Treasured Florida Manuscript Uncovered at the Rollins Archive

June 09, 2009

Florida-bookWhile conducting a summer inventory in the Archives and Special Collections at Rollins, Wenxian Zhang, Head of Archives & Special Collections, discovered a rare manuscript in the school’s Florida Collection. It consists of an unpublished novel about a young man’s winter visit to Florida. Apparently written by Cyrus Parkhurst Condit (1830 – 1861), it was one of many gifts to Rollins from Frederick Dau, an editor, collector, and the author of Florida: Old and New (1934). Based on internal evidence, Condit’s biography and historical events, it was determined that the manuscript was probably written in 1855.

Written on one side of 162 folio leaves (12 5/8 by 8 inches), the manuscript is folded in quires and sewn and bound in stiff tan wrappers. The sewing has come loose, as have the wrappers, but everything is present, including a portion of the spine. The manuscript is enclosed in a brown cloth slipcase. The wrappers and first and last few pages are damp-stained, obscuring only two or three words of the Table of Contents.

The novel tells the story of George Morton, a 17-year-old New Yorker who travels one December to Florida for his health. While most of the narrative focuses on Welaka, a small town 55 miles south of Jacksonville, and the adjacent Lake George region, it also includes visits to St. Augustine, Enterprise, Mellonville (now Sanford) and Silver Glen Springs, as well as hunting, fishing and camping trips along the state’s rivers and lakes.

According to Professor of English Maurice O’Sullivan, the manuscript’s importance stems both from its date, which makes it one of the state’s first novels, and from its detailed portrait of ordinary life along the St. Johns River in the early 1850s. In describing how the handful of Welaka residents and the farmers who surrounded them worked and socialized, married and worshipped, hunted and fished, Condit has made a rich contribution to our understanding of antebellum Florida. The story’s incidents and descriptions are so specific in detail that they appear based on first-hand experience or taken from familiar local anecdote. It is the book’s record of those distinctively Floridian customs, the large and small events of day-to-day life, that makes it so valuable.

A Trip to Florida for Health and Sport: the Lost 1855 Novel of Cyrus Parkhurst Condit, edited with introduction by Maurice O’Sullivan and Wenxian Zhang, was published by the Florida Historical Society Press in May.

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