North Brevard Business & Community Directory
North Brevard Historical Society & Museum

NBHS logo

Exploring North Brevard History - Titusville, Florida
Compiled by Michael Knight for our Facebook Page

Captain Douglas D. Dummitt

Douglas D. Dummitt, son of English planter Thomas Henry Dummitt, was born in 1784 on the English island of Barbados and came to Connecticut in 1807 with his father, his mother Mary Douglas Mortimer, his sisters Anna Maria Dummitt, Elizabeth Hennery Dummitt, Sara Jane Dummitt, and his brother Mortimer Dummitt.

The elder Dummitt had served in the British Royal Marines and had been a planter on Barbados before fleeing a rebellion there due to the enactment of the British Abolitionist Act of 1807. According to legend, when Douglas Dummitt sailed past the Florida coastline on his way from Barbados to Connecticut he was so attracted by the fragrance of orange blossoms along the east coast of Florida that he became determined to find the source.

They lived in Connecticut briefly before immigrating to the Tomoka area of Volusia County, Florida in 1818. Thomas promptly purchased several large plantation tracts from Messrs. Bunch and Addison and 90 black slaves along the Tomoka River. Like many other planters, he planted and processed sugarcane. After a series of financial setbacks, Thomas and his family moved to St. Augustine and left his remaining holdings to his son, Douglas.

Prior to moving to the Merritt Island area, Douglas was the postmaster of Tomoka and New Smyrna customs house officer in what today is Volusia County. There he farmed sugarcane during the 1820s and 1830s. He also was one of the few planters to cultivate oranges. In 1828 he sent to market in St. Augustine his first crop of oranges packed in barrels between layers of dried Spanish moss, transported by dugout cypress log canoes, paddled by slaves.

Perhaps owing to its warm location and unique woodwork, Dummitt’s groves survived the disastrous freeze of 1835 largely intact and afterwards furnished root stock to re-establish the citrus industry in this region of Florida. The success of his groves brought more growers to the area and fruit from the Indian River area became known as the finest in America.

Douglas Dummitt was an officer in a local militia called the Mosquito Roarers, organized by the residents of Mosquito County prior to the Second Seminole War in 1835. During the war he rose to the office of Captain.

Douglas’ father, Thomas, also participated in the Second Seminole War and was wounded in a skirmish. Thomas retreated back to St Augustine to be with his wife and children. Thomas died in 1839 as a result of his wounds in the skirmish in the family home in St Augustine which is the present day St. Francis Inn. After his death, his wife and children started a boarding house out of their home.

On March 16, 1843, following the Seminole War, Captain Dummitt took advantage of the land program under the Armed Occupation Act and settled an area on Merritt Island near Ft. Ann on the east bank of the Indian River. He planted a 7 acre orange grove, using root stock brought from his orange groves in Tomoka, on high ground between the Indian River and the Mosquito Lagoon. He named it “Good Hope” and later it became known as Dummitt Groves. There he invented a new grafting technique in which he grafted sweet orange tree slips to sour orange root stock that came from his groves in Tomoka, which probably originated with the Spanish and had become acclimated to the Florida soil and climate. The method became known as “top-working” because budding began several feet above the ground. “Top-working” became common practice after Dummitt’s successful use of it. The success of his groves brought more growers to the area and fruit from the Indian River area became known as “Indian River Citrus”, the finest in America.

His humble house was south of the 1854 location of the old Haulover Canal in the center of his orange grove and built of palm fronds attached to a heart pine frame with a coquina rock fireplace. His settlement also provided one of the first permanent settlements in the Cape Canaveral region of Florida.

Captain Dummitt had married socialite Frances Hunter in Tomoka in 1837 and they divorced while in Merritt Island in 1844 for reasons of incompatibility. He then began a family with his mulatto common–law wife, Leandra Fernandez. They had one son, Charles, and 3 daughters, Louisa, Kate, and Mary.  His son, Charles was killed in a hunting accident and is buried where he died, in the middle of Canova Rd, New Smyrna Florida. His tomb is inscribed ‘‘Sacred to the Memory of Charles Dummitt, Born Aug. 18, 1844 - Died April 23, 1860.'' In 1866, Louisa and Mary snuck away from the Dummitt household at “Good Hope” and went to St Augustine. Later on Douglas Dummitt learned in a letter from them that Louisa had married a Minorcan and Mary had married a “White Yankee”. Both had moved up north, away from Florida, and never returned. In 1869 Kate married a “Freedman,” Andrew Jackson. They built a house north of Haulover Canal and planted an orange grove. Andrew and Kate are buried at the graveyard known as “Laughing Waters” in the settlement next to where the Clifton School was located.

Dummitt was a strong supporter of the Confederate States. He was the highest ranking Confederate official in the area, serving as collector of customs. Among his other public offices were judge and justice of the peace of Mosquito County and appraiser of the Union Bank. He was the first state representative from the Titusville area following the granting of statehood to Florida in 1845.

On August 16, 1871, Douglas Dummitt acknowledged his illegitimate children by leaving half of his estate to his children and the other half to his sister, Anna Maria Dummitt. His will was witnessed by Colonel Henry T. Titus from Titusville and Captain Miles O. Burnham, Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Keeper (1853-1886).

Captain Douglas Dummitt died March 27, 1873 at Dr. Whitfield’s house on South Merritt Island. He was buried under a large oak tree on his dear friend Dr. Whitfield’s estate known as “Fairyland.” His grave is unmarked and the exact location is unknown.

Historical Society homepage.