Latitude / Longitude:
16 ft (5 m)
Eastern (EST) (UTC-5)
In 1767, Denys Rolle (1725–1797), an English gentleman and philanthropist, established Rollestown on the east bank of the St. Johns River at the head of deep-water navigation. His 78,000-acre (320 km2) plantation was a utopian commercial and humanitarian experiment, recruiting settlers off the streets of London, including paupers, vagrants, pickpockets and “penitent prostitutes.” Two hundred indentured servants arrived to clear wilderness for agriculture and livestock. Unaccustomed to either hard work or a subtropical climate, however, they scattered. Rolle next purchased slaves from West Africa, forcing them to tend chickens, hogs, goats and sheep, or produce cotton, indigo, citrus and turpentine for export to England.
He built a mansion and laid out a village, but trouble beleaguered the “ideal society.” In 1770, a disgruntled overseer sold over 1,000 of his employer’s cattle and disappeared with the money. Rolle hired new overseers and bought more slaves, but the plantation failed to prosper. When Spain resumed control of Florida in 1783, Rolle abandoned the colony and chartered a ship to carry his household belongings, livestock and slaves to a 2,000-acre (8.1 km2) estate on Great Exuma in the Bahamas. The point, in East Palatka, is still called Rollestown.