Louis Lanier

Louis Lanier

By Spessard Stone

Louis Lanier, a pioneer settler of Fort Meade, Florida, was a cattle rancher, merchant, and founding father of Fort Meade.

Benjamin Lanier, father of Louis, was born in 1786 in Duplin County, North Carolina; subsequently, he migrated to Bulloch County, Georgia where for many years he was a justice of the peace. Later he removed to Madison County, Florida where he died in August of 1854. In Bulloch County on September 24, 1805, he had married Sarah Pridgen, daughter of Luke and Amelia (Bowen) Pridgen. Louis, the subject of this sketch, was the third of twelve children. His siblings were: Nancy Ann (Mrs. John R. Miller), Gibson S., Luke Pridgen, Andrew Jackson, David S., Lucinda (Mrs. Robert McKinney), Harriet (Mrs. Lawrence Farrell), Rowan J., Jane (Mrs. Joshua J. Kemps), Frederick S., and Francis.

Louis Lanier, whose given name also is spelled as Lewis, was born August 9, 1809, probably in Screven County, Georgia. About 1830, he married Mary Lucretia Ross, born ca. 1810 in Georgia. By 1843,the couple was living in Columbia County, Florida as Louis' name appeared on a voter registration list at Moses Barber's Precinct, dated May 1, 1843.

About 1848, the Laniers moved to Hillsborough County, Florida where they first lived on the Alafia River. In September of 1848, Louis was appointed as a road commissioner of District 4, Alafia. He was an inspector and voted at the Alafia Precinct on October 2, 1848. In April 1849, Louis, William B. Hooker, and James Whidden, Sr. were designated as commissioners to open a road from "Lanier's to the Indian agency on Peas Creek."

When on December 13, 1849 Gen. David E. Twiggs accepted Lt. George G. Meade's selection of the site of an old Indian ford to build a fort to be named after Lt. Meade as Fort Meade, there was in the region only one white family, James W. Whidden, living (illegally) on Whidden Creek (named for James W.), south of Fort Meade. Before October 1851, the families of Francis M. and John R. Durrance (brothers) had settled four to six miles northwest of Fort Meade.

Then in late 1852, Francis A. "Berry" Hendry and his wife Ardeline, younger daughter of Louis, moved to Fort Meade. Soon after, Louis, too, relocated there. Hendry and Lanier first lived in the garrison. The former homesteaded later one and one-half miles north of Fort Meade, on what became known as the "Berry Hendry" branch of the Peace River. September 1853 opened with Louis erecting a dwelling 800 yards from the post on the river.

Others followed. James L. Whidden, son of James W., by March 1853 was living two miles west of the fort. Cuthbert, older daughter of Louis, and her husband, John I. Hooker, came with John purchasing the fort property, abandoned in November-December 1854.

During the summer of 1854, Louis and Francis A. Hendry served as scouts for Lieutenants Benson and Hartsuff to find a site for a new fort, Fort Thompson. That he knew the land can be proved as a letter by Lt. A. J. Cook, dated Fort Myers, June 16, 1853, in which Cook in mentioning "Lanier the beef contractor," stated that Louis had about May 17 come down with a drove of cattle.

From October 22, 1855 to June 1, 1856, Louis held a contract for surveying from John Westcott, Surveyor General of Florida. An official record shows that he surveyed slightly over 210 miles, for which he was paid $843.30. This same document noted by his name, "Four townships sent up, obliged to quit the field on account of Indian hostilities."

The Third Seminole War had commenced, and Louis served in Capt. Hooker and Kendrick's companies. On July 8, 1856, he chaired a meeting at Fort Meade, in which protection was sought. John I. Hooker, his son-in-law, allowed the military to use the facilities of the fort and the settlers to seek refuge there.

Louis was at this time a perennial candidate for public office. In October 1851, he lost a county commission seat by one vote to Joseph Howell. In 1853, he placed fourth for a county commission seat. 1855 found him losing a race for county surveyor as a Know Nothing, but on October 5, 1857, as a Democrat, he finally triumphed when his fellow citizens elected him county surveyor. On January 7, 1861, he was appointed as a school trustee at Fort Meade. April 1861 saw his third place finish for county surveyor.

He engaged in various activities. In 1858, he opened a general store. On March 16, 1860, he was appointed as the first postmaster of Fort Meade and served until 1862 with the postoffice being in his store. In September 1859, he acquired 160 acres on the bridge. In 1860 he was operating a sawmill, which he had built by his neighbor, C. Q. Crawford. The Peas Creek correspondent for the Florida Peninsular of February 4, 1860 lauded Louis for his energy and enterprise as formerly plank had to be hauled from Tampa.

The 1860 Hillsborough County Census enumerated the Laniers in household 230, Fort Meade. Living with the couple was Louis' 37-year-old sister, Harriet Farrell, a seamstress. Close neighbors included the families of Edward T. Kendrick, John I. Hooker, C. Q. Crawford, D. Waldron, George W. Hendry, Francis A. Hendry. A distant neighbor was Mary Lanier, the 34-year-old widow of Luke P. Lanier. In February 1861, county division resulted in the creation of Polk County, in which Louis now lived.

During the Civil War, Louis continued his acquisition of property, buying several tracts. The death of his son-in-law, John I. Hooker, on January 2, 1862, led to his appointment as administrator of the estate, which included 5,000 cattle and eight slaves. The 1863 Polk County Tax List showed that Louis was the master of eight slaves. From late 1863 to war's end, he was one of the large cattlemen who assisted in the procuring and shipment of South Florida cattle to the Confederate Army. Francis A. Hendry, his son-in-law, was captain of a cow cavalry company based at Fort Meade.

After the war, Louis moved to Fort Ogden, Manatee County (now DeSoto County). On April 2, 1866, he sold part of his Fort Meade property for $3,000 to Francis A. Hendry. At Fort Ogden, he continued in the cattle business. 1872 Manatee tax records listed Louis with 1,000 cattle.

The Florida Peninsular of October 27, 1869 stated: "We learn that Capt. Lewis Lanier, a large stock owner, living near Ft. Ogden, has gone to New Orleans to purchase a large schooner to be engaged in carrying cattle from Ft. Ogden to Havana. Success to the enterprise."

Frederick S. Lanier, a brother of Louis, had after the war moved from Madison County to Fort Ogden. As related in South Florida Pioneers 7, he owned half-interest in the schooner, Laura Whether or not this was the one Louis contemplated purchasing hasn't been learned at this time, but in late 1875 the Laura returned from a cattle shipping expedition from Key West without Frederick, its captain. The crewmen reported that he had fallen off ship on October 17, 1875, near Key West. Suspicion of foul play seemed to be thereafter confirmed when one seaman committed suicide while another went insane.

Having presumably disposed of his cattle, Louis and Lucretia relocated in the late summer of 1873 to Fort Myers where Ardeline and Francis A. Hendry now lived. Louis purchased the stock of Manuel A. Gonzalez's small store and opened a general store. He thrived with customers, not only with new settlers and cowboys passing to and from Punta Rassa, but also the Seminoles, with whom he traded goods for alligator hides, deer skins, and bird plumes. Lt. R. H. Pratt in an August 1879 report on the condition of the Seminole Indians in Florida cited Louis Lanier of Fort Meade as being particularly interested and informed in regard to the Seminoles. Mrs. Lanier had a boarding house, the first in Fort Myers.

The only personal description of Louis Lanier that this writer found was given by Ida English (1866-1948), a niece of Francis A. Hendry in The Story of Fort Myers:

"He was a big, gruff man and all us children were afraid of him. One day my mother [Mrs. Jehu J. Blount nee Mary Jane Hendry] sent me over to his store to buy some flour. There was a fence around his place with a gate at the walk. When I entered, I forgot to close the gate behind me. Mr. Lanier was standing in the door of his store and when he saw the open gate he yelled, 'Shut that damn gate and shut it damned quick.' That was the first time I had ever heard such terrible profanity and I was shocked to death. I ran home crying and sobbing in my mother's arms for hours. Weeks passed before she could persuade me to go to the store again."

Ida's father, Jehu J. Blount, later bought Louis' stock, and Louis and Lucretia returned to Fort Meade. The moved was realized, probably in 1879, as Harriet Stroud (Louis' remarried sister) in a letter, dated April 15, 1879, to her sister, Nancy Miller of Ellaville, Fla., wrote that Louis and his wife were in Fort Meade where he'd bought a place and thought he would stay there. The 1880 census of Polk County, dated 23rd day of June, 1880, page no. 44, 3rd, 2nd, & 6th Election Precincts, which included the Village of Fort Meade, listed in household 273/274 Louis and Lucretia Lanier. His occupation was given as farming; hers as keeping house. Noted of her was she had erysipelas. Living with them was Matilda Byrd, a white 19-year-old servant.

Louis Lanier died of congestive chill, apparently, on November 23, 1884 and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Fort Meade. A Mason, he was an 1865 charter member of Bartow Lodge No. 9. Sara Nell Gran, a descendant of the Laniers, in a telephone conversation with this writer on April 8, 1989 related that the family had been unable to locate the grave of Lucretia Lanier.

Issue of Louis and Lucretia Lanier:

1. Frederick Lanier, born 1831; died in childhood.

2. Cuthbert Wayne C. Lanier, born March 8, 1833; died February 16, 1894, Tampa; married (1) on February 1, 1849 John Irving Hooker (1822-62); (2) October 13, 1864, Julius Rockner (1839-77). By her first marriage she had two sons and a daughter, Mary Ellen Hooker (1858-1912), whose husband was Stephen M. Sparkman, U. S. Congressman from 1895-1917.

3. Ardeline Ross Lanier, born May 10, 1835; died September 6, 1917, Fort Myers; married on March 25, 1852 Francis Asbury Hendry, son of James Edward Hendry and Lydia (Carlton) Hendry.

References: Canter Brown, Jr., who provided most of the research data used to compile this profile; Karl Grismer, The Story of Fort Myers; miscel. data from South Florida Pioneers including "Frederick S. Lanier 1829-1875," # 7, pp. 33-34, January 1976.

This profile is adapted from the author's article in The Herald-Advocate (Wauchula, Fla.), June 28, 1989.

February 13, 2001 & links = October 17, 2001