The Crackers of Central Florida
“Florida cracker” is a term that refers to the earliest settlers in the area of the U.S., particularly in the state of Florida. Florida crackers can be called original pioneer settlers in the colonial period. The first migrants arrived in Florida in 1763, when the state was sold by Spain to Britain (SteClaire, 2006).
While the slang word “cracker” was used in the Elizabethan period for braggarts, its actual root comes from the word “crack” meaning “an amusing conversation”, or as it is commonly said, “tell a joke”. In the 1760s, Britons living in American colonies used the word “cracker” to refer to English, Scottish or Irish settlers in those colonies. The word was later used to denote cowboys of the states of Georgia and Florida.
As per the modern usage of the term, it is now considered to be a jocular or proud depiction of oneself. The informal usage of the word is for families, who have lived in the stare of Florida for quite a few centuries. It is considered as something to be proud of denoting descendants of frontier people.
Among the notable Florida crackers, there were the following:
- Lawton Chiles - the forty-first Florida’s governor (1991–1998);
- William Cooley – a Floridian pioneer;
- Fuller Warren- the thirties Florida’s governor (1949–1953);
- Bill Nelson – a U.S. senator (2001 – present), NASA payload specialist (STS-61-C) and member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1979–1991);
- LeRoy Collins- the thirty third Florida’s governor (1955–1961);
- Ben Hill Griffin Junior – a millionaire;
- Fred P. Cone – the twenty-seventh Florida’s governor (1937–1941);
- Spessard Holland – a senator of the U.S. (1946–1971), the twenty-eighth Florida’s governor (1941–1945);
- Doyle E. Carlton – the twenty-fifth Florida’s governor (1929–1933).
The Seminole Wars are also known as the Florida Wars. These were three major conflicts that had taken place between the United States of America’s Army and the Seminole (SteClaire 34). The Seminole is a collective term that is given to various groups of native Indo-Americans and the blacks residing in the state of Florida during in the eighteenth century.
The first of the Seminole wars took place from 1814 to 1819. Some sources differ concerning the exact period. The second conflict happened from 1835 to 1842, and the last one lasted from 1855 to 1858.
The first eruption of the Seminole War took place because of a tense situation that arose after General Andrew Jackson had attacked and destroyed the Negro Fort in Florida in 1816. He also launched an attack on Spain at Pensacolo, which made the latter leave the colony to the U.S. rule. Later skirmishes with Native Americans led to the second and third Seminole Wars.
Armed Occupation Act
The Armed Occupation Act was passed in 1842. The aim of this pact was to offer incentives to Americans to populate Florida. According to the act, as much as 160 acres or 0.6 square kilometers of barren lands in the south of the boundary would be offered to the head of any family, who was successful in satisfying the following conditions:
- He was a resident of Florida and did not have 160 acres of land anywhere in the state.
- He could get permission from the Lands Office.
- He or his family (heirs) would reside in the grand for five years or more consecutively.
- During the first year, he would manage to cultivate at least 5 acres of land.
- He would construct a house on the land during the first year.
- The land was two or more miles away from a military post.
The implication of the last statement was that a person was responsible for obtaining his own arms for self-protection from miscreants (SteClaire 54).
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Cross-Creek Country
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was an American author, who was an inhabitant of rural Florida. She wrote fiction using the theme of rural settings. She is well-known for her novel The Yearling, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1939 and was also adapted for a movie bearing the same title (Bellman 104).
Marjorie Kinnan was the daughter of Arthur Frank Kinnan, who served as an attorney for the U.S. Patent Office. She had had an avid interest in writing from the tender age of six, when she started writing stories for children in a newspaper. She was a student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where Marjorie also met her future husband Charles Rawlings, while she was working for a school literary magazine, and whom she married in 1919. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings moved with her husband to Louisville, Kentucky, where both wrote for the Louisville Courier Journal, and later to New York, where they worked for the Rochester Journal.
After the death of her mother, Marjorie received a small inheritance, with which she moved to a 72-acre orange grove in Florida in a hamlet known Cross Creek (Acton, 1988). Then, the place became popular worldwide because of her works. She was greatly influenced by the quiet wilderness of the place and the lives of inhabitants there. She listened to the accounts of the local people and started writing descriptions of the ones, animals, plants, and recipes, which she later used in her writings (Acton 78).
The early writings of Marjorie were on romantic themes, and about poor local residents, which were offended. Her first novel was South Moon Under, which was the story of a young man, who was forced to support himself and his mother by making and selling the moonshine. It describes what he is made to do after a cousin threatens to report his activities (Rawlings, 1932). This book was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize. In the same year, when the novel was published, Marjorie divorced.
One of the best books was The Yearling, which tells the story of a Floridian boy and his pet deer, and about his relationship with his father (Acton 35). The book was aimed for the youth and won various accolades for it (Bellman 56). It was also adapted for a movie, which also gained immense success and made her even more famous. Marjorie’s other books include Cross Creek, which is an autobiography of her neighbors in Florida, Cross Creek Cookery, which was a book of recipes, and her final novel was The Sojourner, a book that focused on family problems. Because of her novels on the regional theme, she was often called a regional writer. This was a label, which she considered to be wrong.
One of the backdrops in her career was a libel suit for her book Cross Creek, which was made by her friend Zelma, and a case of the invasion of privacy was filed by her. Marjorie went on to win the case, but after that, she wrote nothing on the Cross Creek theme (Bellman 71).
Rawlings corresponded and befriended with Zora Neale Hurtson and Mary McLeod Bethune. At Cross-Creek, Zora visited Rawlings. Together they wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God in 1937. Zora is a famous African American writer. The novel talks about racism in the early 1900s, Harlem Renaissance, the racial uplift program, politics, influences, inspiration, reception and rediscovery (Hurtson 45).
Their Eyes were Watching God
The concept behind Their Eyes Were Watching God is the bitter issues faced on the racial and gender basis, especially in the relationships of females with cooperative black men, and, similarly, the tyrannical blacks (Hurtson 74). In this book, poetic and folklore drapery is used to put forward messages contained.
In the novel, a symbol that recurs throughout is the mule. Here, the right of a female to self-reliance is explored along with her consciousness. The mule has been used as a symbol, because black women were subject to tyranny and mistreatment in the society. Also, it is a symbol of dominance by one party over another, such as the one of the whites over the blacks. As quoted in the novel by Nanny, “So de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. He picked it up because he have to, but he don’t tote it. He hand it to his women folks. De nigger woman is de mule oh de world as fur as Ah can see” (Hurtson 67)
There is another symbol, which is used in the novel, namely the pear tree. It represents what should be an ideal liaison between males and females. In the novel, Janie gets a different idea of marriage from the less romantic and conventional one of others in the story. Her perception of this relationship is awakened first, as she beholds a budding pear tree in the back yard of her house.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawilings and “Cracker” Culture of Florida
Perhaps, one of the most interesting stories in the Florida history is those about a cracker (Tasker). The Florida cracker culture is celebrated every year and is subject to romanticism in literature, such as in books by Marjorie Kinnan Rawling.
There are few theories abounding on the cracker culture, but the history of the term lies in the description of the earliest white migrants in the south, rather than meaning “braggart” (Tasker). Early settlers were considered to follow the Celtic culture that was quite different from that of British colonists. Just like Celtic clans of Scotland and Ireland, Florida crackers were hardy and adept herdsmen that had strong ties with their kin.
It is not exactly known whether all of these crackers were of Celtic origin or not, but despite this, they were much different from northern settlers, and shared comparable customs and culture (Tasker). The term “cracker” does not indicate an economic state, but rather an appropriate description of plain folk of the south, meaning that crackers were nothing more than middle class peasants.
Crackers had admirable qualities of determination, working for self-sufficiency and self-reliance, which helped them survive and adapt to new and diverse surroundings of Florida. Materialism mattered little to them. They rather aimed at working towards self-reliance and stressed free life. This attitude often led them to be considered as lazy and languid by others, who did not understand the way of life of Florida crackers well (Tasker).