Mary Jane Wyatt was the youngest child of Col. William Wyatt and his wife Mary. She was born In Tallahassee, Florida April 11, 1831. Her father was a delegate to the convention which gave Florida it's first constitution and was a signer of that document. Among other things he was a builder and supervised the erection of the first three brick buildings of the new capitol in Tallahassee. In 1842 or 1843 he moved his family to the Manatee section and established a new home there.
While In Tallahassee Mary Jane attended a private school. After the family came to the Manatee section she was sent to a girl's seminary near Louisville Kentucky where she became ill, returning home in the spring of 1850.
Her father sent her, with her two brothers William and Hans to his ranch for the summer to regain her health. Here she learned to ride horseback and herd cattle; to swim and paddle a dugout canoe and to shoot a rifle. Col. William claimed she could shoot the head from a wild turkey at a hundred yards.
One day while on the south bank of the Manatee River a band of Seminole Indians stepped from the bushes across from her and the leader motioned for her to bring her boat across to him. The Indians at that time were friendly so she paddled across. Whereupon the leader was found to be Chief Billy Bowlegs. He had one of the braves return her to the south side, then used the boat to ferry himself and the other braves across the river.
During her childhood in Tallahassee Mary Jane had met William Whitaker in school. During the years from 1842 until about 1848 Bill had worked hard at his new home at Yellow Bluffs. He had cattle on the open range, a bearing citrus grove, a fishing business and a snug log house. So he started to court Mary Jane and literally made the first road, a sandy wagon trail, between the Yellow Bluffs and Manatee. This courtship culminated in June, 1851 when theirs became the first marriage in the Manatee area, performed in the Manatee Methodist Church.
Their first two children were born in the log house on the Yellow Bluffs. Nancy Catherine Stuart was the first white child born in what is now Sarasota County. She was followed by Louisa Anstey.
By 1856 the Seminoles had started to raid the Florida West Coast area so most of the families left their homes and went for protection to a camp at Branch Fort on the Manatee River. Here they stayed for several months; and here was born William and Mary Jane's first son, Furman Chairs who later became the first native born Manatee Countian (Sarasota County was then a Part of Manatee County) to become a doctor and practice in his home county.
During the encampment at Branch Fort the Seminoles burned the log house at Yellow Bluffs. When the family returned they built the second house, a wood frame one, located farther away from the bay than was the log house. It stood where the Pioneer Motel now is, at the southeast corner of North Trail and 12th Street. It was completed in 1857.
The family continued to grow and eventually included two girls who died before maturity, Carrie and Grace, and eight children who grew to adulthood.
Nancy Catherine who became Mrs. John Helveston
Louisa Anstey who became Mrs. Thomas Gordon Edmondson
Flora Winifred who became Mrs. Frank Brooks and later Mrs. John C. Martin
Furman, Charles, Hamlin, William Richard and Emile
As it was with all pioneer women, life was not always easy. The nearest neighbors were several miles away, the men were away on the cattle range at times and there was a family to care for. But Mary Jane managed it and the family fortunes improved with constant and hard work.
From 1861 to 1865 the Civil War imposed further hardships. The Union blockade of the coast cut the supply of everything to a trickle. Shoes must be repaired and made to last since new ones were unavailable. Clothes must be patched and mended. salt was obtained by boiling bay water and scraping the residue- of salt from the boil kettle. Coffee was made from parched or roasted corn which was grown in the garden.
Several times Union blockade gunboats came into Sarasota Bay and sent shore parties to the Yellow Bluffs for food, water and oranges. Upon sighting these arrivals the chickens were chased from the chicken yard into the woods; if any cows were near, they too were driven away. To the credit of the Union soldiers, they offered to buy what they needed. Refused, they took what they could find, mainly drinking water and oranges if any were ripe.
In one instance it is said that a Union soldier threatened to burn Mary Jane's home. She handed him matches and dared him to burn the home of a defenseless woman. It is said that her spunk saved the day. In another instance a soldier from one of the boats stole Furman's rifle. He was a boy of seven or eight at the time. Mary Jane told him to go to where the soldiers were camped, to find the officer in charge and demand the return of his rifle which helped keep the family in food. Furman did so; the officer found the gun and returned it to the boy with apologies.
After the war the cattle herds- were again increased; the children grew and needed schooling. So William and Mary Jane obtained from Ohio a tutor who taught them the three R's and, being a painter herself, gave some of them art lessons. Miss Harper lived with the family for several years, after which she started a small school herself. Some of her art and that of one of her pupils, Nancy Catherine, is still in various branches of the family.
Then the children began to marry and leave home and in 1888 William Henry died from complications resulting from an old back injury resulting from a fall from his horse. Furman, the oldest son had married Nellie Louise Abbe and was living and raising a family in his home, built at the location of William and Mary Jane's log house. Furman decided to go to Chicago and study medicine. Before he left he purchased from a mail order house a telephone system which he installed between his home and Mary Jane's so the two families could have closer contact while he was away. It is said that Mary Jane had the first telephone on the Florida West Coast.
When Furman finished medical school in 1895 he moved his family to Bradenton and Mary Jane went to Tampa where she lived until her death in 1908. At that time, her son Charles of Tampa planned and built the Pioneer Whitaker Cemetery as it exists today. William and Mary Jane were provided the vault which forms the central grave of the cemetery and the cement block fence was built to enclose an area which could accommodate other members of the family.
Thus Mary Jane Whitaker joined her husband William after seventy-seven years of pioneer life as a girl and woman; a devoted wife and the mother of a family of children to whom she passed her spirit of courage and resourcefulness.
Mary Jane Wyatt Whitaker
April 11, 1831
March 6, 1908
This is written in June of 1975 by a grandson of William and Mary Jane Whitaker and the youngest son of Furman and Nell Nellie Whitaker.
Anton Kleinoscheg Whitaker (Named after his uncle Anton Kleinoscheg)
Taken from "One Man's Family" by A.K. Whitaker
Original at the Sarasota County Archives