Connecting the dots of the Underground Railroad

Florida Senator Tony HillState Senator Tony Hill reported to Historic City News that he has recently visited the Bahamas trying to connect-the-dots of the Underground Railroad Network to freedom, a national program under the direction of the National Park Service.

Hill is very interested in the connection of present day East Palatka and the Rolle Family of the Bahamas. Ester Rolle, an actress on the television show “Good Times”, may be one of the most famous members of the Rolle family in our present day.

Local actor James Bullock, and Freedom Road I, LLC Managing Partner Derek Hankerson, are working with Hill, and have been commissioned by the Senator to arrange a tour of Fort Mose, and the East Palatka community of Charlotte/Rollestown during the month of June.

Florida was in transition in the early eighteenth century. The province flew a new flag with the colors of England replacing those of the Spanish banner. British nobility were pouring in, prompted by huge grants of land by the English crown, which planned a plantation economy for their new possession.

In 1767, Denys Rolle the father of Lord Rolle, an English and nobleman, established Rollestown on the east bank of the St. Johns River at the head of deep-water navigation. His 78,000-acre plantation was a commercial and humanatrian experiment, recruiting settlers off the streets of London. Two hundred slaves arrived to clear wilderness for agriculture.

Unaccustomed to either hard work or a climate, however, they scattered. Rolle then imported slaves from West Africa to tend to the livestock or produce cotton, indingo, citrus, and turpentine for export to England.

Rolle built a mansion and laid out a village, but trouble beleaguered the “ideal society.” Rolle hired new overseers and bought more slaves, but the plantation failed to prosper. When Spain resumed control of Florida in 1783, Rolle abandoned the colony and chartered a ship to carry his household belongings, livestock and slaves to a 2,000 acre estate on Great Exuma in the Bahamas. The point in East Palatka, is still called Rollestown. The British Crown granted Lord Rolle huge tracts of Exuma land as compensation for property lost as a result of the American Revolution. After emancipation, Exuma’s former slaves took Lord Rolle’s surname as their own. And, hence the Rolle is the most common last name in Exuma, and the name shows up in communities such as Rolleville and Rolle Town.

All are Lord John Rolle namesakes

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