|For more then a century the story of the Bradley Massacre has
been told and passed from generation to generation and still today
there are those who can tell you some version of that day in May
1856 when Indians besieged the isolated cabin of Capt. Robert Duke
Bradley and his family, killing two children. Through the years
this historic event has been elaborated and as a result the original
details have been distorted, manipulated, altered, and/ or lost,
taking away from the true historical events that unfolded that warm
spring evening in central Pasco County. The purpose of this written
history is to recount, through original documentation, the historical
events and life of Capt. Robert Duke Bradley, while correcting and
clarifying any inaccuracies or mistakes surrounding the tragic day in
Pasco County history known as the Bradley Massacre.
Robert Duke Bradley was born in Barnwell County (Winton District) South Carolina on February 14, 1803, the third of four children born to Robert Bradley, (1775-1816) and Amelia Olinda Brown Bradley; siblings were William B. Bradley, Sarah Dukes Bradley [Enicks], and Emelia Bradley. In 1769 Robert Duke Bradley's maternal grandfather, William Brown, settled in Barnwell County South Carolina from Albemarle County, Virginia where he was a planter. In 1775 when the Revolutionary War broke out members of both the Bradley and Brown families were required for military services. As a result of their services in the Revolutionary War the Bradley and Brown families are among the nation's true American patriots such as Col. Tarlton Brown, son of William Brown and uncle to Robert Duke Bradley.
After the death of his father in 1816, Robert Duke Bradley continued to live with his mother, Amelia "Olinda", at their plantation in Barnwell, South Carolina and neighboring to his older brother William Bradley. Sometime ca. 1823, while still living in South Carolina, Robert Duke Bradley married for the first time to Mary Carolina Kittles.
Following his marriage to Mary Carolina Kittles, sometime in 1827, the Bradley family set a course for the Florida Territory. Arriving to the Florida frontier in December 1827 the Bradley family settled in Jefferson County along with their three slaves. Upon settling in Jefferson County, Robert began acquisition of property and by August 20, 1834 had acquired 320 acres of property from the United States and through the land act of April 24, 1820; which allowed the purchase of public lands offered at public sale. Robert Bradley's Jefferson County property is described as being in sections 32 & 33, township 03n, range 07e, which is located along today's Lovett Road near Sessions Pond; and section 13, township 02n, range 09e, which is located north of Gum Creek and east of Gum Swamp. Sometime in 1835 Robert suffered the loss of his wife Mary Carolina and the circumstances surrounding her death and burial location are unknown, however its likely she was interred in Jefferson County.
Following the death of his wife, on October 20, 1835 Robert Duke acquired an additional 40 acres of property located in Madison County and further described as being situated in section 04, township 01n, range 09e. Today, this 40 acres would be situated east of North State Road 53, just north of the City of Madison. It is believed that this 40 acres became the location where Bradley built his children a home and where he decided to live. This property would have been prime agricultural property and was situated within two miles of a blockhouse erected for the protection of the pioneers from an attack by Indians.
With the onset of Second Seminole Indian War in late 1835, the widower Robert Duke Bradley enlisted for military services with the United States. On Christmas Day in 1835 [December 25, 1835], Bradley departed from his home just north of the City of Madison and after riding his horse 15 miles to the small settlement of San Pedro, Madison County, the then 32-year-old Bradley enlisted as a private for services with Capt. Thomas Livingston's Mounted Company of the Florida Militia, which company consisted of 6 officers and 48 enlisted men. Being a mounted company typically meant that those enlisted for service had to supply their own horse and equipment. According to records Bradley stood 5 feet 10 inches tall, had black hair, and black eyes. After serving for the enlisted term of 78 days, Bradley was discharged on February 25, 1836 and he returned to his children and home.
According to military records Robert would remain home with his children for the next year and until again being called into military service. In February 1837 Bradley would again enlist for services in the Second Seminole Indian War however, instead of enlisting as a private with a specific company Bradley was called upon to form his own company for which he would serve as Captain. Enlisting the men in his community Capt. Robert Duke Bradley organized and formed Bradley's Company of the 13th Regiment, 1st Brigade of the Florida Militia, which was ordered into service by Gov. Call on February 11, 1837 for a period of 12 months service. Muster rolls indicate that in addition to his own service Capt. Bradley also brought with him one slave named "Dick". It was not uncommon for the Captain and/ or other officers of a military company to bring a slave along with them for the purpose of tending to their personal needs while performing their military duties. Preparing for the long year ahead of them Bradley's Company organized at San Pedro where their families likely stayed while the men were away.
Not only was the small community of San Pedro preparing for war but they were also planning for wedding bells at the same time. Before making the departure with his company Capt. Robert Duke Bradley would be united in his second marriage. On February 12, 1837 Robert Duke Bradley married to Nancy Wiggins at San Pedro, Madison County with services being performed by Rev. Mays, minister of the gospel. Nancy Wiggins was the daughter of Richard D. Wiggins (ca. 1783- 1845) and Nancy Edwards Wiggins (ca. 1787- ?) who were also early settlers of Madison County; her siblings were Ephema Wiggins Buie, Mary Wiggins Darby, and Richard C. Wiggins.
Two days after his marriage, on February 14, 1837 at San Pedro, Capt. Robert D. Bradley certified the muster rolls and reported that his company consisted of 52 privates and 9 officers under his command. Following his certification of the muster rolls Bradley and his company departed San Pedro to scout the Madison County area for their elusive enemy. A little more than four months into their services, on June 29, 1837, Capt. Bradley's company picked up on the fresh trail of a band of Indians along the Suwanee River, which resulted in their pursuit. During their pursuit Capt. Bradley and his men were attacked by three separate parties and as a result Bradley sent an express dispatch to then Governor Richard K. Call outlining the details of his skirmish, which was then picked up by newspapers throughout the United States. Bradley's company trailed and skirmished with the band of Indians for five days while following them through the Florida swamps. The following is an actual newspaper account of this engagement involving Bradley's company:
Bradley's Company of the 13th Regiment, 1st Brigade of the Florida Militia was mustered out of service on February 11, 1838 following an active year of service in the Florida swamps. Following his discharge Bradley returned to his family and to his new wife Nancy, almost one year after their marriage.
It was nearly two years before Capt. Robert Duke Bradley was again called into service and in those two years Bradley likely remained close to his home and family, tending to his farm. In April 1839 Capt. Bradley was called into service by Col. William Davenport as the community once again began to prepare for war. Enlisting the men in his community Capt. Bradley began forming a company of men who had proper horses and equipment. On April 11, 1839 at the plantation of Mr. Miller, a distance of six miles from Bradley's home in Madison County, Capt. R.D. Bradley's Company of Florida Mounted Volunteers was mustered into service for a period of 12 months. At the time of their enlistment muster rolls show that Bradley's Mounted company consisted of 48 privates, 10 officers, and 1 musician (bugler). During the course of their year long service Bradley's Mounted Company would skirmish with the Indian on at least two separate occasions, the first was only a month and half after the company was mustered into service.
On May 26, 1839, eighteen miles from Fort Fanning on the Suwanee River and near to Fort Dowling, while performing their military duties and scouting for Indians, Bradley's Company engaged an unknown number of Indians. According to muster rolls private Henry Brannen and private Eli Triplett were both killed in the line of duty by the Seminoles. This small skirmish which resulted in the death of two privates was reported in newspapers throughout the country and not only were the men killed but one was reportedly scalped.
The company's next skirmish with the Seminoles occurred towards the end of their service on February 21, 1840 near "Camp Brannun", perhaps named for Private Henry Brannen after his death. During this engagement Bradley's Company lost 2nd Lieutenant Ferdinand Whiddon, who was "killed by the Seminole Indians in the discharge of his duty" as an officer of the company. Following this last skirmish, on April 10, 1840, Capt. R.D. Bradley's Company of Florida Mounted Volunteers were discharged from service at Fort Jackson, Florida. On April 11, 1840 Capt. Bradley certified the muster rolls for his company and reported that at the time of their discharge from service the company consisted of 55 privates, 9 officers, and 1 musician (bugler); indicating the company had grown since the time of enlisted the year prior.
Over the next year Bradley and his men returned to their lives at home until being called into service once more for a very brief period of time. On March 14, 1841 Capt. R.D. Bradley's Company of the 1st Regiment of the Florida Mounted Militia was called into service by the United State Secretary of War and was placed under the command of Col. William J. Bailey. Bradley's Company consisting of 64 privates, 10 officers and 2 musicians (buglers) who were mustered into service at Charles Ferry, East Florida; a distance of 35 miles from Bradley's home in Madison County. Following their enlistment the company was ordered to Fort Jackson were they were stationed for approximately one month. From Fort Jackson the company was ordered to San Pedro where on April 14, 1841 Capt. Bradley certified the muster rolls for the company, after which the company was "honorably discharged from the service of the United States", two months earlier than expected. Muster rolls also show that Bradley had brought with him two horses and a family servant, likely his slave "Dick" who had previously served with Bradley. Following the company's discharge from their brief service Bradley returned to his wife and children at their Madison County home with the announcements to the end of the Second Seminole Indian War soon to follow.
By July 1841 troops were being withdrawn from Florida as the Second Seminole Indian War began to wind down under the direction of Col. William Jenkins Worth, commander of military affairs in Florida. However, as a late war measure, by the summer of 1841, Col. Worth began implementations of civilian colonization backed by the military. As a result Worth made promises of donated lands, the protection from United States Troops for a time, and sustenances for one year or more for those who settled in southwest Florida and on lands previously controlled by the Seminoles. Col. Worth's plan was pushed as a means to provide resettlement to those "unfortunate settlers" who had lost their plantations to the raiding Seminoles during the early years of the war. While the Manatee River settlement stood front and center in the colonel's thinking, his implemented program affected the peninsular frontier generally and led to the establishment of civilian communities in places within today's Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, and Pinellas Counties and points south. Over the course of the next year there would be a fairly steady trickle of settlers migrating into southwest Florida, typically traveling in groups for safety.
In February 1842 one such party of settlers gathered at the Arredondo Spanish Grant in Alachua County preparing for their trip south to settle in the area of the once prominent Indian village called Chocochattee Old Town, which was situated in the heart of the Seminole nation forty-six miles north of Fort Brooke at Tampa. Chocochattee Town also known as Red House, Red Town or New Eufala was settled as early as 1767 by migrants of the Creek town of Eufala in eastern Alabama. Chocochattee Town rose to such prominence that it became the seat of the Seminole Nation for more than 70 years. In 1823 Chocochattee Town was visited by Horatio Dexter, who had been employed by Territorial Governor William P. Duval to inform the Indians of an upcoming council at Moultrie Creek. At the time of his visit Dexter reported that Chocochattee Town consisted of about 20 homes with 65 resident Indians under Sinaha who was leading as the town chief. The chief owned three slaves, 160 head of cattle, 90 horses and a "gang of hogs." The prosperity of this settlement was so marked that two years prior to Dexter's visit 60 black slaves were lost by raiding Creek Indians from the north. In 1835 Seminole Chief Sinaha, then leader of the band at Chocochattee, had agreed to relocate and move to Fort Brooke, which then ended the Seminole's formal occupation of the hammock and savannah lands at Chocochattee Town. After Sinaha's band departed, the old fields of Chocochattee Town became the farm plots of Tiger Tail -- the bands of Tiger Tail, Wild Cat and other Seminoles who chose to remain in the hammock lands refused to accept the move to "west of the Mississippi." Tiger Tail's band used the area around Chocochattee until 1836 when the military made it of little use to the Seminoles. On April 3, 1836 the U.S. Army, 4th Infantry Regiment lead by 2nd Lieutenant Henry Prince set fire to and burned the Chocochattee Town while in pursuit of a band of Indians. In his diary 2nd Lt. Prince writes, "Aroused at 4. Got off the ground at 8. Our march was fitiguing -- weather burning hot. I rode a little, encamped 9-1/2 miles from Chocachatti. Tampa they say is 30 from here. Passed some good hammock & prairie lands. Charged a hammock supposing it to contain Indians. Set Chocachatti & prairie on fire. On guard tonight. Rain is expected." This would mark the last occupation of Chocochattee Town by the Seminoles, making way for the arrival of the first white settlers six years after in 1842.
The February 1842 party of settlers gathering at the Arredondo Spanish Grant certainly had their work cut out for them as they ventured deeper into the Florida Territory. The group of 159 individuals consisting of 58 slaves, 29 men, and 72, woman, and children, was lead by Capt. John Curry, who was a Veteran of the Second Seminole War. In addition to Capt. Curry were several other prominent Veterans of the Seminole Wars including Capt. Robert Duke Bradley, his family, and his slaves. With the promise of land, protection, and sustenances these families were hoping to establish a new life. The party left the Arradondo Spanish Grant on February 21, 1842 heading for Chocochattee Town and Tigertail's Old Fields. The heads of family recorded in the party were:
According to the writings of Lt. Marsena R. Patrick, resettlement officer:
This party was raised, mostly on the Arredondo Grant & dates from the 21st of February 1842. Many of the persons composing the party are men of wealth & have several negroes. The Troops have erected a block house near the old Chocochattee Town for the protection of the party. The old Fields belonging to Tiger Tails band are those selected for cultivation this season while lands are preparing for Cultivation next year at the foot of the Annuteliga Hammock. The Land is considered by planters, equal to any in East Florida & its proximity to navigable Streams emptying into the Gulf of Mexico renders it a very desirable position. Most of the women & Children of the Party are left at Fort Wahahootie until houses can be thrown up for them by the Party. Subsistence is now furnished from Fort Cross, but will probably be supplied from Tampa, after a few weeks.On March 1, 1842 Lt. Col. Garland sent a letter to Major William Goldsmith Belknap, military district commander at Tampa, reporting that, "The settlers who are to take post at the Annataliga, have reached there in safety and the troops are assisting them in the erection of two block house, about forty of their number carry arms..." Within a few weeks of their arrival to Chocochattee reports of the party's safety and endavours to settle the new lands was making headlines. The story first reported in the Daily National Intelligencer on March 19, 1842, as a correspondence from the Savannah Republican Florida, was then picked up and reported by the St. Augustine News on March 26, 1842, the article read:
"Correspondence of the Savannah Republican --- Florida, February 28, 1842. Twennty-three settlers, with their baggage and slaves, and one with his family, have crossed the Withlachoochee on their way to the Annuntiliga Hammock to open a settlement. More are to follow, some probably to Clear Water Harbor, West of Tampa, where Fort Harrison was located.--- This is the first time a settler has advanced South of the now noted Withlacoochee River since the Fall of 1835, the commencement of the war. This is planting a settlement in the ancient and once formidable stronghold of the Seminoles. These men go prepared to encounter straggling Indians and to occupy the country, as the pioneers of the nation have always done, with a plough in one hand and the rifle in the other. A block house is to be built for them by the troops, at such point as they may select in the Hammock, and that will form a rallying point for their operations. They go with their eyes wide open, and know that this enterprise is one which will place them in the neighborhood of some of the Indians, but they are aware if nothing is risked then nothing will be gained in this country.
This is an important movement. It is a beginning of the end. They go to a point within striking distance of the once redoubtable Waters and Cove of the Withlacoochee, with the favorite haunts of the Homosassa near them on the Gulf side.
Such an armed occupation and settlement is a harbinger of good. It is truly pleasant to see the appearance of the pioneers advancing to subject to use of civilization these fertile hammocks, high and with a climate mild and attractive. The Western coast on or near the Gulf possesses a blander climate than on the Eastern side of the Territory. The sea breezes from the ocean on the Atlantic coast are much ruder and colder then on the Western side where the East winds from the Atlantic are tempered by passage over the land, and the Gulf breezes are never as raw as those from the broad ocean. These regions must, at some future day, become a place of resort to those afflicted with pulmonary complaints."
On May 10, 1842 President John Tyler announced the termination of the Second Seminole Indian War stating that there were only about 80 adult male Seminole Indians remaining in Florida and a peaceful pressure should be exerted for their migration West. In the sentences concluding President Tyler's message he expressed a hope that settlers could move to Florida and be provided with food for a period of one year, he also added that guns and powder might be loaned to the hearty pioneers from government warehouses so that the settlers would be able to protect themselves from possible Indian attacks. Less than six months after the arrival of the new settlers to the area surrounding Chocochattee, on August 4, 1842, the Armed Occupation Act was signed into law. The act encouraged the settlers to occupy, clear and use up to 160 acres of remote land, provided it was not within two miles of a military post, making available 200,000 acres for settlement throughout the state. The area surrounding the Chocochattee was protected by Fort Cross at a distance of six miles to the east, which made the area ideal for settlement. However, the version of the bill passed eliminated the provisions for free food, seed, and weapons; which the new settlers desperately needed until the crops that they planted were ready for harvest.
Following the passage of the Armed Occupation Act, on November 28, 1842, Capt. Robert Duke Bradley applied "to the register of the proper land office for a permit to settle 160 acres of unappropriated lands." Capt. Bradley decided to settle upon a section of land, which was described as being located on the "northeast end of Chocochattee Prairie in a hammock on the east side of General Scott's Road, beginning at an Oak tree opposite a small stand in the said prairie." Situated to the northeast of Capt. Bradley's property was where his father-in-law Richard C. Wiggins; brother-in-law Richard Wiggins; and sister-in-law Mary Darby settled and decided to make their homestead through the formal issuance of permits to settle under the Armed Occupation Act.
In December 1842, the early settlers of Chocochattee, Annuttaliga and Homosassa, still experiencing great hardships, drafted and sent a petition to the President and Congress asking for the assistance of sustenance promised to them by Col. Worth the year prior in 1841. Among the signers of this petition was Capt. Robert Duke Bradley who, like most, was in desperate need of what had been promised so that he and his family could survive. The petition read as follows:
With the passing of the 1842 Armed Occupation Act the land surrounding Chocochattee required a formal government survey so that permits for lands could be issued according to the official surveys. Between the months of January and March 1843 Government surveyors conducted the first survey of the area in and around the Chocochattee prairie. As a result, on March 4, 1843, almost one year after arriving to Chocochatee, Robert Duke Bradley finally received his official permit, numbered 220, to settle his 160 acres of unappropriated lands as he had applied for back in November. With the issuance of the actual permit Bradley began the lengthy process of the homestead requirements, which meant his living on the property for a minimum of five years. During this time Bradley also made his move into politics and in 1846 he represented his community and the residents of Benton [Hernando] County serving as a Florida State Senator representing the Eighteenth District.
While there had been an official end to the Second Seminole Indian War residents still endured the ill-contrived attacks from the raiding Seminole Indians. Panic ensued in the summer of 1849 when the families residing at Chocochattee and areas as far as Chessohowitska would decide it necessary to seek shelter in one of the area forts after a series of attacks. This was the result of an increase in hostilities and an "Indian outbreak" commencing on July 22, 1849. Thirty families, consisting of 115 men, women, and children and 63 slaves gathered at "Fort Gaines, in Benton [Hernando] County, Florida," for protection from "Indian disturbances." While all 30 men, also heads-of-household, organized into a company of mounted militia and performed militia duties at Fort Gaines, under the direction of elected captain John Taylor; there were 9 men who "enlisted and entered their names on the Capt. R.D. Bradley muster rolls with the expectations of being mustered in the U.S. Service and sent on to the Indians formally or into the nation." The small company of mounted militia men included a "practicing physician" named Dr. C. Alexander, who attended to the needs of the company and their families while at the fort. For three months these local militia companies patrolled the settlements and were paid for their services from July 22, 1849 to October 23, 1849.
A result of the increased "Indian disturbances" were mass meetings held throughout the new settlements to discuss the proper removal of the Indians. One such meeting occurred in Benton [Hernando] County on July 4, 1850, at Melendez, where a committee was organized, to which representatives from each community could express their wishes regarding the removal of the Indians from the county and state. The results of this mass meeting were published in the Floridian and Journal on August 10, 1850 in the form of a resolution from convention delegates. The resolution in its entirety read:
On July 31, 1850, after meeting the full requirements of the Armed Occupation Act, Robert Duke Bradley received the deed and full title to his 160 acre homestead; seven years, eight months after filling for his initial permit to settle. This property was further described as being the south half of the southeast 1/4 of section 25 and the east half of the northeast 1/4 and the southwest 1/4 of the northeast 1/4 of section 36, township 22- south, range 19-east; today his property is located near the intersection of State Road 50 and E. Jefferson Street in Brooksville. That same year Bradley would again turn to politics representing his community and the residents of Hernando County with his services as a State Representative to the Florida Legislature.
In August 1851 Bradley turned his attentions to a new venture on the frontier, establishing a new post office and serving as its postmaster. After applying to the Postmaster General in Washington, D.C., on August 27, 1851, Robert Duke Bradley was appointed the postmaster of the new Fort Taylor post office in Benton [Hernando] County, the sixth post office established in Benton [Hernando] County to serve the needs of the frontier settlers. While the earliest locations of the Fort Taylor post office are not known it is believed that the office was located in or near to Bradley's home in township 22s- range 19e and remained at this location until the 1860's. On the left is an 1860 map showing the location of Fort Taylor in township 22s- range 19e, just south of Pierceville. Bradley continued in his position as Fort Taylor postmaster until sometime ca. 1853 when he decided it was time or necessary to find new ground to settle. Its not clear why Bradley decided to relocate but it may have been the result of two reasons; his acceptance of a position with the local stage company or the Military Bounty Act of 1850, which allowed him to settle an additional 160 acres of land for his services in the Second Seminole War.
Leaving his homestead at Chocachattee, Robert Duke Bradley and his family ventured about 18 miles further south into the county and eventually decided upon a piece of land, which was situated about 26 miles north of Fort Brooke in Tampa. Its believed that Bradley and his family arrived to this location sometime between January and February 1853 and may have even frequented the area prior. Bradley's new home was built along the stagecoach road, which connected Fort Brooke with Chocachattee and was positioned approximately half way between the two locations. In the month of March 1853, immediately following Bradley's arrival to the area, his home was visited by an unnamed, "wayfaring", traveler along the stage route, this visit published in newspapers in the form of the travelers diary; telling his tale of travels from Tampa to St. Augustine. However, at the time of this travelers visit it appears that Bradley's cabin was still under construction, with little to no mud packed between the logs making the wall of his new home. This visit published in the Floridian and Journal on June 25, 1853, as a correspondent from the New York Commercial Advertiser, reported:
"First night out from Tampa, twenty-five miles, arrived at 7, found family all sitting by a log fire out in the yard : no fire place in the house : man did not rise to greet us, or even turn in his chair to see who we were : that was the "nigger's" business : sat there till near nine waiting for supper, which was served out on the porch. Venison fried with pork, sweet potatoes, corn bread, and arrow root --- no tea. No doors to the chamber, and only a broken shutter on the window; put up bed quilts; air came in freely between the logs..."
Fortunately, we know through another newspaper article and correspondence that this travelers first stop and diary entry were referring to Capt. Bradley's new home. Taking offense to the downtrodden attitude that the traveler took towards the frontiersmen, on July 30, 1853, the Ancient City published a correspondence revealing the travelers name and those who he visited along his travels through Hernando County. The article titled "Par-sing Hastings, and his Travels in South Florida" reads in part:
"We see going through the rounds of the papers what pretends to the be the diary of a traveler from Tampa to St. Augustine, which owes its authorship to a Parson Hastings, envoy extraordinary to the Pope of Rome, if Hotel registers can be relied on.--- But with little truth he mixes much that is false to the detriment and slander of our country and its worthy citizens.--- His first stopping place after leaving Tampa, was with a worthy citizen of substance, Capt. Bradley. It is true that he had just settled there- but a few weeks after the hegirs of this wonderful prophet, we happened into Capt. Bradley to dinner. On his table was a fine, fat gobbler, sweet venison, and sweeter beef, and butter from the churn, that would compare favorable with the best Goshen, and many other viands tempting to the taste...."
These two articles not only reveal that Bradley and his family settled this area only a few weeks prior to the Parson Hastings visit in March 1853, but they also provide an overall appearance of early life on the Florida frontier. After filing a permit to claim this land under the Military Bounty Act of 1850, on April 1, 1854, Bradley finally received the deed and full title to this 160 acres of property, Warrant No. 13688. The property was further described as being the west half of the northeast quarter, and the west half of the southeast quarter of section 29, township 25s, range 19e; today his property is located in central Pasco County in the small community of Ehren, near Land O' Lakes. Here, not only was Bradley's property close to the stagecoach road but the road actually crossed the northern portion of his property, likely where their small simple cabin was located. This area and stop along the stagecoach route would eventually become known as the 26-Mile-House because of its distance from the Tampa relay station, however the Bradley family would soon move on to another location.
In addition to Capt. Bradley's acquisition of an additional 160 acres through the Military Bounty Act, his wife, Nancy Bradley, also acquired property when she made a cash purchase from the state. On February 2, 1854 Nancy acquired 120 acres of property, which was located approximately 5 miles north of their newly acquired [Ehren] property and approximately 10 miles south of their original Chocachattee homestead. This property is further described as being the west half of the southwest quarter and the southeast quarter of the southwest quarter of section 24, township 24s, range 19e; today this property is located near the intersection of Bellamy Brothers Road and St. Joe Road in the small community of Darby. Just like their property in the Ehren area, Nancy's newly acquired property was close to the passing stagecoach road and was located just east of Thirteen Mile Pond, perhaps a name given by the stagecoach drivers for its distance from the next "way-station".
In 1854 Robert Duke Bradley tried his hand again at politics when he ran for the Florida House of Representatives a second time. In his race Bradley ran as a Democrat against Major John Parsons, also a Democrat. On October 21, 1854 the Floridian and Journal published the results of the Hernando County election showing that Bradley was defeated by Parsons, 92 votes to 80. In addition to the election for Congress and the state House of Representative there was also a vote for the removal of the state capitol from Tallahassee, however the vote failed.
Soon after the acquisition of their Darby area property the Bradley family would begin work on a new home and farm, which would become the families new and final homestead. Capt. Bradley reportedly built his family a typical double-pin log cabin, which is a log cabin with two adjacent rooms under a common roof and usually having a chimney at each end of the cabin. The two rooms of Bradley's double-pin cabin were separated by a dog trot in the middle, which was also under the common roof. The photograph above shows the typical construction of a Florida double-pin cabin, with dog trot; similar to that of Capt. Robert Duke Bradley's final homestead in the Darby.
By late 1855, there were more than 700 Army troops stationed on the Florida peninsula. Around that time the Seminoles decided that they would strike back against the increasing pressure being put on them by the settlers and troops and attack when an opportunity presented itself. Chief Sam Jones [Aripeka] may have been the instigator of this decision; Chipco was said to have been against it. On December 7, 1855, First Lieutenant George Hartsuff, who had led previous patrols into the reservation, left Fort Myers with ten men and two wagons. They found no Seminoles but did pass corn fields and three deserted villages, including Billy Bowlegs' village. On the evening of December 19, 1855, Hartsuff told his men that they would be returning to Fort Myers the next day. As the men were loading the wagons and saddling their horses the next morning (December 20, 1855), forty Seminoles led by Billy Bowlegs attacked the camp. Several soldiers were shot, including Lieutenant Hartsuff, who managed to hide himself. The Seminoles killed and scalped four men in the camp, killed the wagon mules, looted and burned the wagons and took several horses. Seven men, four of them wounded, made it back to Fort Myers. This was the first in a series of Indian attacks on settlers and troops, which ultimately prompted the beginning of the Third Seminole Indian War.
While the area around the Bradley cabin was still frequented by Indians, evident only by their moccasin tracks through the swamps and hammocks, it had been several years since an outright attack had occurred in the county. Life around the Bradley home and neighborhood seemed to have some normalcy as the settlers tended to their plantation farms, livestock, and crops. However, in the spring of 1856 the long calm normalcy would be broken when the Bradley cabin would come under attack by a group of about fifteen Indians. At the time of the attack, 53-year-old Capt. Bradley was NOT mustered into service with the United States and instead was attempting to recover from prolonged illness contracted during his previous years in service. It was Wednesday, May 14, 1856 and it had been a normal spring day in the Darby neighborhood with everyone busy tending to the needs of their crops in hopes of having a good harvest before the humid, hot summer days crept in. As the sun began to set on another long day of work, not feeling well, Capt. Bradley was confined to his bed while Nancy and the children attended supper. As the family returned from supper, and the children were standing in the open passage of the cabin, the Indians fired a volley, which instantly killed the young, 11-year-old, Mary Jane Bradley and mortally wounded the 15-year-old William Brown Bradley. Even though mortally wounded young William ran into the house, got a gun, and returned to the passage to return the fire; when he fell dead. During the chaos the brave mother Nancy Bradley ran out and carried her other children into the cabin, while the Indians fired at her not hurting her or any of the other children. By this time Capt. Bradley had arose from bed and returned fire upon the Indians with two or three guns which he had in his cabin; this causing the Indians to withdraw into the woods. Just south of Capt. Bradley's home was the home of his daughter and son-in-law, Samuel and Julia Ann Bradley Colding. Upon hearing the gun shots Julia sent a Negro boy to ascertain the cause--- he went to Bradley's house and returned without molestation--- he did not see the Indians. Capt. Bradley immediately prepared a statement of the facts, which he sent to Brig. Gen. Churchill who was lodging for the night at Mr. Whitfield's near Brooksville. While at first discharge Julia Ann Colding did not hear more then six or seven reports Capt. Bradley reported no less then fifteen Indians in the band.
On Thursday morning, May 15, 1856, a party of men endeavored to trail the Indian, but after several attempts, were compelled to despair of success-- no trail being visible-- Capt. Thomas C. Ellis left the scene of excitement to communicate the sad intelligence to General Carter at Fort Brooks in Tampa. Capt. Ellis arrived at Fort Brooke at about 8 p.m. on the evening of May 16, 1856 and considerable commotion followed the recital of the message he carried. The following morning, May 17, 1856, three days after the attack on Bradley's home, Gen. Carter prepared communication and expressmen were immediately dispatched to Capt. Durrance's command at Fort Frazier, also to Fort Treska on the Manatee River, and to Capt's. Hooker and Sparkmen, apprising them of the facts in the Bradley Massacre. In his dispatch Gen. Carter provides the details of the events that unfolded three days prior at the cabin of Capt. Robert Duke Bradley in Hernando County and as a result requested that Capts. Lesley, Addison, Hooker, Durrance, and Sparkmen order such forces as their strength would justify to such points as they would be most likely to intercept the Indians or to discover their trail. It was also on May 17, 1856 when word had spread throughout the frontier and statewide newspapers were already reporting on the incident, only three days after the attack; one such report appeared in the Florida Peninsular newspaper.
Mail and stagecoach service between Tampa and Ocala was halted as roving bands of Seminoles once again made life difficult for the settlers. In the Hernando County neighborhoods the settlers left their homes and sought refuge in the nearby forts and block houses built for their protection. Without the aid of troops for protection the able men of the community began routine, daily, patrols of the hammocks, swamps, and abandoned plantations scouting for signs and tracks of the Seminoles; troops were being assembled and order to locations south in an attempt to intercept the Indians. With the entire frontier on alert Capt. Bradley and his wife were preparing the graves of their two children, William Brown and Mary Jane Bradley, killed in the attack. In an attempt the prevent the Indian's return to disgrace the burials the two young children were reportedly buried in unmarked graves on the Bradley's, Darby, plantation. The only casualties reported in these first hand accounts were the Bradley children, the Indians were able to make their escape with no casualties and no reported injuries. Furthermore, the local militia patrols were unable to trail the Indians and ultimately gave up their pursuit to the Federal troops organizing south.
With each passing day more details of the Bradley massacre were made available by reporting newspapers, these details likely coming from the numerous military correspondents being sent. On May 24, 1856 the National Democrat reported, in detail, the events that unfolded at the Bradley plantation on the night of May 14, 1856. In addition residents were also forming committees to communicate with General Carter in Tampa for the purpose of reporting the details of their regular scouting parties and to request immediate assistance and protection from the troops. On such communication, below, was sent to General Carter on May 31, 1856 and reported the signs of numerous Indians throughout the neighborhoods of Hernando County. In typical fashion the Seminole Indians took advantage of the seasons and progress of the crops in formulating their attack and disrupting the regular growth of sustenances by the settlers.
With the increased attacks throughout central and southern Florida, in September 1856, Brigadier General William S. Harney returned to Florida as commander of the federal troops. Remembering the lessons he had learned in the Second Seminole War, he set up a system of forts in a line across Florida, and patrols moved deep into Seminole territory. He planned to confine the Seminoles to the Big Cypress Swamp and the Everglades, because he believed they would be unable to live there during the wet season. He anticipated being able to catch the Indians when they left their flooded sanctuaries seeking dry land for raising their crops. Part of Harney's plan involved using boats to reach islands and other dry spots in the swamps. He first made one more attempt to negotiate with the Seminoles but was unable to make contact with them. In early January 1857, he ordered his troops to actively pursue the Indians.
In 1857, ten companies of Florida militia were taken into federal service, totaling almost 800 men by September. Among those Florida militia companies organized was a company of men organized by Capt. Robert Duke Bradley. On November 14, 1856 Bvt. Brig. Gen'l. U.S. Harney, under instructions from the War Department, called into service Capt. Robert D. Bradley's Independent Foot Company of Volunteers to serve a term of six months unless sooner discharged. Over the course of the next three months Capt. Bradley would raise his company of men from the local neighborhoods and on February 21, 1857 the new militia company organized and was mustered into service at Fort Dade, Florida. At the time of their muster Capt. Bradley's Independent Foot Company of Volunteers consisted of 11 officers, 2 musicians, and 74 enlisted men. Of the company's eighty plus men, thirty-two men mustered into service from Sumter County and comprised the Sumter County detachment of Bradley's Independent Foot Company of Florida Volunteers. The headquarters of the new company was located in the Darby neighborhood, situated on Capt. Bradley's property and homestead; comprising Camp Bradley, [Pasco] Hernando County, Florida. Camp Bradley was where the company bivouacked and received all their ammunition, rations, and pay from Fort Brooke in Tampa. With company headquarters located at Camp Bradley a great hardship was created on the Sumter County detachment, who was responsible to move their supplies from Camp Bradley to their post in Sumter County, a distance of more than 40 miles. (Click here to view muster rolls for Capt. Bradley's Independent Company of Volunteers)
Except for the Sumter County detachment, its believed that Bradley's Company remained at Camp Bradley for the majority of their service and from there performed their regular duty, scouting the neighborhood in an effort to prevent another attack. On March 3, 1857 the company lost private George Coursey, age 33, who died at Camp Page; likely a result of disease contacted during his service. The exact location of Camp Page is unknown and was likely a post similar to that of Camp Bradley. After completing their six months of service the company was mustered out. On August 20, 1857 Capt. Bradley's Independent Foot Company of Florida Volunteers was mustered out of service at Fort Dade, Florida by 1st Lt. S.D. Lee, 4th Artillery Mustering Officer.
During Robert Bradley's 1857 service in the Third Seminole Indian War his wife, Nancy, acquired additional property from the state. Like their previous acquisition from the state this new property was also acquired through a cash purchase. On April 15, 1857 Nancy Bradley acquired the following described, Darby area, properties through cash purchase:
This new property adjoined to their previously acquired Darby property and allowed the Bradley family the opportunity to expand their farm and interest. While a portion of the property was improved with crops and orange groves, the remainder was timber and pasture land, which was used for their livestock of horses, cattle, mules, and swine. Today, portions of the Bradley's old groves are still evident by a few remaining trees still intact on an undeveloped portion of their property. However, with Capt. Bradley's ill health he would not see this expansion come to fruition.
Shortly following Capt. Bradley's August 1857 discharge from military service he would become deathly ill and would not recover from his sickness. On December 14, 1857, at age 54, Capt. Robert Duke Bradley died at his Darby home surrounded by his family and likely being attended to by a former company doctor. The cause of his death was reported as "hemoridge of the bowels and lungs or blood from the lungs" Following his death the entire community mourned his loss and on December 16, 1857, two days after his death, Capt. Bradley was laid to rest. Some accounts report his burial in the Brooksville Cemetery while others attribute his burial in the Townsend House Cemetery.
Following the death of Capt. Robert Duke Bradley his wife, Nancy, remained at their Darby homestead and farm where she was surrounded by family and friends; she remained a widow and never remarried. In 1860 Nancy Bradley is reported as owning 440 acres of property with $500 in improvements. She also owned 2 slaves valued at $2,000, its unknown if one of these two slaves was "Dick" the slave who formerly served with Capt. Bradley during the Second Seminole Indian War, although both were likely working as house servants. At the time Nancy also owned a coach or carriage valued at $115 and the average livestock consisting of 4 horses valued at $350 and 30 cattle, swine, or sheep with a low value of $40. Nancy survived her husband by forty years and became most notable for her husband's service in the Seminole Wars and for her surviving the attack on their home by the Seminoles. Nancy Wiggins Bradley died on September 12, 1898 and was laid to rest at the Townsend House Cemetery in eastern Pasco County. Robert and Nancy were both survived by several children who remained deeply rooted in the community of Darby, today there are descendants of the family still living the small community where the family first settled in 1854.
Today, the May 14, 1856 attack on the Bradley home is remembered by a historical marker erected by the Pasco County Historical Preservation Committee and the Pasco County Board of County Commissioners. The burials of Bradley's children, William and Mary Jane, are still unknown and remain unmarked; it is hoped that some day these internments can be located, identified, and properly marked.
This page was last revised on October 23, 2010- Research by Jeff Cannon- Copyright © 2010.