Ossian Bingley Hart - A Book Review

Ossian Bingley Hart - A Book Review

By Spessard Stone

Contemporary historians have provided a new perspective on the Civil War and Reconstruction in Florida, but missing has been a full-length study of Loyalists, commonly called Scalawags.

Canter Brown, Jr. has now ameliorated that oversight with a biography of one of the most prominent Florida Unionists in Ossian Bingley Hart Florida's Loyalist Reconstruction Governor. Brown initially follows the emigration of the Hart family via Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, and Georgia to the St. Johns River in Spanish East Florida in 1801.

The rise of Isaiah David Hart (1792-1861), Ossian's father, is presented from humble beginnings to becoming a founding father of Jacksonville and one of the wealthiest slave holding planters and entrepreneurs in Florida, while being an active Whig politician and Unionist.

Ossian Bingley Hart, born a Spanish subject in January 1821, became a U. S. resident when in July 1821 East Florida became a territory of the United States, to which he remained ever loyal.

Brown directs us through the influences, which shaped Hart's character of honesty, tolerance, and the commitment to due process of law for the ordering of a just society, which, besides his parents, included Protestant Christianity, neighboring Crackers, as well as, the slaves who tended him, and his beloved wife Kate.

Hart called frontier Florida his home. Like an omnipresent hero from a novel, he lived variously at Fort Pierce, Key West, Tampa, Jacksonville, and Tallahassee where friendships and political alliances with the leading citizens were formed.

We are, thereby, made cognizant, not only of the life of Hart, but of the evolvence of Florida for over a fifty-year span from Spanish Florida to Reconstruction.

Hart, who remained a Unionist during the Civil War, emerged after the war as a principal founder of the Florida Republican Party, voter registrar, Supreme Court justice, and Governor.

Brown particularly brings to life the Reconstruction era with special insight into the fragile Republican coalition of Scalawags (Southern Unionists) and Carpetbaggers (Northern Republicans), and Negroes, with their internecine infighting.

Also chronicled are the Machiavellian legislative schemes and corruption of both the Republicans and Conservatives (Democrats).

Hart's tenure of Governor, January 1873-March 1874, was marked by a return of integrity to the state government, with notable achievements in civil rights, education, and fiscal matters.

This book is an adaption of Brown's dissertation on Hart, for which he received his Ph. D. from Florida State University in August 1994.

Ossian Bingley Hart is a 340-page hardcover book, illustrated, with footnotes, and index. The price is $40.00 per copy, plus $3.50 postage & handling.

It can be ordered either from Louisiana State University Press, P. O. Box 25053, Baton Rouge, LA 70894-5053, telephone 1-800-305-3477, or from the Tampa Bay History Center, P. O. Box 948, Tampa, FL 33601-0948, or call 1-813-228-0097.

This review was published in The Herald-Advocate (Wauchula, Fla.) of August 14, 1997.

February 05, 2001 & links = October 17, 2001