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Vanderipe and Cunliffe Family

Updated: Apr 20, 2023

Written by Christopher Hendrix. Research conducted by the staff of Manatee Village Historical Park and the Manatee County Historical Resources Library. All sources are available upon request.

The Vanderipe family moved to Manatee in the early to mid-1840s from Kentucky. At the time, it consisted of James, Nancy (née Hancock), and four children. Within a year or two of the family settling in Manatee, James left to return to Kentucky “on business,” and was never heard from again. Sometime around 1846, Nancy remarried James Cunliffe, another Manatee settler, and moved with him and her children to Key West. Cunliffe was an English blacksmith, it is not known how or why he came to Florida. Cunliffe, being a laborer by trade, taught Nancy’s sons, James Cowan and William H, blacksmithing, mechanics, and farming practices.

The Vanderipe family moved back to Manatee sometime prior to 1860. Cunliffe was elected county Coroner at the first Board of County Commissioners meeting in 1856, so it is likely the family returned to Manatee in the early 1850s. Nancy ran a ferry service for travelers going to or from Pine Level (the county seat from 1866-1887) and kept a room available for those who needed to stay overnight.

Not long after, the Third Seminole War broke out, and 17 year old James Cowan Vanderipe joined the local militia – Parker’s Company, Florida Mounted Volunteers. This was the same militia that Edmund Lee, his future father-in-law, served in. James continued his military service when the Civil War began, enlisting in the 1st Florida Cavalry Company K in early 1862. Soon after, he was deemed unfit for service due to disability, and discharged on May 26, 1862. Family records indicate James returned to Manatee and supplied the Confederate Army with cattle. William H. is thought to have served during one or both of these conflicts, and it is possible he served as a Captain, a title he carried the remainder of his life, however, no military records for William have not been found.

During Christmas 1862, James married his first wife, Flora Ellen McLeod, at the Gamble Mansion. Together, they shared four children, and resided in the Myakka area. W. H. married his first and only wife, Eliza Burts, in 1863. They had six children together, including William H. (born June 15, 1884), and John F. (born August 21, 1880). After the Civil War, William and James worked in the cattle and mercantile businesses. Their businesses were located near the Myakka River, some 30 miles from Manatee.

James’ wife, Flora, died in 1871, and was buried in the (now demolished) Vanderipe – Johnson Cemetery.On July 17, 1872, James married Sarah Lee, the only daughter of Reverend Edmund Lee. They shared three children of their own, including Edmund Lee Vanderipe (born February 7, 1876). After their wedding, James and Sarah lived with her father, Edmund, for a period of time until he gave them land to build their own house on. In the mid-1870s, James was involved in the creation of the Manatee Academy, to which Nancy donated a brass bell. James became the postmaster of Manatee Village, a position he held until his death.

Unfortunately, in August 1878, Sarah passed away less than one month after giving birth to their third child. No reason has been found for her death, but it was likely due to complications from child birth. She was buried in the Lee Family Cemetery. James did not live much longer, passing away in March 1879. Again, there is no known reason for his death, but in his Will, dated just weeks prior to his death, he stated he was in bad health. James was buried in what is now known as “the Lonesome Grave,” located on private property just off the curb at the 300 block of 18th St. E. in Bradenton.

It is believed Edmund refused to allow James to be buried next to his wife in the Lee Family Cemetery, so he was buried alone. The true nature of James’ relationship with Edmund is unknown, but it is believed Edmund disapproved of debts James had, and the two frequently argued over this.

William H. and Eliza Vanderipe adopted and raised the orphaned children of James and Sarah. The headstone of Frankie Vanderipe, thought to be James and Sarah’s third child, even lists William H. and Eliza as his parents. Currently, we do not know what happened to James’ children from his first marriage, though we do know only two of the four were alive at the time of James’ death.

Throughout the remainder of his life, William H. continued to be a well-respected businessman in Manatee. He continued to operate a general store, he became a County Commissioner, and in 1900, he founded the first bank in Bradenton, called the Bank of Manatee. He served as the first president of that institution until his death in 1901. Eliza lived until 1932, outliving almost all of her children. both Eliza and William are buried in the Major Adams Cemetery in Bradenton. Nancy Cunliffe, who passed away in 1888 (plot #33), along with several other members of the Vanderipe Family, can be found in the Manatee Burying Ground.


James C. Vanderipe, C. 1870s, courtesy of Manatee County Public Library Digital Collection

Sarah Lee Vanderipe, c. 1868, courtesy of Manatee County Public Library Digital Collection

James C. Vanderipe's "Lonesome Grave," staff photo

W. H. & Eliza Vanderipe, c. 1889-1890, courtesy of Manatee County Public Library Digital Collection

James W Vanderipe - Grave #19

William A Vanderipe - Grave #31

Lewis Vanderipe 2022 - Grave #32

Nancy Cunliffe 2022 - Grave #33

Frankie Vanderipe 2022 - Grave #34

All images taken by MVHP staff in 2022 unless otherwise noted.


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