History of the "Freedtown" 

Community & Cemetery

Section 20 - Township 25 - Range 21

(materials and photos may NOT be reproduced without written consent of the author and contributors- Copyright © 2006-10 by Jeff Cannon)

Historical Marker for Freedtown dedicated on Feb. 21, 2004
The historical marker south of Dade City at the intersection of Fort King Road and Bozeman Road dedicated on Feb. 21, 2004, reads:

FREEDTOWN. About a mile west of this location is the abandoned site of the Freedtown settlement, Pasco County's pioneer black community. It was established about 1869, by newly freed slaves, to the southwest of Lake Buddy. Freedtown consisted of cabin homes, a congregation of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, and a cemetery. The small community thrived until the Great Freeze of 1894-95, which decimated the agrarian economy of not only Freedtown, but also the other nearby lake front communities of Pasadena and Earnestville. Nothing today remains of Freedtown or its cemetery. Following the freeze, most of Freedtown's population migrated north and became residents of Dade City, where many united with the Mount Zion AME Church congregation.


According to The History of Zephyrhills 1821-1921 by Rosemary W. Trottman, "Before the North had made slavery its emotional issue against the South, Wright Williamson had assisted Ben Baisden to win his freedom, and the white community had assisted him in settling land on the southeast side of Lake Buddy.  One by one, a considerable colony of freedmen settled near."

This community first settled by Benjamin Baisden and later by others became known as "Freedtown".  When I set out to find the truth about the community and cemetery referred by many as “Freedtown” I had no idea of the extent of the history that surrounded the area of Pasco County known as Lake Pasadena or Buddy Lake.  As I began to study the census records, land records, historical information handed down by numerous locals from the time period, locals from more recent time periods and all of that combined with the great knowledge of several professors who have studied African-American culture and history, the truth about the area known as “Freedtown” began to appear much clearer.  African-Americans have been in the Pasco County area since at least 1812 and have been documented in the state of Florida since the time of the Spanish explorers who came to this unknown adventurous land bringing slaves with them.  

It must be noted that it is not known if the "Freedtown" name was used by the community's earliest residents or if this is a contemporary name used by the community's descendants as to describe life in this early community and after emancipation.  This area south of Buddy Lake is often considered to be the Buddy Lake, Prospect, or Earnestville communities and it's possible that "Freedtown" was considered the "colored quarters" of one of these settlements.

The history of the “Freedtown” community and church are not recorded like most histories in Pasco County as it deals with the African-American history, research, and genealogy, which can sometimes be rather difficult to research due to the lack of written records.  In “Freedtown's” case there is enough physical documentation, combined with oral history, to support the small community's existence on the south side of Buddy Lake.  The antecedences for "Freedtown" were in place by 1869 and this writer has not been able to establish the date of “Freedtown's” beginning prior to December 1866 when the community's first resident Benjamin Baisden settled there.  

Benjamin Baisden was reportedly born into slavery in South Carolina in August 1835, parents unknown.  Sometime ca. 1865 Benjamin formally married to Virginia Jane, whose maiden name, if any, is unknown along with the location of their marriage; which may have occurred in Hernando County where marriage records from that time period were destroyed during the 1877 courthouse fire. After their marriage the Baisden's settled on the south side of Lake Buddy in 1866, along with their two children.

Children of Benjamin and Virginia Jane Baisden were:
  • Angeline  b. 1862  d. April 11, 1902-  married to Isaac Kirkland on July 24, 1887  (More on Angeline and Isaac below)
  • Samuel M. Baisden  b. 1863  d. 1917-  married to Elmyra Culver  (More on Samuel Baisden below)

Note: two other children reportedly died at a young age.

In this history we will show the supporting documentation that Benjamin Baisden settled on the south side of Buddy Lake in December 1866 and that other African American families settled around him to establish a small community that had a church, cemetery, and school.  ALL of the information herein should be considered as support to the existence of the small “Freedtown” community located on  south side of Buddy Lake.  If one fails to consider ALL of the documentation involved with “Freedtown's” history  then there should be no point in reading any further for the simple reason that the whole history would not be portrayed. The intent here is to portray the "whole history" and not just a small censored portion of it as some desire.


Issues surrounding the enumeration of Benjamin Baisden in 1870
The first place one might look for clues and for research would be the census records.  Today, few researcher know or realize the history of the Federal Census. Anyone who considers themselves to be a genealogist or researcher of history should take these issues and history of the Federal Census into consideration before completely depending upon on these records for research purposes.  

The first census in which Benjamin Baisden appears, including state censuses, is the 1870 U.S. Federal Census for Hernando County, which then included present Pasco County.  Upon close examination of the 1870 census for Hernando/Pasco County one can see an immediate problem surrounding the enumeration of Benjamin Baisden and his family in that they are listed TWICE.  The 1870 census for Pasco/ Hernando County contains numerous duplicated enumerations, missing enumerations, incorrect races, incorrect name spellings, and all the other errors that have been documented as being in the 1870 federal census.  There are those among us who, while researching,  will attempt to retrace the steps of the census takers but given the history of the early censuses-- this can not, and I repeat-- can not, be a reliable way to determine where someone lived.  The census can be a great source for information as long as it is only used as a point of departure, a general area in which the person or persons were recorded.  There is a myriad of explanations for why Benjamin Baisden and his family are listed twice in 1870 census and are too numerous to list here. However, the most plausible and credible explanation is that a transcription error occurred during the duplication or copy process of the census.  While it may be hard to believe, census records were duplicated.  After the original enumerations ALL census records were copied twice by hand with the last copy being sent to Washington D.C., and being the census records that historians use today.  This third generation hand copy of the original, that was sent to Washington D.C., is the most erroneous copy of the three that were made.  If it were possible to look at the original 1870 Federal census for Hernando County, we may find that Benjamin Baisden and his family were only recorded once, however this is not possible since most, if not all, original copies have been destroyed. We may never find the census truth and this is why we must never rely "completely" on these early census records.

To read and understand more about the history of the U.S. Federal Census, click here.  (This page is recommended for those who rely upon census records for research.)

Other documentation should always be considered, along with census records.  In the case of "Freedtown" research has been plied to tax records, land records, newspapers, and voter registrations records along with numerous other resources to find the exact location of Benjamin Baisden, who is credited as being the first African American to settle in small "Freedtown" community.  With documentation spanning a period of more than fifty years there is sufficient support to show the existence of the "Freedtown" farming community, which covered  3-4 square miles in the Buddy Lake and Prospect Community area, with a population of at least 15 to 20 African-Americans at its peak in the late 1880s, and for which some researchers still refuse to accept, insisting that the community never existed or that it existed somewhere else.  While there are some who claim that  four or five families in a 3-4 square mile area, in the early 1870s, does not constitute a "community", it must be clarified that the concept of a "community" is a relative term and has not changed much from 1870 to present day.  Even in today's terms a "community" could be considered anything from two or three families over a 3-4 square mile area to thousands of families over the same 3-4 square mile area. In 1870, when Pasco County was sparsely populated, what do you think would have been considered a "community?"

Let's now explore other documentation, which provide more substantial evidence of the location of Benjamin Baisden during the 1870 enumeration.


Voter Registration
Following the abolishment of slavery, on March 4, 1865, the United States Congress, under the direction of the Freedmen's Inquiry Commission, elected to establish the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands commonly known as the Freedmen Bureau.  With slavery now abolished the Freedmen's Bureau was responsible for four million newly freed slaves. The main purpose of " The Freedmen's Bureau" was to help former slaves acquire some of the things that they had been previously denied such as land, education, the opportunity to learn the same trades as the whites, equality and the right to vote.  During the 1867-68 elections African-American's were allowed to take part in elections and for the first time they were allowed to pick their own delegates. This, however, was not done without resistance from the Confederate Loyalist, whose entire livelihood had been removed.  In Hernando County these loyalist spread rumors that the African-American's had been lied to by the Unionists and that they would not be allowed to take part in an upcoming Republican Party meeting, in Brooksville, where their delegates would be decided. According to a July 31, 1867 Freedmen's Bureau Report, during the Republican Party meeting in Brooksville, 300 armed Freedmen marched upon Brooksville under the American Flag.  The Freedmen had been prompted to march by the venomous lies that had been spread throughout the region.  The Freedmen's Bureau agent, that was present at the time, stated in his report that he had to explain to the Freedmen that it was against the law to carry arms and assured them they would indeed partake in the voting and the picking of delegates.

The 1867-68 Florida Voter Registration lists for Hernando County show that Benjamin Baisden registered to vote on August 24, 1867 as a resident in Precinct 4. Baisden is also recorded as being a resident of Hernando County, Florida for the required minimum of 12 months.  This is the earliest documentation for pioneer resident Benjamin Baisden, and it tells us that Ben Baisden had been in the area since at least 1866 and possibly prior since 12 months seems to be listed for most registered voters that had already been in the area for many years.  It is not known exactly where the boundaries for Precinct 4 were located; however when land documents from the time period are considered, researched, and plied against the other names also listed in Precinct 4, such as Lewis Gaskin, Lyborn Kersey, William Wright Williamson and David Osborn, it had to include the Dade City and "Freedtown" areas. This can also be confirmed by comparing the Precinct 4 list to the 1885 Gazetteer and other records used during the research of Benjamin Baisden.

1867-68 Florida Voter Registration- Hernando County Return
1867-68 Florida Voter Registration (Hernando County Return) for precinct 4 showing Benjamin Baisden- voter number 359 - registered August 23, 1867.  This record indicates that Benjamin Baisden had been in Hernando County and the state since at least August of 1866.  (Special Publication No. 2, Tallahassee Genealogical Society Inc.)


Benjamin E. Baisden Land Records
Sometimes during research certain land records can be very misleading unless the researcher completely understands the process in the acquisition of said lands.  For example, if the certain lands being researched were acquired through homestead it is important to understand the homestead application process, if acquisition was through cash sales of public lands then it is important to understand the process of the cash sales of public lands.  In most homestead applications the settlers were required to live and cultivate their lands for a minimum of five years.  In most homestead cases it took between seven and ten years for the homesteader to receive the actual deed and claim to his property and sometimes it may have taken longer depending on the situation.  The date(s) on the final deed(s) are NOT the date(s) for when the homesteaders first settled on the land(s). Simply subtracting five years from the date on the final deed(s) will not provide or yield an accurate date for which the homesteader settled on the lands that were acquired through the homestead process, however some researcher still insist that this is an accurate means in providing the date of settlement for certain pioneers.  In this section we will explore the land records for Benjamin Baisden while providing supporting documentation to show the actual date of settlement by Benjamin Baisden on the south side of Lake Buddy and in the "Freedtown" Community.

Pasco County land records, Bureau of Land Management records, and state land records show that Benjamin Baisden acquired several large pieces of property from both the United States and from the State of Florida.  These records alone show that Benjamin Baisden owned a total of 200 acres of property located in sections 17 & 20- township 25s- range 21e, which are situated on the south side of Lake Buddy about two miles south of Dade City.  The most important piece of property owned by Benjamin Baisden was the first piece of property that he settled and the date that he settled on said property; remember that this does not mean the date on the final deeds.  The three large pieces of property acquired and owned by Benjamin Baisden and how they were acquired are as follows:


Property Description How property was acquired Date on Final Deed
SE¼ of SE¼ of section 17-township 25S-range 21E Internal Improvement Fund (State of Florida) October 25, 1882
N½ of NE¼ of section 20-township 25S-range 21E Homestead Act- May 20, 1862 (United States) June30, 1883
S½ of NE¼ of section 20-township 25S-range 21E Cash Entry March 24, 1884
Please note that this list does not include properties that were acquired by Benjamin Baisden through private acquisition as those will be covered below and in the order in which they were acquired.


Upon researching the land records for Benjamin Baisden, as shown above, some researcher might immediately suggest that Baisden settled on his property south of Buddy Lake in the early 1880's or if we subtract five to seven years from his homesteaded property sometime between 1876-1878, however neither of these dates or estimations are accurate.  While the first deed that Benjamin Baisden received is dated October 1882 for 40 acres, this property is NOT the first property that Baisden settled but instead this was additional property to his initial homestead, which he received a deed for in June 1883.

As most researchers know the homestead process had certain requirements that had to be followed for the settler to acquire the final deed to their homesteaded property, however there are few who know what these requirements were.  Specifically speaking and according to the final homestead deed, Benjamin Baisden made his homestead "pursuant to the Act of Congress approved 20th May 1862, 'To secure Homesteads to actual settlers on the public domain."  The general requirements of the May 20, 1862 homestead act included being head of a family or at least 21-years-old, a citizen of United State or have filed declaration of intention to naturalize, and never borne arms against the United States Government or given aid and comfort to its enemies.  If a person met these general requirements, then, after January 1, 1863 they were entitled to enter one quarter section or a less quantity of unappropriated public lands, upon which said person may have filed a preemption claim.  In doing so the settler had to file a lengthy and detailed homestead application.  The homestead application was filed after an entry had been made with the land office and after the homesteader had lived on the property for a minimum of five years.  The entry that was made meant that it was for the purpose of actual settlement and cultivation of the land being applied for and that said settlement would not directly or indirectly benefit any other person except the homesteader.  In addition, the homesteader had to provide two credible witnesses that he, or she have resided upon or cultivated the same for the term of five years immediately succeeding the time of filing the affidavit, and shall make an affidavit that no part of said land has been alienated, and he has borne true allegiance to the Government of the United States; then, in such case, he, she, or they, if at that time a citizen of the United States, shall be entitled to a patent, as in other cases provided for by law.  (click hereto read all the requirements of the May 20, 1862 homestead act)  The Homestead Act of May 20, 1862 was later revised to include those states in rebellion when the act was passed, this revised act became commonly called The Southern Homestead Act.

With this said let's look at Benjamin Baisden's actual homestead application, #4236, and the process that he followed to acquire the final homestead deed dated June 30, 1883.  During this process the affidavits and testimonies provided show the date of settlement by Benjamin Baisden on the south side of Buddy Lake.

According to the final "homestead proof- witness/ claimant testimony" Benjamin Baisden settled on his homestead on the N½ of NE¼ of section 20-township 25S-range 21E, south of Buddy Lake, in December 1866.  However, for reasons unknown Baisden did not file his preemption claim or start his homestead application until October 1876.  In starting his homestead application, on October 16, 1876 Baisden made his affidavit before Hernando County Clerk of the Court John C. Law, that he was a citizen of the U.S. over 21-years-old and that he had "already made settlement on the land applied for."

October 25, 1876 homestead affidavit signed by Benjamin Baisden
Benjamin Baisden's affidavit before the clerk of the court testifying that he was a citizen of the United State over 21, signed October 16, 1876  (From author's collection)


In addition to his affidavit Baisden paid $7.00, which was sent to the land office in Gainesville and processed by register J.A. Lee on October 25, 1876.  In turn Benjamin Baisden was given two receipts, one original and one duplicate in case the original was lost.  The receipt, also dated October 25, 1876, was signed by receiver S.H. Walhdarf, recording the amount paid by Baisden and a description of the property that he was filing his preemption claim with the purposes of homesteading said property.  Once Benjamin Baisden made his preemption claim and paid the required fee he was then required to wait the five year period, after which he was required to file actual proof that he settled, cultivated, and made residence upon the land being applied for.


Brooksville Cresent legal notice of Benjamin Baisden intent to make final proof of his homesteadAlmost five years to the day Benjamin Baisden started filing the remainder of the required sections of his homestead application in order to complete the final process and provide proof of his settlement on said land being applied for.  On November 1, 1881 an advertisement [shown left] was published in the Brooksville Crescent newspaper stating Benjamin Baisden's intention to make final proof in support of his homestead claim, which included the names of four witnesses, two of which had to provide written testimony or proof that Benjamin Baisden had made homestead upon said lands.  The names of the four neighbors or witnesses that Baisden provided in making his final proof were John Wells, V.C. Thrasher [Velpo Thrasher], James Gaskins, and L.J. Gaskins [Jackson Gaskins].  After the advertisement had been published for a minimum of 30 days, then Baisden could precede with his final proof "to establish his claim to the N½ of NE¼ of section 20 in township 25S, range 21E.".


On Friday, December 9, 1881 Benjamin Baisden, along with his two witnesses, appeared before the Clerk of the Circuit Court, John C. Law, to provide testimony and final homestead proof.  In addition to Benjamin Baisden's claimant testimony, Velpo C. Thrasher, and Jackson Gaskins also provided witness testimonies in the final homestead proof for Benjamin Baisden, these being the required two witnesses of the four names given the month prior and as advertised in the Brooksville Crescent newspaper.  It must be noted that the Clerk told every witness about Title LXX- section 5932 of the Revised Statutes and was told that it was the purpose of the Government, if it be ascertained that the testimony be false, that the witness would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  The revised statute stated that anyone guilty of perjury was to be punished by a fine of not more than two thousand dollars ($2,000), and by imprisonment, at hard labor, not more than five years.  (Click here to read Title LXX- Crimes- Ch. 4 Sec. 5392- perjury)  {INSERT SEC 5392)

December 9, 1881 final claimant testimony of Benjamin Baisden
Benjamin Baisden's claimant testimony made on December 9, 1881 in making his final homestead proof.  (From author's collection)

According to Benjamin Baisden's homestead proof testimony, as shown above, he was a 47-year-old native of the United States whose post office address was Fort Dade, Fla.  Baisden goes on to say that, "I bought the claim from another party and the house was on the place when I moved there, which was in December 1866.  Said house is a common log house and I have 6 other houses on the place, and about 20 acres of land in cultivation; total value of improvement $300."  Furthermore, Baisden writes that, "my family consist of a wife and two children and myself and family have resided continuously on the land since first establishing residence thereon.  I have not been absent from the homestead that I know of for more then two weeks at a time, since making settlement and then only temporarily while going to market.  I have cultivated 20 acres of the land and have raised crops thereon for 14 seasons.  The land is most valuable for agricultural purposes."  Signed December 9, 1881 before John C. Law, Clerk of Circuit Court and in the absence of the Judge.  Clerk John C. Law further stated "that no one appeared to make objection to this proof."  It is interesting to note that Baisden says he "bought the claim from another party and the house was on the place when I moved there in December 1866."  This may be the cause for a delay in the filing of his preemption claim in October 1876, especially if Baisden thought he had already purchased the property or claim.

Following Benjamin Baisden's claimant testimony was the witness testimony of Jackson Gaskins, who stated that he was a farmer who resided at Fort Dade, Fla.  Jackson Gaskins goes on to say, "I do not know the exact date when he [Benjamin Baisden] first established his residence on the homestead, but it was long before he made his homestead entry.  He has a log dwelling and has several other houses and has about 20 acres of land in cultivation and valued at $300."  Jackson Gaskins goes on to testify that, "He [Benjamin Baisden] has never been absent from the homestead more then a week at a time.  He has cultivated about 20 acres and has raised crops thereon for about 12 or 14 seasons."  Signed December 9, 1881 before John C. Law, Clerk of Circuit Court and in the absence of the Judge.  Clerk John C. Law further stated "that no one appeared to make objection to this proof."  It is interesting to note that while Jackson Gaskins testifies that he doesn't know the exact date that Baisden settled on the land he says that he has been farming on the property for 12 or 14 season, which would give a date of settlement between 1867 and 1869.

The second and final witness testimony was provided Velpo C. Thrasher, who stated that he was a farmer who also resided at Fort Dade, Fla.  Velpo Thrasher goes on to say, "I do not know when claimant first established actual residence.  He was there when I first knew him which was in 1874.  The dwelling is a log one with shed on one side and has five other out buildings and has about 20 acres of land under furrow and has overall oranges, citrus, etc.  Total value of improvements is $300."  Thrasher further states, "claimant and family have resided continuously on the homestead since I first knew him which was in 1874.  The settler has never been absent from the land for more then a week at a time, while attending to out side business.  He has cultivated about 20 acres and has raised crops thereon ever since I knew him making seven seasons."  Signed December 9, 1881 before John C. Law, Clerk of Circuit Court and in the absence of the Judge.  Clerk John C. Law further stated "that no one appeared to make objection to this proof."  It is interesting to note that Velpo C. Thrasher did not settle in the area until 1874 and therefore could not testify or witness to anything prior to that date since he was also in the process of a homestead claim.

Following the witness and claimant testimonies Benjamin Baisden then singed his "final affidavit required for homestead claimant", as shown below.  This affidavit was also signed on December 9, 1881 before Clerk of the Court John C. Law and in this affidavit Baisden once again provides the date of settlement on the homestead, which was December 1866.

December 9, 1881 final affidavit in homestead proof signed by Benjamin Baisden
Benjamin Baisden's homestead proof- final affidavit, signed December 9, 1881 and required before receiving the final deed to his homestead.  (From author's collection)


Once this final affidavit was completed everything was then forwarded to the land office in Gainesville, along with an additional $2.00 in fees paid by Benjamin Baisden.  After his payment Baisden was given his final receipt showing that he paid the balance of payment required by law.  On January 14, 1882 register L.A. Barnes filed the final records that Benjamin Baisden had made full payment and that said Benjamin Baisden shall be entitled to a patent for the Tract of Land described as the N½ of NE¼ of section 20- township 25s- range 21e.  On June 30, 1883 Benjamin Baisden was finally issued a homestead deed for 80 acres of property as described above and after completing the requirements of the homestead law.

After completing his homestead requirements in January 1882 and while awaiting the final deed for his homestead property, Benjamin Baisden purchased an additional 40 acres of property from the State of Florida and through the state's Internal Improvement Fund.  On October 25, 1882, for the price of $1.00 per acre, Baisden purchased the 40 acres from the state for a total price of $40.  This additional 40 acres is described as the SE¼ of SE¼ of section 17- township 25e- range 21s., and is situated immediately north of Baisden's 80 acre homestead as previously described.  While Baisden received the deed to this 40 acres before he received the final deed to his homesteaded 80 acres, he had to meet the requirements of his homestead application by cultivating and living on the 80 acre homestead, which would indicate that this additional 40 acres was not improved at the time of purchase in 1882.

In addition to his 80 acre homestead and his 40 acre tract purchased from the state, on March 24, 1884 Benjamin Baisden made a cash entry for an additional 80.19 acres of property.  A cash entry meant that Baisden purchased the 80 acre tract from the United States for the minimum price of $1.25 per acre.  After paying his $100.24 Benjamin Baisden was given receipt #7937, shown below, which stated "in pursuance of law Ben Baisden purchased of the Register of this Office [Gainesville] the S½ of the NE¼ of section 20- township 25s- range 21e, containing 80.19 acres, at the rate of one dollar and twenty-five cents per acre, amounting to 100 dollars and 24 cents, for which Ben Baisden has made payment in full as required by law.  Now therefore be it known that on presentation of this certificate to the Commissioner of the General Land Office, the said Ben Baisden shall be entitled to receive a patent for the lot as described above."  This additional 80 acres is situated immediately south of Baisden's 80 acre homestead as previously described and once again this property did not meet the requirements of cultivation and settlement as did his 80 acre homestead.  This 80 acres combined with Baisden's previously recorded 80 acre homestead and his previously recorded 40 acre tract purchased from the state totals 200 acres in all.

March 24, 1884 cash entry receipt to Benjamin Baisden
Cash Entry receipt given to Benjamin Baisden on March 24, 1884 after having paid $100.24 for 80.19 acres, which adjoined to his previously described homestead.  (From author's collection)


In addition to the property acquired from the United States and the State of Florida Benjamin Baisden also acquired property through private acquisition.  Among those properties that Benjamin Baisden acquired through private acquisition was (5) five acres purchased from Alfred H. Ryland, of DeLand, FL., on March 01, 1897 for the price of $50.  This property is further described as "commencing at the south west corner of the north west of north east of section 20, township 25s, range 21e, thence south 33 yards, thence east 210 yards, thence north 115 yards, thence west 210 yards, thence south 82 yards to place of beginning."

The Benjamin Baisden's homesteaded property, along with the additional 5 acres acquired through private acquisition and 80 acres acquired from the state, with a combined total equaled 245 acres of property.   As far as I or anyone else can determine these parcels were the only properties Benjamin Baisden and his wife, Virginia Jane, ever owned in Pasco County.  Some of this property was eventually sold to other "Freedtown" residents and is referenced in the land records section below.

Benjamin Baisden lived on his property south of Buddy Lake until sometime ca. 1905 when he moved to Hillsborough County and lived in Tampa.  On December 31, 1907 Benjamin Baisden married a second time to Grace Timmons Williams Patton Baisden, her fourth marriage.  In the 1870's Grace had previously lived in Hernando County where she may have met and befriended Benjamin Baisden.  Benjamin and Grace Baisden had not children.

More about Benjamin Baisden and his contributions and involvement with the "Freedtown" community are below.


Other "Freedtown" Residents and Their Land Records
After the arrival of Benjamin Baisden, to the south side of Buddy Lake, in December of 1866, "one by one, a considerable colony of freedmen settled near" as described by Rosemary W. Trottman in her book The History of Zephyrhills 1821-1921.  While Benjamin Baisden was shown as having at least five other homes situated on his property its believed that these other homes were the homes of "Freedtown's" earliest residents, who likely rented and worked on Baisden's farm before moving onto other locations to acquire their own homestead property.  The 1870 enumeration in which Benjamin Baisden's is shown as living in Fort Dade, the same location provided during his homestead testimony, also shows that during this time there were at least three other African American families living near to him; these were the families of Caesar Cook, Andy Richardson, and Jacob Williamson.  It's likely that these families rented and took residence in the several other homes situated on Baisden's property as described in Benjamin Baisden's homestead claimant testimony.

Cook Family
According to Family Records of the African American Pioneers of Tampa and Hillsborough, Caesar Cook "was born in South Carolina about 1836 (December) but was present in Polk County soon after the Civil War's end.  In 1866 or 1867 he married Georgianna, whose maiden name if any, is not, known.  Likely, the ceremony took place in Hernando County where marriage records of that period have been destroyed by fire.  It is known that in 1869 or early 1870, he and Georgianna moved to the Fort Dade area of what was then Hernando County and now is Pasco County.  Caesar worked as a farm laborer until late 1877 or early 1878, when he opened a homestead on government land near Thonotosassa in Hillsborough County.  Georgianna and their children followed within six months."

While residing in the Fort Dade community of Hernando County, Caesar and Georgianna Cook lived in the neighborhood south of Buddy Lake and in a home neighboring to, and possibly owned by, pioneer resident Benjamin Baisden and his family.  While living south of Buddy Lake the Cook's gave birth to their second child Frances, who was born in 1875.  Working as a farm laborer Caesar found plenty of work on the neighborhood farms and perhaps found employment working for Benjamin Baisden.

Children of Caesar and Georgianna Cook were:
  • Pricilla  b. 1867-  married to P.C. Coleman in Hillsborough County on January 6, 1887.
  • Frances  b. 1875-  married to Andrew Huges in Hillsborough County on December 23, 1891
  • Jeremy  b. April 1880-  married to Crissie Gillespie in Hillsborough County on April 6, 1903 (?)
  • Pennie  b. 1881-  married to Alex McKinnon in Hillsborough County on June 15, 1895
  • Edward  b. 1884-  married to Marie E. Rainer in Hillsborough County on June 19, 1907 (?) and to Isla Rainer on April 01, 1910

Richardson Family
Another early resident and neighbor to Benjamin Baisden was Andrew "Andy" Richardson and family.  Andy Richardson was reportedly born in South Carolina about 1816 but was present in Hernando County shortly after the end of the Civil War.  According to his great-great-granddaughter, Deidre Richardson, Andy was a runaway slave from Hamburg, South Carolina and is believed to have arrived in Florida around 1836 or thereafter.  In 1866 or 1867 Andy married to Nancy, whose maiden name is not known.  Like Ceasar and Georgianna Cook, its likely that Andy and Nancy married in Hernando County.  Andy and Nancy Richardson were included in the 1867 Florida census for Hernando County and are shown as having no children at the time of the enumeration.  It is known that in 1869 or early 1870, he and Nancy, along with two young children, settled in the Fort Dade Community and south of Buddy Lake where they lived in a home near to, and possibly owned by, Benjamin Baisden and his family.  While living south of Buddy Lake Andy and Nancy gave birth to at least seven of their of their nine known children while living there.  Andy worked in the Buddy Lake neighborhood as a farm laborer until about 1892 when he and Nancy moved about four miles southeast to start a homestead claim in Lumberton.

Children of Andy and Nancy Richardson were:
  • Joe  b. 1867 died at young age, before 1880.
  • Celicia  b. 1868  d. ??-  married to Benjamin Sanders
  • Ellen  b.  1869  d. ??-  married to (1) unk. Hewes and (2) John Parrish ca. 1885.  Children of Ellen were:
    • Julia Hewes  b.  March 1884
    • Luke Parrish  b. May 1890
    • Nina Parrish
    • Emma Parrish b. ca. 1907
    • Demple G. Parrish  b. ca. 1909
  • Adam  b. 1870  d. ??-  married to Bessie ??
  • Mary  b. 1872  d.  ??-  married to (1) Leggett Jenkins and to (2) Cornelius Legsing.  Children of Mary were:
    • Lee Jenkins  b. ca. 1898-  married to unk.
      • Herman O. Jenkins  b. ca. 1920
      • Sara Lee Jenkins  b. ca. 1925
      • Mary Lee Jenkins  b. ca. 1929
  • Daniel  b. 1876  d. October 1918-  married to Mattie ??  Children of Daniel and Mattie were:
    • Louis  b. December 1898- buried at Lumberton Cemetery
    • Amanda  b.  ??
    • Riley  b. ca. 1900
    • Wallie  b. ca. 1902
  • Horace  b. 1878  d. ??-  married to Brinth ??  Children of Horace and Brinth were:
    • Taft  b. ca. 1909-  married to Mary ??  Children of Taft and Mary were:
      • Herman  b. ca. 1932
      • Charles  b. ca. 1935
  • Lula  b. 1879  d. ??-  married to unk. Edwards
Note: not all the children of Andy and Nancy Richardson have been researched and others may be included.

On July 26, 1899 Andy Richardson received deed to his 160 acre homestead in Lumberton, after having met the requirements of the homestead act.  After Andy and Nancy moved Lumberton to settle their homestead, several of their children also followed to reside and raise their own families in the small sawmill community.  Referred to as Aunt Nancy and Uncle Andy by the community, both resided on their Lumberston homestead until old age and until being called to death, even outliving several of their children.  The entire Richardson family was well regarded among the community and surrounding area.  This was evident in 1918 when not only the Richardson family but the community lost Dan Richardson to influenza.  In October 1918 his death was reported in the small Ellerslie column of the Zephyrhills Colonist newspaper, which read:  "Dan Richardson, colored, who has done a deal of work for the people of this community, died at his home near Lumberton of influenza.  Dan was the most reliable of his race we have had to do with."

Aunt Nancy Richardson passed away on January 27, 1926 at the ripe old age of 90 and at the time of her death was survived by her husband, Andy, who was already 110 years old.  Interestingly, Nancy's death was reported by the local newspaper, Dade City Banner, under the headline "Typical Mammy of Old South Called by Death".  These early obituaries are precious as all to often the local papers didn't report the deaths of local African Americans.  Aunt Nancy's obituary read as follows:

    The old time southern mammy is hard to find these days, most of these faithful women having long since gone to their reward.  One of the few surviving ones was called home last week.
    Aunt Nancy Richardson died at her home near Richland on Wednesday, January 27, at the age of 90 years.  Aunt Nancy was the wife of Uncle Andy Richardson, himself a veteran of 110 years, and he, with several children and a number of grand children and great-grandchildren survive her.
    Three years ago the writer paid a visit to this venerable old couple and succeeded in getting them to allow him to take a picture.  They talk very interestingly of early days in Georgia and Florida and of life on an old plantation.
    Such women as Aunt Nancy are hard to find now, and somewhere in this Southland, Aunt Nancy's "children" will read this with wet eyes and regret her passing.
    Only a couple of weeks ago Mrs. Leland Tucker of Tampa, one of Aunt Nancy's "children" was visiting her old home and tried to persuade Aunt Nancy to ride in her car.  The old woman refused and Mrs. Tucker said:
    "Why, Aunt Nancy, Uncle Andy rides in a car."  To which Aunt Nancy replied:  "I know, but dat nigger ain't got no sense; I ain't gwine ter ride in no car; I'm gwine to hebben 'fore long, and then I'll ride in a chariot."
    No one dreamed at that time how soon her prediction would come true.


Williamson Family
In addition to the Baisden's, Cook's, and Richardson's, another early family who resided south of Buddy Lake was Jacob Williamson and his family, who likely resided in one of the five homes situated on Baisden's property.  Jacob Williamson was born in South Carolina about 1830 but was present in Polk County at Civil War's end.  According to Family Records of the African American Pioneers of Tampa and Hillsborough, in Polk County, on March 13, 1866 he formally married to his longtime companion Lucinda Williamson.  Sometime after their formal marriage he and Lucinda, along with their five children, moved to the Fort Dade community where they settled south of Buddy Lake residing in a home near to Benjamin Baisden and his family.  While living south of Buddy Lake, like others, Jacob found employment in the neighborhood as a farm laborer, perhaps working for Benjamin Baisden.  It is known that in 1875 or early 1876 Jacob moved back to Hillsborough County, believed to be a result of Lucinda's death.  On November 17, 1876 Jacob remarried to Eliza Spotswood (Spotsford) while living in Hillsborough County where he also opened a claim for homestead, which he received deed on April 29, 1890.

Children of Jacob and Lucinda Williamson were:
  • John  b. ca. 1858
  • Eliza  b. ca. 1859
  • Emily  b. ca. 1862
  • Susan  b. ca. 1860
  • Mary J.  b.  ca. 1866


While "Freedtown's" earliest residents Caesar Cook and Jacob Williamson had moved back to Hillsborough County by 1877 and after working south of Buddy Lake for five to ten years, there were other settlers who moved to the "Freedtown" community in their absences.  Among the new settlers were the families of Moses Baisden, Alex Brandon, Isaac Kirkland, and Henry Whitfield, all of whom became permanent residents of the community.

Moses B. Baisden Family
Among the first of this new group to arrive south of Buddy Lake was Moses Baisden and his family, who settled there on December 29, 1881 from Hillsborough County.  Moses B. Baisden was born in 1861, reportedly in Florida, and his exact location at the end of the Civil War is unknown, however by 1870, at age 10, Moses was already working as a farm laborer in the Bealsville community of Hillsborough County.  While living and working in the Bealsville neighborhood Moses lived with pioneer residents Isaac and Emily Coster Berry, along with Alonzo Baisden whose relationship is unknown to Moses.  Upon arriving to the area south of Buddy Lake he settled on an 80 acre tract that immediately adjoined to south of Benjamin Baisden's property, whose relationship to Moses is unknown.  After settling here in December 1881 Moses started working to clearing a portion of his 80 acres, after which he commenced construction of a new a home in preparations for making a homestead claim, on the cleared land Moses also planted crops.

In starting his homestead application, on January 07, 1882, Moses Baisden made his affidavit before Hernando County Clerk of the Court John C. Law, that he was a citizen of the U.S. over 21-years-old and that he had settled on his claim on December 27, 1881.  He further describes his house a "log dwelling" and states that he has some "land cut down".  On January 12, 1882, Moses Baisden entered his homestead preemption claim for his property described as the N½ of SE¼ of section 20- township 25s- range 21e.

January 7, 1882 homestead affidavit signed by Moses Baisden
Moses Baisden's affidavit before the clerk of the court testifying that he was a citizen of the United State over 21, signed January 7, 1882  (From author's collection)

In addition to his affidavit Moses paid the required $7.00, which was sent to the land office in Gainsville and processed by register L.A. Barnes.  In turn he was given two receipts, one original and one duplicate in case the original was lost.  The receipt, also dated January 12, 1882, was signed by receiver John F. Rollins, recording the amount paid by Baisden and a description of the property that he was filing his preemption claim with the purposes of homesteading said property.  Once Moses made his preemption claim and paid the required fee he was then required to wait the five year period, after which he was required to file actual proof that he settled, cultivated, and made residence upon the land being applied for.

While working his homestead and awaiting the five year period, as required by law, Moses Baisden formally married to his companion Eliza Williams.  This formal union in marriage was performed in Hernando County on May 12, 1883 by Benjamin L. Ray, a white minister and pastor of the Double Branch Baptist Church in Wesley Chapel.  This formal marriage was very short and only lasted for about a month when Eliza "deserted" Moses to marry another man.  After being deserted, Moses formally separated from his wife, however their continued to live with Moses at the homestead south of Buddy Lake.

Children of Moses and Eliza Williams Baisden were:
  • William  b.  ca. 1875  d. sometime after 1885 and before 1900.


Dade City Democrat legal notice of showing Moses Baisden's intent to make final proof in his homestead claim After six years and having met the homestead requirement, on February 24, 1888 an advertisement [shown left] was published in the Pasco County Democrat newspaper stating Moses B. Baisden's intention to make final proof in support of his homestead claim, which included the names of four witnesses, two of which had to provide written testimony or proof that Moses had actually made homestead upon said lands.  The names of the four neighbors or witnesses that Moses provided in making his final proof were John W. Wells, Sam F. Davis, J.L. Overstreet, and V.C. Thrasher [Velpo Thrasher].  After the advertisement had been published for a minimum of 30 days, then Moses could precede with his final proof "to establish his claim to the N½ of SE¼ of section 20 in township 25S, range 21E.".

On April 14, 1888 Moses, along with his two witnesses, appeared before the Clerk of the Circuit Court, John C. Law, to provide testimony and final homestead proof.  In addition to Moses Baisden's claimant testimony, Velpo C. Thrasher, and Sam F. Davis also provided witness testimonies in the final homestead proof for Moses Baisden, these being the required two witnesses of the four names given the month prior and as advertised in the Pasco County Democrat newspaper.

Homstead claimant testimony of Moses Baisden signed April 14, 1881
Moses Baisden's claimant testimony made on April 14, 1881 in making his final homestead proof.  (From author's collection)

According to Moses Baisden's homestead proof testimony, the first page of which is shown above, he was a 27-year-old farmer whose post office address was Earnestville, Fla. [see more on Earnestville Post Office below]  Moses goes on to say that, "he is the same person who entered a preemption claim on January 12, 1882 for the N½ of SE¼ of section 20, township 25s, range 21e.  Moses goes on to say that upon settling he "built a house 10X12 feet and that he fenced and cleared one acre."  Moses gives his voting precinct as San Antonio, Florida and states that he had only voted once since settling on the property, likely during elections for the county seat the year prior.  When asked how many times he had been absent from the homestead since settling he replied, "twice, staying away 2 months at each time when working for wages one time in Tampa and one time in Bartow."  Moses goes on to testify that his wife lived with him for about one month but had deserted him to marry another man, as a result he did not claim this homestead for her.  According to the his claimant testimony, by 1888 Moses had cleared and fenced a total of seven acres and planted 400 orange tree, in addition to enlarging his home to a modest 12X14 feet in size, which held his bed stand, 6 chairs, and a stove within its walls.  More impressively, this homestead had been worked using one horse, 2 hoes, an ax, and a spade, which were the only farm implements that Moses owned.  On his cleared land Moses planted between two and seven acres of sugar cane, corn, peas, and potatoes every season.  Signed April 14, 1881 before H.H. Henley, Pasco County Clerk of Circuit Court.

Following Moses Baisden's claimant testimony was the witness testimony of Sam F. Davis, who stated that he was a 53-year old farmer laborer whose post office address was Earnestville, Fla.  Davis goes on to say, he lives "three miles" from Moses Baisden whom he has known for "13 years from Hillsborough and Hernando Counties."  Davis further testifies that he has visited Moses "quite often" on his homestead and that he was familiar with the fact that his "wife deserted him after living on the claim for one month." Sam Davis further describes Moses Baisden's home as a "12X15 foot plank or frame" home with six acres of land under cultivation and that has been planted every season since he established his residency on the claim.  Signed April 14, 1881 before H.H. Henley, Pasco County Clerk of Circuit Court.

The second and final witness testimony was provided Velpo C. Thrasher, who stated that he was a 32-year old farmer whose post office address was at San Antonio, Fla.  Velpo Thrasher goes on to say, he lives "one mile and one half" distances from Moses Baisden whom he has known for "10 years, mostly in the county."  Velpo further testifies that he saw Moses "cleaning the hammock and working about 2 months" prior to his testimony, showing the claimant interest in the property.  In addition, Thrasher describes Moses Baisden's home as a "12x16 foot board or square lumber home with about seven acres cleared and fenced."  Signed April 14, 1881 before H.H. Henley, Pasco County Clerk of Circuit Court.

Following the witness and claimant testimonies Moses Baisden then singed his "final affidavit required for homestead claimant", as shown below.  This affidavit was also signed on April 14, 1888 before Clerk of the Court H.H. Henley and in this affidavit Baisden once again provides the date of settlement on the homestead, which he gives as January 12, 1882, the date he filed his preemption.

Moses Baisden final affidavit in his homestead claim, signed January 12, 1882
Moses Baisden's homestead proof-final affidavit, signed July 12, 1882 and required before receiving the final deed to his homestead.  (From author's collection)


Once this final affidavit was completed everything was then forwarded to the land office in Gainesville, along with an additional $2.00 in fees paid by Moses Baisden.  After his payment Baisden was given his final receipt showing that he paid the balance of payment required by law.  On May 8, 1888 register J.G. Crawford filed the final records that Moses Baisden had made full payment and that said Moses Baisden shall be entitled to a patent for the Tract of Land described as the N½ of SE¼ of section 20, township 25S, range 21E.  On July 02, 1889 Moses Baisden was finally issued a homestead deed for 80 acres of property as described above and after completing the requirements of the homestead law.  This 80 acres was the only property that Moses owned in Pasco County and there are no other properties to report.

By 1896 Moses Baisden had move back to Hillsborough County, in doing so Samuel Baisden began paying the taxes on his 80 acre homestead and is believed to have acquired said property on tax deed.  [See more about Samuel Baisden's property ownership below]

Brandon Family
Following the arrival of Moses Baisden was the arrival of Alex and Mary Brandon and their family, who settled south of Buddy Lake on October 15, 1886.  Little is known about Alex and Mary Brandon since they do not appear in any census records, which further supports the previously cited issues pertaining to the U.S. census records.  Upon arriving south of Buddy Lake in October 1886 Alex started working to clearing a portion of an 80 acre tract, after which he commenced construction of a new a home in preparations for making a homestead claim.  On the cleared lands Alex cultivated crops while planting an orange grove on the remain acreage.  

Prior to filing his homestead preemption claim and starting the process of the homestead application, on February 18, 1888 for $50, Alex and Mary Brandon purchased 5 acres of property from Benjamin and Virginia Jane Baisden.  This 5 acres is further described as "commencing at the SW corner of the NW¼ of the NE¼ of section 20- township 25s- range 21e thence south 33 yards, thence east 210 yards, thence north 115 yards, thence west 210 yards, thence south 82 yards to the place of beginning- containing 5 acres more or less according to the U.S. Survey in Florida."  This property has also be described in tax records as being in the SW corner of NW¼ of NE¼ and in the NW corner of SW¼ of NE¼ or as the W½ of NW¼ of SW¼ of NE¼ of section 20- township 25s- range21e.  

In addition to this 5 acres, sometime between 1890 and 1891, through private acquisition, Alex and Mary Brandon also acquired an additional 15 acres.  This 15 acres is further described as the E½ of the NE¼ of NE¼ of section 28- township 25s- range 21e, less 5 acres.  This additional property was situated along Fort King Road on the southeast side of Buddy Lake, however it is not yet known who the property was purchased from.  By April of 1890 Alex had improved his 80 acre homestead and was prepared to file his preemption claim and start his homestead application.  While starting a homestead claim Alex still retained his previously purchased 20 acres.

In starting his homestead application, on April 18, 1890, nearly five years after living south of Buddy Lake, Alex Brandon made his affidavit before Pasco County Clerk of the Court H.H. Henley, that he was a citizen of the U.S. over 21-years-old and that he had settled on his claim on October 15, 1886.  He further describes his house a "dwelling house 14x34 feet with one kitchen 10x12 feet and a smoke house 10x12 feet".  Alex Brandon further states that he has "6 acres cleared and furroughed and 600 orange trees in grove form.  On May 27, 1890, Alex Brandon entered his homestead preemption claim for his property described as the S½ of SE¼ of section 20- township 25s- range 21e.

Alex Brandon homestead affidavit signed on May 27, 1890
Alex Brandon's affidavit before the clerk of the court testifying that he was a citizen of the United State over 21, signed April 18, 1890.  (From author's collection)


In addition to his affidavit, Alex paid the required $7.00, which was sent to the land office in Gainesville.  In turn he was given two receipts, one original and one duplicate in case the original was lost.  The receipt, also dated May 27, 1890, was signed by receiver B.G. Shepard, recording the amount paid by Brandon and a description of the property that he was filing his preemption claim with the purposes of homesteading said property.  Once Alex made his preemption claim and paid the required fee he was then required to wait the five year period, after which he was required to file actual proof that he settled, cultivated, and made residence upon the land being applied for.

While working his homestead and awaiting the five year period, as required by law, Alex Brandon aided greatly in the building of the community through helping to establish a small A.M.E. Church and school house. [More about the church and school are below]  Before completing the requirements of his homestead application, in 1893, tragedy befell the community with the death of pioneer resident Alex Brandon.  While not confirmed it is believed that Alex Brandon was buried in the small cemetery that was situated behind the community's A.M.E. church. [More about the cemetery below]  While Alex Brandon died before completing the requirements of his homestead application provision in the homestead laws allowed these requirements to be completed by his heirs.

Children of Alex and Mary Brandon were:

NOTE: the names of Alex and Mary Brandon's children are not known at this time as a result of their absence from census records.  While we do not know the names of the Brandon children we do know through other records that during the homestead application process they had at least four children according to Mary's own testimony.


Pasco County Democrat legal notice of Mary Brandon's intent to make final proof in her homestead claim After almost six years and having met the homestead requirement, on February 14, 1896 an advertisement [shown left] was published in the Pasco County Democrat newspaper stating Mary Brandon's, wife of Alex Brandon, deceased, intention to make final proof in support of their homestead claim, which included the names of four witnesses, two of which had to provide written testimony or proof that Mary had actually made homestead upon said lands.  The names of the four neighbors or witnesses that Mary provided in making her final proof were Benjamin Baisden, Isaac Kirkland, Sam Baisden, and Sam Boyd.  After the advertisement had been published for a minimum of 30 days, Mary could then precede with her final proof "to establish her claim to the S½ of SE¼ of section 20 in township 25S, range 21E.".

On April 18, 1896 Mary, along with her two witnesses, appeared before the Clerk of the Circuit Court, H.H. Henley, to provide testimony and final homestead proof.  In addition to Mary Brandon's claimant testimony, Benjamin Baisden and Isaac Kirkland also provided witness testimonies in the final homestead proof for Mary Brandon, these being the required two witnesses of the four names given the month prior and as advertised in the Pasco County Democrat newspaper.

Claimant testimony of Mary Brandon signed April 18, 1896
Mary E. Brandon's claimant testimony made on April 18, 1896 in making her final homestead proof as heir of her husband.  (From author's collection)

According to Mary Brandon's homestead proof testimony, the first page of which is shown above, she was a 48-years old with a post office address as Earnestville, Fla., she also states that she was born in Georgia [see more on Earnestville Post Office below]  Mary goes on to say that, "she is the widow of Alex Brandon, who entered a preemption claim on May 27, 1890 for the S½ of SE¼ of section 20, township 25s, range 21e."  Mary goes on to say that upon settling on the property the "built one dwelling house 15 by 30 feet, one barn smoke house, and stable with about 10 acres cleared and furroughed."  When asked how many times she had been absent from the homestead since settling she replied, "about two weeks- once, visiting my sister."  She also testifies that her and Alex had four children, whom lived at the homestead and cared for crops in her absence on visitation to her sister.  Signed April 18, 1896 before H.H. Henley, Pasco County Clerk of Circuit Court.

Following Mary Brandon's claimant testimony was the witness testimony of Benjamin Baisden, who stated that he was a 58-years old with a post office address as Earnestville, Fla.  Baisden goes on to say, he is "well acquainted with Mary Brandon and that she is the widow of Alex Brandon"  Baisden further describes the property improvement as being "one dwelling house 15x30 feet with a barn and smoke house and 10 acres cleared and fenced"  He also testifies that she has not been absent from the property for more than two weeks.  Signed April 18, 1896 before H.H. Henley, Pasco County Clerk of Circuit Court.

The second and final witness testimony was provided by Isaac Kirkland, who stated that he was a 39-years old with a post office address as Earnestville, Fla.  Isaac Kirkland goes on to say that he is, "well acquainted with Mary Brandon and that she is the widow of Alex Brandon"  Kirkland further describes the property improvement as being "one dwelling house 15x30 feet with a barn stables, smoke house and 10 to 12 acres in cultivation"  He also testifies that she has not been absent from the property for more a week or two at any time.  Signed April 18, 1896 before H.H. Henley, Pasco County Clerk of Circuit Court.

Following the witness and claimant testimonies Mary Brandon then singed her "final affidavit required for homestead claimant", as shown below.  This affidavit was also signed on April 18, 1896 before Clerk of the Court H.H. Henley and in this affidavit Mary provides the date of settlement on the homestead, which she gives as January 12, 1882, the date he filed his preemption.

Final homstead affidavit signed by Mary Brandon on April 18, 1896
Mary Brandon's homestead proof -final affidavit, signed April 18, 1896 and required before receiving the final deed to his homestead.  (From author's collection)


Once this final affidavit was completed everything was then forwarded to the land office in Gainesville, along with an additional $2.00 in fees paid by Mary Brandon.  After her payment she was given the final receipt showing that she paid the balance of payment required by law.  On May 27, 1896 register J.M. Barco filed the final records that Mary E. Brandon, widow of Alex B. Brandon, had made full payment and that said Mary Brandon shall be entitled to a patent for the Tract of Land described as the S½ of SE¼ of section 20, township 25S, range 21E.  On August 16, 1896 Mary Brandon was finally issued a homestead deed for 80 acres of property as described above and after completing the requirements of the homestead law, however the deed was issued in her husbands name.  The Brandon's homesteaded property, along with their 20 acres acquired through private acquisition, were the only properties owned by the family south and southeast of Buddy Lake for a combined total of 100 acres of property.

After the death of her husband in 1893, Mary Brandon continued to live on their homestead south of Buddy Lake for between five and ten years and until sometime around 1900 when she moved to Tampa where she had siblings and other family.

Isaac Kirkland (1853-1914)
Sometime between 1885 and 1887 the community welcomed the arrival of new resident Isaac Kirkland.  Isaac was reportedly born in Georgia sometime ca. 1853 and like the Brandon's little is known about Isaac's early life in Georgia and prior to settling south of Buddy Lake.  Upon arriving to the area south of Buddy Lake Isaac did not immediately acquire property nor did he make an entry for homestead as did other "Freedtown" residents, it is likely that Isaac rented a home perhaps from Benjamin Baisden.  It wasn't long after settling south of Buddy Lake that Isaac Kirkland became involved with Benjamin Baisden's daughter, Angeline, and on July 24, 1887 the two were duly united in the Holy Estate of Matrimony in a small ceremony that was performed by Reverend McCrary Hawkins, minister of the gospel.  Reverend McCrary Hawkins was an itinerant A.M.E. minister who traveled the area preaching at several churches throughout the area and who may have been an early minister at the "Freedtown" A.M.E. church. [More about the church below]  Following their union in marriage Isaac and Angeline Baisden Kirkland continued to live south of Buddy Lake where they began a family of their own.

Marriage certificate of Isaac Kirkland and Angeline Baisden, married July 24, 1887
Isaac Kirkland and Angeline Baisden's marriage certificate dated July 24, 1887.  The wedding was performed by Rev. M. Hawkins, minister of the gospel.  (From author's collection)


Children of Isaac and Angeline Baisden Kirkland were:
  • Lillie C.  b. Jan. 27, 1889  d. Jan. 16, 1975-  buried in Indian Pond Cemetery, Pasco- married to (1) James Weston in Pasco County on September 03, 1905 by A.M.E. minister Rev. Sylvestor H. Bell.  remarried after the death of first husband to (2) Joe Nance.
    • Arrewentha Weston  b. 1906  d. ??-  married ca. 1950 to ?? Campbell (served as a teacher at Moore's Academy in Dade City)
    • Stanley Nance  b. 1912  d. ??
    • Eddie Nance  b. 1917
  • Benjamin "Bennie"  b. Dec. 1891  d. 1937 in Pasco County.
  • Maggie  b. Dec. 1893  d. Feb. 22, 1971- buried in Memorial Park Cemetery, Hillsborough (Tampa)- married to (1) Hayes McLain (1894-?) in Dade City on April 21, 1911.  Married to (2) Fulton Huff in 1943.  Fulton is buried next to Maggie in the Memorial Park Cemetery, Tampa.
Note: records indicate that Isaac and Angeline had another seven children, however all died at a young age and were likely interred in the "Freedtown" Cemetery.

Following their union in marriage, by 1888, both Isaac and Angeline Baisden Kirkland became property owners on the south side of Buddy Lake.  On February 18, 1888 Isaac and Angeline Baisden Kirkland purchased a total of 3 acres of property from Benjamin and Virginia Jane Baisden, furthermore this 3 acres divided between Isaac and Angeline on two separate deeds.  For the price of $10, Angeline Baisden Kirkland purchased and received a deed for 1 acre of property, which is further described as "commencing 154 yards south of the northwest corner of the SW¼ of the NE¼ of section 20- township 25s- range 21e, thence south 70 yards, thence west 70 yards, thence north 70 yards, thence west 70 yards to the place of beginning, containing one acre more or less, according to U.S. survey in Florida."  For the price of $20, Isaac Kirkland purchased and received a deed for 2 acres of property, which is further described as "commencing 82 yards north of the southwest corner of the NW¼ of the NE¼ of section 20- township 25s- range 21e, thence 138 yards, thence east 70 yards, thence south 138 yards, thence west 70 yards to the point of beginning, containing 2 acres more or less, according to U.S. Survey in Florida."  These two properties adjoined to each other and is believed that this three acres was the location of Isaac and Angeline's home and farm, where they likely planted simple crops and raised their children.

In April 1897 Isaac Kirkland increased his interests and property holdings on the south side of Buddy Lake.  On April 12, 1897, for the price of $12.50, Isaac Kirkland purchased 5 acres from Moses Baisden and his 80 acre homestead.  This 5 acres is further described the "N½ of the NE¼ of NE¼ of SE¼ of section 20- township 25s, range 21e."  The remaining 75 acres of Moses Baisden's homestead eventually became owned by Samuel Baisden. [more about Samuel's acquisition of this property below]

On April 11, 1902, Angeline Baisden Kirkland passed away while still living with her husband south of Buddy Lake.  At the time of her death her parents and brother were also living in the small community that they had helped to establish.  Even after the death of his wife, Isaac Kirkland still continued to reside in the "Freedtown" community for a few more years.  In doing so, in August 1902, Isaac acquired additional property.  On August 26, 1902, for the price of $1.00, Isaac Kirkland purchased another 3 acres of property from Benjamin and Virginia Jane Baisden.  This additional 3 acres is further described as "commencing 222 yards north of the SW corner of NW¼ of NE¼ of section 20- township 25s- range 21e, thence north 206 yards, thence east 70 yards, thence south 206 yards, thence west 70 yards to place of beginning, containing 3 acres."  This 3 acres combined with the previously described property totals 11 acres in all that was owned by Isaac and/or Angeline Baisden Kirkland.


Issac Kirkland ca.1890 Lillie Nance daughter of Angeline Baisden Kirkland Maggie Kirkland daughter of Angeline Baisden Kirkland
Left,  Issac Kirkland (1853-1914), husband of Angeline Baisden.  (Center)  Lillie Kirkland Weston Nance (1889-1975).  Lillie was the daughter of Isaac and Angeline Baisden Kirkland and grand-daughter of Benjamin and Virginia Jane Baisden.  (Right)  Maggie Kirkland McLain Huff (1893-1971) believed to be pictured with her second husband, Fulton Huff.  Maggie was the daughter of Isaac and Angeline Baisden Kirkland and the grand-daughter of Benjamin Baisden.  Both Maggie and Lille were born at "Freedtown" south of Buddy Lake.   (Left, courtesy of African Americans on the Tampa Bay Frontier; others courtesy of Sister Carter)


Arrewintha Nance Campbell daughter of Lillie Kirkland Nance
Arrewintha Nance Campbell ca. 1925 just before she went to college.  Arrewintha was the daughter of James and Lillie C. Kirkland Weston.  After Lillie's marriage to Joe Nance, Arrewintha appears to have taken the Nance name.  Arrewintha was interviewed by Rosemary Trottman author of "History of Zephyrhills" as cited in the opening sentence.  (Courtesy of Sister Carter)


Soon after acquiring the additional 3 acres Isaac sold it, along with his previously acquired 3 acres, to Peter G. Ethington.  By 1903 Isaac had moved north into Dade City along with his children and grandchildren.  In Dade City Isaac acquired and sold several different lots, some of which were likely the location of his new home(s).  [See more about the community's move below]

Whitfield Family

Following the arrival of Isaac Kirkland was the arrival of the Whitfield family.  Again little is known about the Whitfield's as they are absent from census records.  The exact date that Henry and Deliah Whitfield arrived to the small community south of Buddy Lake is unknown since the family is absent from census records.  In addition it is not known if they had children or how many children they did have.  While we do not know when the Whitfield's arrived it is believed that they settled south of Buddy Lake sometime between 1887 and 1890.  In 1892 Henry Whitfield would also become a property owner on the south side of Buddy Lake.  On July 18, 1892, for the price of $45, Henry Whitfield purchased 5 acres of property from Benjamin and Virginia Jane Baisden.  This property is further described as "five acres out of the SW¼ of the SW¼ of the NW¼ of section 21- township 25s- range 21e, beginning 330 feet north from SW corner of NW¼ of said section, thence east 660 feet to corner, thence north 330 feet to corner, thence west 660 feet to corner, thence south 330 feet to place of beginning- containing five (5) acres."  Since this was the only property reportedly owned by the Whitfield's, this 5 acres was likely the location of their home and farm where they lived simple lives.  Soon after arriving Henry Whitfield became involved with Benjamin Baisden and Alex Brandon in establishing an A.M.E. church for their community in the late 1880's. [More about the church below]

On October 29, 1894, Benjamin and Virginia Jane Baisden transfered the same 5 acres as described above to Deliah Whitfield, believed to be the wife of Henry Whitfield.  It is not known why the same property was deeded to Deliah Whitfield, however it might have been due to the fact that she was not included in the previously recorded 1892 deed from the Baisden's to Henry Whitfield and possibly after his death.  On the 1894 deed this 5 acres is further described as the "beginning 330 feet north of the SW corner of the SW¼ of NE¼ of section 20- township 25s- range 21e- thence east six hundred and sixty (660) feet, thence north three hundred and thirty (330) feet, thence west six hundred and sixty (660) feet, thence south three hundred and thirty (330) feet to the place of beginning."  

The Whitfield's property has also been described in tax records as being in the N½ of SW¼ of SW¼ of NE¼ of section 20- township 25s- range 21e.  This legal description along with the two legal descriptions above are all for the same piece of property, only described in different ways.  This 5 acres also adjoined to the south of Alex and Mary Brandon's 5 acres in the same section and which they also acquired from Benjamin and Virginia Jane Baisden.  This 5 acres was the only property owned by the Whitfield's, south of Buddy Lake.

Samuel M. Baisden (1863-1917)
Another early resident and pioneer of the "Freedtown" community was Samuel M. Baisden, son of Benjamin and Virginia Jane Baisden.  At a very young age, about 3 years-old, Samuel settled in the area south of Buddy Lake with his parents when they arrived in December 1866, here he was raised on his father's farm planted with orange groves and crops.  Samuel Baisden was well educated and had received his education in Pasco County and in local schools, being the only place he was raised.

In 1886 Samuel Baisden became a property owner himself when he purchased property south of Buddy Lake and in the neighborhood where he had lived most of his life.  On September 08, 1886, for the price of $20, Samuel Baisden purchased 10 acres of property from pioneer residents James D. and Martha Gaskin(s).  This 10 acres is further described as the "SE¼ of SW¼ of SE¼ of section 17- township 25s- range 21e."

In addition to the 10 acres acquired from James and Martha Gaskin(s), sometime between 1887 and 1889, Samuel also acquired another 10 acres of property, which is further described as the "NE¼ of SE¼ of NE¼ of section 28- township 25s- range 21e."  This additional 10 acres was situated along Fort King Road on the southeast side of Buddy Lake, however it is not yet known who this property was purchased from.  This 10 acres also adjoined to the south of Alex and Mary Brandon's property in this same section and as described above under their land entry.

In January 1892 Samuel Baisden increased his interest and property holdings on the south side of Buddy Lake.  On January 23, 1892, for the price of $1.00, Samuel received a deed for 40 acres of orange groves from his parents Benjamin and Virginia Jane Baisden.  This 40 acres is further described as the "SE¼ of SE¼ of section 17- township 25s- range 17e", which adjoined to his previously described 10 acres of property purchased from James D. Gaskin(s) in the same section.  Samuel eventually fenced the entire 40 acres and the 10 that he had acquired from the Gaskin(s) and here he expanded the orange groves that had been established by his father to make a 50 acre grove, which were considered first class groves being well cared for and maintained.

The following year, in August 1893, Samuel Baisden took a position as the teacher of the Dade City Colored School No. 38 where he worked under supervisor Dan A. Hartfield (sic?).  While working as a teacher Samuel still retained his property and orange groves south and southeast of Buddy Lake where he continued to live.

In 1896 Samuel Baisden started paying the taxes on the 80 acre homestead of Moses Baisden, who by that time had moved back to Hillsborough County to live.  This 80 acres is further described as the "N½ of the SE¼ of section 20- township 25s- range 21e."  Eventually, for the back taxes on the property, Samuel Baisden would become the owner of the former Moses Baisden 80 acre homestead, less 5 acres that Moses sold to Isaac Kirkland in 1897 and as described under his land entry above.

Sometime around 1905 Samuel had also moved to Hillsborough County where he lived in west Tampa at the northwest corner of Roosevelt and Laurel Streets, here he owned a simple farm.  In 1909 Samuel Baisden married for the first time to Elmyra Bertha Culver, daughter of Lincoln and Mollie Culver, and by 1910 they had their first child.

Children of Samuel and Elmyra Culver Baisden were:
  • Ulyses Harold Baisden  b. 1910  d.  ??
  • Virginia Baisden  b. 1911  d. ??-  married to ? Culver
  • Benjamin "Bennie" Baisden  b. 1913
  • Mollie Baisden  b. 1914  d. 1960- buried in Memorial Park Cemetery, Hillsborough (Tampa).

Samuel Baisden son of Benjamin Baisden
This picture taken ca. 1920 is believed to be that of Samuel and Elmyra Baisden with their four children Ulyses, Virginia, Bennie, and Mollie.  (Courtesy of Sister Carter)


The above listed families are those families who have been documented as owning property south and southeast of Buddy Lake and in the "Freedtown" community, however as in all communities there were those who rented their homes instead of owning and as a result do not appear in land records or tax records.  These renters, combined with those who are absent from the census records, have caused extensive confusion with certain individuals and their research.  Those residents that have been documented and shown consist of at least 9 pioneer families with a minimum of 28 children or at least 45 individual residents, not including those who are absent from census records or might have rented a home. As described in the caption and historical marker, at the top of the page, and by Rosemary Trottman in her book The History of Zephyrhills 1821-1921, all of these families and their properties were located off of Bozemen Road about one mile west of Fort King Road, south and southeast of Buddy Lake, comprising the pioneer "Freedtown" community.  Beyond those land records of the community's residents, let's now explore other records pertaining to this early settlement and its residents.


Tax Records
Tax records are another excellent source for information such as location of land, ownership of homes, livestock, and carriages along with other various types of information.  In addition to their new freedom African-Americans were required to pay taxes.  Many of the former slaves did not own property or possessions to be taxed on and in such cases the only taxes paid would have been the state and county taxes.  While any persons applying for land under the "Homestead Act of 1862" were required to"build a home and make good use of the land," after which they could file their homestead applications, during their time of waiting, the homesteaders were NOT required to pay taxes on the homesteaded land (property) since the homesteader did not yet own the land.  In most homestead cases it took more than five years for the homesteaders to receive the final deeds to their land, at which time they were required to start paying taxes on the land (property).

We find in the 1869 Hernando County tax records that Ben Bason (sic) was indeed paying taxes in Hernando County and, like most African-Americans of that time period, it is apparent that Benjamin did not yet own property since he was not paying taxes on a home, property, improvements to property, or any possessions.  Since, in 1869, Ben Baisden was living on property that he would soon after homestead, he was not required to pay taxes on the property (land) until he acquired the final deed after compiling with the homestead requirements.  However, he would have been required to pay taxes on any improvements to the property and it is apparent in the 1869 tax records that there were no improvements to Benjamin Baisden's homestead or the taxes on these improvements were paid or reported during the 1870 tax season as a "double tax".  This would explain the reason for him only paying state and county taxes with a combined total of $1.48 being paid.

Unfortunately, there are no surviving copies of the 1870-1871 tax records for Hernando County and as a result we can not compare these records against the previously noted records from 1869.

The next available tax information is from 1872.  According to the 1872 tax records Benjamin Baisden had made improvements to property (land) and had acquired many personal possessions as compared to the previous 1869 tax records.  While more taxes were paid in 1872 it is not known what was paid during the missing 1870-1871 tax records, which may have reflected the same as the 1872 records.  According to the 1872 tax records Ben Baisden is listed as paying taxes on the improvements to 15 cultivated acres, 1 horse, 2 cattle, 6 pigs, and household/ kitchen furniture. Given the description of the listed items it appears that Baisden had a home and had made improvement to lands (property) that he didn't yet own since he paid no property taxes.  Again, Benjamin Baisden would NOT have been required to pay the taxes on lands (property) being homesteaded, however he was required to pay the taxes on the improvements to the homestead lands (property); which is the case and example as shown in the 1872 tax records.

Corresponding tax records for the following years also show that Benjamin Baisden paid taxes on improvements, livestock, and household furniture items.  While we will not go into detail, listing each and every year of tax records for every resident of "Freedtown", we have and will continue to cite these tax records throughout this written history.



Staple Industries
The "Freedtown" community, like most communities of the time, was considered an agrarian community as residents mainly relied upon  the cultivation of crops and the raising of livestock as staple industries.  Aside from the growing of simple crops for food sustenance, most of "Freedtown's" residents also engaged in the citrus industry and had extensive orange groves on their properties.  Through the land records, affidavits, and tax records already referenced, we catch a small glimpse into the size of some of the "Freedtown" orange groves and simple crops, to reiterate:


Figures for "Freedtown's" groves and simple crops

  • Benjamin Baisden- 20 acres furroughed and cultivate, 40 to 60+ acres of orange groves with an number of orange trees.
  • Moses Baisden- 6 to 7 acres in cultivation, approximately 70 acres of orange groves with 400 trees.
  • Alex and Mary Brandon- 10 to 12 acres in cultivation, 600 orange trees
  • Samuel Baisden- unknown number of acres in cultivation, 50+ acres of orange groves with an unknown number of orange trees.
Note: the number of acres in cultivation and with orange groves does not reflect the number of acres owned by each individual.  The acreage owned by each individual is highlighted in the land section under each persons name.

The oranges from these groves were sold for profit and it has been reported that "Freedtown's" residents grew some of the finest, first class oranges in the area.  These first class oranges thrived and were well cared for by the grove owners, being regularly fertilized, pruned, and harvested as to keep the groves in a first class condition.  In some seasons these groves were capable and did produce several crops of oranges and in 1880 it was one of those years.  The 1880 growing season proved to be very profitable for Benjamin Baisden and the oranges from his groves even caught the attention of the area's newspapers.  In March 1880 the statewide newspaper Sunland Tribune, published in Tampa, reported of Mr. Ben Baisden's oranges of a "fine golden hue", which was his "second crop of his trees within the year".  Ben reports that his trees "have borne three crops within the year" showing that these groves provided employment and was extremely profitable for the growers.

Sunland Tribune article about Benjamin Baisden's orange groves
March 04, 1880 Sunland Tribune article about Benjamin Baisden's beautiful oranges from his groves.  (From author's collection, courtesy of Dr. Canter Brown Jr.)


1886 Stum Map showing location of EarnestvilleOn February 17, 1885 Elijah E. Earnest established a post office near "Freedtown".  During this time period the area to the south of Buddy Lake became known as Earnestville, which is the post office address used during several of the homestead proof testimonies as shown above.  After the establishment of the Earnestville post office this area and small farming community took its name from the post office and man who established the post office.  It was not uncommon for a community to carry the name of its post office.  Prior to the Earnestville post office this community was serviced by the Fort Dade post office, which in 1872 was located near Buddy Lake and in 1876 was the post office address provided by Benjamin Baisden in his affidavit.  Fort Dade was also the location provided in the Sunland Tribune article as referenced above.  All of these communities were essentially a part of the Fort Dade community or Dade City area.  

In 1886 the Earnestville community was recorded and shown in the Florida Gazetteer, which was similar to an early phone book or business guide.  According to the 1886 Florida Gazetteer, Earnestville, with a population 72, was listed with oranges and beef cattle as the principle shipments or as staple industries.  Also listed was general store that had been established by owner by Elijah E. Earnest, which was the location of the Earnestville post office.  In addition to the general store there was also a wagon shop owned by William W. Williamson, who reportedly assisted Benjamin Baisden to win his freedom.  Listed among the orange growers in the Earnestville listing of the Gazetteer is Benjamin Baisden.  Other crops grown in the community were were coconut, grains, oranges, and vegetables.  It must be noted that Benjamin Baisden was the only African American grower listed in the 1886 Earnestville Gazetteer.


1886 Earnestville Gazetteer listing
1886 Earnestville Gazetteer listing
1886 Florida state Gazetteer, Earnestville entry.  (From author collection)


In addition to the cultivation of crops and citrus "Freedtown's" residents also participated in the raising of livestock, mainly cattle.  Proof of this participation in the raising of livestock is evident through the 1885 state census, which show Baisden owned 160 acres of wooded land, 40 acres of pasture/ farm land and $500 worth of livestock.  Baisden's farm also had several building and it is shown that these buildings were valued at $1000 in 1885.  In 1890, according to tax records, Benjamin Baisden was shown as the owner of 20 stock and meat cattle.  Benjamin Baisden is also shown as having a registered cattle brand and ear crop marks that were first filed with the Pasco County clerk on June 2, 1888 and as shown below.  Another early "Freedtown" family who participated in the raising of livestock was Alex and Mary Brandon.  After the death of her husband in 1893 Mary Brandon continued to care for the cattle that was owned by they owned.  However, in April 1900 after moving to Tampa, Mary Brandon sold her entire stock of cattle to R. Stuntebeck.  On April 8, 1900 a record of the transfer was recorded in Pasco County, which transfered the cattle bearing her marks and brands, which were "crop under slope in one ear and swallow fork in the other and containing a (B brand" as shown below.

Benjamin Baisden registered cattlebrand and ear crop marks
Benjamin Baisden's registered cattle brand JE and ear crop marks, which were filed and recorded in Pasco County on June 02, 1888.   It's believed that Benjamin Baisden's cattle brand was derived from the middle initials of his wife's and his name for the "JE" brand.  (From author's collection)


1900 sale of Mary Brandon's cattle and cattle brand in Tampa
This receipt dated April 4, 1900 transfers Mary Brandon's entire cattle stock of (E and brands to R. Stutenbeck.  (From author's collection)

On September 16th 1899 the Earnestville post office was discontinued with mail services to the Dade City post office.  After the Earnestville post office was discontinued the area was no longer referred to as Earnestville and instead the area south of Buddy Lake was often referred to Dade City, the same as the post office address.

 Formation of the Buddy Lake "Colored" School
As other African-Americans moved to the area south of Buddy Lake and as the community grew, the need for both a school and church became prevalent. The Brandon family became active involved in the formation of a school for the "Freedtown" community.

On October 1, 1888 Pasco County School Board minutes show that, "A.B. Brandon (colored) presented a petition asking for a colored school for the children of his community."  By motion the rules were waved and the matter referred to the superintendent with instructions to 'grant the school if the exigencies demand it.'  It is believed by some researchers that this request may have been made to establish the Dade City Colored School since the following year, on the August 8, 1889, Alex is shown as the Supervisor of the Dade City Colored School; however during this time the location of the Dade City Colored School is unknown.

By 1890 the case can no longer be argued since it is clear that a school was established for the African American children living south of Buddy Lake.  On September 1, 1890 Alex Brandon appeared before the Pasco County School Board once again.  School board minutes show that Alex Brandon came before the Board asking that "a school for colored children be established on the South side of Lake Buddie."  By motion a special school was granted and the sum of $20 per school month granted as salary for the teacher.  Alex Brandon, who was supervisor of the Dade City Colored School, resigned his position and was "appointed supervisor of the former school."  Typically after a school was granted or approved by the school board it would be followed by the deeding of property for which the school was to be built on.  In this case the school board granted a "special school" and since there was no property deeded for the building of the school classes were likely held in either a church or one of the community's homes.

On June 6, 1892 Brandon appeared before the school board again making the same request for his community.  School Board minutes show that, "Alex Brandon (col) came before the School Board asking that a special school for the colored children of his community be established near Lake Buddie."  The Board granted the school and provided a teacher who was paid $20 per month, however on the condition that the attendance be kept up.

The following year, on October 9, 1893 school board minutes show that, "On motion, Ben Baisden was appointed Supervisor of col. School no. 12 [Lake Buddie]- vice Alex Brandon deceased.  On motion, Mrs. E.V. Powell was appointed teacher of said school."  That same year, on August 7, 1893, Samuel Baisden was appointed as the teacher of the Dade City Colored School under the supervision of  Dan A. Hattfield who would also later serve as a trustee of the Mount Zion A.M.E. Church.  [more about "Freedtown's" and Mt. Zion A.M.E. below]

Formation of the Lake Buddy African M.E. Church and Cemetery
Prior to the abolishment of slavery the African-Americans had no churches they could call their own, instead they would attend the white churches where they were typically made to sit on the back seats.  Not long after the Civil War and following the abolishment of slavery the African-Americans began departing from the majority of the white churches and as a result began forming their own churches, and the formation of the A.M.E. Church at "Freedtown" occurred in the same way.  Prior to the establishment of the A.M.E. church the only Methodist Episcopal Church near Buddy Lake and "Freedtown" was the Prospect M.E. Church, which served the spiritual needs of the area's white residents.  The Prospect M.E. Church was established in 1855 and was reportedly a similar log type construction as used in describing Benjamin Baisden's home during his homestead proof testimony.  In a 1963 Dade City Banner article were Lottie Guy Cripe  looks back on the history of the Buddy Lake area around 1872 and in doing so she gives some interesting details about the Prospect M.E. Church.  The Guy family had settled near Buddy Lake in the late 1870's, afterwards becoming members of the Prospect M.E. Church.  She writes:


"Two colored people: known to the younger generation as Uncle Ben and Aunt Jane, lived in a clean little simple home on the south shores of this great old lake.  They had been slaves in their earlier days but after being made free became honorable citizens and held the respect of all the white people who knew them.  They were members and attended the Prospect church.  This little Methodist church filled the religious needs of the community for many years and Uncle Ben and Aunt Jane sat on the back seat of the church during services.  The community boys were much delighted when Aunt Jane would bring out some of her wonderful home made cookies and treat them when they happened her way.  Very likely they happened her way quite often.  It is said that these two old colored people kept a spotless white bed for white travelers who passed through this part of the country and needed some place to stay at night

This old home, of these two good colored people in later years became the beautiful grove and home of the late Charles Himmelwright and his lovely wife."

(Excerpt taken from author's collection)


The Uncle Ben and Aunt Jane referred to in this article is none other then Benjamin and Virginia Jane Baisden and it shows that this pioneer African American family received their early spiritual needs as early members of the Prospect M.E. Church, while sitting at the back of the small church.  As other African American families began to settle near the Baisden, and to the south of Buddy Lake, there was a need for their own church, just as there had been for a school.  After Uncle Ben and Aunt Virginia 'Jane' Baisden departed from the Prospect M.E. Church, ca. 1883, they helped to establish an African Methodist Episcopal Church for their community.

According to African-Americans on the Tampa Bay Frontier, by Dr. Cantor Brown, "the A.M.E. Church's 'Tampa Bay Mission' sent ministers throughout the region for the purpose of setting up congregations.  By 1884 there had been a preaching circuit established for Hernando County, which included present day Pasco County.  This provided itinerant ministers for Hernando County on a regular basis."  Typically, services were held once a month, sometimes twice, at each stop or location established along these itinerant circuits and where the exigencies demanded a need for spiritual services.  The ultimate purpose of the A.M.E. itinerant circuits were to organize missions or churches at the locations where no A.M.E. churches previously existed, locations such as "Freedtown".  The itinerant ministers were assigned to these early circuits as a type of training prior to their assignment to a mission and ordination as an elder in the church.

In March 1883 the Florida Times-Union reported that the A.M.E. Annual Conference appointed Rev. Sylvester H. Bell to serve as the itinerant traveling minister for the newly established Hernando County circuit.  Rev. Sylvester Bell was a true pioneer in the A.M.E. church in Hernando County and was responsible for visiting a number of early congregation, which later became established churches.  Sylvester Bell was reportedly born ca. 1847 in Georgia.  In about 1872 Sylvester formally married to his companion Rinah, who he had been with since the close of the war in 1865, her maiden name is unknown along with the place of their formal marriage; however they had no children.  While Rev. Sylvester Bell was a traveling minister he also became a property owner in several of the major location that were visited on his circuit, although his permanent home would be in the small town of Bay Hill along the present Hernando/ Sumter county lines.  On June 13, 1884 Sylvester Bell received the deed to a 120 acre homestead, which was then located in Hernando County.  The Bell homestead was situated on the east side of the Withlacoochee River in sections 13 & 24- township 21s- range 20e; a portion of which is now in Sumter County.  In later years he owned property in Brooksville and Dade City.

Following his appointment to the Hernando County circuit, on February 29, 1884 the Florida Times-Unionreported that the A.M.E. Annual Conference had assigned Rev. S.H. Bell to the Brooksville Mission [church].  It must be noted that while Rev. S.H. Bell was assigned to the Brooksville Mission in 1884 he was preceded by several other pastors as the Brooksville Mission was well established by 1884 and appears in records as early as January 1870.  Following Rev. Bell's appointment to the Brooksville Mission the Hernando County circuit is absent from the newspaper records of the A.M..E. Annual Conference, which could have been a result of shortened records for newspaper publication.  While absent from the records the Hernando County circuit would have still been regularly attended to by the A.M.E. Conference who may have relied upon Rev. Bell to continue traveling while still being assigned to the Brooksville Mission, a common practice.  On April 14, 1887 the Christian Recorder reported that the A.M.E. Annual Conference had "quite a number of young men received into the traveling connection — we are crowded with ministers now."  Unfortunately, there were no missions or circuits reported and instead only the ordinations were noted in the newspaper report.

By 1892 church growth necessitated the formation of the A.M.E. South Florida Conference and following the establishment of numerous mission along the itinerant circuits throughout south Florida, including both Hernando and Pasco counties.  On March 03, 1892 the Jacksonville Evening Telegram reported in annual minutes that the A.M.E. South Florida Conference had organized a mission in Dade City where Rev. John Tillman was assigned to the church congregation.  The organization of the Dade City mission in 1892 indicates that the area was previously included in the Hernando County itinerant circuit.  Following the establishment of the Dade City Mission, on July 18, 1892, Benjamin and Virginia Jane Baisden sold one acre of property for an A.M.E. Church on the south of Lake Buddy; which is believed to be the Dade City Mission as referenced in conference minutes.  For the price of $5.00 this one acre church lot was sold to "Alec Brandon, Henry Whitfield, and Benjamin Baisden, trustees of the African M.E. Church", this lot is further described as "beginning at the NE corner of twenty acres here to fore sold to Col. L.J. Clarkson, from a point 100 feet south of the NW corner of E½ of SE¼ of NE¼ of section 20- township 25s- range 21e, thence west 209 feet, thence south 209 feet, thence east 209 feet, thence north 209 feet to place of beginning, containing one acre."  This one acre church lot was surrounded by property owned by Benjamin Baisden and was situated near to property owned by Alex Brandon and Henry Whitfield as described under their respective land entries above.

1892 Lake Buddy A.M.E. Church deed
July 18, 1892 deed transferring one acre of property from Benjamin and Virginia Jane Baisden to Alex Brandon, Henry Whitfield, and Benjamin Baisden as trustees of the A.M.E. Church at Lake Buddy.  (From author's collection)

Along with the establishment of the A.M.E. church south of Buddy Lake, the trustees and congregation were soon met with the need to create a burial grounds where church members and community residents could be laid to rest.  This cemetery was situated next to the A.M.E. church, which was centrally located in the community.  While it is not known who was first interred in the cemetery, through various records it has been ascertained the church trustee Alex Brandon died sometime between August and September of 1893 and was likely buried in the cemetery behind the A.M.E. church.  Brandon's death was rather tragic for the community since at the time of h he was not only serving as a trustee to the church but he was also the supervisor to the Buddy Lake Colored School.  Today, the "Freedtown" cemetery has been reduced to a ghost cemetery, which means that the cemetery exist but any visual evidence of the cemetery's existence is no longer apparent.  As a result the cemetery can only be located by means of records or other approved methods.

Surviving Memories of the "Freedtown" Cemetery
Today, there are few surviving memories of the "Freedtown" cemetery located south of Lake Buddy, however among these few memories is an affidavit that was filed in Pasco County records in 1941 by San Antonio resident Bernard V. Lyons.  In his affidavit Lyons makes testimony regarding the location of the A.M.E. church yard and cemetery.  B.V. Lyons testified that that, "he has lived and resided in Pasco County for more that fifty (50) years, he is and has been familiar with the occupancy of Section 20, Township 25s- Range 21e, and also knows the location of the African M.E. Church that was formerly located in said section and that the site of said African M.E. Church is still easily discernible and ascertainable by reason of a cemetery which was located in the church yard of said church." (click here for full affidavit)  The 1892 A.M.E. church deed compared to the legal description provided by Lyons in 1941 are the same location.  It is also interesting to note that the Lyon's Family name also appears in the list of growers and farmers in the 1886 Florida Gazetteer listing for Earnestville.

1975 Rockford Map Co. map showing the location of the Freedtown CemeteryIn addition to the 1941 affidavit given by B.V. Lyons, the map, shown right, was recently discovered.  This map shows a cemetery marked just to the right of the section number 20, marked with as a cross inside a square.  The vintage map was published in 1975 by the Rockford Map Company and shows that the cemetery was located in section 20- township 25s- Range 21e.  Historically speaking, map companies, such as Rockford, would have typically consulted maps and information from the local property appraiser's, tax collector's offices, and through their own surveys and investigations conducted for the purpose of designing their maps.  The information contained in any map is considered to be the illustrators interpretation of the area(s) contained in the map.  This 1975 Rockford map illustrates that there was a cemetery located south of Lake Buddy and in an approximate location as described in the 1892 A.M.E. church deed.  The "Freedtown" cemetery was the only cemetery ever known to exist within section 20- township 25s- range 21e.  Today, nothing remains of the "Freedtown" Cemetery as the wooden crosses that once marked the graves have slowly rotted away and the cemetery eventually became unmarked.  Sometime after the filing of the 1941 Lyons' affidavit the cemetery and former church property became part of the orange groves that still cover the property today.  As a result it is not known exactly who lies at rest in the now unmarked "Freedtown" Cemetery.  The "Freedtown" cemetery is not the only African American Cemetery in Pasco County to have met this fate.  As time passes more and more of Pasco County's African American cemeteries have been destroyed and this will continue until county officials understand the need for preserving of our historic cemeteries.

In July 2005 we had the pleasure of interviewing  a woman named June who, during her childhood, grew-up on property near to were the “Freedtown” community once stood.  June lived less then a ½ mile from Benjamin Baisden’s property and the "Freedtown" African M.E. church and cemetery.  In the 1940's June's family lived on property that is now part of the Evan’s Citrus Grove at the end of Bozeman Road and her fond childhood fond memories gave proof to the existence of the A.M.E church and cemetery that were once located south of Buddy Lake.  During the interview with June she described her memories of the area that is now known as “Freedtown”.  Never seeing any of the documentation or research contained herein, she described the area south of Buddy Lake where Benjamin Baisden and other African American families settled after the Civil War.  The following excerpt was taken from the informant interview with June:

 Jeff:  “I would like to clear up some of the inconsistencies with the location and history of the community called “Freedtown”, it seems there are people who don’t believe or don’t know the history about this community and many think the community was located near Ehren in Land O’ Lakes.”

June:  “Okay, Lets see I used to be the secretary of the St. Mary’s church, which was located near Lake Pasadena/ Buddy Lake and later moved to Dade City.  Years ago while we were doing research for the history of St. Mary’s we ran across documents somewhere that said that area was a colored settlement.”

Jeff: “Now are you talking about Ehren or “Freedtown”?

June: “No No I’m talking about “Freedtown” out there at Lake Pasadena/ Buddy Lake”

Jeff: “So you did find records that say there was a black community located there”?

June: “Yes I did and because I grew up there when I was a kid, all of that coincided with things I remember from when I was a kid, you know this happened and that happened and it all coincided with what I remember.”

Jeff: “Well there was a cemetery and church located in this community and there are some who claim this was a Baisden Family Cemetery, which was one of the families who lived there, do you remem......”

June: “NO- NO- NO-, it was a rather large cemetery.”

Jeff: “Oh, so it was a large cemetery then?”

June: “Well I don’t know what you mean by large......  I would say that there were at least 20 graves or more there in the cemetery.”

Jeff: “Ok and they were not all Baisden’s Family??”

June: “NO.... NO.....NO....... I don’t know who they all were.....

Jeff: “Do you recall any Baisden names on the headstones?”

June: “NO?- there were no real markers... I don’t know where they got the idea there were tombstones and everything as you would think of tombstones in a cemetery today.  There were markers but they were not made of granite or marble like we think of today....

Jeff: “Were they wood or other type stone?”

June: “They were wood and like I have said they ahh all the graves were covered with colored glass and ahhh some of it was white glass.... white glass, amber glass, green glass, and things like that.... all kinds of little knickknacks....”

Jeff: “You remember it pretty well?”

June: “I remember it so vividly because I got in trouble one day for picking up a hand full of the beautifully colored glass that caught my eye, I told my mom I got it from the cemetery in the woods.  We were living where the Evans Citrus Company has their vehicle compound now and there was a crippled girl named Emily who lived on what’s now Bozeman Road.  There was this old cemetery between our houses and I used to walk through the woods to her house to play with her while her mom hung laundry on the line.”

Jeff: “So you walked through the cemetery?”

June: “Not just once- hundreds of times, almost everyday to get to Emily’s house.....”

Jeff: “Were there any other families living down in there?”

June: “Well see we’ve, my family, we had a colored quarters about ¼ of a mile from the house in the 1930’s on up through ahhh the 1980’s and ahhhh some of the blacks there knew about “Freedtown” and a lot of these families worked for my dad so all us kids used to play together.  They even had a school down there.... the first year I went to school I was supposed to go to school there but it was the first time the bus came to our neighborhood.  We had to walk up and over Le Heup Hill because the it was to steep for the bus to climb.”

Jeff: “Was the church still in use when you lived there?”

June: “No No, the church was long gone... I know where it was because you could see where the foundations for the church was but ahh once I found the cemetery I started to look around the woods more and you could see where the church sat!  I used to walk through there everyday to go to that little girl’s house..... there used to be a couple of little springs or swimming holes there in the woods too, all us kids used to go swimming there.”

Jeff: “Ok well I don’t want to keep you any longer, I know you are going out to dinner so I will give you a call again later.....”

June:  “Yeah I have to go I’m late now, I’ll give you a call later so we can talk some more.”

Jeff: “Well I appreciate your time and great memories, I’ll talk to you later.....

Current picture showing the location of the Freedtown Cemetery- pic taken Sept 2005
This picture was taken in September 2005 and shows the approximate location of the "Freedtown" Cemetery.  The cemetery now lies under this orange grove and was the same location as the "Freedtown" A.M.E. Church; nothing remains today.  (Photo 2005 by Jeff Cannon- Copyright © 2005-10)


Great Freeze of 1894-95 (Formation of Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church in Dade City)
While the winters offered some relief from the heat and bugs, residents faced a new myriad of troubles, which included frost and sometimes frozen conditions.  The winter of 1894-95 was not only one of most damaging winters every recorded in Florida's history but also proved to be the hardest of trying times for many families across the state, this trying time period in Florida’s history is known as the Great Freeze.  There were actually twin freezes in Florida during this momentous season, the first in December 1894 and the second in February 1895.  The first did not actually kill a lot of groves, but did cause them to produce new shoots.  So, when the second, harder freeze came a few months later, the effects were even more devastating.  All varieties of fruit (oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, etc.) blackened on the trees, and bark split from top to bottom.  Entire agrarian communities were decimated in one night leaving nothing but despair.  In the wake of the Great Freeze, many planters simply abandoned their Florida groves in search of frost-free locations.  Col. J.A. Hendley wrote in "The History of Pasco County":
" I have seen Florida prosper and I have seen it in adversity.  Darkened like a funeral pall which swept over it when every fruit tree in Florida was killed.  I stood upon the bank of the lake and watched the wagon filled with sorrowfully-looking men and women on their way back north.  They had built their houses and made their groves and then saw them swept away in one night by the cold winds of the northwest.  They had risked all and lost and now they were abandoning what was left of their once beautiful homes.  But some of us lingered behind."

The farms throughout Pasco County suffered greatly from the Freezes of 1894-95 including the farms and groves of "Freedtown" south of Lake Buddy and the surrounding areas of Earnestville and Prospect, just as Col. Hendley wrote many of the farms were simply abandoned.  Those residents south of Lake Buddy were no different, while some attempted to rebuild their farms ultimately they would leave their homes and property while seeking new employment.  While the "Freedtown" farms could have potentially been rebuilt it must be realized that the community's pioneer residents were now growing old and the task of rebuilding rested with their children, grandchildren, and the younger generations who had been raised on the farms and in the orange groves.  According to the history of the Mount Zion A.M.E. Church in Dade City, "the settlement was abandoned after the Great Freeze of 1894-95, when most of the residents moved into Dade City.  The members of the AME Church at Freedtown later reorganized as the Mount Zion AME Church after their relocation to Dade City.  This migration north into Dade City was a slow migration as residents sold their property south of Lake Buddy and sought other locations to live and work.  Benjamin Baisden continued to live on his property south of Buddy Lake until about 1905 and eventually moved to Tampa to marry to Grace Timmons.  The widow Mary Brandon left sometime around 1900 and also moved south into Tampa where she continued to live with her sister for a time.  Samuel Baisden also moved to Tampa where he married and established a new farm with his wife, while raising children.  It is not known what happened to Henry and Deliah Whitfield and it is possible that both were interred in the "Freedtown" cemetery.

Among those "Freedtown" residents to migrate north into Dade City was Benjamin Baisden's grandchildren and son-in-law, Isaac Kirkland.  After the Great Freeze Isaac and Angeline Baisden Kirkland, along with their children, remained at their "Freedtown" property until after the turn of the century.  In April 1902 Angeline Baisden Kirkland passed away while still residing south of Lake Buddy, her burial location unknown.  After the death Angeline, widower Isaac Kirkland relocated north into Dade City where he acquired several different pieces of property situated along Sumner Avenue located along the northern edge of town and in the W.C. Sumner Addition to Dade City.  Isaac was also joined by his children; Maggie Kirkland, Bennie Kirkland, and Lillie C. Kirkland.  Isaac soon found employment as a janitor at the Dade City Colored School, which was located near to where he lived and owned property.  Eventually, both Maggie and Lillie would marry to start families of their own.

Sometime following the Great Freeze and prior to 1900 and the abandonment of the community south of Lake Buddy, members of the "Freedtown" A.M.E. Church founded and established the Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church in Dade City, including Isaac Kirkland and the grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren of Benjamin Baisden.  The first meeting place of the Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church is unknown since the church didn't immediately own property; its believed that by 1900 the congregation was meeting from house to house.  In 1900 A.M.E.C. preacher Smith S. Bellamy was enumerated and shown as renting a home in Dade City with his wife and two children.  Its believed that Rev. Bellamy served as an early pastor to the newly organized Mt. Zion A.M.E. congregation, however due to the lack of written records it is uncertain as to whom served as Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church's first pastor.  One of the earliest land transaction made by the Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church occurred on December 28, 1901 when church trustees Dan A. Hartfield [former supervisor of the Dade City Colored School], John M. Perry, Rufus Johnson and Simon Wade sold a ¼ acre lot to the City of Dade City for ten dollars.  This property is further described as being "in SW of NW of section 26- township 24s- range 21e and further line running north between section 26 & 27 in said township & range — running north 163 yards thence east 237-1/3 yards to a corner between lot fixed or corner of the Wells lot, thence south 24-3/4 yards, east 49-1/3 yards, north 24-3/4 yards, west 49-1/3 yards to place of beginning."  This ¼ acre lot is now within and part of the Dade City Cemetery.  It is not known if this property was used as an early meeting location for the church or if it had been acquired for such purposes.  This action followed a similar deeding of adjacent property three weeks earlier by the trustees of the former Oak Grove Baptist Church, whose lot also included their former church cemetery.  

By 1903 the Mt. Zion A.M.E. congregation received the appointment of Rev. Amos Thompson as their pastor.  Rev. Thompson was a well seasoned veteran and true pioneer in the A.M.E. movement.  Amos Thompson was reportedly born in South Carolina sometime about 1847.  Sometime after the Civil Amos moved to Florida where, by 1870, he had settled in Alachua County where and lived in Gainesville along with his wife Lucinda.  While living in Gainesville Amos became actively involved with the local A.M.E. church under the direction of Rev. Alfred Brown.  On March 08, 1883 the Florida Times- Union reported that the A.M.E. Annual Conference had assigned Amos Thompson to the Starke itinerant circuit, which was under the Gainesville District.  Rev. Thompson remained with the Starke circuit for a few years and until being transferred to the Gordon circuit in 1886.  On April 14, 1887 the Christian Recorder reported that the A.M.E. Annual Conference had ordained Amos Thompson as an elder in the church, however before being assigned to a regular mission he was sent back to the circuits for further improvements.  On February 22, 1889 the Florida Times- Union reported that the A.M.E. Annual Conference had assigned Rev. Thompson to the Cedar Keys circuit followed by an assignment to the Hawthorne circuit in 1892, both under the Gainesville District.  Sometime following his appointment to the Hawthorne circuit, Rev. Amos Thompson was assigned to the Tarpon Springs Mission, which became known as the Mt. Moriah A.M.E. Church.  Rev. Thompson remained with the Mt. Moriah congregation until ca. 1902 when he was assigned to the Mt. Zion A.M.E. congregation in Dade City.

In December 1903 Mt. Zion's acting trustees were lead by Rev. Amos Thompson in the acquisition and purchase of a town lot for the purpose of building a new church and permanent meeting house.  On December 16, 1903, for the price of $75.00, Hunter H. Henley, Pasco County Clerk, and his wife, Lula M. Henley, sold a small town lot to Rufus Johnson, George Young, and B.T Green, acting trustees of Mt. Zion A.M.E. church.  This new lot is describe as being situated in block 27 of the Ross Addition to Dade City, was located along Cherry Street [now 7th Street] and is still owned by the church today.  Following the acquisition of their new lot the Mt. Zion A.M.E. congregation, numbering at least 29, commenced construction on a modest wood frame building.  When completed the new church was a single-story frame building that had raised ceilings and a simple shingle roof, with modern accommodations such as electricity and wood burning stove.  

By 1909, under the direction of Rev. E.D. Dempsey, the Mt. Zion A.M.E. congregation started work on a new church project, which was building a parsonage next to the church where their pastor could reside.  This grand event was reported in the April 1909 issue of the A.M.E. Church Review and after having been visited by the Review's editor Hightower T. Kealing on his tour of A.M.E. churches throughout the nation.  During his travel by railroad Hightower visited churches in Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania and reported on the various locations that he stayed during his travels.  Below is an excerpt and notes from Hightower T. Kealing's visit to Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church in Dade City and the surrounding area.


     "On Thursday, February 27th [,1909] I arrived at Croom, Fla., where Rev. S.H. Bell [Sylvester H. Bell] met me and assured me that my visit would be long remembered as I was the first to visit Croom in the interest of a General Department.  An appreciative audience greeted me on Thursday night, February 27th.  My brief stay was pleasantly spent at the home of Mr. and Mrs. J.A. Williams.  As usual little or no attention is given to the waiting room for Colored people in these villages.  Not a heater at Croom, not even a light.  Mr. Williams and Rev. Berrian had to furnish a lamp, and on this cold morning, Friday, February 28th, made a bon fire, and before the fire the representatives of the Review waited for the train.  A travel of 10 miles brought me to Trilby, Fla., where I received a warm welcome from Mr. and Mrs. Burt Foster, in their comfortable home.  Mrs. Burt is a genuine entertainer and takes special delight in making it pleasant for those who stop over in Trilby. On Friday Night, February 28th, I addressed a most excellent audience in St. John A.M.E. Church, Rev. E.D. Dempsey is the pastor.*  Mr. and Mrs. Robert Witherspoon assisted in making my stay pleasant.

     Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church in Dade City is the center of attraction.  Rev. E.D. Dempsey, the faithful pastor has beautified the church and is now building a parsonage.  May God ever bless this labor.  On Sunday, March 1, I had the pleasure of addressing the Sunday School, also speaking at 11 a.m. service.  The superintendent and pastor received from the members a year's subscription to the Review.  At 4 p.m. I left Dade City for Plant City, at 8 p.m. a large audience gathered at Allen Chapel, Rev. B.W. Wiley, pastor."


(Excerpt from April 1909 issue of A.M.E. Church Review, from author collection)

*The St. John A.M.E. Church in Trilby was established in the early 1890's.  Behind the St. John A.M.E. Church was a small cemetery, which is now known as the Trilby African American Cemetery.  To read more about the Trilby African American Cemetery click here)


When completed the church's new parsonage was a simple, single-story, frame building with a front porch, which was statued on an adjacent lot to the south side of the wood frame church building.  Interestingly enough when the Mt. Zion A.M.E. congregation started construction of their new parsonage in 1909, the church trustees had not yet acquired the lot where the building was situated and its likely that church trustees had entered into an agreement with the property owners to purchase the lot.  On March 5, 1910, for the price of $75.00, Mt. Zion A.M.E. trustees Granderson B. Burroughs, Allen Bailey, and Jake R. Eagler purchased this adjacent lot, south of the church, from Christopher A. Lock and his wife, Lucy Spencer Lock.  These two lots would become the permanent location of the Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church.

Map showing the Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church and the parsonage to the south
This 1914 map of Dade City shows the wood frame, single-story, Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church as constructed on the lot acquired by church trustees in 1903.  To the south of the church is the additional lot that trustees acquired in 1910 and the location of the church parsonage.  The main street to the west or left of the church is today's 7th Street, then Cherry Street.  (From author's collection)
 

Granderson B. Burroughs, early trustee of the Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church in Dade City Granderson G. Burroughs headstone at Indian Pond Cemetery
Left, Granderson B. Burroughs who served as and early trustee of the Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church and assisted in purchasing church property in 1910,  which is still used by the church today.   Arretha Burroughs, Granderson's daughter, is still an active member of the church today at the age of 96-years-old.  Right, Granderson Burroughs' headstone located at the Indian Pond Cemetery in Dade City.  (Left, courtesy of Arretha Burroughts; right, photograph by Jeff Cannon)

By 1918 church growth made it necessary for construction of a larger church building as the congregation and membership had almost doubled since 1903.  Construction on the new Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church building started under the direction of then pastor Rev. J.W. Dukes.  After much deliberation trustees decided to building the new, larger, church building next to their already established single-story wood frames church building.  As a result it was decided that the parsonage had to be demolished and in its place construction of the new Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church building began.  During the new construction the congregation continued to hold services in the old wood frame meeting house.  Spanning a period of almost three years construction of their new church building proved to be a hard and trying process since being constructed of masonry block.  The masonry blocks used in the construction of the church were made by hand with each block being made on-site.  With locally made molds the church members toiled as they were only able to make about fifty blocks at a time.  After pouring the concrete in each mold they had to patiently wait for them to set before removing them from the molds to use in construction of the church.  New church construction was completed in 1920 under the direction of then pastor, Rev. W.A. Pickett and acting trustees Granderson B Burroughs, A. Johnson, W. Harris, C.L. Royal, J.M. Gregg, Rufus Johnson, George Young, and W. Grave.  When completed in 1920 the cornerstone of the new church was cast with the names of the acting pastor and trustees who were serving the church at the time.  According to a Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church History composed by members of fifty years or more and written in the 1970's, "The Fathers and Mothers who built the church need to be congratulated for a job well done.  Some of the laymen of the church were: Rufus Johnson (first superintendent of Sunday School), George Young, Granderson B. Burroughs, A. Bailey, J.R. Eagler, Ben Baisden (land owner and foreman of Lake Buddy), Andy Johnson, Ossie Howard, B.T. Green, James Gregg, Will Harris Sr., Henry Hester, Angeline Baisden Kirkland [Benjamin Baisden daughter], Lillie Kirkland Nance [Benjamin Baisden's granddaughter], Sis. Jones, Nancy King, Mary McBride and Hattie Tate."

Upon completion of the new masonry Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church building in 1920, once again the congregation started a new work project, which was converting their old frame, single-story, church building into a parsonage to replace the one that was demolished during construction of the new church.  When the conversion was completed the parsonage was located on the north side of the church building, the opposite of how the property was originally laid out.


1927 map showing the new Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church building and parsonage
This 1927 map of Dade City shows the "new" Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church building constructed in 1920.  After completion of the new church building the old frame meeting house was concerted into the parsonage and was located to the north of the church.  The main street to the west or left of the church is today's 7th Street, then Cherry Street.  (From author's collection)


Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church building constructed in 1920
Spanning a period of almost three years construction of the new Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church building, pictured here, proved to be a hard and trying process since being constructed of masonry block.  The masonry blocks used in the construction of the church were made by hand with each block being made on-site.  With locally made molds the church members toiled as they were only able to make about fifty blocks at a time.  (Courtesy of Jeff Miller)


Orginal frame, single-story, Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church building later modified to serve as the parsonage
Built in 1903 this building served as the first known meeting place of the newly organized Mt. Zion A.M.E. congregation.  After construction of the new masonry building in 1920 this structure was modified and became the parsonage for the church.  In 2006 there were plans to move this historic bungalow style building to the Pioneer Florida Museum, in Dade City, to serve as a local African American museum.  However, the building was never relocated due to the museum's maintenance staff who claimed they could not find an engineer to approve the new foundation designs, although capable of doing so on the numerous other buildings on the museum grounds, some of which are older.   In 2008 the historic building was demolished and in its place the Mt. Zion A.M.E. congregation built a new and much needed Sunday School wing.  (Photo by Jeff Cannon- 2005)

Throughout the 1950’s several dedicated church member gave financially towards the addition of several new stained glass windows to replace the standard clear windows that had been used during construction of the new Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church in the 1920’s. Today, these stained glass windows still bear the original name plates that recognize those families and individual members who so graciously gave in their financial support.  Among those names are Lillie Kirkland Nance, Benjamin Baisden's grand-daughter, who was an actively involved, life-long, member of the Mt. Zion A.M.E. congregation.

In addition to spiritually enriching the community, the Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church has also been the setting for not only social but political events throughout its history.  Religious events included annual revivals featuring an out-of-town minister to “swell the offerings”, Easter sunrise services, and “Watch Night” services held on New Year’s Eve.  Baptisms were also a church event, providing the believer with a choice of immersion, sprinkling, or pouring for the rite.  The Young People’s Division (YPD’s) sponsored Easter egg hunts, church cleaning projects, meal basket fund-raisers, and programs for Christmas, Easter, and Mother’s Day.  Walks to Indian Pond for Sunday school picnics were also popular among the younger members.  During WWII, the Mt. Zion A.M.E. members sent baskets overseas to the young men of their congregation who were serving their country.  Members also provided materials for the school aid club in making badges for the war effort.  During the Civil Rights era of the 1950’s and 1960’s, Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church was the site of organization meetings of the Pasco County Chapter of the Nation Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Seeking to improve conditions and change attitudes, many fairness issues were discussed and debated, including school and facility integration, job equity, and medical care.

The Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church has enjoyed a most interesting history in the Dade City area, beginning with its origins in the former Freedtown community and continuing to the present time in downtown Dade City.  Through the years the church has endured struggles and rejoiced in triumphs, it has been the venue for funerals and it has been the location of many celebrated weddings and other joyous celebrations.  The Mt. Zion A.M.E. congregation still maintains a very active existence and is enjoying a continual renewal by revering its past, focusing on the present and questing for eternity; this message echoed at their 113th anniversary celebrations in November 2005.  As one historian of the church once said, “No congregation is stronger than its weakest member, and the members of Mt. Zion were able to weather the storms and tempests that arose from time to time. We pause to honor every one who passed this way and silently wrapped the drapery of their couch about them and slipped into the realm of eternity."

Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church congregation ca. 1963
Pictured after Sunday school ca. 1963, the Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church congregation stands before some of the new stained glassed windows.  These stained glass windows replaced the previously installed standard windows, which were installed during church construction in 1920.  These beautiful stained glass windows were a result of the gracious financial support of several church members and families including Benjamin Baisden's grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  (Photo courtesy of Sister Carter)


Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church congregation at their 113th anniversary services
Pictured after their 113th anniversary services in November 2005, the Mt. Zion A.M.E. congregation stand in the sanctuary of the church built in 1920 and before the same stained glass windows that were installed in the 1960's.  (Photo by Chris Walton- 2005)


Conclusion
Today, while there may not be any more physical evidence of the "Freedtown" community, like most of the early communities in Pasco County, the only evidence that remains are years of documentation supporting their existence. With this documentation some researchers still refuse to accept the fact that the community of "Freedtown" existed south of Lake Buddy.  Many of early communities throughout Hernando and Pasco counties had similar populations as "Freedtown, for example the 1886 Florida Gazetteer listing for Hudson shows a population of 16.  Like most African American cemeteries in Pasco County the "Freedtown Cemetery has been destroyed.  The graves may still remain but have been developed over with the orange groves were planted after the community was abandoned.  In more recent year developers have been trying to get approval from the county to build homes on this site with no success.  Hopefully awareness can be brought to this history and others like it so that they might be preserved for future generations.

I would like to give a special thank you to Dr. Canter Brown Jr. for all of his support in my research of Pasco County's pioneer African American residents.  I also would like to thank Sis. Carter, Brother Walton and the Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church congregation for all of their support and assistance with the "Freedtown" and Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church history.


Ministers who have served the Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church

  • Rev. Sylvester H. Bell*
  • Rev. Jenkins McCrary Hawkins*
  • Rev. John Tillman*
  • Rev. Smith S. Bellamy
  • Rev. Amos Thompson
  • Rev. D.D. Dickerson
  • Rev. Archie Redman
  • Rev. J.D. Washington
  • Rev. J.W. Dukes
  • Rev. W.W.A. Pickett
  • Rev. R.N. Nimmons
  • Rev. J.A. Walker, Sr.
  • Rev. J.D. Jones
  • Rev. W.F. Ball
  • Rev. Chisholm
  • Rev. Banapart
  • Rev. Lavander
  • Rev. H.J. Kiney
  • Rev. J.B. Young
  • Rev. S.E. James
  • Rev. E.D. Dempsey
  • Rev. R.W. Wilson
  • Rev. G.J. Oates
  • Rev. R.H. Damer
  • Rev. I.D. Ford
  • Rev. W.L. Byrd
  • Rev. A.J. Covington
  • Rev. J.W. Bruno
  • Rev. Jessie Brown
  • Rev. T.D. Davis
  • Rev. W.M. Burke
  • Rev. W.M. Merritt
  • Rev. H. Cohen
  • Rev. W.W. Lybrand
  • Rev. J.L. Denmark
  • Rev. W.S. White
  • Rev. C. Jenkins
  • Rev. Haisley
  • Rev. T.P. King
  • Rev. C.L. Cox
  • Rev. Al Trudell
  • Rev. James Crews
  • Rev. James Kerney
  • Rev. Preston Adams
  • Rev. K. David White, Jr.
  • Rev. Nathan Mugala
  • Rev. Bryant Faison
  • Rev. Mandella Smith
  • Rev. Cedric Cuthbert
  • Rev. Theopulas Jerome Robinson          


* indicates ministers who were connected to the "Freedtown" A.M.E. Church, south of Lake Buddy.

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