The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services began the Century Pioneer Family Farm Program in 1985. Honoring families who have maintained at least 100 years of continuous family farm ownership, the program acknowledges the benefits that family farms and ranches provide to the state.
The department believes pioneers are to be recognized as the original stewards of the land for preserving environmental resources and helping foster the state’s agricultural industry, which provides an important economic base for Florida to this very day. These families receive a certificate as well as a sign that can be posted on the property denoting its significance.
Manatee County Agricultural Museum features John Jackson Keen, a Manatee County Century Pioneer Farm Family. In the 1860s, Jake Keen married Sarah, part-Seminole Indian, and settled at Bunker Hill in Duette. At 90 cents an acre, they were able to purchase 81 acres of property. In 1882, Jake and Sarah’s son, Jacob Gaskins Keen, moved to a piece of property on current-day Keentown Road in Duette.
Married to Martha Hannah Chancey, the couple planted a 5-acre citrus grove, maintained the family farm, and truck-farmed their acreage of cucumbers, peppers and “chufas.” Chufas (pronounced choo-fuh) are a grass with a peanut-like underground nut used to feed deer, turkey and, in the Keens’ case, hogs. They also raised cattle and provided meat for their family through both livestock and hunting. Aunts, uncles and cousins also took up residence on the property, evidenced by the nine wells located there to service nine homesteads.
Jacob Keen was not always working the farm — he loved to hunt gators! After hunting, they were skinned out and the hides were hauled to a broker for sale. This was another way to support his family. But in all his years of gator hunting, “Old Kibler,” the biggest gator in the area, continued to elude him. He never did catch “Old Kibler.”
1917 Year that John Jackson Keen was born
The eldest of Jacob and Martha’s six children, John Jackson Keen, was born in 1917. As a young boy in Duette School’s eighth grade, school Superintendent B.D. Gullet (Gullet Elementary School’s namesake) took John aside and administered an academic skills test. The skills test proved there was nothing left for John to learn at school. Superintendent Gullet instructed him to stay home to help out on the family farm.
John worked the land for many years. He and his wife, Gladys Amelia Davis, whom he met at Duette School, farmed the land just like his father before him. John farmed and he also worked for a logging company. One morning, he hauled lumber to Tampa and had rafters cut that were brought back home and used in Dry Prairie Baptist Church, where they remain today.
John cleared land during the day, and in the evenings he held down several other jobs for additional income. He was a “diviner,” which is a person who has the ability to search for water underground with the use of a special stick called a divining rod. When water was found, John would then “put down” wells, which he did by using an auger to start a deep hole in the ground. A long pipe was then inserted and an anvil was used to pound the pipe further into the ground until water was found. It is estimated that John “put down” three-quarters of the shallow wells in Duette. John was also a “shade tree mechanic,” working on neighbors’ and friends’ vehicles in the yard to earn extra income.
John was dedicated to his parents in their later years — he made sure that both sets of household bills were paid each month and the remaining cash was split between the two households. John Keen passed away in 1998, leaving a legacy on his land.
John’s daughter, Betty Keen Glassburn, continues to live on the Duette family property, as does his grandson and great-granddaughter. All are hard-working community members and volunteers. The family has lived on the property for 130 years and anticipates being there a whole lot longer. The state will need to come up with a Bicentennial Recognition Program!
Interested in learning more about the Century Pioneer Family Farm Program? Visit: http://www.freshfromflorida.com.