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Pioneers in Sarasota County

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Sharon "Sheri" Holly Johns Roy
Credit: Sharon "Sheri" Holly Johns Roy collection

Sarasota History - Pioneers in Sarasota County photo

The thought of using the word “pioneers” and “Sarasota County” in the same sentence might be considered an oxymoron by most. What does Sarasota, the modern city with its rapidly rising skyscrapers, have to do with “pioneers?”

For me, the story begins over 30 years ago. While living in North Carolina, I began a search for my Florida family roots-- in particular-- in Sarasota County.
I remember the old family stories, some of which were true; some of which had the embellishments of an oft-told tale. That’s when the sorting began. If the stories were true, they most certainly could be documented. If not, they would gently be placed aside.

The Journey begins …

Great-grandfather Charles Murray Robinson was born on 5 April, 1855 in Tarbert, County Kerry, Ireland. He departed from London to New York. The ship’s passenger list indicates Robinson traveled alone. He arrived in New York on the steamer The Queen at age 16 on 13 MAY, 1871. Whether it was to escape the poverty of Ireland or to seek a better life in the United States, he would never see his family or his Ireland again.

Life as a Sailor…

Robinson began his new life on the West Coast of Florida as a sailor. He plied a cargo of hogs, chickens, sheep, fish, cattle and lumber, consigned to Sarasota, Punta Gorda, Cedar Keys, Manatee River and Key West. Tampa was not included in the ports because of its shallow waters.

In 1900, Robinson purchased 200 acres in an area known as Hayden, with a house at the eastern end of Wisconsin Avenue.
He became a farmer; supervising a large grove. The last remaining parcel of Robinson’s purchase on Wisconsin was sold in 2015. 

The Sarasota Bridge Tender…

In 1917, age 62, he was appointed as the first bridge tender of the “Bay Bridge” (first Siesta Key Bridge). The 1917 Bay Bridge was 1,314 feet long and an impressive 16 feet wide. 150 kegs of thirty-penny nails was used in construction. The Bay Bridge featured a visually imposing “twin-pony truss” with a steel section that rotated as it was cranked, around a center piling opening two boat channels 30 feet wide. The first bridge was the “pride of the Sarasota Bay area.” The bridge was replaced in 1927 with Siesta Beach Bridge. (January 22, 1940, Ben Curry reminisces, Sarasota Herald-Tribune; The Bridge Tenders; Lillian Burns, Pelican Press March 16, 1989)

A Call to Faith…

Earlier in his life, at age 18, records show that Charles M. Robinson was baptized on May 8, 1873 by Rev. J. M. Hayman, a circuit-riding Southern Baptist preacher.
One of Rev. Hayman’s stops on the circuit included Benevolence Church (now Gillette Baptist Church in Bradenton). Robinson was baptized at Frog Creek, near the Benevolence Church - Just north of Ellenton, FL. The baptism is recorded in “A Memorial Sketch of the Life and Ministerial Labors of Rev. J.M. Hayman” 1901.

A Girl Called Mary Jane…

The Vickers Family

Great-grandmother Mary Jane Vickers was born 11 November, 1859. She is listed as 8 months old (8/12) on the 1860 census of Hillsborough County with her family and newly-widowed mother. The Vickers family lived in the Bloomingdale area, near Tampa. John Vickers, Mary Jane’s father, steps into Florida history. (Bloomingdale was settled some time before 1850 by John Vickers, John Carney, and others. Carney was killed on April 17, 1856 by Seminole Indians during the Third Seminole War. Wikipedia). 

Three years prior to her birth, Florida history draws John Vickers in, when part of when his story is recorded for future generations in The Florida Peninsular, April 26, 1856. The story:

John Vickers, having heard gunshots, went to check on his neighbor, John Carney, who had been plowing. Finding a lone horse still hitched to its plow and with no sight Mr. Carney, Vickers cut the horse loose to ride five miles to Alafia Store to alert the militiamen. A posse was formed. The following day, the body of John Carney is about 500 yards from the plow. His body “perforated by fire balls.” “John Carney Latest Indian News! One Man Killed” The Florida Peninsular,” Tampa, Florida, Saturday, 26 April, 1856.

The Bond of Marriage…

Charles Murray Robinson marries Florida native Mary Jane Vickers; September 26, 1880.

Charles Murray Robinson and Mary Jane Vickers obtained their marriage license on 23 September, 1880. It was a Thursday.
What a thrill it was to hold the original marriage license in my own hands. As I studied the license, I thought how wonderful it was, that even after 135 years there still remained a faint touch of pink in the design. Could I be the first one hold it in 135 years? The original, signed license is located in the Manatee Historical Records Library, 1402 4th Ave W, Bradenton.

Charles M Robinson and Mary Jane Vickers were “joined together…in the Holy Bonds of Matrimony” on that Sunday, 26 September, 1880 by W.F. Brunson, Justice of the Peace, County of Manatee. From that marriage, Charles and Mary would have three children: my grandmother, Mary Louise (1881), son, John Henry (1883) and daughter, Annie (1886).

The Sarasota Assassination Society…

Note to self: when working on your family tree, you will never know, initially, what place they hold in history or in what situations or predicaments you may discover them.

The killing of Sarasota Postmaster Charles Abbe, sparked an area-wide “manhunt” on January 1, 1885. The murderous plans of his demise were hatched at the Bidwell House and carried out by “members” of the Sarasota Assassination Society. With a posse formed, the house to house search for the guilty party was relentless. One area, in particular, included “Yonge’s and Robinson’s place” out on Philippi Creek where Robinson, wife and 3 year old daughter, Mary Louise were living. “Nine of us surrounded Charley Robinson’s house on the mainland bayshore midway between the Creek” (and present day Stickney Point Bridge.) The posse found “no developments” at Robinson’s (house).

What a relief! At first, I thought I had stumbled upon the proverbial “family skeleton in the closet.” Charles Robinson’s name is listed in story “Cross County Posse” January 1, 1885 from the historical book, “The Edge of Wilderness A Settlement History of Manatee River and Sarasota Bay,” pages 343-344. ‘Author Janet Snyder Matthews Coastal Press, 1983.

“An excerpt from a Sarasota County Times newspaper interview dated October 9, 1924, begins,” 

“Uncle Charley, C.M. Robinson, tender at the Siesta bridge between the mainland and the key, is probably the oldest living white settler in the Sarasota Bay region today, having located in this country fifty-one years ago (1873) when this part of Florida and practically all of Florida was a wilderness of tropic growth, yet a paradise for the hunter. “I can recall,” said Uncle Charley, in a reminiscent mood, “the fact that when I first came here there were only two houses on the other side of the Manatee River and but one house on this side of the river.”

The Passing of a Pioneer and an era…

Robinson was a notable figure in Sarasota County and is one of its earliest settlers-a real pioneer. He passed January 19, 1940.
Burial was in the historic Rosemary Cemetery on Central Avenue in Sarasota, among some of Sarasota’s earliest pioneers.

Charles Murray Robinson
April 5, 1855-January 19, 1940

Sheri Johns Roy is a 4th generation native of Sarasota, and 5th generation Floridian.
She had been awarded a certificate by the Florida State Genealogical Society for successfully documenting Pioneer Descendants for Sarasota County.
She has recently received (1/2016) from the Florida State Genealogical Society Pioneer a Descendants Certificate for the State of Florida (Cornelius Johns, b.1821)


• Florida State Genealogical Society
• Historical Society of Sarasota
• Genealogical Society of Sarasota