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In Search of Florida's Elusive DAR Founder



Florida history is rarely as easy to write about as referring to prior written accounts of our earliest pioneers. In researching the past, I often discover variations and for good reason; there is far more data available for researchers today. A good example is my assessment of the Floridian worthy of the title, “Founder of our State’s Daughters of the American Revolution.” I wrote in a previous blog that I believe it was Katherine (Livingston) Eagan of Jacksonville who was deserving of such a title, and my opinion remains unchanged despite it being different than the position offered by the Florida DAR itself.


The Florida NSDAR says this of its early history: “On May 25, 1892, Mrs. Benjamin Harrison, President General of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, and wife of the 23rd President of the United States of America appointed Mrs. J.N.C. Stockton as regent to organize the first Florida DAR chapter in Jacksonville. Mrs. John G. Christopher is affectionately known as “Mother of the Florida Daughters” since it was she who was most active in organizing the Jacksonville Chapter, NSDAR. Three years later, on April 2, 1895, she was confirmed as organizing regent and the state of Florida had its very first DAR chapter, the Jacksonville Chapter, NSDAR. On March 12, 1894, Mrs. Adlai E. Stevenson, then President General, appointed Mrs. D. G. Ambler as Florida state regent. Mrs. Ambler was later elected state regent in February 1896, and she served through 1897.


The above is how the State DAR describes its early days here in Florida, and below is my version.

 

Mrs. Fannie (Baker) Stockton, wife of John Noble Cummings Stockton, descended from Lieutenant Adam Gilchrist of the 5th Pennsylvania Regiment during the American Revolution. Mrs. Stockton certainly had the qualifications for the job, but no public record has been located to indicate that she moved the process of organizing the Florida DAR, and an explanation for the lack of development by Mrs. Stockton in 1892 can be found in Mrs. Stockton home life.


Fifteen (15) days after being appointed by Caroline Lavinia (Scott) Harrison to organize Florida’s DAR, Fannie’s mother-in-law, Julia (Telfair) Stockton, died. Then, twenty days later, John McNair Baker, Fannie’s well-known Jacksonville father, also died. Fannie herself had just given birth in January of 1892 to a baby girl, her third child. And she was to have two more childbirths over the next four years. Fannie likely didn’t have much free time in her family life to organize a State DAR Chapter of a National organization still very much in its early stages of development.


Historian Thomas Davis authored a History of Jacksonville in 1925 and offered this about The Daughters of the American Revolution: “Through the efforts of Mrs. John G. Christopher the members of the National D. A. R. residing in Jacksonville were brought together at a meeting held April 2, 1895, when the local organization was formed with 13 members. They applied for a Charter, and it was granted February 14, 1896. The charter officers of the Jacksonville Chapter were Mrs. J. G. Christopher, Regent; Mrs. Dennis Eagan, Secretary; Mrs. H. H. Buckman, Treasurer. This was the first D. A. R. Chapter in Florida and is known as the “Mother Chapter” among the many since organized in the State.”


Henrietta (Shoemaker) Christopher was a native Cincinnatian (like yours truly). Henrietta married John G. Christopher and they relocated to Jacksonville. The Washington Post of Washington, DC wrote of Mrs. John G. Christopher attending a St. Augustine “Hermitage Ball” on 6 February 1892, stating that Mrs. Christopher, as a close friend to First Lady Caroline Harrison, filled in for the ailing Mrs. Harrison for part of the ceremony. The National DAR organization, at that time in its infancy, had yet to appoint Fannie Stockton to organize in Florida.


Clarissa (Coventry) Ambler, wife of Jacksonville banker Daniel G. Ambler, is described as the Florida Organizing State Regent from 1894-1898 per the grave marker placed there by DAR in 2020 (see below). Born in 1839 at Utica, New York, Clarissa was buried alongside her husband at Litchfield, Connecticut, where the marker was placed.  



DAR Grave Marker in Litchfield, Connecticut.


Clarissa, as First State Regent, could certainly be considered the founder of Florida’s DAR, but why then would others, including author Nancy Cole, credit Katherine (Livingston) Eagan for the formation of the first Florida chapter?


The State of Florida had been hit with back-to-back freezes in December 1894 and February 1895, cold snaps which sent shock waves through Florida’s economy. Everyone from growers to bankers suffered. Homesteaders lost everything. Businesses failed. Then, as if Florida’s Great Freeze wasn’t bad enough, Jacksonville, in 1901, had a devastating fire which wiped out nearly its entire downtown. “Mr. Ambler,” said the 1916 obituary of Daniel Griffith Ambler, “had made his home in Washington, D. C. since 1901, leaving Jacksonville shortly after the fire.”


By 1901, six years after Florida had become a DAR State, its leadership had experienced changes due to births, deaths, double freezes, and fire. Even before the fire, on 25 November 1900, the Atlanta Georgia Constitution had reported on the morning session speakers at the Georgia DAR. A visiting speaker from Florida was “Mrs. Dennis Eagan, State Regent. (I had mistakenly referred to Kate in my earlier blog as Florida’s First State Regent).

 

Katherine Livingston Eagan again appears as the Florida State Regent in a Columbus, Georgia newspaper of 2 June 1901, this time making an appeal to DAR Chapters to help Jacksonville at its time of need, having suffered a terrible fire. Kate asked DAR Chapters to “send sewing machines, clothing and furniture to Florida.”


Katherine Eagan, as State Regent in February 1902, led delegates from St. Augustine and Jacksonville to the National DAR Convention in Washington, DC. Returning to Florida, Katherine traveled to Tampa on 22 March to meet with women in that city to form a Tampa DAR Chapter. On 5 April, Kate Eagan traveled to Pensacola to accept an appointment as State Chairman for Florida of the Order of the Descendants of Colonial Governors, Kate being a descendent of Peter Schuyler, twice Governor of New York in 1709 and again in 1719.


On 21 March 1905, The Pensacola News reported that Mrs. Katherine Livingston Eagan had been honored by an appointment from Mrs. Fairbanks, President General of the D. A. R., as a member of the Jamestown Exposition Committee. Mrs. Eagan,” continued the article, “has been several times honored by election to high offices in the D. A. R of Florida, and she is very popular with many of the prominent members of the national executive board.”


Upcoming DAR Speaking Engagements

October 2024 in Winter Park

November 2024 in Palm Beach

March 2025 in St. Augustine

March 2025 in Bradenton

Others are now being scheduled


The Miami Herald of 30 April 1921 reported that “Eight Florida Chapters had attended the DAR National Congress in DC.” Among delegates mentioned were two from the “Katherine Livingston Eagan Chapter.” That would have been the Jacksonville Chapter.

    

Nancy Cole, a retired librarian who published a “Biography of Katherine Livingston Eagan, 1852-1933, in the National American Woman Suffrage Association publication, said this of Mrs. Eagan, “One of Katherine’s earliest civic activities was the formation in 1896 of the first Florida chapter of The Daughters of the American Revolution. The chapter in Jacksonville was later named for her. At the 1902 DAR Convention in Washington, D.C., at which Katherine as State Regent was a delegate, New York state alone had 75 chapters with the largest in New York City have 410 members.”


There is no dispute about Jacksonville being the birthplace of Florida’s DAR. Nor does there seem to be a dispute about Jacksonville Chapter as the “Mother of Florida’s DAR Chapters,” but there is disagreement about who is the “Mother.” The question is indeed trivial, because every early member played an important role in opening the state to the remarkable DAR organization that exists today.


One could argue there is no right answer; others may prefer to give credit to Mrs. Christopher. But as for me, I think Katherine Livingston Eagan was the “Mother” of the State’s movement that those who served alongside her had in mind when they renamed the Chapter in 1921.

Born 1852 in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Katherine Livingston Eagan died while visiting her daughter in 1933 at Hopewell, New Jersey. I include her as Exhibit 37 in my Award winning book, The Ladies were Daughters Too.



Click on Book Cover to View Book at Amazon



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