Dead Lake

Looking across Dead Lake you can view Spanish land grants that were given to loyal settlers during the time of the ‘rebellion’ and the Patriot War. Former slave Maria Kingsley was awarded property here. These were called ‘Donation Grants” and there was a shipyard here facing Crescent Lake.

Research by Sisco Deen in Flagler County Historical Society newspaper files

Bunnell, Florida
Thursday, August 4, 1932


What was been known as Dead Lake on all maps, probably for a long time, was renamed Monday at the county commissioners meeting when J. B. High, county engineer brought up the name and stated that he would like to see the name changed to some more appropriate, since the lake not a dead lake. 

The engineer suggested that the body of water be named Warner. Mr. Warner being present, said he did like the idea of naming the lake for him and stated his objections, suggesting to the board that the lake be named High lake. Mr. High also objected to the name, A compromise then reached when the name Park was suggested, and after the usual motion, the lake was officially named Park, and all future references to the body of water will carry the new title of the lake.

The lake, on the shores of which Johns Park is located, is in the shape of a small crescent. 

Bill Ryan comments:

 In spite of County Commission action in 1932 Dead Lake is still called Dead Lake.  This beautiful body of water is located in Western Flagler and often viewed from the Bull Creek Fish camp location and Restaurant of the same name.

It takes the name from being the last stop on the steamboat trips down the St. John’s River, into a winding channel that leads to Crescent Lake and then to ‘Dead Lake’ as the last stop.

I quote from my most recent book Journey into History Flagler County Florida

“In December of 2007 Flagler County purchased 29 acres here at Bull Creek for $1.9 million as part of the Sensitive Lands Fund to protect historic, important land assets.  This included some 27 acres of Cypress wetlands and the location of the old steamer docks.”

“A restaurant here is called The Bull Creek Fish Camp and each year hosts hundreds of devoted fishermen who arrive in their camp trailers towing boats. They follow the water temperatures across the United States for the ‘best catching locations’.  In early winter, usually February to March, they arrive here for contests with large prizes.”

“The restaurant people lease this spot from the county and work to offer an authentic Florida cuisine.  Yes, they do have exotics delicacies such as gator tail but you can also find Florida specials such as shrimp and grits, or enjoy a fine fish sandwich.”

“When we sit to enjoy the view across the lake, allow me to speak of some history known by only a few.”

Dead Lake
Dead Lake

A screened porch captures the breeze from ‘Dead Lake’ at the old steamboat docks. The menu features Florida ‘cracker’ cooking.

The early steamboat channel now hosts only fishermen where once steamboat whistles blew and wealthy tourists arrived to hunt, fish and be entertained.

Spanish Grants Near Crescent Lake
Spanish Grants Near Crescent Lake

Looking across Dead Lake you can view Spanish land grants that were given to loyal settlers during the time of the ‘rebellion’ and the Patriot War.  Former slave Maria Kingsley was awarded property here. These were called ‘Donation Grants” and there was a shipyard here facing Crescent Lake.

Immense Crescent Lake (now called Dunn’s) is fed from the St. John’s River.  You could travel by boat to Palatka for your St. Augustine connection, thence southeast on the winding Dunn’s creek connection into Crescent Lake with a stop at Shell Bluff along the lake and finally down the channel into the last destination which was known as Dead Lake and of course with transfers to the hotel.  The Dupont and Florida Central railroad is nearby using its narrow-gauge tracks to haul cargo, lumber and produce to the Dupont rail center where there was a transfer point into the standard gauge road of Henry Flagler. Haw Creek also was also navigable by a side-wheel steamer.

Restaurant Food
Restaurant Food

We arrive.  Some real potato chips cut and fried from local Flagler potatoes might accompany a fish sandwich.  I am told these are special potatoes that make some chips to be remembered.  You might also try their Shrimp and Grits, or even some fried Gator Tail bits. Of course, for the conventional, you could go the burger route too.  The Bull Creek Fish Camp is pure Florida and offers a surprisingly authentic menu.

Being considered as far away, and hard to locate, it is also a popular location for adventure motorbikers, some older ones who recalled old Florida now riding their three-wheel Harleys.  There are a few places remaining. with the authentic Florida of farm communities and the relics of turpentine camps.

“This was a favorite spot of Flagler historian Jack Clegg who told me tales of bootleggers and steamboats.”

Haley was still doing photos. 

“This place is beautiful, but it seems to be in the middle of nowhere.  How in the world does anyone find this spot and its great Florida restaurant?” she asked.

“During the active fishing season, the experts move in their travel trailers as they follow optimum water temperatures across the United States.  This spot fills with campers towing their boats. Large contest prizes are offered.  It seems strange as this is exactly what happened in 1918 with the big hotel here and the touring steamboats.”

I pointed across ‘Dead Lake’ where the distant lands are heavily covered by trees. “Here were once Spanish Land Grant plantations.”  This part of western Flagler County is not well known for its history, but I knew that these faraway spaces (now owned by lumbering companies) held rich history but could no longer be visited except in a story.

“Have you heard about the Patriots?” I asked my table.

“We had a Patriot act against terrorists.  Does it have anything to do with this?” said Debbie who was investigating her splendid fish sandwich now surrounded by Flagler potato chips.

“There are similarities. Spain around 1812 certainly was having trouble with their Florida colony.  They needed people here, affairs in Europe were not going well, yet many of the newly arriving settlers were not loyal to old Spain.  These were the new Americans and most of them wanted Florida to be part of their own new country, so recently separated from England. There were many small rebellions here.

I pointed across the lake.

Location of Spanish Plantation Grants from 1804-1812
Location of Spanish Plantation Grants from 1804-1812

“The Florida website called Florida Memories offers copies of original Spanish documents.  I have strained my eyes reading them both in original Spanish and their English translations.”

“There have to be great stories of these long lost plantations but you can’t go there now. The sites are mostly owned by lumber companies.  

“There should be many tales of the slaves who worked the lands here and the enterprises that once existed.”

“As we finish our lunch allow me to tell you what I think was happening here.”

“I have only some old maps and a bit of detail on a land grant document plus my imagination to tell this tale.”

The Second Spanish period and Revolts

“Spain held Florida from 1784 to 1821 following the American Revolution. The Spanish had fought on the American side.  Spain was immersed in the endless European Wars. The Spanish government often did not send enough money or supplies to their Florida colony.  Soldiers were not paid for long periods.  To encourage settlement Spanish authorities had weakened their regulations on immigration and many from the new US were permitted to enter to establish their farms.  These new settlers often were not loyal to Spain, and wished to bring Florida into the US.”

“For many years Florida was the destination of slaves escaping from Georgia and Carolina plantations. There were small villages of escaped slaves; some with links to the Seminole Indians, especially along the west coast.  British agents stirred up the Indians against Spain. Farms were raided, slaves and even free Black families, who may have been here for over 100 years, were captured to be re-sold into slavery.”

“As 1812 approached, and the new United States faced a new conflict with England, the pressures to seize Florida was growing.  A new group arose called The Patriots. They raided burned plantations and seized any free or former slave, all of whom they called ‘escapees’ for sale in slave markets. The ‘Patriots’ were supported on the sly by the U.S. government.  The desperate Spanish then armed a black militia in St. Augustine. These black soldiers in cast-off Spanish uniforms were very effective against these raiders.  The Patriots departed after losing their secret support from the U.S. government.  This conflict caused lawless bandit bands to roam in both East and West Florida.  The Patriots (1811-1813) brought a ‘wild-west’ environment to Florida.”

“Spain later rewarded the soldiers and residents who had remained loyal in what they called ‘The Rebellion.’”

“Look across Dead Lake.  You can see those rich timberlands. I examined the Spanish Land Grants for here and found bits of information as to who owned them and why they were given.”

“Santos Rodriguez, for example, held some 2,622 acres along Water Oak Creek. In his grant documents I found the statement:”

‘He assembled militia in the square at Fernandina in October 1817, to fight against invaders led by McGregor and they had no money to pay them.’

“Others included John OliverosJohn LecountF.P. Sanchez and George J.F. Clarke, who then was the Spanish surveyor. He switched over to the American side when Spain sold Florida in 1821.  All grantees were active on their plantations with slaves.”

“The normal Spanish rules of 10 years occupation, survey, and approval did not apply, so these grantees might have title to their lands right away.”

“Look across this small lake and imagine those laborers who lived over there, working hard, some perishing and now buried in this forgotten soil.  Much has happened across these lakes and waterways.  I touched on this in my last book Search for the Lost Plantations of Flagler County Florida.”

“I wish I could look back and discover the stories and lives of those who lived on those old Spanish land grants. The documents remain but hold only hints.”

“I had an old survey map of this area showing the location of the Spanish plantations.”  Jim pointed at an area marked off near the big lake. “This small grant shows it belonged to Anna Madgigine Kingsley,” he said.  Wasn’t she the African wife of Zephaniah Kingsley who had a large plantation near Jacksonville?  How could a black, African slave inherit a Donation Land Grant from the Spanish?”

I had spoken before to Jim about the Kingsley plantation story when I visited this plantation park near Jacksonville.

“Anna Kingsley, as the story was told, set fire to one of her own plantations, a plantation she owned up north when Patriot ‘bandits’ were about to capture it.  She also owned slaves, which was possible for a slave under Spanish rule. She had remained loyal to the Spanish government and thus was rewarded even though she technically was a slave herself.”

“The shipyard was just opposite that little Kingsley block. I believe she had connections to shipping through her husband.  One historian claimed she was never here, but still her name appears in the documents and maps.  What stories these old maps might hint.  Sit here and look across this beautiful lake to imagine what was happening on in those immense enterprises that once lined the shores of our large Crescent (Dunns) Lake.”

“That’s sort of interesting but these Flagler potato chips are delicious,” said Debbie who had found her fish sandwich to be a bit too large, but could not resist nibbling on the golden brown, thick potato slices.

“Affairs ended here for Spain in July of 1821 when the flag was lowered over the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine and the last Spanish soldier sailed away.”

“What happened to the Spanish plantations?” asked Brad.

“The Spanish maintained elaborate documents and records which after some dispute ended up with the US authorities.  In 1827, the US Congress appointed examiners to see evaluate the title to these properties.  A deadline was set whereby owners had to produce land survey documents and papers to prove their ownership. Spanish and only a few British grant claims were reviewed, and amidst much political turmoil some owners kept their lands, but others did not.  I believe the names shown on my map did receive approval.”

“These large estates are shown as lines on my old map.  I wish I could tell you more, and perhaps someone else will continue my research and finish the story. In the meantime, we had a great lunch in a historic location and it’s now time to start back to old Bunnell.”

Author: Bill Ryan