Florida Historical Society to Release Red Hills Book
Voices Rising Up from Florida’s Red Hills: Mastodons, Mansions, and Antebellum Ghosts by Rose Knox and Graham Schorb
Submitted by Desiree James, North Florida College
MADISON, FL - Rose Knox grew up listening to stories, and in her “own backyard” was a rich history of people, places, and happenings. Her latest book, written in collaboration with her husband, Graham Schorb, is titled Voices Rising Up from Florida’s Red Hills: Mastodons, Mansions, and Antebellum Ghosts. She writes about the Red Hills area of rural Florida as a special geological place; the soil of the region is what ultimately attracted people to what is today called Madison, Jefferson, and Leon Counties. It was the topography of the area, as a result of melting ice caps during the last ice age, which created a unique geographical location of rolling hills, with some of the richest farming soil to be had in the world! Geologists once claimed it to be much like that of the Black Belt of the Mississippi Delta!
In her childhood, Rose remembers talk of diving archaeologists who brought up a mastodon tusk from the depths of the Aucilla River; not far from that location, ceremonial mounds from the Woodland period tower over the landscape, near Lake Miccosukee, their presence still telling a story of ancient burial practices of indigenous tribes. The book chronicles many aspects of northern Florida’s history, including ancient hunters; the later Indian Confederations; Spanish conquests – and the mission period; the British army’s destruction of Spanish missions; encroaching settlers and conflicts and wars with the Seminole nation; aristocratic planters; slave narratives, and music coming out of the African tradition; several chapters recount a tale of an escaping Confederate war general, a grand mansion named Whitehall, where 31 Civil War soldiers died, and in folkloric fashion the work records several local cemeteries supposedly full of spooks. The book furthermore portrays how superstitious beliefs crept into Southern folklore, emerging first out of the old belief systems and fears of the Celt and the African traditions. Those beliefs were later transmogrified into what has become known as the Southern Gothic lore of haints that involve inexplicable, paranormal happenings.
The book also offers readers a visual journey through the area, as it presents archival photographs from the State Library and Archives of Florida. Other visuals are of paintings from artists, Theodore Morris and Tallahassee’s own Patrick Elliott. Those artists bring the ancient people and beasts back to life, helping modern-day people re-live an important story; the tales they portrayed on canvas might remind folks of the racing heartbeat of a Paleolithic hunter, downing a mastodon or giant sloth; and to think that these human beings and enormous creatures lived among these Red Hills! Rose writes of other happenings saying, “For a keen listener, maybe you can still hear the sound of hundreds of marching Spanish soldiers and the laments of a defeated Indian Confederation of mound builders; or imagine the mass migrations of African slaves travelling with their aristocratic masters in wagon trains pulled by oxen, as they flooded into territorial Florida; or someone might feel the exuberance of archeological students, when they, with the state’s archeologist, discovered a graveyard of Christianized Indians in Madison, County; the stories remain in these sloping hills. Listen closely to hear a victory-cry from Seminole braves when they take vengeance upon wealthy hunters at Clifton plantation in Lovett; readers will also get a glimpse of a medieval joust in the streets of Monticello, and read of a bountiful feast there, as they dine with the ultra-wealthy planters of the day; imaginative readers might even hear the faint music and envision people dancing to a waltz like the Blue Danube with Southern aristocrats - the women twirling in elaborate dresses and the men in their finest suits.”
Rose too tours readers through several antebellum mansions. As she leads you up a finely crafted Charleston staircase in a mansion called Whitehall, she asks readers to listen to the cries of 31 battle-wounded soldiers, dying in that makeshift Civil War hospital; the book likewise portrays the life of the enslaved peoples and the masters on plantations named El Destino, Casa Bianca, Pinetucky, The Cedars, and Lyndhurst among many more. The writer encourages readers to get out to explore some of these places, writing “On a lazy afternoon you might choose, like the Knox family once did, to stroll through old bone yards, where whole families are buried in mass graves, victims of yellow fever and to think on those hard times. If anyone is ever in Tallahassee near St. John’s Episcopal Church Cemetery, they might try standing over two tombs where a European Prince and Princess are resting side-by-side for eternity, amid the hustle-bustle of the state’s capital; some say the princess still lurks in spirit form amid the fog of early mornings! While there, just steps away from St. John’s is also Old City Cemetery where visitors can meander, and where black and white Civil War soldiers are reposed, just a few yards from one another; but be warned and make sure to stay watchful for signs of those restless spirits of an antebellum past, which folklore reveals still appear on lazy afternoons, misty mornings, or moonlit nights!
Knox ends the book by stating, “It is my hope that readers will listen to the voices rising up, and think of times past in these Red Hills, the realm I love, and the place that is my home!” Other books by Rose Knox and her husband are titled Canoeing and Camping on the Historic Suwannee River: A Paddler’s Guide and Old Tales of the Forgotten South in a Georgia and Florida Swamp: Paddling Okefenokee also published by the Florida Historical Society. Knox is in her 30th year of teaching and works at a rural college nestled in the Red Hills of northern Florida.
Theodore Morris paints an ancient hunter in pursuit of a Paleolithic beast, in what is today north Florida. Several skeletal mammoth remains have been recovered from areas in the Red Hills. Courtesy of Theodore Morris
In folkloric fashion, Rose tells of several local cemeteries supposedly full of spooks. The book also portrays how superstitious beliefs crept into Southern folklore, emerging first out of the old belief systems and fears of the Celt and the African traditions. Those beliefs were later transmogrified into what has become known as the Southern Gothic lore of haints that involve inexplicable, paranormal happenings. Courtesy Graham Schorb