History of Ferry Pass and Whitmire Cemetery

(c) 1820-1910
By Richard E. Gates (regate@peoplepc.com)
September 12, 1988
Copyright 1988

In 1820 at the present day site of University of West Florida, and the Escambia-Santa Rosa Bridge, Charles Beeler, a trader-merchant, owned all the land, roughly 676 acres.He had acquired the land earlier from Gabriel Hernandez of Pensacola. Beeler had a trading post on the river where he traded with Indians and White settlers, operating a flat barge up and down the river, some times ferrying across the river. The special barge was built for him by James Lamb of Pensacola for $300 dollars

Beeler and his brother were from Kentucky and were supposedly friends of Davy Crockett who had been commissioned by President Andrew Jackson to rid the Escamby river of pesky unfriendly Indians.  Arriving in the area a jump ahead of his creditors, a bad venture in a salt mine in Monroe County Alabama, Charles Beeler was plagued by his brother whom he often partnered with in his business ventures.  Thomas liked to spend money but could not or would not tend to business affairs.  Charles Beeler's dream to build a city at the mouth of the Escambia never materialized, and by 1821 he was deeply in debt.

Hounded by creditors, Charles Beeler left the area sometime around 1826.  David Shannon had purchased Beeler's land in 1822 at a sheriff's sale for $50 dollars.  In 1826 the entire Charles Beeler grant was sold to S.P. Hanes, who in turn sold it to John Lee Williams.  Before the year 1840, Alexander McVoy had acquired the Beeler land and had a mill and timber operation there.  By 1822, after Florida had come under control of the U.S. government, more settlers where migrating to the area.  Sometime before 1820 in the Santa Rosa County area, William Whitmire married Mary Jernigan.  They had four children: Stephen Whitmire, Edmund Whitmire, Bersheba Whitmire, and William H. Whitmire. After William Whitmire's death (c) 1830, Mary Jernigan Whitmire married Samuel Keyser. In the 1830's till 1860's Samuel Keyser was one of the largest land and timber merchants in the Northwest Florida area.  Samuel and Mary had four children: Augustus Keyser, Joseph C. Keyser, Lizzie J. Keyser, and Margaret Keyser.

In the year 1847, W.J. Keyser formed a partnership with Alexander McVoy, but pulled out within a year.  McVoy continued to operate the mill as sole owner until early 1855 when it burned with all equipment and timber destroyed.  The logs were floated down the river into the bay where they were stored in beds to be picked up later by schooners. This timber operation was very small at the time.

 The first Ferry of any size was operated by Samuel Keyser at this time, with two trips a day from Floridatown to the river basin area.  Keyser bonded $1,000 dollars to the Judge of the Circuit Court to insure his services to the people.  The Ferry left the east side of the river at 6:00 in the morning arriving at Floridatown and returned at 9:00 A.M.  The afternoon trip left at 1:00 P.M. from the east side and returned at 5:00 P.M.  The Ferry was hand poled across the bay by two crews, because it was too tiring for one crew to make more than one trip.  The fare was $.25 cents a person, horse and rider and carriages paying slightly more.

In the 1850's there were no homes in Ferry Pass. It was mostly uninhabited, although there were some homes along the bay.  What lumber and timber that came down the river went to the mills that were on the Escambia Bay.  Most of the lumber that came down the river was owned by W.J. Keyser of Milton and C.P. Knapp of Pensacola.  In 1855 after Alexander McVoy's mill had burned he formed a partnership with Samuel Keyser to rebuild and start his timber operation up again with Samuel Keyser providing the capitol.

In 1856 or 1857, William H. Whitmire and his stepson Gideon Murphy came across the bay to assist in the building of the Anderson-Pritchett mill.  The mill was located somewhere in the area where the old Ellyson Field docks were.  Mr. Pritchett had a home back in the woods, supposedly the only one at that time.  William built a house on the bluff that was known as the High House.  The High House was the meeting place for religious services and weddings.  Alphens Jones, a Baptist preacher from the Navy Yard, came once a month to hold these services.

By this time the Ferry was owned by Mr. Blake Jernigan, grandfather of Silas Jernigan of Pea Ridge.  A Mr. McGeachy operated the Ferry for Mr. Jernigan.  When Mr. Jernigan died, he willed a half interest to Mr. McGeachy.  The Ferry was sold afterward to Mr. Jack Deens (father of Mrs E. G. (Belle) Creighton who operated it for sometime.  In these days the name of Ferry Pass was unknown, being called at that time as the Flat Iron.  In the post civil war years some of the early settlers that migrated to the area whose descendants would make an impact on the Ferry Pass area were, Alexander McVoy, William Nobles, Z. Jones, Samuel Gates and A.H. Roberts.

   Before the war, the timber that came down the river was hauled out, scrubbed, and put into beds along the river.  The rafts of lumber and timber coming down the river which was processed in mills at Molino and Century were also placed in these beds.  During the war all timber beds and the mills in the area were either burned by the Confederates or the Federals, and the timber industry came to a complete standstill.  During the war much hardship was bestowed on the people still in the area. 

In 1866, Edmund Whitmire came across the bay to start up the business again.  He settled in Ferry Pass at what is now the area of Atwood Drive and Davis Highway.  In 1850 Edmund was a butcher and farmer by trade, but soon became an overseer for the Keyser's in the Milton and Santa Rosa area.  His mother's being married to Samuel Keyser had some influence on this I'm sure.  By 1870 he was the Timber Inspector for the Keysers in Escambia County.  He began to purchase extensive areas of land for himself, one being the old Charles Beeler grant from Francesco Moreno who had foreclosed on a mortgage from Alexander McVoy that he held.  He became an independent Timber Inspector contracting out to the large timber brokers in the Alabama and Florida area.  Throughout the 1870 his business expanded rapidly and Gid Murphy was one of his Timber Inspectors.

In this period all the lumber that came down the river was inspected by Edmund Whitmire and his associates before being released to the brokers to be shipped.  He built his home on his homestead.  Edmund had married Mary Ann Jameson of Wilcox (Camden) Ala.  Their children were William A. Whitmire, Kimbrough Whitmire, and Mary Eliza Whitmire.  In the early 1870s Edmund built several homes in the Ferry Pass area.  He build a home for Henry White Jones who had married his daughter Mary, and gave them forty acres of land which is now the site of West Florida Hospital.  Henry Jones was a veteran of the war having served with the 15th Cavalry of the Confederate Army.

Edmund also built a home for his son William A. across from Henry Jones about where the Ferry Pass Elementary School is now.  Both of Edmond's sons, William and Kimbrough had also served in the war.  Soon after the war, Elizabeth Walker Creighton, widow of Chapman Creighton and sister to Mary Jameson, (Edmond's wife), arrived from Wilcox County Alabama.  Edmund gave her several acres of land on which to build a home and raise her family:  Edmond G. Creighton, Alex P. Creighton, Letitia A.Creighton, and Chapman Levy Creighton.  The area being about the 8900 or 9000 block of what is now Davis Highway.  Adjacent to Elizabeth, he gave several acres to Emiline Jackson, also a sister to Mary.  Chapman Creighton, husband to Elizabeth, had died during the war supposedly in Mobile Alabama while in employment of the Confederate States.

In the early 1870's Edmond Whitmire's timber operation had began to grow rapidly.  He established along with Gideon Murphy a sawmill and timber operation near the Thompson Bayou area.  He brought his sons and the Creightons into the business.  He helped the Nobles family to build their mill on the location of what is now Smith's fish camp.  At this time just about all the area men worked with or for him in some capacity.  He formed many working partnerships with men like John Harper, R.E. Nobles and L.E. Nobles, A. Tippins, P.W. McLean, E.H. Robinson, J.S. Walton, W.A Tippin and F.R. Goulding, all large land owners and timber barons.

   Among the land purchases he made in the 1870's were several acres of land along Johnson Avenue and Davis Highway.   In 1875 about 80 acres in this location was purchased by him from the State of Florida Board of Education for $.25 per acre.  In 1881, with Ferry Pass having no schools, he deeded a parcel of land 200 square yards to establish a school.  This is the land where Ferry Pass School was first built.  School attendance wasn't mandatory in those days and learning was done at home or by private tutoring.  By the time of his death on October 15th 1888, most of the timber operation was being run by his son Kimbrough Whitmire, his nephews C.L. Creighton and Edmond Creighton, and step-nephew Gideon Murphy.

At this time Kimbrough Whitmire was living next to his father's place. Edmond G. Levy and Chapman Levy were living on land they had purchased on what is now known as Atwood Drive.  Edmond was living in the Chavers home area and Chapman on what is now known as the Jennings Place.  Gideon Murphy had a fine large home where now Scenic Hills Country Club exists. These men partnered with John Harper, J.S. Walton, R.E. Nobles and L.E. Nobles, F.R.Goulding, A.C. Tippin, P.W. McLean, E.H. Robinson, W.H. Murphy, R.N. Wilson and W.B. Jordan to form the Ferry Pass Inspection and Shippers Association.  The nature of the business was the inspection, custody and handling of timber and logs on and adjacent to Ferry Pass Florida.  By the time this association was incorporated by the State of Florida in 1896, Edmond Creighton had pulled out.  During the 1880's and 90's Gideon Murphy, John Harper, C.L. Creighton and A.C. Tippin bought extensive acres of land in and around the Ferry Pass area.  It was a time of prosperity for everyone+ADs- everyone had work, and the community grew rapidly.

The Association expanded the already booming timber and lumber business on the river and the Ferry Pass community, producing many servants to the community.  One of the early prominent timber men born and raised in the area, was my grandfather, J. R. M. Gates, a nephew to the Nobles family, had married into the Jameson family and became one of the timber inspectors for the association.  In the latter part of the 1890's and early part of the 1900's, he had a store, dairy and saw mill on land he had purchased from J.S. Walton (about 100 acres) where the Southwestern corner of Ellyson Field is now.  During elections, it was the place of voting, and mail was left at the store to be mailed at Pensacola.  John Gates in later years was elected to the State Legislature, County Commission and was appointed as the county's first Road Supervisor.

   By 1906, as the area and populace grew, Sim Otis purchased land from C.L. Creighton and John Harper to start a new ferry that operated from Ferry Pass to Mulat Bayou.  By the First World War, a total of three ferries were operating across the bay.  The Ferry Pass Shippers Association had reincorporated under John Harper, Gid Murphy, the Tippins, Nobles, Walton, McLean and Robinson.


   In 1907, D.M. Merritt and C.L. Creighton deeded to trusteeship of Gid Murphy, K.L. Jones and Morris Creighton the acreage that Whitmire Cemetery is located on.  That portion to the north was deeded by D.M. Merritt and his wife Leah, and became the acreage where the black people were buried.  The acreage to the south was deeded by C.L. Creighton and his wife Lizzie.  Whitmire Cemetery began in July of 1870 when Julia O. Tippen, daughter of A.O. Tippen was buried.

 The Whitmire Cemetery is the burial site of such early Ferry Pass pioneers as Edmond Whitmire and wife Mary Ann Jameson Whitmire, Gideon Murphy and Wife Susan Murphy, Edmond Creighton and wife Belle Deens Creighton, C.L. Creighton and his wife Elizabeth Hollihand Creighton, Henry White Jones and wife Mary Eliza Whitmire Jones and the descendants of all named above.  Other notables buried at Whitmire that made a early contribution to the community of Ferry Pass are Eliza Andrews Jameson (mother of the Jameson lineage), Elizabeth W. Jameson Creighton (wife of first Chapman), Emeline Jameson Jackson, G.M. Harper, D.M. Merritt, Fannie L. Deens, Morris H. Creighton, Edward B. Creighton, J.R.M. Gates, Franklin P. Jernigan, Ira E. Jernigan, David Johnson, K.L. Jones, Robert E. Jones, John A. Clark, Charles F. Parazine, G.E. Wendt and their descendants.

 End of Early Ferry Pass (c) 1820 - 1910

The history above is given to you as accurately as I can interpret. It comes from word of mouth, the research of old court records, censuses on file at the library, and old newspaper clips.  The time period is roughly from 1820 until 1910.  Much more history exists from the Ferry Pass area from the period following 1910 that I haven't been able to completely research.  This paper contains briefly, periods of early history.  The personal stories that I have been told, I am saving for a later date.  In the near future I hope to do a more complete book on Ferry Pass, its people, and their historical contribution to the county of Escambia and to the State of Florida.