Journals of Yesteryear

Florida Joined Union in 1845 as a Slave State

Author: Ann A. Shank, former County Historian
Source: Sarasota County History Center

When Florida became a state March 3, 1845, its population was about 60,000. While Florida voters had supported statehood in 1837 by a small margin, it took eight years for statehood to become a reality.

Voters in Middle Florida, between the Apalachicola and Suwannee Rivers, wanted to join the Union quickly, but East Floridian's, the whole peninsula east of the Suwannee; wanted to wait until the population increased so there could be two states. Some in West Florida, west of the Apalachicola, wanted to become part of Alabama.

The opportune time for statehood came in 1845. A depression in the late 1830s was over, leading to a climate of optimism and growth. The Second Seminole War had concluded, and white settlers began to move farther south into peninsular Florida, including the Manatee River-Sarasota Bay area. A third, and critical, event was the application of Iowa for statehood.

By the 1840s, the politics of the U.S. Senate were such that states were admitted in pairs, one slave and one free. With Iowa as a free state, Florida could be admitted as a slave state.

While the area that was to become Sarasota County did not have large plantations requiring slave labor, there were a few slaves here. Some information is available about one of them, Jeffery Bolding, shown above. A.K. Whitaker, grandson of early settlers William and Mary Whitaker, recorded some of his family's stories about Bolding.

According to the account, in 1857 William Whitaker found Bolding in a clump of palmettos, a frightened, hungry and ill runaway slave. The Whitaker's purchased Bolding from his North Carolina owner. Within a year, three other slaves were brought into the Whitaker household. At the end of the Civil War, Bolding and his wife, Hannah, went to the West Indies. He later returned by himself and worked for the Whitaker's for the rest of his life.

Another story of Bolding told by Whitaker related to Whitaker's father, Furman. On a hunting expedition when he was 11 or 12, Furman was a victim of an accident in which his rifle discharged, causing a bullet to go through his elbow.

During the five-mile walk back home from the present Whitfield Estates area, Furman waded into Sarasota Bay, loosened the tourniquet he had made from his shirt, washed the wound, re-applied the tourniquet and continued south on the beach. He was so slow in reaching home that Bolding began to search for him. When found, Furman was so tired that Bolding carried him the rest of the way home.

Bolding continued to work for the Whitaker family in the Manatee area after William died and Mary moved to Tampa. Jeffery Bolding died July 23, 1904, at 70 and is buried in Adams Cemetery in Bradenton.

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