Once a Knight is Enough

Knight Genealogy

by Laura Knight


Jacob Summerlin

 King of the Cracker Cow Hunters

Frances "Fannie" Knight Summerlin Jacob "Jake" Summerlin
Frances Knight Summerlin
Jacob Summerlin


Jacob Summerlin (February 20, 1820 – November 4, 1893), aka the King of the Crackers and King of the Cracker Cow Hunters, was reputed to be the first child born in Florida after the land was ceded by Spain. He is known for his contributions to the early settlement of Florida, and especially for founding the county seats of Orange and Polk counties, which are Orlando and Bartow, respectively.  

Summerlin earned much of his early fortune raising cattle along the Peace River and Kissimmee River. Wild cattle brought to North America by the Spanish conquistadors roamed free across these vast stretches of land; entrepreneurs could capture, breed, drive and sell these cows for twelve to sixteen dollars each. Summerlin and his business partners developed a lucrative trade with Havana and with the US Naval Base at Key West. During the Civil War, he and his partners smuggled beef and medicine to Confederate troops past the Union blockade. With Confederate money he earned, he bought the 160-acre (0.65 km²) Blount homestead, much of which would later be given to Polk County. (Ft. Blount was the earlier name of Bartow, the present county seat.) After the war, when Confederate money became worthless, he began selling cattle to the Union soldiers at Fort Myers.

He amassed a fortune of 15,000 to 20,000 head of cattle during this period, and was considered one of the wealthiest Floridians before he reached age 40. In this pre-banking era, Jacob kept his gold and silver at his cabin in trunks, meal sacks, tin meat cans, woolen socks, cigar boxes, behind door frames, in the rafters, or tossed in a corner. He used his wealth to purchase large tracts of land sprawling from Fort Meade to Fort Myers. He bought a wharf at Punta Rassa and a thousand acres (4 km²) nearby for cow pens, some of which he rented to other cattlemen.

In 1867, he donated 120 acres (0.5 km²) of the Blount homestead land in the present-day town of Bartow: 40 acres (160,000 m2) for an institution of learning (aptly named the Summerlin Institute, now called Bartow High School, founded 1887), 40 acres (160,000 m2) for establishment of a county seat, and 20 acres (81,000 m2) for each of the town's two churches (Methodist and Baptist). He also personally donated $1100.00 for construction of Bartow's first two-story building which housed the Masonic lodge and school.

Summerlin also owned land in Orange County where he opened the Summerlin Hotel. When Orlando's wooden courthouse burned in 1868, there was pressure to move the county seat to the then-larger town of Sanford. It had been located nearby in Enterprise across the river from Sanford before 1857. General Henry Sanford was particularly involved in lobbying for the move to Sanford and offered free land for the new courthouse during a public meeting of the County Commission in 1875. Summerlin sat in the packed audience during Sanford's offer. Legend has it that as Sanford finished speaking, Summerlin rose to his feet and asked if he was done, Sanford replied "I have".

Then I will make my offer. The county seat has been located here by the free will of the majority of the settlers; the land has been deeded to that particular purpose. I stand here, ready to build a $10,000 court house, and if the county is ever able to pay me back, all right. If it can't, that's all right, too.

The county accepted his offer and repaid him over a 10-year period. Later that year, Orlando became incorporated with a population of 85; on August 4, Jacob Summerlin sat on the first Orlando City Council acting as Council president.

It was also Summerlin who donated a large tract of land in order for a fine park to be established in Orlando. In 1883, Summerlin came to a city council meeting and offered the land around the lake on the condition that it be beautified and turned into a park. He also required that the city plant trees and put a "driveway" around the lake. To ensure that the city followed through the stipulations of the donation, Summerlin put reverter clauses in the contract to allow his heirs to reclaim the property if the city failed in its obligations. That park is still maintained to his orders of it being kept beautiful. His son Judge Robert L Summerlin, mayor of Orlando named Lake Eola  after a fiancee who died before they could marry.

Jacob died on November 4, 1893, aged 73, and was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Bartow.

Jacob married Frances "Fannie" Knight; they were the parents of at least seven children: Martha, Mary Ann, Jasper, George, Robert, Samuel, and Alice.

Frances Knight was the daughter of Rev. Samuel Knight and Mary Nancy Roberts.



Jacob Summerlin



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