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Arthur Britton Edwards "Roots"

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: George I. (Pete) Esthus
Source: Excerpted from "The Key Look-out," dated August, September and October, 1959, by-lined by "ole hp," reprinted with permission of Melanie Paschal, former co-owner and co-publisher. A copy of the articles were given to Pete by Bonnie Wiedeman, great-granddaugher of A.B. Edwards
Photo Credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources

Sarasota History - Arthur Britton Edwards

A.B. Edwards was born on October 2, 1874 within 5 miles of where the Sarasota County Courthouse stands. The oldest of five boys, when his father, John L. died in 1886, and his mother, Mellie Frances (nee Ange) died four years later, your Arthur felt the weight of sadness when he saw the family split up among relatives and friends.

In 1864, John L. Edwards, a Confederate soldier from Jefferson County, Florida, was seriously wounded in a South Carolina engagement and left behind on the battlefield, which happened to be the plantation of William Oden Ange, a well-to-do South Carolina farmer. After the smoke of rifles and cannon had floated into the distant hills, Mr. Ange strode out into his broad fields to survey the havoc that war had done to his home land. He stumbled upon the body of the wounded soldier, whose gray uniform was caked with blood, but in whom a spark of life still glowed.

The farmer hurried back to his house for help and returned to carry the wounded man back to the farm house. For weeks, John L. Edwards hovered between life and death, but the tender care by the farmer, his wife and family of four daughters and two sons nursed the soldier through every crisis – and John L. Edwards refused to die. Listed at the end of the war as “missing in action and presumed dead,” the Edwards family was overjoyed when one day later in 1865, John L. trudged up the wagon trail to a happy reunion with his parents and two brothers, who also had been Confederate soldiers but had returned home after the war, unscathed.

Doctors advised young Edwards (a veteran at age 26), that he should leave the north Florida plantation and go to the sea coast and get the benefits of salt air and salt water to restore his health. He made his way to Tampa where he bought a 36-foot sloop-rigged sailboat and embarked on a cruise to Key West, where he had been informed, he could get work as a skilled mechanic and cabinet maker in the shipyards maintained by the British government.

Young John L. was returning to Tampa in the winter of 1867-1868, when dusk found him off shore at Big Sarasota Pass, with his fresh water supply running low. By nightfall, he was anchored in Sarasota Bay with plans to go ashore the next day to look for fresh water. At daybreak he was surprised to see another sailboat anchored nearby. The stranger rowed his dinghy over to Edward’s sloop and introduced himself as John A. Gilfallon, a vacationer from Denver, Colorado.

Edwards and Gilfallon cruised up the eastern shore of Sarasota Bay until they spotted a small rivulet of water trickling into the bay at what is now the “Uplands,” near present-day Edwards Drive. They followed the rivulet through the woods and discovered a spring-fed pond filled and over-flowing. For the next three weeks they slept on their boats, hunted, fished and relaxed around their campfire.

After Gilfallon left, John L. decided to exercise his veteran’s rights to file for a homestead of 160 acres. After establishing his claim he wrote to his benefactor in South Carolina, William Oden Anger, to thank him again for his many kindnesses to a wounded soldier, and to tell him about his new-found paradise in Florida.
In the fall of 1870 Ange paid a visit to John Edwards in his garden. Ange had sold his plantation in South Carolina, packed his family and worldly possessions in a caravan of ox-carts and mule-pulled wagons, and set out for the paradise that Edwards had written about so lovingly and glowingly. The excursion had taken them nearly six months, and the Ange clan had settled on a piece of high wooded ground along Lockwood Ridge.

John L. Edwards and Mellie Frances Ange were wed in 1871 and moved into a log cabin at the present “Uplands.” A daughter, Josephine, was born in 1872 in the log cabin, as were all seven of their children. In 1874 Arthur arrived followed by William, Louise, John Jr., Henderson and Irvin.

Not long before his father died, young Arthur hired out to help build a fishing camp in the Indian Beach area. A Negro man approached A.B. and told him the “Boss said to see Mr. Art who would show him what to do. Pretty soon the Negro asked, “Mr. Art, what’s your other name?” “Edwards,” was the reply, “Arthur Edwards.”

“Glory be,” exclaimed the Negro, “Maybe you knows the man I’se been alookin’ foh, a man named John Edwards.

Young Arthur was astonished by this remark and asked why his new “friend” was looking for John Edwards.

“Well suh, its like dis. Durin’ de war I wuz born on a plantation up in Jefferson County, and de ole’ Massa who owned my daddy an’ mommy gave me to his son, John, who wuz away fightin’ de war. When de war end and us slaves wuz freed, lots of us didn’t know what to do. We jus drifted around. Finally, I gets tired of not knowin’ nuthin’ or nobody, so decides I’se gonna go find the man I belongs to. I heard Mr. John wuz down in these parts so here I come a-lookin’ for him. My name’s John Mayes Edwards.”

When work was over for the day, Arthur and his new-found ‘brother’ went to the Edwards’ log cabin and received a joyous welcome from John Edwards, who had never forgotten about his young ‘slave.’

John Mayes never left this area again but remained here to become one of the community’s Negro leaders and several of his descendants are following in his footsteps.

John L. Edwards never had fully recovered from the wounds that nearly ended his life in 1864/ In his 46th year the war veteran began to fail rapidly and he died not long after the Scots Colonists made their historic settlement here in 1885. In the 18 years that he spent in this area, he had become a solid citizen. When not farming or hunting, he found time to read the Bible and on Sundays he often served as an itinerant Baptist preacher throughout the area. He was held in high esteem by all who knew him.