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George M. Brooke


Fort Brooke, then Tampa...

__When the United States acquire Florida in 1821, the Tampa Bay region was intermittently infested with pirates, fugitives slaves, slave-smugglers, Indians, contrabandists and adventurers. Pirate and slave-raiders used the coves and inlets along the Gulf Coast for rendezvous and hideouts. The presence of these ruffians and the increasing resentment of the Seminole Indians toward the encroachment of the white settlers posed a thorny problem for the United States.

__During this period officials in Washington began giving serious consideration to the establishment of a military outpost on the wild and remote shores of Tampa Bay "as an aid to defense from possible foreign invasion" and prevent the Indians from acquiring arms and rum from unlicensed Cuban traders, who were inciting them to rebellion.

The Niles Weekly Register in its March 24, 1821, issue suggested that Tampa Bay would be an ideal location for the state capitol. "Its shores are not inhabited, and would be a good place for seat of government, and as the southern Naval depot of the United States". This suggestion must have attracted the attention of Federal officials to the geographical importance of the Tampa Bay. Three years later the American appeared on the bay.

__On January 10, 1824, Colonel George Mercer Brooke received orders to proceed with four full companies of the Fourth Infantry Regiment to Tampa Bay. Within two weeks the expedition cruised into the beautiful dark green waters of Tampa Bay and landed at Gadsden Point, now the site of Mac Dill Air Force Base. The troops promptly trudged through the palmetto scrub up to the eastern shoreline of the Interbay peninsula to the mouth of the Hillsborough River. Arriving at the river they found its waters infested with alligators.

__Colonel Brooke situated the military post on the east bank, at the mouth of the river, the site of an ancient Timuquan Indian village. The embryo station became known as Fort Brooke; the date was January 22, 1824. This date commemorates the birth of the community that would become Tampa. The fort is the keystone in its founding, even though at that time the city that would become Tampa wasn't even prologue to a dream.

__Soon after the American arrived, the fishermen from Spanishtown Creek came to the fort to ask Colonel Brooke to make them American citizen. It belived that Spanishtown Creek had come into existence sometime after 1793, during the Second Spanish Period. These fishermen were the first white people to live within the present boundaries of Tampa. Spanishtown Creek was located at the mouth of a creek on the bay shore just east of what is today known as Magnolia Avenue. On December 18, 1826, the first white child born in the area was born to Colonel Brooke and his wife, Lucy-a boy they named John.

__The pine wilderness which later became Ybor City was about two miles from Fort Brooke and was located within the confines of the military reservation which had been set aside by President Andrew Jackson.

Spanishtown Creek Family

The first reference to the land of Ybor City was made by Colonel Brooke in a report dated February 5, 1824, to Major General Jacob Brown, from "Camp on the Hillsborough". His report unveiled the mystery of the region (Ybor City) rear of this place (Fort Brooke), say two miles, there is a ridge of pinelands with very fine springs.

__This high rise of land was densely covered with pines until the early 1880's and was destinated to attract the fancy Don Vicente Matinez Ybor, one of the great pioneers and founders of Tampa's cigar industry. During the formative years of Fort Brooke, the pine barren in the vicinity were a veritable paradise. Soldier had ample time for hunting and exploring the backwoods. In occations, rescue parties were sent out to find the lost hunters.


Map of Tampa 1886

__A road about two miles long was built from the fort through the salt marshes to a large spring, located in what is now Fifth Avenue and Thirteenth Street. The water was used to fill the canteens and water their horses, also water was transported in barrels on mule-drawn wagons back to the fort. At this site on July 12, 1884, Cyrus Snodgrass built the first ice plant on the west coast of Florida. The plant supplied ice for the several fish companies in the area which had moved to Tampa with the coming of the railroad.

__During the first ten years, Fort Brooke was a "good duty post", with a garrison of some two hundred and fifty permanent men. Life at the outpost was peaceful, leisurely and pleasant. The small village on the fringe of the fort propered, and in 1831, took the name of Tampa Bay. The frontier village in the Florida wilderness soon became widely know as an Indian post, as Seminoles started coming in from miles away to barter alligator hides, bird plumes, deer skins and furs for bolts of gaily colored calico, arms and ammunitions, cooking utensils, tobacco, some medicines and countless other things.

__Fort King, the Indian agency located near present Ocala, was one hundred miles north of Fort Brooke. Soldiers march to Fort King from Fort Brooke had to struggle along a narrow Indian trail in a five days journey. In 1826, the Quartemaster General authorized a "mule express" between Fort Brooke and St. Augustine, this was a ten days journey.

_The period of tranquillity was coming to an end, during the bitterly cold month of December, 1835 the clouds of war began to gather. Tragedy was in the wind - years of bloodshed, fire and sword lay ahead...


Reference: This is a synopsis of: "Fort Brooke: "The First Ten Years" by Tony Pizzo - USF Special Collections



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