Harriet Beacher Stowe was one of the most influential American writers of the 19th century. She helped shift the national narrative on slavery toward abolition with her powerful anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
And, as some historically-savvy Jax residents may know already, she spent a lot of time in Northeast Florida.
Born in Connecticut and a Northerner through and through, Stowe bought land in Florida after the Civil War and spent her summers in the Jacksonville area. She fell in love with the sunny serenity of Mandarin, purchasing land there for a cottage and an orange grove along the St. Johns River.
Stowe’s love for Northeast Florida was so profound that she was compelled to publish a collection of notes and letters in which she describes the beauties and eccentricities of the land.
Palmetto Leaves, as the travel memoir would be named, was among the first promotional materials ever written about Florida. It was essentially a travel guide, with many sections directed toward those considering moving to Northeast Florida. She describes the wildlife, the views, and the people. It also detailed Stowe’s efforts to establish churches and schools for recently-emancipated black residents.
After Palmetto Leaves was published in 1873, thousands of tourists descended upon Mandarin – and Stowe’s property – to see for themselves the amazing sights she described. Stowe took it in stride, charging visitors for the opportunity to take a photo with her and take a look around the property.
Stowe likely convinced thousands of people to move to Northeast Florida through Palmetto Leaves.
Stowe and her family kept coming each winter until 1884, when her husband’s health was in decline. That would be the last winter Stowe would visit Jacksonville.
The orange grove died off soon after, and Stowe’s cottage has long since been demolished. But one of the schools for former slaves that Stowe sponsored still stands as the Mandarin Community Club building. You can download Palmetto Leaves for free on Amazon – or anywhere, as it’s now in the public domain.