April 12, 2011 marked the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. Florida was the location of some of the most compelling events and personal stories of that momentous era.
If you are interested in reading one of the best historical novels about Florida during the Civil War era, Margaret’s Story by author Eugenia Price is Florida’s “Gone With The Wind”. Although technically a novel, it is a meticulously researched and true account of the lives of Colonel Lewis Fleming, his wife Margaret Seton Fleming and their large and aristocratic extended family.
At the start of the Civil War, the Fleming’s lived in a grand mansion at their 1000-acre Hibernia Plantation on Fleming Island on the St. John’s River, northwest of St. Augustine. For 150 years, Hibernia Plantation was the home of the pioneer Fleming family of Florida, who were descendants of the Barons Slane of Ireland, of the wealthy Fatio family of Switzerland, London and Florida, of Hernán Cortés, the Spanish conquistador of Aztec Mexico, and of the famous Seton family of Scotland and Fernandina, Florida. The Fleming’s were noted planters, military officers, lawyers, hoteliers and politicians. For 80 years, up until the 1940’s, the Fleming family operated their Hibernia Plantation as a well-known winter resort.
Today, Hibernia Plantation is a tony, suburban subdivision of 119 homes, but it was once a grand plantation of “Old Florida”.
The seemingly fanciful subdivision sign (above) located at the entrance of today’s Hibernia Plantation is actually an accurate depiction of the plantation “great house” that was built there in 1856-7 by Colonel Lewis Fleming and his second wife Margaret Seton Fleming.
The Hibernia Plantation “great house”
The Fleming ancestors arrived in Ireland with English King Henry II in 1171. On the west side of the Hill of Slane in County Meath are the remains of their original 12th century motte and bailey castle. The Barony of Slane was created in 1370 for Sir Simon Fleming, the 1st Baron Slane, and would stay in the Fleming family for over 350 years.
The family’s links with County Antrim in the North of Ireland began when William Fleming, the 19th Baron Slane, married Anne, the daughter of Sir Randal McDonnell, 1st Earl of Antrim. Their grandson, Colonel Christopher Fleming, the 22nd Baron Slane, became the first Lord Slane to reside at Anticur, County Antrim in what he called Fleming Hall, the name still used for the house today. The 22nd Baron Slane was a supporter of the Jacobite cause, and sat as one of the Peers in the Irish Parliament called by King James II in 1689. He commanded a family regiment in support of James II and, at the head of this regiment, fought at the Siege of Derry and the famous battles of the Boyne and Aughrim. After the defeat of James II, Fleming was attained by King William III, imprisoned, and his estates at Slane were taken from him. When he was eventually released from prison, Fleming followed the exiled James II to France, where he resided with him in great poverty until 1708, when he returned to England. By that time, Queen Anne was on the throne, and she restored Fleming to his honors and titles, but not to his estates. The newly-restored Lord Slane sought the help of his kinsman, Randal MacDonnell, the 4th Earl of Antrim, who settled him on the property in Antrim at Anticur.
Fleming Hall at Anticur, County Antrim
Christopher Fleming, Baron Slane, died at Fleming Hall in 1726. He was buried with the Earls of Antrim in the MacDonnell family vault in Bun-na-Margy friary at Ballycastle.
George Fleming (1760-1821), descendant of the Barons Slane of Ireland, immigrated to St. Augustine, Spanish East Florida around 1785 from Ireland via Charleston, South Carolina. For his military service in Spanish East Florida, Fleming was granted 1,000 acres on the west side of the St. John’s River northwest of St. Augustine by the Governor of Spanish East Florida on October 29, 1790: “distinguished and extraordinary service, to which he contributed both his property and person in defense of the said province at different periods, sacrificing and abandoning his property, as a faithful subject, worthy of every recompense for his love, fidelity, and patriotism”. The plantation had previously been cleared and planted, but had been abandoned. Fleming named his new 1000-acre plantation “Hibernia”, the Latin name for Ireland, in honor of the land of his birth.
In 1791, George Fleming married Sophia Philipina Fatio, the daughter of wealthy Swiss immigrant Francis Philipe Fatio, his neighbors across the St. John’s River. Sophia Fatio was born in London in 1765, and her family immigrated to St. Augustine in 1771. Francis Philipe Fatio, a native of Switzerland, established an immense 15,000-acre plantation on the east side of the St. John’s River northwest of St. Augustine, which he named “New Switzerland”, and by 1790 he had become one of the wealthiest planters in Florida.
Following their marriage, George and Sophia Fleming farmed orange groves and other crops on their plantation, and had three children who would live to maturity: Lewis, George, and Mary Jane. George Fleming fell dead while riding his horse at Hibernia in 1821, leaving the plantation to his son Lewis.
Lewis Michael Fleming (1798-1862), the son of George and Sophia Fleming, lived in Cuba for several years as a young man, where he met and married his first wife, Augustina Cortés. Augustina was born in Cuba in 1806, and was a direct descendant of Hernán Cortés. Don Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro, 1st Marquis of the Oaxaca Valley and Governor of New Spain, was the Spanish conquistador who conquered the Aztec Empire, and brought large portions of mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Spain in the early 16th century.
After they married, Lewis and Augustina settled at Hibernia and had three children: George Claudius in 1822, Lewis Isadore “L.I.” in 1825 and Augustina “Tina” in 1832. The young family prospered at Hibernia, but tragically, Augustina Cortés Fleming died in December, 1832, shortly after giving birth to baby “Tina”. Lewis Fleming, devastated by the death of his young wife, stoically carried on, raising and educating his three young children, running his plantation and serving as a Major and then Colonel in the Florida Militia cavalry. Col. Fleming was severely wounded during the Seminole War, which resulted in a severe and permanent limp.
In 1837, 38-year-old Colonel Lewis Fleming married 24-year-old Margaret Seton, daughter of his close friend, the late Charles Seton. Charles Seton was a wealthy timber baron and the former Mayor of Fernandina, Florida, and was a descendant of the high noble Seton’s of Barnes and Parbroath of Scotland, the descendants of Sir Christopher Seton and Lady Christina Bruce, sister of King Robert The Bruce of Scotland.
Lewis and Margaret Fleming had seven children: Charles “Seton” in 1838, and Francis Phillip “Frank” in 1841, Frederic Alexander in 1845, William Seton in 1847, Matilda Caroline “Tissie” in 1849, Margaret Seton “Maggie” in 1851 and Isabel Frances “Belle” in 1856. On August 3, 1862, 64-year-old Lewis Fleming died of heart failure in his bed at Hibernia.
For most the Civil War, Margaret and her daughters were left alone at Hibernia, while the Fleming sons served in the Confederate military. Charles “Seton” Fleming was killed at the Battle of Cold Harbor in Virginia on June 3, 1864, as Margaret and her daughters, falsely accused of being “Confederate spies”, were expelled from Hibernia Plantation by Union troops. Margaret and her daughters spent the remainder of the Civil War nursing the wounded and sick at a Confederate military hospital at Lake City, Florida, and worrying about the fate of the surviving Fleming sons.
After the Civil War, the Fleming’s returned to Hibernia. Their “great house” was still standing, but had been ransacked and stripped of all furnishings. With the help of the entire extended family, the house was restored, refurnished and reopened as a hotel. Sons Lewis “L.I.” and Francis “Frank” became prominent attorneys in Jacksonville. Sons Frederic and William stayed on at Hibernia with their mother Margaret and sisters to run the plantation as the successful “Fleming House Hotel”. Margaret Seton Fleming died at Hibernia on April 5, 1878.
In 1889, Margaret’s son, Francis Phillip Fleming of Hibernia and Jacksonville, became the 15th Governor of the State of Florida.
Florida Governor Francis P. Fleming
The Governor’s brother, Frederic Fleming, continued to host hotel guests at Hibernia Plantation until his death in 1917. The youngest brother, William Fleming, led guests on hunting, fishing and boating expeditions along the St. John’s River until his death in 1922. After unhappy marriages, both “Tissie” and “Belle” Fleming remained at Hibernia until their deaths in 1922 and 1934, respectively.
Sadly, all that remains of the original Hibernia Plantation is the family cemetery and Margaret Seton Fleming’s private chapel.
Margaret Seton Fleming’s Chapel and the Fleming Family Cemetery
If you would like to read more about the fascinating lives of the famous Fleming’s of Hibernia Plantation, the full 21-page article is HERE.
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