TU: Tim Gilmore’s latest book looks at Isaiah D. Hart, Jacksonville’s founder

Link to article: http://jacksonville.com/literature/entertainment/2017-10-26/tim-gilmore-s-latest-book-looks-isaiah-d-hart-jacksonville-s

The man who is credited with founding the city of Jacksonville was “a pretty odd fellow,” says Tim Gilmore, a prolific Jacksonville author whose latest book is “The Book of Isaiah: A Vision of the Founder of a City.”

If that’s the case, maybe its appropriate that Isaiah D. Hart gets “a pretty odd” biography. Divided into four “testaments,” Gilmore’s book mixes some straight biographical facts with some phantasmagorical flights of fantasy imagining an inner life that Hart may or may not have lived.

The biographical facts are these: Born in south Georgia in 1792, as a young man Hart experienced a Florida that was, outside of St. Augustine, a largely unsettled frontier. As a very young man, he took part in 1812 in an odd conflict called the Patriot War of 1812, an attempt to wrest control of Florida from Spain.

In the next few years Hart built his fortune by stealing slaves and cattle in Florida, driving them north into Georgia, and selling them. But by 1821, when Spain ceded Florida to the United States, Hart was ready to become respectable.

Historian Canter Brown Jr. wrote in his 1997 biography of Hart’s son Ossian, who became the first native Floridian elected governor of the state, that by the summer of 1822, “Isaiah Hart had transformed himself from a marauder to a town founder and businessman, based upon the spoils of slave raiding.”

Attracted by the news that William Dawson and Stephen Buckles had opened a general merchandise store on the King’s Road near where it reached the ford across the St. Johns River, Hart moved from King’s Ferry on the St. Mary’s River in 1821 and bought 18 acres of what would become downtown Jacksonville from Lewis Zachariah Hogans with cattle valued at $72.

Then in June 1822, Hart and a handful of his neighbors gathered around a bay tree near the north bank of the St. Johns River and began laying out a grid of eight streets that would turn the area, then covered with oak and pine trees, into a city.

In the years that followed he would serve as postmaster, clerk of court, commissioner of pilotage, judge of elections, militia major during the Seminole War and a member of the Florida Territorial Senate. At one point he owned almost all the land now part of downtown Jacksonville as well as much of Springfield. He also owned a 2,000-acre plantation called Paradise near what is now Marietta.

Hart died in 1861, a few months after his wife Nancy, with whom he had eight children. He was buried in a 35 foot tall tomb at the corner of Laura and State streets built in 1852. His tombstone was inscribed with the verse: “When I am dead and in my grave and my bones are all rotten, When this you see, remember me, That I may not be forgotten.”

Damaged in the Great Fire of 1901, the tomb was demolished and Hart was moved to the Evergreen Cemetery.

Hart was definitely an unorthodox thinker, Gilmore said in an interview. His religious views led one Jacksonville preacher to denounce him as “an open infidel.”

“He didn’t seem to have much respect for any kind of authority,” Gilmore said.

Shep Shepard, who like Gilmore teaches English at Florida State College at Jacksonville, drew the illustrations for the book and also wrote a seven-song musical score. He’ll perform musically and Gilmore will give readings during a book launch party/Halloween celebration from 8-10 p.m. Saturday on the second floor 1037 Park St., above Hoptinger Bier Garden & Sausage House. To purchase tickets, which are $15 (that includes two drinks and an appetizer) or $25 (that includes the book), go to bit.ly/2yhYQXi.

Charlie Patton: (904) 359-4413

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