Thursday, November 30, 2017

Juan Bautista Retana (1663-?)

kindred roots,  alava spain
Landa, Alava, Spain
It was the year 1663, during the final years of Philip IV's reign in Spain, on the 30th of October; a baby was born in Villa de Landa (Village of Landa) in the Alava region of Spain. Born to Mateo Fernandez de Retana and Maria Gonzalez de Urune, Juan Bautista Retana no doubt was raised in an agricultural family; possibly growing barley, wheat, and sugar beets which were the common crops grown in that region. 

Juan Bautista Retana, Kindred Roots
Alava, Spain
The Alava region in Spain is home to the Basques, an indigenous people from Spain and France.  The basques over time have assimilated with the Spaniards, yet managed to keep some of their traditions, culture, and language. They were known to be excellent sailors, gaining experience in the open waters by whaling. Numerous Basques sailed with Christopher Columbus on his voyages to the Americas. In fact, it was the Basque, Juan Sebastian Elcano, that took the helm of Magellan's voyage around the world after Magellan's death. 

Charles II of Spain
It seemed that Juan Bautista was destined to follow in his Basque ancestors footsteps by sailing and settling in Costa Rica. It is unclear as to his reason for leaving family and friends behind in Spain to move to a sparsely settled land across the ocean. One could speculate that times were tough for Spaniards during the reign of Charles II. Spain's economy was weak at this time and the monarch was not mentally stable to devise ways to repair it. Charles was born disfigured and feeble-minded from generations of inbreeding and was in no way capable of ruling a country. The stress of governing enhanced his mental instability and his inability to properly rule.

Costa Rica

In 1502, Christopher Columbus landed on the east coast of Costa Rica and claimed the land for Spain. Believed to be a land rich with gold, Columbus named it Costa Rica, or "Rich Coast." Spain began colonizing Costa Rica in 1524. The first settlers were conquistadors who not only had to clear land, build settlements, and look for gold and other riches for the monarchy, but they also had to defend themselves from the natives of the land. 

These early settlers found themselves in a land that, contrary to belief, had no gold or riches. The indigenous people were sparsely populated, so the conquistadors could not use them as a labor force. Because of this, the crown tended to overlook Costa Rica and settlement migration was very slow. For centuries this would be a poor, unpopular colony.

Add caption
By the late 1600's, Juan Bautista Retana found himself in this unpopular land working a small farm for himself in Matina, a settlement not far from the port of Limon on the east coast. His main crop was cacao, which was used as currency in Costa Rica at that time. Since there was no gold, silver, or gems to be found; cacao was much easier to use as a form of currency than minted coins that would have to be imported into the country. 

Church Ruins in Cartago, Costa Rica
Juan Bautista Retana married Maria Bernarda Sandoval Rojas in the capital of Cartago around 1687. She was the 2nd great grand daughter of the conquistador, Juan Lopez de Ortega. Her ancestral line would derive from the Salamanca region of Spain. 


On the 4th of March, 1710, the Dutch slave ship Christianus Quintus along with the Fredericus Quartus wrecked off of the coast of Matina; having already left the coast of Africa with a new shipment of slaves that were to be delivered to the Americas. Six days later, movement was spotted nearby from a lookout tower. It appeared to be two figures running on the beach. The next day, Juan Bautista Retana and a few other men were dispatched to inspect the movement. The Spaniards believed the figures to be native Miskito tribesmen from the north. The two figures were tracked down, and much to their surprise, they were not Miskito, but of a completely different race. They had much darker skin and spoke an unknown language.

The two African women motioned to the Spaniards and drew in the sand to explain there were others like them south along the coast. Juan Bautista was sent with a crew of men to inspect. They found remants of camps along the coast with fish carcasses indicating that someone had been there. It appeared the women were telling the truth.  After a 3 day hike, more African slaves were discovered. After several expeditions over the next few months, a total of 103 Africans were rescued by Captains Gaspar de Acosta Arevalo, Antonio de Soto y Barahona, and Juan Francisco de Ibarra y Calvo. Some of the Africans rescued were from the Miskito's. Most of the Africans were taken to Cartago and sold as slaves to cacao farmers. 

Costa Rican of African Descent
Although most of the shipwrecked slaves were apprehended, a small percentage of them were taken by the Miskito. Over time, the slaves and their descendants assimilated with the Spaniards and Miskitos; as the natives assimilated with the Spaniards. By the 1800's, it was common to find mulattoes and mestizos (Spaniard and Indian mix) living in Costa Rica. Together they would form the population base of Costa Rica along with other Central American countries. 

Juan Bautista Retana had at least 4 children with Bernarda, 3 girls and one boy. It was with this son, Antonio Miguel Retana Sandoval, that the name Retana would be carried on for generations in Costa Rica. Life for Juan Bautista and Bernarda is unknown after the discovery of the slaves on the beaches of Matina. One can assume he continued on with life as it was before, as a simple cacao farmer in Matina; a far cry from his childhood in Villa de Landa, Alava, Spain.

Costa Rica would become one of the world's most popular tourist destinations for it's temperate climate, beautiful landscapes, and tropical wildlife. Costa Ricans, or Ticos, welcome everyone visiting with their motto, Pura Vida!

For a detailed account of the shipwrecks and the slave trade that ensued afterwards, click here. Also, more information can be found here.

For more on the history of Costa Rica, click here .

Descendants of Juan Bautista Retana:


Jesus Retana Cervantes (1855-1919)

Jesus Retana Cervantes and his family (about 1897)

Abrahan Retana Alvarez and Eduviges Rojas Castro

Angela Retana Rojas, Matilde Alvarez Castro, Zaida Barahona Retana,
Abrahan Retana Alvarez
(about 1933)

Eida Barahona Retana, Angela Retana Rojas, Zaida Barahona Retana
(about 1941)

Zaida Barahona Retana
(about 1950)

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Monday, November 27, 2017

Emanuel Studstill (1825-1896)

On the 11th of June 1825, During John Quincy Adams's presidential administration, Emanuel Studstill was born to Hustus Studstill and Rachel Sirmans Studstill, residents of Bulloch County, Georgia. Emanuel was the grandson of Captain Hustus Studstill Senior, veteran of the Revolution.

Hustus and his family moved From Bulloch County to Early County, Georgia by 1830; when Emanuel was about 5 years old. By 1835, the family was in Russell County, Alabama. It was here that Hustus would sadly pass away. Rachel decided that life as a widow would be easier if family was near, so she packed up her kids and belongings and moved to Lowndes County, Georgia.

Kindred Roots, Lowndes County Home
Early Lowndes County Home

Lowndes County

Lowndes County was on the Florida Georgia line and was originally inhabited by the Creek Indians. Settlers began moving in and pushing the natives out in the early 1820's. Skirmishes were fought between the natives and the settlers over the next few years. This led to President Andrew Jackson to sign the Indian Removal Act in 1830.

By doing so, President Jackson had hoped to settle the skirmishes between the natives and settlers by giving the natives land west of the Mississippi River. This, however, did not settle well with the Creeks, Cherokee, and Seminole; and so began the Indian Wars.

While some natives peacefully left their homeland and took their families to the unknown wilderness, others were not willing to give up their land without a fight. Militias were formed to protect settlers and to eradicate any native that did not abide by the rules set forth in President Jackson's Indian Removal Act. Many settler's lived in fear from retaliation from the natives. This is the environment that Emanuel was raised in.

Between the years 1838 and 1839, the militias were rounded up in Lowndes County numerous times to quell the invading Indians. By 1840, most of the natives either moved west or formed alliances with the Seminole in Florida.

Lowndes County Georgia 1836

Trouble for the Studstill Brothers

On the 7th of September 1843, Emanuel and his brother, Jonathan, were meeting with their friend to make plans to go hunting. Emanuel had brought an antiquated rifle to the meetup. Jonathan and their friend, Samuel Mattox, were poking fun at Emanuel's rifle saying it couldn't hit the side of a barn. The thought must have come across his mind. The rifle had certainly had better days. Off in the distance they saw a horse and rider attending to some grazing cows. They called out to the rider, but received no response. The next few moments greatly impacted the three boys and would eventually seal the fate of one.

Whether it was to get the riders attention, to scare him or his cattle, one could only speculate. Samuel Mattox proceeded to take Emanuel's rusty rifle and aim it towards the rider. One of the Studstill boys told Mattox to shoot, and without thinking twice, the trigger was pulled. In an instant, immediately following the thunderous bang, the rider fell to the ground.

They ran towards the fallen rider. They must have thought the gunshot scared him off his horse, for surely the old rusty rifle couldn't have hit a target at nearly a quarter mile away. They reached the fallen rider to see if he was alright and needed any help. What they saw horrified them. There on the ground lay 15 year old, William Slaughter.

The boys ran to get some help for him, but there was nothing anyone could do as there was a hole in his head from the musket ball. The boys came up with the story of young William falling off of his horse after his horse was spooked from a random gunshot. The story continued that the Slaughter boy had hit his head on a protruding stick which caused the gash in his head. His nearly lifeless body was taken back home where he would soon succumb to his injury. The story the boys told was accepted throughout the community, but a clue would be discovered that would change this view and ultimately lead to charges of murder.

Moses Slaughter, the father of the late William, was mourning his son and took down his son's hat that was hanging on the wall of their home. It was at this time, he noticed a hole in the hat that was perfectly round and undoubtedly made by a musket ball. A suspicion arose in the father's mind that the Mattox and Studstill boys had  not been truthful with their story. The grave of William Slaughter was dug up and the body was removed so an autopsy could be performed. Moses Slaughter's suspicions were correct. A musket ball was found embedded in the skull of the deceased boy.

Samuel Mattox was arrested and detained in the Troupville jail. His cellmates were notorious local bad boys, Tarlton Swain and John Strickland. Swain and Strickland formulated a plan to escape from the jail with Mattox. Their plan was successful, and the men were wanted fugitives.

Mattox's freedom was short-lived, however, and he was once again incarcerated. His trial was held in Troupville where on the 24th of June, 1844, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by hanging.

The Studstill brothers were not out of the water yet. Four years after the hanging of Samuel Mattox, Jonathan and Emanuel Studstill were charged with murder in the second degree for their involvement in the crime. Their trials were to be separate and Jonathan was to be tried first.

General Assembly's pardon of Jonathan Studstill
After a somewhat lengthy trial, Jonathan Studstill was found guilty in June of 1849. His guilty conviction would not last. He was completely pardoned by the General Assembly after a large number of citizens petitioned for his release. Because of Jonathan's pardon, the prosecution decided to drop the charges on Emanuel.

One of Emanuel Studstill's Land Patents


It was about this time that Emanuel married Rachael Letitia Shaw and moved to Florida. Perhaps he was leaving the drama following the trial, or maybe he was looking for an adventure by settling in an area that had never been inhabited before. Nevertheless, by 1850, he and his bride moved to Levy County, Florida. It wasn't long before he briefly enlisted in the Captain Joseph J. Knight's Mounted Militia during the Florida War against the Seminoles. This short stint in the militia would prove beneficial to Emanuel as veterans of the Florida War were granted tracts of land in Florida for their service. By 1860, Emanuel had amassed at least 360 acres of land in Levy County. It was on his land, in 1860, that iron ore was discovered on top of the soil. Iron was not a common commodity in Florida, so it's discovery on the Studstill farm had the potential to be prosperous for the pioneer. 

The East Floridian
22 March 1860

In 1861, war broke out between the North and South as Southern states seceded from the Union. In January of that year, Florida became one of the first six states to secede. As men were leaving their homes and enlisting in the Army, Emanuel was unsure whether he should serve or not. By this time he and Rachael had five children. Most of the battles were being fought hundreds of miles north of Florida. One of Florida's roles in the war was to provide food for the Confederate soldiers on the front lines of battle. This mainly consisted of beef and salt. As the Union blockaded the ports in Florida and prevented shipping of supplies, it was up to cowboys to herd the cattle northward for the soldiers.

There were no main roads or railroads to move the cattle. It was all up to men who had experience herding cattle to push them across the Florida wilderness. As the herds were moved northward, a new threat had emerged. Deserters. To the soldiers that deserted their commands and could not return home for fear of arrest; these free range cows became the perfect food source. 

A special battalion was organized for the main purpose of herding the cattle northward and preventing asset loss for the Confederates. They would become the 1st Florida Special Cavalry otherwise known as the "Cow Cavalry." Without these cowboys, it would have been near impossible to feed the Confederate soldiers.

As Cedar Key in Levy County was taken over and burned by the Federal Troops, Emanuel Studstill realized the war had come too close to his home to not do anything about it. He enlisted in Lutterloh's Battalion of the "Cow Cavalry."  

The iron that was discovered on the Studstill farm was extremely beneficial to the Florida troops as they could make artillery from it locally. This was especially helpful with the supply chain being hindered by the blockade. Private Emanuel Studstill and the rest of his company were stationed on the Studstill farm mining the iron and forging cannonballs out of the ore. 
Reenactment of the skirmish in Levy County, Florida
Emanuel was captured during this skirmish.

In February of 1865, Union troops from Cedar Key began to march inland plundering local farms for food and supplies. Emanuel and other's from his company were sent to spy and report back as to the whereabouts, movements, and activities of the Yankees. Emanuel did not report back. He was wounded, captured, and taken prisoner. Four days later, Lutterloh's small battalion was able to force the Yankees back to the island of Cedar Key in what was known as the Battle of Station Four
Emanuel Studstill was imprisoned at Fort Jefferson in the Florida Keys until General Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in April of 1865. Upon his arrival home, he was welcomed into Rachael's arms.


After the war, Emanuel settled down on his land and worked the farm along with his family. He and Rachael had a total of nine children. He would see his wife die at the tender age of 58 in 1885. He would see family and friends suffer during the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1888. Land around him would be settled and cleared for farming. The town of Levyville would rise and fall as the county seat was moved to the town of Bronson. Levyville would become a ghost town in the early 20th century. Near the beginning of a new century, Emanuel Studstill was welcomed to heaven on Christmas Eve of 1896. His eyes witnessed Indian Wars, Civil War, settling new land in two states, murder, prison, and the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. His remains are buried in Levyville Cemetery, in Levy County, Fl. And so remains... a true pioneer.

Grave of Emanuel Studstill
Levyville Cemetery, Levy County, Florida

For further reading on the Studstill brothers' trial, please check out RayCityHistory blog. It contains a very detailed narrative of the murder and trials that followed.

The following video was taken at Levyville Cemetery where Emanuel is buried:

For another blog post about another ancestor who was a prisoner of war, click here

For more Levy County Florida history, click here

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Transcribed letters of Christiana Elizabeth Howard Smith

Christiana Elizabeth Howard Smith

Once again I want to thank everyone who has taken the time and interest in my family. Many of you have asked for my 3rd great grandmother's letters to be transcribed for easier reading. I have, with the help of my 12 year old daughter, finished transcribing the letters. I am so glad I did, as I have found information that I didn't even know I had! I have done my best to retain the spelling and grammar of the original letters, so they are still a bit tough to read and understand. 

If you want to read more about Christiana and her family, you can read a previous post here

Without further ado... here are the letters with their transcriptions:

Levy County Bronson Fla
August the 2 1877
My dear Brothers ire seived your dis
stressfull letr of the deth
of our por old father i hav laust my las
t best friend inn this woorld i 
see nothing but truble in this world
i hav to work in the field to keep
up my plase i hav got a hard time
i make plenty to do see i hav five
boys and three girls one of the girls
is marid my suninlaw tends to my
stock my boys is ... (?) i am giting
old mity fast sum times i am nearl
y blind i cant hardly rit i dont kno
whether you can read this or not
right to me about your mother and
all the rest i want to no if you and
lumus(?) is marid i love to hear from
you all por...(?) your to right to
me oftin i have a near feling for you
all but ...(?) like you might right
to me oftin my Dear brothers plese
send me your picturs and fathers
age i wod be so glad to see you all
this leavs us all wel hoping thers few
times wil reach you all the same blesing
right soon your loving sister un
till deth

C.E. Smith

tel sisters to right to me sister
Emely youst to right to me but she
hasant and hit wont be all
ways that wee can hair f(ro)m each
other i dont kno that you can rede
this my mind is all ways confuisd
crops is not vary good this year
hit is ben to dry i hop to hair
from you all soon please rit to
me my loving brothers

                              Bronson Levy Country Fla
                              May the 14 1878
Dear Brother i take my pen in hand to right
a few lines my family is not wel som of them has
got the favaer i hope this will find you all
in good helth my crop is a (?roing) for rain
hit has bin the wet ist spring i evr saw i
think and now it is mity dry i hant got
nary letr from you in along time i think
i had rother you wood sell my part
to the hyiste bidder for cash and hit give
all afair chanche the is too many bad
placis in noats hit is a haird matr
to collect them i dont want to fool
what my por old father give me for
well do in provity is haird to get

C E Smith

*The "favaer" she mentions here could be from the yellow fever epidemic of 1878.*

   Levy County
   No the 16 1878
My dear brother i will
try to right you a few lines
to let you no that i received
your letr i hav bin vary
sick with the fever all the
rest of my family is wel
as corn hare was mared the
first day of september and
hit seames like i am ruined
i hav bin a trying to kep
hit from maring for the last
year but i cud not i am
in a heep of truble tha
say he is a smart man he
has got a plase and a horse
and a crop and sum catle
but he is not worth
ny as much as she is
she has got three nice

mairs be sids other things

and money out on
intrust but i am trubeld
in mind so bad i cant rig
ht hit seames like i am
ruind since lara left
me i have got five boys
and one lit girl living
with me and i am nearly
blind and my helth is
bad i hav a heep to see
too william smith is
got the same disease
that bryant dide with
he is agoying a bout for
his helth he is staying
at sedr keyes i hav made
avary good crop my dear
brother i wod beglad to see
you cum to see me one tim
in life i want you to
right to me ofin you ant
like me cant right i hav to

serack(?) right soone C E Smith

Bronson Levy co Fla
June 2 1883
Dear Broth I received
your letter a few days since
i was glad to hear
from you and to hear
you was all well this
leaves all well at
this time hopeing it
may find you all (ind...?)
the same blessing
we ar standing in
need of rain very bad
if i get sum
soon i wont make
mutch come the most
of my corn is in
silk and tussel
i want to no if all

the mony has bin paid

over to the managers
of the stat yet. I 
want to no if you have
got your part of the
state yet. if they
have collected the mony
wont pay over its not
going according to the
will I want my part
of the estate as well
as them it was my
father request for each
every one to have shears
and shears a like, they
promiced to do right
by me as I was away
and if they dont they
will have to abide the
consiquece, i wil do nothing
more at pesent right

Soon i remain as ever

C E Smith to, J.J. Barnard

Bronson Fla
May 4 1885
Me C.C. Howard
    J.J. Barnard
       J.S. Howard
Dea Brothears
    I recived
your letter and the
package of money on the 2
day of this month they
was $2.45.00 in money in
package and a note for 85(?)
which make $3.30.63 I will
keep the note untle I hear
from you all again I dont
understand wheath it is
ballance dew on the land or
not or wheather it is

intrest or what

ps I wood like for
some of you to send
me fathears
picktears if you pleas

all I want is my
Crops is very good
considers dry weathear
will have not no
hear in some time
cows is doing veary
well considering I
hav not lost veary
meany this year that
I now of if my oringe
dos well I will send
you all A preasent
this fall this leaves
all well as comon
hoping this will
reac you all in the same
yours truly

C.E. Smith

Bronson Fla
April 8 1888
Mr. C.C. Howard
           Dear Brother
your letter received some
time ago I have ben sick
with rheumatism for some
time but am some better
at present and could
(?) a delay in writing
i think it must be a
family disease with all
of us the rest is all well
as common hoping those
few lines will reach
you all the same blessing
it is most a distressful
time here it has ben so

dry that the cattle is lag
ing and the people have
to follow the woods and 
pull them out. all the
ponds have dryed up
and we have to dig them
water holes. it is a bad 
chance to get crops up here
is it so with you?
I can feel oranges will be 
a failure this year with 
all the cold and dry 
weather has cut them 
back. I have not seen a
bloom. we raise pleanty
of Peaches when the cold 
dont injure them. They
are no turpentine farms
a round us but in a

bout 30 miles away there
are plenty of phosphate
diging in a bout 5 miles
of me they dig holes
about 30 feet deep and 
about 25 feet wide. They 
drive teams down to
the phosphate and haul 
out. some men get $2.00
per day to get and
bors(?) the hands.
write me if old Rachel
is living yet.
write soon and let me
hear from you all.
excuse haste.
I remain your sister
C.E. Smith

the last work I done
in Georgia was make
you a flaniel shirt

*the phosphate digging that she mentions in this letter is referring to the phosphate that was discovered in what would become Newberry, FL. Newberry was founded on the phosphate boom in the late 1880's*

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