In 1857, while riding the cattle range of Manatee County, William H. Whitaker heard a noise in a dense clump of palmettos. He discovered a young Negro - a runaway slave -frightened, hungry and ill.
Behind him on horseback, William took the man home where Mary Jane his wife cared for him until he was gain well and strong. They learned his name, Jeffery Bolding, and that of his owner in North Carolina, from whose abuse he had run away. Through correspondence the Whitakers purchased him for one thousand dollars. Thus the first slave came to the Whitaker family.
Later that year, at an auction in Manatee, three other slaves were bought. by Mary Jane and William - Harriet, John and Hannah.
Jeff and Hannah soon fell in love and were married by a Negro minister from the Manatee section in a ceremony attended by many Negroes from the Manatee plantations. Jeff and Hannah became mainstays in the household -Hannah inside and Jeff outside.
At the end of the war in 1865 both Jeff and Hannah went to the West Indies. Hannah elected to stay there but Jeff returned to work for the Whitakers, taking a much younger wife, Ellen.
There are numerous stories of Jeff's loyalty and devotion to the family. The one with which I am most familiar concerns my father Furman, eldest son of William and Mary Jane. He was age 9 in 1865 when the war ended. He owned a rifle with which he helped the family larder with wild turkey and deer. His chief problem was his size - too short to see over the high palmetto scrub which covered much of the countryside. To sight his quarry he climbed on a stump or fallen tree. When he was age 11 or 12 he did so, resting the butt of the rifle on the log and holding the barrel in his bent left arm. The butt slipped from the log which struck the hammer of the cocked rifle, discharging it. The bullet passed through his left elbow, shattering the joint. This happened in the vicinity of present Whitfield Estates, fully five miles from the Whitaker home at Yellow Bluffs.
Furman promptly tore a strip from his shirt, made a tourniquet and stopped the blood loss. He made his way to the shore of Sarasota Bay and started south toward home, stopping frequently to wade into the bay, loosen the tourniquet, wash the wound, tighten the tourniquet again and continue down the beach.
At home he was so late in coming that Jeff set out to find him, calling his name as he went. When they met, Furman was about ready to give up so Jeff hoisted him over his shoulder and carried him the last mile or so. The elbow healed but the arm could never thereafter be fully straightened.
William Henry died in 1888. Mary Jane moved to Tampa in about 1895. Another son, William Richard had moved to Manatee, planted citrus groves in the Manatee Hammock and was given charge of liquidating the cattle herd portion of the estate. Jeff and Ellen went with him and worked with him until Jeff died July 23 1904.
William Richard buried Jeff in the Adams Cemetery on 9th Ave. West in Bradenton and marked his grave with a headstone which reads :
Sacred To The Memory Of
Died July 23, 1904
Age 70 Years
This then is the story of Jeffrey Bolding I had heard from my father
from childhood. But in 1932 or 1933, nearly thirty years after Jeff's death, I was in the
electrical appliance business in Bradenton. My service man and I delivered a General
Electric refrigerator to King Wiggins, an old time resident of Manatee. As we carried it
into the kitchen, an old Negro woman, the Wiggins cook, looked at me and asked
"Is you a Whitaker?"
"Yes, Auntie" I answered.
"Is you Dr. Whitaker's son ?" she asked.
"Yes, Auntie, his youngest son Klein".
"Did your Papa ever tell you about Jeff?""
"Of course, Auntie I've known about Jeff ever since I can remember".
"Well Mr. Klein, I'se Ellen, Jeff's second wife"
Soon after this I moved to Ohio and, except for vacations, was gone from Bradenton for fifteen years. So I do not know when Ellen died or where she is buried.
Now, seventy years after Jeff's death; forty years after the meeting with Ellen, I have related the story to Mr. William F. Grove of the Sarasota County Historical Society and Commission and the man to whom the Sarasota Chapter of the D.A.R. has entrusted the care of the Pioneer Whitaker Family Cemetery on 12th Street just east of the Trail. Mr. Grove has insisted that the story be put into writing. I have done so as a deserved tribute to
SLAVE - FREEDMAN - FRIEND
Done at Bradenton, Florida
25 January 1976
Memories from A. K. Whitaker - grandson of William H. Whitaker, son of Dr. Furman Chairs Whitaker