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Creation of the Judah P. Benjamin Marker

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Mark D. Smith
Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center

Sarasota History - Creation of the Judah P. Benjamin Marker photo

The battles of the Civil War did not invade Sarasota but they did greatly affect the few residents that were here in the Sarasota-Manatee area. Supplies were hard to get due to federal ships patrolling the coastline. Union troops would occasionally come ashore to look for supplies and would burn homes and crops. Cattle had to be hidden or it would be taken by the Union troops.

The war left a lasting impression on Sarasota and on March 30, 1927, a group of women came together to form a chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in Sarasota. Presided over by Mrs. John Fite Roberson Sr., the John A. Fite Chapter of the UDC was formed and named after Col. John A. Fite, of Company B, 7th Tennessee regiment of volunteers. Fite's connection to Florida was that he spent the last 30 years of his life wintering in Clearwater. His only living descendants (in 1927) were living in Sarasota.

In 1941, the chapter began to raise money to mark the site where the Confederate Secretary of State, Judah P. Benjamin escaped from Union troops. In 1865, Confederate Cabinet members were trying to escape from Federal troops at the end of the Civil War.

According to a letter from E.V. Whitaker, dated January 20, 1942, Benjamin made his way through Florida to somewhere in or near Dade City or Brooksville. He was brought from there to the home of Capt. John T. Leslie's home north of Tampa. He remained there until arrangements were made for his departure. Benjamin was then moved to the Gamble Mansion in Manatee County. Arrangements were made with Capt. Frederick Tresca to take Benjamin to Nassau.

Captain Tresca left the Manatee River and sailed to William Whitaker's home on Sarasota Bay and hid the small boat in Whitaker Bayou. Benjamin was taken from the Gamble Mansion and traveled by horse and buggy to Whitaker's house. From there, Tresca and Benjamin left Sarasota Bay and proceeded down the coast, staying close to the barrier islands to avoid any federal ships. They crossed the Florida Straits in the small boat and made it to Nassau. Once there, Benjamin made arrangements for passage to England. Once in England, Benjamin practiced law, became Queen's Counsel and had a distinguished career. He died in 1884 in Paris.

On January 22, 1942, the unveiling ceremony of the Judah P. Benjamin Marker Memorial was held. Made from a block of pink Georgia marble, five feet in height and topped with a bronze sundial, it bears the inscriptions “Near this spot on June 23, 1865, Judah P. Benjamin, Secretary of State of the United Confederacy, set sail for a foreign shore. “ Gov. and Mrs. Spessard L. Holland unveiled the marker, with Congressman J. Hardin Peterson presenting remarks and Sarasota Mayor E.A. Smith accepting it for the City of Sarasota.

The unveiling followed a luncheon at the John Ringling Hotel and a program at the Municipal Auditorium. The program was preceded by a parade in which the participants were nearly 1,000 George Washington Juniors, a patriotic organization of school children founded by Julia Grant Cantacuzene. The marker still stands at the southwest corner of U.S. 41 and 10th Street, near the lawn bowling greens.