Few men are more visible in pre-statehood records of Florida and were more prosperous than Spicer Christopher. Yet no monuments or markers commemorate his having had a high profile during Spain’s second possession, a critical period in Florida’s history. His legacy is in flesh and blood and bone. If it were possible to compile perfect genealogies of descendants for all the men who lived in Florida during those years, it would not be surprising to find that Spicer was progenitor of the most descendants.
Although numerous Spanish East Florida records give Spicer’s origin as Maryland—historical records of that state substantiate his parents being natives—no record has been found to pinpoint precisely when he arrived in the province. As his first appearance in East Florida records was the census of 1783, the year the Spanish regained Florida, he had to arrive sometime during the years of British possession, 1763 to 1783. He may have come as a Loyalist; however, no evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, has been found to support this possibility. To the contrary, several Georgia records indicate his brother Spencer was a resident of that state from as early as 1796 until his death in 1819, except for a short sojourn in East Florida, and that he served in the Liberty County, Georgia militia in 1800. It is unlikely he would have been allowed to reside in Georgia, especially in an area that was a hotbed of liberty, had he been a Loyalist. And it is also unlikely, though possible, for one brother to have been a Loyalist and not the other. It is more likely Spicer came with his parents and grew into manhood after arriving. His father may have come to East Florida to raise horses for the British military and was given a grant at what is now known as Christopher Point on the St. Johns for the purpose of raising them. After acquiring Florida from Spain in 1763, the East Florida government scoured the colonies for tradesmen to help quickly transform the flavor of their new province from Spanish to British. The Georgia Gazette, in January 1764, mentioned that a great many blacksmiths and home carpenters and 15 bakers from the Savannah area were being engaged to go to East Florida. According to James Cusick, curator for the University of Florida Special Collections Library, Spicer became known for having the best horses in the province, Arabians and English mares. He had to learn his exceptional horse skills from someone.
To say Spicer’s father, John Christopher, owned a plantation at Christopher Point is not farfetched. A few years before 1783, Spicer married Mary Greenwood, daughter of William Greenwood and Elizabeth Bryan. The baptismal record of Mary’s sister, “Juana” Greenwood, giving her nativity as “Rio de San Juan;” renowned John Bartram recording in his journal a visit to Greenwood’s plantation near Goodbys Creek, just three miles south of Christopher Point on the St. Johns, during his 1764-65 trip to Florida; and the census compiled by John G. William DeBrahm’s, Surveyor General of the lower colonies during the British possession showing, “William Greenwood, planter” have to be more than mere coincidences. It is not a romantic fantasy to imagine that Spicer, while growing up at Christopher Point, met and fell in love with neighbor William Greenwood’s daughter Mary and married her.
After marrying, Spicer apparently received a grant on Talbot Island from the British. By 1783, when the Spanish reclaimed Florida and took a census, he was ensconced on his estate on Talbot along with Mary, their two children, his sister-in-law, four Negroes, and four horses. Included on his census record are the comments “He cultivates the land” and “seeks permission to leave the country.” Thankfully, he chose to stay. His sister-in-law was Mary Greenwood’s younger sister Juana Susannah. The two children were John Bluett Christopher and William Greenwood Christopher.
Another census the Spanish took four years later lists only one child, a daughter, for Spicer and Mary. The daughter was one year old Martha. The census made no mention of the two sons, John and William, who were on the 1783 census, probably due to an enumerator oversight. The number of Negroes and horses had increased from four to seven each since the last census. Spicer is listed erroneously as a “Native of Georgia.” The census also revealed that he was Protestant, farmed 30 acres and had requested more, was a partner in a sloop, and that two free persons lived with him on Talbot.
The desire he expressed seven years earlier to leave the province apparently melted away by late 1790 when he signed and oath of allegiance. During this time, in addition to having increased his offspring to four with the addition of Charlotte since the last census, he had begun showing promise of being a good citizen of the province by capturing Spanish army deserters on two occasions. According to the oath, he now had ten slaves and his stable of horses had grown to eighteen.
Signing the oath made him eligible to apply for land grants. Spicer did not shrink from the opportunity. Over the next few years, he acquired several grants: San Christobal on Talbot Island, Santa Maria south of the Nassau River, San Carlos near the north side of the St. Johns River, Old Township on the St. Marys River, Little Talbot Island, and Point Hazzard on Lanceford Creek. Several St. Johns militia companies were formed in 1793. Spicer greatly enhanced the size of his grants by becoming a sergeant and horseman in the 3rd Militia Company, which guarded Amelia and Talbot Islands and the adjacent mainland. According to Spanish land policies, gentlemen and mounted troopers received grants measured in caballerias. A caballeria was a tract of land five times larger than what laboring class people received and was usually granted for the purpose of raising horses or cattle.
Spicer not only added plantations to his family, he added offspring. By the turn of the century, He and Mary had four more children: Spicer Samuel, Lewis, Thomas, and Elizabeth Susannah.
Spicer’s brother, Spencer, a shoemaker, had been living in Georgia with his family. Spencer and Spicer are listed in “Some Early Tax Digests of Georgia” as owing taxes in Camden County in 1790. Spicer had signed an affidavit in Camden County, Georgia November 15, 1796 saying Spencer was born in April 1795. Apparently, the year had been miscopied when transcribing the affidavit to Camden County’s Deed Book B, possibly a transposition of 1759. Four years later, a muster roll made June 30, 1800 of the 4th Company, Liberty County Battalion, lists Spencer as a private. And on January 4, 1803, while staying with Spicer, he signed an oath of allegiance stating he had a wife and four children, five slaves and 50 vicunas, was Protestant, and had come from Georgia but was a native of Maryland. The same day, he petitioned for 500 acres at Point Hazzard, north of Nassau River. The governor approved the grant three days later. Prevented by illness from taking possession of the grant, he petitioned for the same acreage south of Nassau River the following year. Several Georgia Historical records indicate that at some point he gave up his grant and returned to Georgia. The book “Sunbury on the Medway,” by John McKay Sheftall, mentions that Spencer was listed on the 1808 tax digest as owning land in the Sunbury District, that according 1814-15 Sunbury Tax Digest he was taxed $250 on a house and lot, that in 1817 he mortgaged Sunbury lots 279 and 280, and that Mrs. Christopher and her daughter were robbed one night while walking home from Mrs. Christopher’s shop. Spencer is listed in a book, “History of Baptism,” published in 1817, as a subscriber. Records of historical Midway Church in Georgia show that he died in 1819. The same records show that a Martha Christopher, presumably Spencer’s wife, died two years earlier.
Spicer conducted himself well as a militiaman, especially during a small scale invasion attempt fomented by French minister Edmund Genet in the summer of 1795. After being promoted to lieutenant in 1808, Spicer publicly proposed splitting the 3rd Militia Company into two companies, contending that it was too great an inconvenience for one company to protect both the island and the mainland. He recommended himself to be commander of the new company. His proposal did not sit well with the 3rd Company’s commander, who had him arrested on the spot. In a written report, the commander advised the governor of Spicer’s attempt to divide the company. The governor ordered Spicer to be removed from the militia.
Testimonies by others in records of Spicer’s grants give some insights into him and what he had made of his plantations. Juan Parades, commander of the royal schooner San Augustin for many years, said that he had become familiar with all of Spicer’s plantations and could certify to their being in excellent condition. Thomas Asa O’Neill testified that Spicer had sole charge of the King’s highway running the length of Talbot Island, that his residence was in the center of the island with houses for overseers and slaves on the outskirts, that he bred pedigreed mares and had $3,000 invested in horses, and that he raised China oranges. Timothy Hollingsworth told of everything being in good condition and of the conveniences Spicer shared with passersby on the road that ran through Talbot Island and of Spicer’s fine cattle pens and pedigreed mares and stallions. David Solomon Hill testified to Spicer’s entertainment of wayfarers. A couple of letters in the Florida Heritage Collection reveal the compassion he and 12 fellow East Florida residents showed in late summer of 1808 when the town of St. Marys, Georgia suffered a plague of fever that killed many of the town’s residents and forced all but ten to flee. They subscribed a total of $191, a sum worth considerably more then than what it is today, for the town’s relief. Spicer contributed $20, which was as much as any of the other subscribers.
Christopher died in July 1811, some sources say on the 10th,
at the age of 52. In his will, which he wrote five years before on
February 12, 1806, he stated that he was “of frail body but of sound
judgment and mind.” After directing that he be buried by the rites of
the Church of England, he wrote, “I give and bequeath to my well
beloved wife Mary Greenwood Christopher one half or moiety of all my
moveable property consisting of horses, hogs, cattle.” He also willed
her 32 slaves, which he listed by name. He then stipulated “that she
shall be allowed to live upon and work the above slaves on any
plantation or island belonging to me for this Province without any
molestation whatever during her natural life, and at her decease the
said Negroes to be equally divided among the children hereafter
mentioned or their lawful representatives.”
He then divided the remaining slaves between his surviving seven
children. Thomas, his youngest son, may have died earlier as he was not
mentioned. Spicer left San Carlos plantation to son John, Point Hazzard
to son William, Old Town to son Spicer, and divided Talbot Island and
Santa Maria equally between daughter Elizabeth and son Lewis. He
appointed his wife Mary, son John, and son-in-law John David Braddock as
Between the time he wrote his will and his death, he signed deeds of gift to his widowed niece Martha Bluit Grisholm for her son Jesse Grisholm, to William Braddock for grandson John Spicer Braddock, to John David Braddock for granddaughter Mary Christopher Braddock, to John David Braddock for grandson Spicer John Braddock, to William Braddock for granddaughter Elizabeth Greenwood Braddock, and to son William Christopher for granddaughter Martha Louisa Christopher. Each was deeded a slave.
The value of the inventory of his estate totaled 36,732 pesos, a lot of money back then, even in pesos. Of that, the land of Talbot Island, along with its cultivated fields and grove of fruit trees, was valued at 20,000 pesos. His residence was valued at 1,500 pesos. Among other structures listed under “Casas”—houses—were two kitchens—it was common back then to cook in a separate building to avoid burning down the residence—a stable, a cotton storehouse, a corn storehouse, a carpentry shop, six slave quarters, two cottages, a grinding shed, and a tannery.
under “Muebles de Casa”—furniture of the house— were a mahogany
table, six chairs, two old mirrors, a dozen knives and forks, a crystal
glass bottle, six iron pots, two irons bells, eight dozen plates, a
half-dozen platters, and twelve table spoons.
heading “Animales”—animals— were listed two burros, two mules, a
herd of branded beef cattle valued at 450 peso, 30 pigs, an illegible
number of horses valued at 300 pesos, three horses valued at 160 pesos,
and eleven mares and seven colts worth 1080 pesos.
items listed under “Utencilios de labronia”—tools of
farming—were a cart, three plows, a mill stone, two machines for
deseeding cotton, two machines for cleaning cotton, a copper pan, a safe
with shelves, two hand-saws, three old brushes, three old drills, two
old hammers, 50 hoes, 25 axes, an iron pot, two saddle mounts, two
stools, an old farrier—for horse-shoeing—a canoe, a boat with six
oars and a rudder, and a ship, which could have been the “Lord
Nelson,” the family's enormous periagua, a large open-deck ship that
was used to transport cotton. Or it could have been “Tiburon” or the
unnamed sloop in which the 1786 census mentions him as being partner.
are listed with names, ages, and value.
As said earlier, Spicer Christopher’s legacy is in flesh and blood and bone. By the time of his death, all seven of his surviving children were married, most of them finding mates in the family of widow Lucia Cook Braddock, who lived at Black Hammock plantation, a stone’s throw across Sister’s Creek from the Christopher stronghold of Talbot Island. John married Lucia’s youngest daughter Hester, a marriage that quickly ended in divorce. William married Lucia’s granddaughter Elizabeth Edwards. Martha married Lucia’s oldest son John David. Charlotte married Lucia’s youngest son William. Spicer Junior married Lucia’s granddaughter Ann Edwards. The name of Lewis Christopher’s wife is not known. And, Elizabeth, at the age of 13, married neighbor John Houston II. According to this writer’s imperfect genealogy database, Spicer, through these marriages, was progenitor of over 10,000 descendants spread among over 1,100 surnames. That is a lot of flesh and blood and bone. That is a lot of legacy.