Manatee History Matters: Tracking the Atzeroth family from Terra Ceia

June 10, 2014 

Julia Atzeroth with her husband, Joseph, came to erra Ceia Island and chose to homestead on the north shore of Terra Ceia Bay.PHOTO PROVIDED

In April 1843, Joseph and Julia Atzeroth arrived on Terra Ceia Island and chose to homestead on the north shore of Terra Ceia Bay. They took advantage of the Armed Occupation Act of 1842, which gave a quarter section of land -- or 160 acres in South Florida -- to men who agreed to clear 5 acres, build a house, live on the property for five years and serve in the militia.

The Atzeroths were natives of Bavaria and came to America during a wave of German immigration as travel guides and promotional writings lured these experienced farmers and craftsman to the land of opportunity. Originally intending to live in Pennsylvania, the Atzeroths, along with their 3-year-old daughter, Eliza, came to Florida seeking a warm southern climate that would improve Julia's health. Julia suffered from what was known as a torpid liver that was caused by a variety of problems, including lack of exercise and overeating.

Terra Ceia was the right prescription for her complaints, and Julia -- or Madam Joe, as she became known with her habit of calling her husband Mr. Joe -- quickly became well. They built a log home near a freshwater spring on the bay's edge and lived on the island through two hurricanes.

After Julia borrowed money from Col. Belknap of Fort Brooke (present-day Tampa) to pay for the passage of her sister and her sister's family to Terra Ceia, she could not replay the loan. So Julia, along with Eliza and Mary, the daughter of her sister who died shortly after her arrival in Florida, moved to Fort Brooke to keep house for the colonel and his family until the loan was forgiven.

Later, the family moved to the site of present-day Palmetto to establish a store. They lived at this location under the cedar trees near present-day Regatta Point Condominiums during the Civil War until they moved back to Terra Ceia about 1868.

After a disastrous first marriage and the birth of two daughters, Eliza remarried William H. Fogarty (Bill, one of three Irish brothers who came to Manatee County to build ships) and moved to Fogartyville in what is now West Bradenton.

In 1871, Joseph died and in late 1873, Eliza persuaded her mother to move to Fogartyville from Terra Ceia. They built a house for Julia in 1875 on 3 1/2 acres she bought from John Fogarty for $30. There, she had a large garden of flowers, herbs, vegetables and shrubs and grew the first pound of coffee produced in the United States.

In 1878, John Fogarty brought the seeds to Manatee County from Mexico, and by 1879, Madam Joe had eight healthy coffee bushes.

On Sept. 22, 1879, she wrote the U.S. government in Washington and described the bushes. On Feb. 20, 1880, she sent the first pound of coffee from the trees to the Commissioner of Agriculture, for which she received a $10 gold piece. Later, she sent four more pounds of coffee and received a thank-you note from President Rutherford B. Hayes.

The trees were killed to the ground in the freeze of 1886, but sprouted again. The family maintained land on Terra Ceia, which Bill farmed. Bill built a house in Fogartyville and one on Terra Ceia. Bill and Eliza had a son, William Joseph Fogarty (Will) in 1872, who was Eliza's only child to live to adulthood. Her two daughters by her first marriage died shortly after she married Bill.

In 1896, Will married Caroline Lindemeyer and they had four children before Will died in 1906 in a shipwreck. Bill Fogarty had died in 1901 after being kicked by a mule on the farm on Terra Ceia and Julia died a year later. In 1910, the two widows, Eliza and Caroline, along with Caroline's four children, moved to St. Petersburg. They purchased the Perry Snell House on Second Avenue North in downtown St. Petersburg.

While they continued to own property in Manatee County and occasionally returned by steamer to collect rent, the two women lived in St. Petersburg until their deaths, Eliza in 1922 and Caroline in 1979.

Cathy Slusser, director of Historical Resources for the Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court's Office, is the author of the "From a Heavenly Land" series of historical fiction based upon the Atzeroth Family. "Julia's Story," the second in the trilogy, was recently released and is available at the Manatee Village Historical Park and The Citrus Place as well as Amazon.com. Slusser can be reached at cslu1@aol.com or 941-741-4070.

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