"Daniel Ladd and the Hamlin's of Newport"

By: Mays Leroy Gray
As published in the "Wakulla Digest"
February, 2002

Daniel Ladd was born in Augusta, Maine in 1817, the son of Joseph Ladd and Sarah Hamlin Ladd.

Daniel Ladd's father, Joseph Ladd, was himself a wealthy northern merchant and shipper from Augusta, Maine.  Sarah Hamlin Ladd was the daughter of Theophilus Hamlin, also a wealthy investor in textile mills along the Kennebec River, Maine.  Their marriage represented a prosperous union for the Ladd-Hamlin families and contributed to the broad, New England mercantile interests of the Ladd and Hamlin families in stores, sawmills, woolen factories, textile mills, shoe factories and a packet shipping line.

Daniel Ladd and his uncles, John, Nathaniel, and Weld Hamlin, emigrated to Florida from Augusta, Maine.  The Hamlins that arrived in Wakulla County (then part of Leon County) in 1825 founded the town of Magnolia in 1827.  Daniel Ladd arrived in 1833 at the age of 16 and joined his uncles at Magnolia,. They, along with other investors which included Richard Keith Call, former Territorial Governor of Florida, developed the town of Port Leon near Apalachee Bay in Wakulla County.

Completion of the Tallahassee-St Marks railroad in 1837 by Richard Keith Call and his investors, was a vital link to the development of Port Leon providing direct rail service to North Florida and South Georgia.  Furthermore, a charter to extend the railroad across the St Marks River to Port Leon in 1838, resulted in the offer of lots for immediate sale.

The Hamlins moved to the new town in 1839 and Daniel Ladd came with them, along with other investors, and the town began to grow.  Just as Port Leon was beginning to prosper disaster struck.  On September 13 and 14, 1843, a powerful hurricane along with a 10 foot tidal wave smashed into the town and it was totally destroyed.  Seeking higher ground in October, 1843, the Hamlins, Ladd and other investors settled on a new town site upstream along the St Marks River which they named Newport.

Newport, located in southeast Wakulla County, Florida, became a flourishing town of diverse business and political activities, whose link to prosperity was water transportation to Northern and European markets.

Newport grew into a sizable port town of about 1,500.  Designated as the county seat in 1844, it became the most prosperous town in Wakulla County.

At Newport, Ladd and his investors operated a wide range of activities including a sawmill, turpentine distillery, iron foundry and machine shop, gun powder shot and shell foundry, cotton press mill, a general store, ice company, cottonseed oil company, spoke factory, the Wakulla and the Washington hotels, a drugstore, several saloons, two newspapers, a bank, Order of Odd Fellows Hall, river wharves and warehouses, and a shipping line which included the steamboat, Spray.  Public buildings in Newport included the Wakulla County Courthouse, three churches, a town hall, a post office, an opera theater and a school house.

During the apex of its development as a town from 1843 to 1864, Newport was unique in its social and political citizenry.

Daniel Ladd along with his Hamlin uncles, were all New Englanders from Augusta, Maine.  Other major partners and merchants who helped develop the town were William McNaught James Ormond and John Denham, all immigrants from Scotland, along with Alonzo B Noyes of Massachusetts, the US Customs Collector of St Marks was also an investor in Newport and operated his customs office from a warehouse building owned by Daniel Ladd.

This group of founder-merchants represented a diverse group of Northern and European investors in frontier North Florida.

Furthermore, many of the professionals, technicians, clerks and managers employed in the various mills and plants located in Newport throughout the Ladd-Hamlin period from 1843 to Daniel Ladd's death on October 22, 1872 were diverse and immigrated from New England and Europe.  In all probability, they were individuals who were acquainted with or connected to the Ladd-Hamlin interest in Maine and other New England States.  For example, Ladd's hotel keeper, John Allen, was from the Isle of Jersey.  The engineer, Charles H Davis, was from Maine and Isaac Drummand, the steel pattern maker, was from New Hampshire.  In 1860, the nearby lighthouse keeper, William Blythe, was from England. John Hance, stevedore, was from Pennsylvania; A. A. Moore, the cooper, was from North Carolina; Edward D Ritter, turpentine setter, was from Pennsylvania; E. M. Matteaver, physician, was from Virginia; Isaac A. Homer, steamboat captain, was from Massachusetts; James S. Kinloch, the bookkeeper, was from Scotland; James B. Carlisle, founder and proprietor of the Newport Gazette was from Maryland; G. G. Holt, Justice of the Peace, was from England, and the diversity continued.

James E. Clark of Newport perfected and patented a ginning machine which removed the seed from sea island cotton without damaging the fibers.  With this invention, cotton seeds, formerly regarded as waste could be converted into oil which had a commercial value.  Investing in Clark's invention, Ladd manufactured cottonseed oil as a file lubricant and lamp illumination and was a part of his Newport Oil Company.

Along with the northern and international flavor exhibited by its founders, combined with its river/seaport activities, located in the deep south, in middle Florida, three miles upstream from Historic St Marks, Newport was indeed unique.

By the time the Civil War began to approach in 1860, Daniel Ladd had become one of the wealthiest and most influential merchants in Florida.  He was not a politician; however, as political issues surfaced such as foreign trade policy, Northern economic domination of the South, States Rights, slavery and talk of secession from the Union, Ladd found that he could neither ignore the issues nor the debate.

As one of the major cotton brokers and exporters in middle Florida, his town, as well as his personal fortunes, would be adversely affected by the problems of the planters in North Florida and South Georgia; yet, with his New England schooling and family influence of anti-slavery and pro-Union, he, the Hamlins and many of the other merchants in Newport were opposed to the secessionist movement being hotly debated in the South including the Capital in Tallahassee.