One of the most common stories in Manatee County’s history involves the escape of Confederate Secretary of State, Judah P. Benjamin. As the American Civil War was wrapping up in 1865, there was a mass exodus of politicians from the Confederate capitol in Richmond. While many were captured, like President Jefferson Davis, some were able to escape with the help of locals throughout the South. Benjamin fell into the latter category. Today, there is much debate about how Benjamin made it to the Bahamas and, it’s evident from local histories across the state, there were many Confederates who wanted to take credit for helping. This is part of the reason why so many of the stories in this packet detail how “so-and-so” helped get Benjamin to Frederick Tresca.
What isn’t widely debated is the following: In May 1865, Benjamin broke away from the escape party of President Davis and headed toward Florida. There he made his way to Brooksville (north of Tampa) where he was met by another party. They took him down to Gamble Plantation north of the Manatee River. Here he connected with Archibald McNeill (caretaker of the plantation at the time and husband to the widow of Henry S. Clark). Benjamin stayed at Gamble for a period before Frederick Tresca and Hiram McLeod spirited him away past the Union Navy to the Bahamas. From there, Benjamin made his way to Britain where he continued his life as a lawyer.
Judah P. Benjamin, c. 1860-1865, courtesy of Manatee County Public Library Digital Collection