Orange County, Florida

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Orange County FLGenWeb: Biographies: James Gamble Speer

Source: "History of Florida: Past and Present, Historical and Biographical," Volume 2, Harry Gardner Cutler, Lewis publishing Company, 1923, Florida.

James Gamble Speer.

The history of Orange County as the home of white men covers the time of hardly more than seventy years, and it was at the very beginning of that period that James Gamble Speer came to the country and took up his task as a pioneer in development and subsequently for many years was one of the leading figures in local affairs and a man of dominating influence in state politics.

He was a grandson of William Speer who came from County Antrim, Ireland, about the beginning of the Revolutionary war and was a soldier for independence, serving under General Pickens. James Gamble Speer was born in Abbeville, South Carolina, June 23, 1820, son of John Speer, who spent all his life in that state. James G. Speer acquired a good literary education for his time, and was about thirty-five years of age when he brought his family to Florida in 1854. He had been a farmer and planter in South Carolina, and was interested in the lumber industry in Georgia. On coming to Orange County, Florida, he continued farming and cattle ranching, and later planted oranges. He served for a time as a soldier of the Confederacy. Judge Speer, as he was always known, was one of the leaders in the organization of Orange County which first included a considerable part of other counties. After the organization of the county he was a leader in the three-cornered fight for securing the location of the county seat. His own home was at Ft. Gatlin, and he conducted the campaign in behalf of the settlers there and won out over Ft. Reid, and a community known as the Lodge, now Apopka City. Judge Speer suggested the name for the new county seat, Orlando, reminiscent of one of Shakespeare's characters. He served several terms in the Legislature, was for three terms a member of the State Senate, and for many years was county or probate judge and also at various times county commissioner. At one time he lacked only one vote of being chosen to represent Florida in the United States Senate. Two years later he was a candidate for governor. He had such a large following in politics that he could practically dictate nominations. He was a member of the convention that formulated the present constitution, and as a steadfast foe of the liquor traffic he was author of Article 19, of the constitution. While he was prominent in politics he was not a seeker for office and all official honors came to him unsolicited. In 1880 he took charge of the Apopka Drainage Company for the purpose of draining the muck lands on the north of Lake Apopka. He was founder of the town of Oakland and his donation of a half interest in 200 acres of land there induced the Orange Belt Railroad to pass through Oakland. He was for many years ruling elder of the Presbyterian Church in Oakland and a member of the Masonic Order.

Judge Speer, who died October 31, 1893, married in South Carolina Miss Isaphine Ellington. They reared four children, Catherine E., Virginia B., John B. and Arthur. His second wife was Mary Jackson, and by that union there were two sons, Robert G. and Edward V.

Arthur Speer, a son of the late Judge Speer, has been one of the substantial citizens of Orange County for half a century. He was born in Augusta, Georgia, October 14, 1852, and was two years of age when brought to Orange County. As a boy he received many impressions of events and circumstances connected with the pioneer history of Florida and he grew up in a district where development had only begun and where the woods were filled with wild game of every kind. After the war between the states he attended school at South Carolina, and after returning home took up farming. He has also been a merchant and orange and vegetable grower. He began the development of a homestead near Oakland in 1874, and set out an orange grove there. He built and kept the first store at Oakland. For a quarter of a century he was justice of the peace, and is an active democrat and a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.

Mr. Speer married in 1877 Miss Alice Roper, who died nearly three years later, mother of one son, William E. Speer, now of Miami, Florida. On March 15, 1882, Mr. Speer married Miss Martha G Kincaid of Cherokee County, North Carolina. By this union there are two children, Gertrude, at home, and James P. Speer, who for a number of years has practiced law in Oklahoma and is a former member of the Legislature of that state.