Gamble Plantation Historic State Park, Ellenton Florida

After the Seminole War of (1836-1842) which removed many of the Native Indians from Florida, Congress passed the “Armed Occupation Act”. The act promoted settlement of the frontier and offered settlers 160 acres if they would cultivate 5 acres of property for five years. In 1843 Major Robert Gamble Jr. of Tallahassee claimed his acreage along the Manatee River, a region then remote from civilization with the hopes of establishing a sugar plantation. The Mansion took six years to complete using slave labor and local craftsman. Gamble eventually accumulated about 3500 acres and produced large amounts of sugar, but fortune did not favor his efforts. Natural disasters and a fickle Sugar market drove him into debt by 1856 forcing him to sell the plantation in 1859.

The Gamble Mansion or Gamble Plantation also known as the “Judah P. Benjamin Confederate Memorial at Gamble Plantation Historic State Park”, wow that’s a lot to say……also home to the Florida Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, located in Ellenton Florida on the Manatee River. The historic antebellum Mansion is the last remaining on of its kind in the Florida Western Peninsula. A 40,000 gallon cistern fresh water holding tank supplied drinking, cooking and bathing water for those on living on the plantation. At its peak the plantation had between 160-200 slaves maintaining the property and the fields.

The columns and the two foot thick walls are constructed of Tabby an indigos material that substituted for brick. Tabby is made with a mixture of crushed sea shell, lime and sand creating a perfect material for insulating the Mansion from the hot tropical sun and the many sever storms Florida is know for.

At the outbreak of the war in 1861 the Mansion was occupied by Captain Archibald McNeill the famous Confederate blockade runner. Archibald sailed from Europe to ports in the South with great success supplying the Confederacy with supplies needed for the war effort.

Judah P. Benjamin, Confederate Secretary of State and President Jefferson Davis escaped Richmond Virginia in April 1865, fleeing the Union Army that was tightening the noose around the Southern capital. Somewhere along there escape they separated and Jefferson was captured in Georgia and imprisioned. Meanwhile Judah who was arranged for the assassination of President Lincoln and feared he wouldn’t receive a fair trial headed further south making his way to the Gamble Mansion. Captian McNiell aided Benjamin in escaping to the Bahamas and then eventually sailing to England arriving with hardly any resources. He went on to establish a distinguished second legal career in London and in 1872 was selected as the Queens Counsel…..similar to America’s Federal Supreme Court Seat.

Meanwhile back in America, Union Raiders destroyed the Gamble Sugar Mill leaving only brick ruins today. However they did spare the Mansion and in 1925 the Mansion and the grounds were purchased by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and donated to the state of Florida as a memorial to Judah P. Benjamin who served three Cabinet positions under Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Today the Gamble Mansion serves as home to the Florida Division United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). In 1937 the UDC installed a memorial plague to Benjamin at the Mansion. Also on the grounds is the Confederate Veterans Memorial Monument erected October 10, 1937.

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