"Destruction Of Newport Along With The Lives And Fortunes Of The Ladds And The Hamlins"

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

By the time the Civil War began to approach in 1860, Daniel Ladd of Newport 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.

Coming to Florida in 1833 at the age of 16, by 1860 Ladd had become a merchant legend in North Florida.  In 1850 he married Elizabeth Overstreet form Mississippi, who had family ties from Florida to Mississippi.

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, anti-slavery and pro-Union family influence he, the Hamlins and many other merchants in Newport were opposed to the secessionist movement being hotly debated in the South including the Capital in Tallahassee.

Led by Governor Madison S. Perry (Florida's governor from 1857 through 1861), a firebrand, urging Florida to secede from the Union, the political winds in Tallahassee were moving Florida towards secession and into the Confederacy, closer to rebellion and Civil War.

In addition to Daniel Ladd, there were other leaders who were opposed to secession and called for moderation and support of the U. S. Constitution, including former Territorial Governor Richard Keith Call, Wilkinson Call, George T. Ward, and David S. Walker; however, they were overwhelmed by Governor Perry and those in the Florida legislature influenced by the South Carolina school of thought towards the Union.

Finally Governor Perry called for a State Secession Convention to be held in Tallahassee on January 3, 1861.  Florida seceded from the Union on January 10, 1861 and became the third state to secede.

Daniel Ladd, his mother and father, were all born in Maine.  His uncles, John, Nathaniel, and Weld Hamlin (1) were also born there.  Ladd, along with the Hamlin brothers, had close relatives in New England, with immediate family members in Augusta, Maine, New York and Brooklyn.  Furthermore, his cousin Hannibal Hamlin, Abraham Lincoln's running mate on the Republican ticket, had just been elected as Lincoln's Vice-President of the United States.

The following excerpts are taken from the publication "The Hamlin Family" by the Hon. H. Franklin Andrews.  A copy of this treasured book was graciously made available to me by Esther Ladd Woodward of Woodville, Florida, the great-great- granddaughter of Daniel Ladd.

These excerpts provide us with a small time capsule of the crushing effect the Civil War imposed upon the Hamlin and Ladd families of Newport, Florida during the four years of the war from 1861 to 1865 and bring to life the grief and painful consequences of the war.

In fact, during the Civil War many families in both the North and the South found themselves in much the same dilemma.  If you were a "Yankee" living in the South, or a "Southerner" living in the North -- which side do you join?  After all they were first and foremost -- Americans!

Weld Hamlin (2), the son of James Hamlin, was born in Magnolia, Wakulla County, Florida.  He and his brothers, John and George, and others of the Hamlin and Ladd families were like so many other families in the North and South.  After his two brothers joined the Union army and navy, Weld had to follow his conscience.  Weld's biography speaks volumes regarding his plight:

"Weld Hamlin born Magnolia, Florida, May 12, 1830; married Leon Co., Florida, March 18, 1851, Celia M., daughter of Joseph and Sarah Barrow, born Leon Co., July 23, 1831; farmer and cooper; Tallahassee, Fla., Democrat; Methodists; justice of the peace.  After his mother's death he went to live with his Aunt Bacon at Augusta, Maine, and attended school.  After completing his schooling he returned south and was foreman in the turpentine works of his cousin, Daniel Ladd, Newport, Fla.  He used all his influence to prevent the state of Florida from seceding from the Union and was opposed to the war.  But after war was declared, joined Capt. R. H. Gamble's Florida Light Artillery, CSA.  After his brothers went north and joined the Union army, he refused to go into the Confederate army, fled to the wild islands of the St Marks River where he was trailed with bloodhounds, captured by Capt. Barrows and his men, carried to Tallahassee, court martialed and sentenced to be shot.  By influence of his cousin, Daniel Ladd, who pleaded with the commanding general for his life, he was saved and sent to Andersonville, Ga., to guard Federal prisoners; but again fled and returned to the islands of the St Marks River; was again captured by the aid of bloodhounds and again sentenced to be shot.  He filed his prison bars and escaped to safety after being shot at by five guards.  After this, he made his resort in "Gum Swamp" (Wakulla County) until after the war closed, where he was supplied with food by his noble and devoted wife.  He served three terms of four years each as justice of the peace under Florida governors Reed, Drew, and Bloxham.  She died Leon Co., January 3, 1893."

John Hamlin was born Magnolia, Fla. and was a brother of Weld Hamlin:

"Capt. John Hamlin born Magnolia, Florida, March 23, 1837.  He was also sent to live with his Aunt Bacon at Augusta, Maine, and to attend school; but soon ran away and shipped on a schooner for the West Indies; and made several voyages.  His cousin, George W. Ladd, of Bangor, Maine, made him 1st mate of a large schooner; and afterwards he became a master mariner.  He returned south and took charge of the large warehouse of Daniel Ladd at Newport, Florida; but left before the Civil War and entered the Federal Navy as a sailing master, in which he participated in the bombardment of Ft Sumter; served in the Gulf Fleet and was promoted to Lieutenant for gallant service.  After the war he visited his brother, Weld, at Newport, and again engaged in seafaring.  He died in New Orleans, unmarried.

George Hamlin was born at Magnolia and was Weld Hamlin's younger brother:

"George Hamlin born Magnolia, Florida, April 6, 1839; married 1865, Adeliza, daughter of William and Sarah (Sanders) Richardson; born Key West, Florida, December 1841.  He also went north on his mother's death to live with his Aunt Bacon and attend school.  He returned south after his school days and was bookkeeper for Daniel Ladd at Newport.  He was conscripted into the Confederate Army, but escaped in an open boat down the Ochlockonee River, and was taken by a Federal war ship.  After the war he went to Key West and secured a position in the lighthouse service; Republican; Freemason; Methodist; she Episcopalian.  Both died Key West; He 1871, she March 8, 1897."

Daniel Ladd was born in Augusta, Maine on March 21, 1817.  His prominence and success as a merchant in north Florida was of historical proportion.  His biography here is only a minute part of his place in our local and state history.

"Hon. Daniel Ladd (brother of Joseph E.) born Augusta, Maine, March 21, 1817; married Newport, Florida, April 1850, Elizabeth Overstreet, born Mississippi, 1835.  He went to Florida, 1833 and accepted a position as clerk in the store of his uncle, John Hamlin at Magnolia, but afterwards took charge of his uncle's store at Port Leon on the St Marks River; which town was washed away by the hurricane of 1843.  In the following year he settled at Newport, Florida where he became a prominent businessman and leading merchant.  A plank road was built from Newport to Thompsonville (Thomasville), Georgia, of which he was the principal man.  Newport rapidly became the center of business, where he erected a large sawmill, foundry, two hotels and turpentine works.  He owned a steamer (the Spray) which controlled the principal business on the St Marks River.  The merchants and planters of middle Florida and southern Georgia purchased their supplies of that period from Newport and Daniel Ladd controlled the trade.  He was a member of the Secession Convention of Florida, 1861, and by his speeches and influence opposed secession and supported the cause of the Union.  On account of his vast landed interests, and many business establishments, he remained in the south during the war and was tendered a high rank in the Confederate Army which he declined on the grounds that he was a northern man and that his kindred were numerous in New England.  His losses by the war aggregated half a million dollars.  After the war he continued business at St Marks (and Newport) until his death.  Odd Fellow; she Episcopalian.  Both died Newport, Florida; he October 22, 1872; she, January 31, 1872."

By January of 1865, the Confederate forces were crumbling from the overpowering military forces of the Union Army and blockading Navy.

Meanwhile, an amphibious-type military invasion was planned by Union forces using a combined naval and army force that would strike Tallahassee from the south and quickly capture it.  On February, 28, 1865 the Union forces, with a fleet of 14 ships, arrived off Ochlockonee Bay near St Marks and Newport, Florida -- 13 miles from land.  On March 3, 1865 the Union forces began debarkation of about 1,000 to 1,200 men off Lighthouse Island.

The Union infantry marched from the lighthouse toward Newport in a northeasterly direction and found strong resistance on the west side of the St Marks River from the Confederate forces at Newport.

The Confederate forces had removed the planking from the wooden bridge, and one bay of the bridge was removed which crossed the St Marks River at Newport and the bridge was set afire to prevent the Union forces from crossing.

Meanwhile, the primary buildings in the Town of Newport were burned by the retreating Confederate forces to prevent them from falling into the hands of the advancing Union forces.  This destruction virtually wiped out the business district of Newport.

After the battle subsided at Newport, Confederate forces re-deployed northward on the old plank road to reinforce the Confederate militia assembling at Natural Bridge.

After re-grouping, the Union forces advanced along the east side of the St Marks River upstream along an old wagon road, a distance of about eight miles to Natural Bridge, a natural corridor of land where the St Marks River flows underground through a large natural subterranean limestone stream and sinkholes.

For about 11 1/2 hours, from 4:30 AM until about 4 PM on March 6, 1865, the union forces challenged the Confederate line time after time.  Each time they were repulsed.  Valor was observed on both sides.  Finally, the Union forces ceased their fire, broke off the battle and began their retreat.  On March 7, 1865, the Union ended the military operation and withdrew it's forces from Lighthouse Island and Apalachee Bay.

The Confederate forces carried the day, won the battle and Tallahassee was saved from capture.

Caught in the powerful military vice between Union and Confederate forces, Daniel Ladd saw his town and his life's work totally destroyed.  Thus, Newport became the only town in Florida destroyed during the Civil War.

To further exacerbate his loss, he had to contend with the painful reality that his town was not destroyed by the Union invaders but by retreating Confederates.

Ingrained with his Northern values and family roots in New England, combined with members of his immediate family joining the Union cause, the loss of his town along with his fortune must have been an extreme mixture of emotions and an awful blow to him, as well as his family, friends and investors.

On the other hand his original position of pro-Union, anti-secession, and anti-slavery proved to be correct.  From the very beginning he, along with a few other moderate voices foresaw the terrible consequences of civil war in the south.

A war between Americans whether they be North or South. A war between the industrial North and the agricultural South.  A war which killed 622,511 men on both sides -- an entire generation of young men.

With their family unity destroyed, the loss of their town and the entire South laid to waste, Daniel Ladd and the Hamlin family, along with their neighbors in North Florida, had to start over. But having to start over in the post Civil War South was not easy.

Daniel Ladd along with the Hamlins  attempted to rebuild their personal and business lives the best way they could; however, they never returned to their pre-Civil War successes.  Some of the Hamlins and Ladds went back to Maine, some stayed in Wakulla County and some migrated to other places.

Daniel Ladd continued in business at St Marks and rebuilt some of his stores at Newport.  Seven years after the Civil War ended on January 31, 1872, Daniel Ladd's wife, Elizabeth Overstreet Ladd, died after a long and debilitating illness.  Ten months later suffering from a short illness, combined with a heavy heart and a broken spirit, Daniel Ladd died at his home in Newport on October 22, 1872 at the age of 55.  They were both buried at the Old City Cemetery in Tallahassee.

An excerpt taken from "The Floridian" which published a tribute to Daniel Ladd described his last days at Newport.  "It is with sincere sorrow that we record the death of this good and true man.  For several days he had been suffering a complication of diseases, his system seeming generally to give way, and on the morning of the 22nd instant, at his home in Newport, he quietly breathed his last."

--and the pioneering legacy of the Hamlins, the Ladds, and Newport passed into history.