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Archeological sites surround us with our rich history. However, many of them are now empty of physical artifacts and only hold placards of historical excerpts to stimulate one’s imagination. This section provides an example of how a simple woodland area, virtually unknown to all that drive near, can teach a lesson that is desperately needed in our country today. For teachers, you are about to use one of Dr. Albert Ellis’ principle theories: “To understand behavior, we need to understand one’s beliefs. To understand one’s beliefs, we need to know the situations that formed them.”

Prior the American Revolution, Old Kings Road, was constructed by the British in 1767-1772 from Georgia to the new colony of Minorcan settlers in New Smyrna Florida, a journey of some 106 miles. This early roadway was located near what was to become Hewitt’s Mill. It is likely that many passed by the working mill including the residents of the failed colony in New Smyrna. They were known to have travelled up Old Kings Road in 1777.

John Hewitt was an expert builder and contractor who arrived in St. Augustine before the American Revolution in 1768. He obtained a 1,000-acre property near Pellicer Creek in what is now Flagler County and shortly thereafter built a sophisticated water powered sawmill. This location is approximately 1,000 feet from the interchange of Route 1 and Interstate 95 (exit 298) and sits back into an overgrown woodland. Only a small sign marks the simple dirt road that takes you to the site of Hewitt’s Sawmill. The Florida Agricultural Museum is responsible for its care and keeping.

Sketch of the archeological site for Hewitt’s Mill


During the period just prior to the start of the Revolution and the eight years of war itself and the period after the Treaty of Paris, over 20,000 people loyal to King George III were driven from their own land in the southern colonies. They did not want to give up their British citizenship and there was no discourse that seemed to work with their neighbors. It was leave or more likely escape to East Florida. East Florida was considered the 14th colony. It would remain loyal to King George throughout the conflict. The influx of loyalists also brought slaves some of who’s owners were killed in the revolution. Florida, both while under Spanish control and then British control allowed all people to live, have homes, work and prosper. This included the numerous local Indians who called the St. Augustine area home. The East Florida Colony became a melting pot of cultures.

Needing places to house the growing population, many homes in old St. Augustine would be constructed with John Hewitt’s lumber. He did much construction during the British period including the steeple for St. Peter’s Church and the State House. The mill was a hydraulic type, highly advanced for this period in history. Even following the American Revolution, St. Augustine would be packed with escaping loyalists thus causing a great housing shortage.

A British Period Sawmill” by William M. Jones El Escribano (original document Flagler County Historical Society Annex)

In Florida there were no mills constructed with earthen dams and flowing water. A large collection pond was dug using slave labor and fed from slowly flowing water from Pellicer Creek. When the pond was sufficiently full a series of water gates regulated its flow to a power system driven by ‘flutter wheels.’ Such a mill was the highest example of pre-revolution technology. This slash mill with its up-and-down steel saw was said to be capable of cutting 500 to 1,000 feet of lumber per day, far above that possible with pit saws worked by slaves. This was a highly sophisticated, hydraulic system for its time with a complex system of levers and gates to regulate the movement of water energy and the logs to be cut with the up-and-down blade.

It is not known exactly when the Mill was abandoned. Researchers believe the structure which was two stories high with a nearby colonial era house was destroyed during the Patriot War 1812-1813.

During the Seminole War which began in December of 1835 records show that General Hernandez established a food cache at the old mill site to feed both Indians and the accompanying desperate slaves who had either been taken by Indians in raids or escaped from the burned plantations to join with the Seminoles. It was said they were starving and needed food to reach the safety of Fort Peyton to the north on Old Kings Road. It was also likely that Seminole leader Osceola and his group camped near here as they arrived for a white flag parley with the Army General. World attention would again be focused on St. Augustine when Osceola and his group were captured and imprisoned under a white flag of truce.

Hands-On Opportunity

History must never be used to teach hatred, bigotry, to demean others because of their opinions. History is to be used to expand learning, to avoid repetitive errors and to guide the path to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This simple story shows that you can take a short walk in the woods and reflect on one of the most critical issues in society today. Here in Florida, tell the story of the East Florida Rangers formed under Thomas “burnfoot” Brown,  you can teach about Chief Osceola and his people, you can teach about the “Trail of Tears.” There are almost 40 years of war in Florida called the Seminole Wars. Numerous forts have been reconstructed. There is nothing better than a field trip to understand history.

Learning Experience

Thomas Brown

The history of Hewitt’s Mill is a real story based on the disruption caused when a nation (or soon to be nation) failed to learn what our first amendment really means. Freedom of speech does not and never will mean that one opinion has permission to crush the discourse of others. If we are to save our nation, we must teach our future generations how to disagree in peace. That is what our founding fathers created, a republic, based on rights first and democracy second. What happens when we so damage a relationship that it can never recover? Just read the story of the East Florida Ranger Colonel, Thomas Brown, a lifelong loyalist. His skull was fractured, he was tied to a tree where he was roasted by fire, scalped, tarred, and feathered. This mistreatment resulted in the loss of two toes and lifelong headaches. Who did this to him? His neighbors in Augusta Georgia. Colonel Brown would survive, go on to St. Augustine and form the East Florida Rangers. This was a group of 400 soldiers and over 150 local Indians who would keep the patriots from ever reaching St. Augustine and the Castillo de Marcos.

Need a few ideas on how to do this?

  • We are finite, flawed beings and are prone to making serious mistakes. We need to enter discussions and arguments with this at the very front of our minds — not only in being comfortable with someone challenging our point of view, but also reserving the right to change our mind when our argument is shown to be problematic.
  • We need to actively listen, presuming that one has something to learn, and (if possible) getting to know the other personally. Until we understand the “Situations” that created their beliefs, we only operate in superficial and abstract ways. Never reduce another’s ideas to what you suspect are their “secret personal motivations.” Instead, give them the courtesy of carefully responding to the actual idea or argument that they offer for your consideration.
  • The issues that are seriously debated in our society today are almost always too complex to fit into simplistic categories. The same holds true with our history. Avoid a framework in which taking one side automatically defines one against “the other side.” This just limits serious and open discussion.
  • Avoid dismissive words and phrases even if it feels good to score rhetorical points. Use language that engages and draws the others into a fruitful engagement of ideas. History always shows how disagreements began and how they were concluded, including the price of discourse.
  • Always begin with what you are for. Not only is this the best way to make a convincing case for the view you currently hold, but this practice often reveals that people are actually after very similar things and simply need to be able to talk in an open and coherent way about the best plan for getting there.