhips to bring cattle out from the underdeveloped forest brush. The men would flail the whips with so much force that the tips would break the sound barrier, creating a cracking good — a small sonic boom. Thus, a name for these Florida cowboys was born. Stories quickly spread about the rustlers’ whip-cracking sounds that allowed them to identify each other from far away.

The cracker cowboys rode short horses called “cracker ponies” across the Florida Cracker Trail from Fort Pierce to Bradenton. This trail across Central Florida was blazed out of necessity more than anything else. Moist land surrounding the Kissimmee River prevented travel to the north, while the sizable Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades swamps meant the crackers could not cross to the south either.

Every year the crackers would convene on the more populated east coast and stock up for the long 120-mile journey across the trail to the Gulf of Mexico, where the cattle would be shipped to Cuba. To maximize profits, they had to deliver the cattle to shipping ports during peak market season in late July and August, when the weather was at its worst.”

extract from the article of florida backroads travel

“They and their ancestors lived in Florida and prospered before the days of cars, highways, mosquito control, air conditioning, medicare, social security, and government welfare.

They are often defined as second, third, fourth, fifth generation Floridians, or even more. I know one man who is seven generations removed from Captain Francis Hendry, a pioneer cattleman and the founder of LaBelle, Florida.

One of the first Florida Crackers known to history was Jacob Summerlin. Many historians believe he was the first child born in Florida shortly after the state changed hands from Spain to the U.S.A.

He was born in 1820 and died in 1893. He became known by two titles during his lifetimes:  King of the Crackers and King of the Florida Cow Hunters.

He was also the pioneer behind many Florida settlements in Central and West Florida. He had the clout to get Orlando named the seat of Orange County and Bartow for Polk County.

Summerlin was one of the richest men in Florida before he turned 40 and owned large acreage across the state, stretching from Fort Myers to Fort Meade.

You see his name today on streets in various Florida cities, including Orlando and Fort Myers. Many of his descendants are still living in Florida.

A Florida cracker usually has a rural upbringing, either on a farm or in a small town with plenty of woods and water for hunting and fishing and land for planting.”


If you want to know more about florida cracker you can watch this video

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