I’m spellbound by Karen Yvonne Hamilton’s “Lostmans Heritage: Pioneers in the Florida Everglades.” Her years of research, interviews, primary documents, local lore and carefully constructed hypothesis makes this a solid and entertaining book. I was immediately transported into the mysterious Everglades wilderness and immersed in the details of Hamilton’s colorful ancestors. This compelling Florida pioneer story reads like a novel, yet it is all true, based on newspaper accounts, government records, depositions and interviews. Hamilton’s work is a much needed and welcome addition to South Florida’s 19th and early 20th century history. Her clear writing and intimate detail brings readers on a wild journey back in time. Historians, students, genealogists and general readers will all find intrigue and solid information about America’s last frontier. This book would also make a fascinating motion picture. It’s surprisingly well-crafted, so much so that I’m going to read it twice and recommend it to my college students who may be interested in race relations, swamps, mystery, adventure, and Florida history.
Lostmans Heritage: Pioneers in the Florida Everglades
Karen Yvonne Hamilton, author
Lostmans Heritage follows the author’s journey as she searches for her ancestors from the slave country of Savannah to the wilds of the Florida Everglades. The Everglades is shrouded in mysteries, a tangle of mangroves, waterways, and sawgrass that meanders every which way and is as mutable as the wind. Nothing is ever where you left it. This is where one came to get lost, to hide among the wild things and the Seminoles. Her story begins with her ancestor, Richard Hamilton, an extraordinary and dangerous man, a man who, against all odds, untangled himself from the bonds of slavery and began a family and a life in the Florida Everglades. Author Peter Matthiessen found the Hamilton clan so fascinating that he included a fictional account of their lives in his novel, Killing Mr. Watson. Hamilton follows Richard and his sons to the ending of an era when the National Park Service evicted the residents, the pioneers, of the Everglades. Along the way she uncovers secrets and stories, polygamy, bootlegging, fist fights, murders, gangsters, killers, and tales of tomahawks and missing schoolteachers. Noted Florida historian, Charlton Tebeau, once said, "The Hamiltons, to the disappointment of the romanticists, were neither pirates nor smugglers nor fugitives, but simple fishermen." While Tebeau was fascinated by the Hamilton’s, and often referred to them as one of the 'lost tribes' of the islands, the author’s research proves that he was wrong about them. They were fugitives, and they were smugglers. The Everglades was not a place for the average man at that time. You did what you had to do to feed your family.
Janet Naughten, professor of history