Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Its Still Raining

I miss our afternoon showers. Florida isn't supposed to have all day (or all week for that matter) rain... we get our afternoon showers that can be easily planned around or waited out. I am just plain out of indoor things to do at work. I took my morning walk around the park with my umbrella, but most of the photos that I took didn't turn out well. They were either to dark or washed out from the flash. Here are the two that I am willing to show. One is a picturesque view of the rain on the spring through the trees, and the other is a Buttonbush blossom. I like the Buttonbush one, the blossom reminds me of Horton Hears A Who. Maybe there is a Whoville speck on that flower.
I left early to use up the rest of my holiday time earned for the 4th of July. It was a dreadfully boring day at work, but I don't want to disappoint anyone with a tiny blog. I will fill you all in on the story of the steamship wreckage that I mentioned yesterday.
Paddle wheel steamships were commonly run on the Suwannee River from 1800-1900. One ship captain, Captain Tucker, is the star of our story. He ran away from home at a young age and became somewhat of an apprentice to a ship captain. He eventually became a captain himself and had several ships throughout his lifetime. One (or possibly more) was run aground in the shallow waters of the upper Suwannee River. He returned to ship builders in Indiana and requested a ship with a very shallow draft, meaning that less of the ship's hull extended under water. This ship was made just for the Suwannee River, and he called it Madison. It was 120 feet long and weighed 99 tons.
Captain Tucker used the Madison to deliver mail. He traveled regularly from the Gulf area up the river as far as the river level would allow delivering mail and would buy/sell/trade with farmers along the way. You can imagine that at the turn of the century, when a trip to the store may have meant a full day of traveling by horse, having a floating general store come by was an incredible and much appreciated thing. Captain Tucker ran this route for several years and even added a second ship to his business for a route on another river. When the civil war started, every able man helped to defend his family, his land, and his way of life. Captain Tucker was no exception. He mounted a gun to the deck of his ship and helped the war effort as much as he could. There are stories of him rounding up three Union ships in the Gulf... though there are also stories that say those ship captains were drunk and unsure of their orders and Captain Tucker did little more than herd them in toward shore. Eventually, the Union troops had the Suwannee River surrounded and the Captain could be of no more use on the river. He and his men were going to leave and join the infantry in Virginia. He didn't want to leave the Madison where the Union troops could use it for their own benefit. Meanwhile, a farmer contacted Captain Tucker and said he needed to carry a load of corn (maybe for livestock feed, maybe for moonshine, you decide). Captain Tucker loaned the Madison to this farmer and told him to use it as long as he needed to as long as he would sink it in "Old Troy Spring" when he was done with it. The farmer did as he was told and the Madison has been in Troy Spring ever since. During the war, much of the Madison was salvaged for supplies. Large metal pieces were taken for the sugar cane industry, we assume lumber and other metal pieces would have been taken by anyone in need. Throughout the years, divers and swimmers have collected bits and pieces. Some pieces have probably even drifted down river. For the most part, what is left is safely nestled in the sand of the spring run. Boats are not allowed in the spring area so there won't be any heavy equipment damage. Most people are respectful of the history of the wreckage now and leave it to rest. I have only had one person in my 3 years at this park try to take a piece of the ship. Another visitor came and got me right away and was ready to go to court and testify against the person. I didn't take the matter that far though, I was able to recover the piece and put it back in place where it belonged, for everyone to enjoy.
I enjoy reading through all of the articles and stories about Captain Tucker and the Madison. The Captain was a bold and determined man who worked hard for everything that he had. There are stories about him having a goal in mind and tackling what no one thought possible. At the time, the Suwannee was declared a navigable waterway from the Gulf to a town called Columbus which is no longer in existence, but was located upriver from Troy. Captain Tucker wanted the river to be declared navigable as far up as White Springs, a shallow and narrow part of the river. The Captain would have to cross rocky shoals and very shallow water to get there. He said he would put the Madison in White Springs if he had to do it on wheels. The story goes that he waited for the river to rise and then headed upriver. He made it! He came back without a cabin on the top of the ship anymore, but he did it. Another story involves him marching into the White House in an attempt to get his postal route back after the war. For whatever reason, his request was refused through the proper channels. He met with the president's wife and she was so impressed that he had the guts to just come to the White House. He got his postal route back!
The stories of the Madison are fascinating, but they are just stories. We don't have a lot of official documentation of the ship aside from the logs of its production. There are no known photos or images of it until after it was sunk. The farmer who sunk the ship wrote a story for a local newspaper many years after it happened. The story seems to be embellished a bit or perhaps his memory was a little clouded after so many years. We do have some great information about Captain Tucker from genealogy research and from information given to us by descendants of the Captain. Some people doubt that the ship in Troy Spring is the Madison, but the research and writings that I have seen have enough common details that I believe it is true. A couple years ago, I was interviewed by National Geographic News when they did an article on the Madison. It can be found here. Unfortunately, the article leans a little more toward the negative side of the argument, but everyone is entitled to their opinion. A little mystery keeps the old ship interesting, I guess.


Miner Fan said...

Are there any pictures of the intact Maddison? or the Captain?

Linda Conyers said...

Amy, the buttonbrush photo is just beautiful! I'll now have to consider it one of my favorites of your wonderful nature photos. And the stories surrounding the Madison are always enjoyable. With this being the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, it's interesting to hear how the war was unfolding in Florida. We Yanks don't hear much about those episodes from the Civil War.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy reading what a Ranger does every day...I think it would be an awesome job to have. You do an excellent job interpreting the things you see.
: o )

Ranger Amy said...

I do have some older pictures of the Madison and the Captain. I will share them on Friday or Saturday.
Thanks for the comments and the participation in the poll, everyone. I want to make sure that this blog stays interesting, I'm glad to have the feedback.