A Church Founded by some of Florida’s Earliest Settlers: Wacahoota Church

Wacahoota Methodist Church | Levy County, FL | c. 1852

The earliest Europeans to land in Florida came in the 1500’s and most of their settlements were concentrated on the coasts. The interior of the state was an uncharted frontier that offered dense woods, vast swamps, unknown animals and native attack to these new people. For most of its early history, only the missionaries were intrepid enough to venture away from the coasts.

But things began to shift in the early 1800’s as a primitive but viable road was carved through the center of the state to connect the capitals of St. Augustine and Pensacola. Settlers began to venture further into the Florida wild to carve out new lives for themselves and their families. The Armed Occupation Act of 1842 gave even more incentive to those willing to establish homesteads in this new territory with the promise of 160 acres to any family who would stay.

Many came from Georgia and the Carolinas to take advantage of the open land, to build families, to farm, to lay down roots. In 1851, James and his wife Drucilla packed up their 3 children and made a 400 mile trip south by wagon to their new home in Florida. Just one year later, James would found a Methodist congregation near this site.

Life in this new place over the next few decades would not be easy though. By 1861, Florida had joined the Confederacy in the War Between the States and many of these new settlers from this congregation were called away to fight. The period after the war was difficult as much of the South rebuilt itself and struggled to find its place in the new framework. But eventually, things calmed down, more settlers moved South and Florida’s population continued to expand. By 1899, James and his small Methodist congregation built this one room church house for their community to worship in.

The cemetery on site is still maintained and is the final resting place for 224 souls, many of which are Civil War veterans.

There are approximately 224 graves in this cemetery, the oldest dating to 1858. The large marker that you see near the center of this photo is that of Thomas Napoleon S. (b. 1850, d. 1910). His father James Porter S. founded this congregation in 1852 and his headstone is the archway that you see in front of Thomas’.

“My loved one dear

Lies sleeping here

To me is hid his face so dear

But his sweet presence is ever near

It will not be long until we meet

By the cross at Jesus’ feet”

Sacred to the Memory of Thomas Napoleon Smith

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