Aaron Jernigan, Orlando’s first Settler

(this page contains a collection of brief articles on Aaron Jerginan and Lake Holden. Sources cited where possible)
and be sure to read the companion story ‘ Jernigan Hunt‘ and the info on the Aaron Jernigan Florida Historical Marker.

view on Lake Holden circa 1882 – 1887

The passage of the Armed Occupation Act of 1842 opened a vast area to settlement.
One could move onto land at least two miles from an established fort, erect a home and become
a citizen-soldier. After defending the land from Indians for five years, the homesteader would
receive title to up to 160 acres.

Two who took advantage of this opportunity were the area’s first permanent settlers, Aaron and
Mary Jernigan, who moved from Tallahassee in 1843. They brought about seven hundred head of cattle
and established their homestead around a log home on the northwest shore of what later became Lake
Holden. In 1845 Florida became a state and Aaron was elected as Orange County’s first representative
to the state legislature.

The Jernigans established a trading post and a small settlement around it took on the name of Jernigan.
On May 30, 1850, Jernigan was granted a post office and Wright Patrick of South Carolina served as the
first postmaster. He was succeeded by Aaron Jernigan.

(borrowed  from: A Guide to Historic Orlando, The History Press, page 11, 2006.)

Aaron Jernigan (September 14, 1813 – August 25, 1891) was the first settler of what is now
Orange County, Florida. Originally from Georgia, he lived for a time in the Tallahassee area
before moving to Orange County in 1843. He was influential in the city of Orlando’s early development;
the town was called Jernigan until 1857.

Jernigan and his wife, Mary, settled on the shore of Lake Holden, purchasing 1200 acres and moving
some 700 head of cattle down from Tallahassee area where Jernigan and his brother Isaac (who also
moved to Orlando) continued to own land and raise cattle. Jernigan cleared a spot near Lake Conway
and built a small cabin, and began planting crops including corn, cotton, rice, sugar cane, pumpkins,
and even melons. Jernigan was a successful tradesman and merchant. He was also a captain of the local
militia that patrolled against renegade Seminoles. Jernigan’s settlement quickly grew and he was elected
a county representative in 1846. By 1850, according to state files, the Jernigan home had become the
nucleus of a settlement and designated a post office.
He died in 1891, and was buried at Lake Hill Cemetery in Orlo Vista. A memorial plaque placed at his grave
in 1971 honors him as “Orlando’s first settler.”

(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Orlando’s history dates back to 1838 and the height of the Seminole Wars. The U.S. Army built Fort Gatlin south of the
present day Orlando City limits to protect settlers from attacks by Indians.

By 1840, a small community had grown up around the Fort. It was known as Jernigan, named after the Jernigan family,
who had established the first permanent settlement in the area. Jernigan had a post office, established May 30th, 1850.

Six years later with the settlement expanding northward, the community officially changed its name to Orlando. In 1857,
the U.S. Post Office adopted the name change. The Town of Orlando was incorporated in 1875 with 85 inhabitants, 22 of
whom were qualified voters.

History is not as clear on where the name Orlando originated. There are four stories that are told. One involves Judge
James Speer, who worked hard in getting Orlando as the county seat, naming Orlando after a man who once worked for him.
Another is that Speer named it after a character from Shakespeare’s, “As You Like It”.

A third version has Mr. Orlando on his way to Tampa with a caravan of ox. It is said that he got ill, died and was buried,
and that folks would come by and say, “There lies Orlando”

The most common story is about a company of soldiers on duty during the height of the Seminole Wars. After battling Indians
back into the swamps on the east side of Lake Minnie (now Cherokee), the military troop settled there for the night.
Sentinel Orlando Reeves was guarding the camp when he spotted a log floating toward him. Recognizing the Indian disguise
and wanting to warn his fellow soldiers, he fired his gun. Arrows felled the poor fellow as the Indians came out to ambush
the camp. The Indians were chased back again, and the south side of Lake Eola was chosen to bury Orlando Reeves.

History of Orlando

Some historians date Orlando’s name to around 1836 when a soldier named Orlando Reeves allegedly died in the area, during
the war against the Seminole Indian tribe. It seems, however, that Orlando Reeves (sometimes Rees) operated a sugar mill
and plantation about 30 miles (50 km) to the north at Spring Garden in Volusia County, and pioneer settlers simply found
his name carved into a tree and assumed it was a marker for a grave site. They thus referred to the area as “Orlando’s
grave” and later simply “Orlando.”

During the Second Seminole War, the U.S. Army established an outpost at Fort Gatlin, a few miles south of the modern
downtown, in 1838. But it was quickly abandoned when the war came to an end.

The first permanent settler was cattleman Aaron Jernigan, who acquired land along Lake Holden by the terms of the Armed
Occupation Act of 1842. But most pioneers did not arrive until after the Third Seminole War in the 1850s. Most of the
early residents made their living by cattle ranching.

Orlando remained a rural backwater during the American Civil War, and suffered greatly during the Federal Blockade. The
Reconstruction Era brought a population explosion, which led to the city’s incorporation in 1875.

The period from 1875 to 1895 is remembered as Orlando’s “Gilded Era,” when it became the hub of Florida’s citrus industry.
But a great freeze in 1894-1895 forced many owners to give up their independent groves, thus consolidating holdings in the
hands of a few “citrus barons” which shifted operations south, primarily around Lake Wales in Polk County.

Lake Holden looking east from above West Lake Holden Point.

Orlando, as Florida’s largest inland city, became a popular resort during the years between the Spanish-American War and
World War I.

During World War II, a number of Army personnel were stationed at the Pine Castle AAF. Some of these servicemen stayed in
Orlando to settle and raise families. In 1956 the aerospace/defense company Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin)
established a plant in Orlando. In 1958, Pine Castle AAF was renamed McCoy Air Force Base after Colonel Michael N.W. McCoy.

In 1965 Walt Disney announced plans to build Walt Disney World and the rest as they say; “is history!”

Comments are closed.