Backstory and Context
Richard Keith Call was born in Virginia to a well-connected family. His uncle, another Richard Call, was a Revolutionary War hero and an uncle on his mother’s side, David Walker, was a U.S. Representative from Kentucky. Call eventually moved to Tennessee to begin his college education. Call left college in 1813 to join in military actions against the Creek Indians in what would become known as the Creek War or Red Stick War. He became a third lieutenant of a volunteer company and served under Andrew Jackson.
During his time in service under Andrew Jackson, Call frequently visited Jackson’s home in Nashville called The Hermitage. Call may have even lived there for a time. Call’s relationship with Jackson was so close that Call married Mary Kirkland at The Hermitage in 1824. In 1825, Richard Call moved to Tallahassee after being appointed the receiver of the Federal Land Office as well as brigadier of the Florida militia. This was not Call’s first visit to the area considering his long service with Jackson, including during the First Seminole War in which Jackson and his army captured nearby Saint Marks from the Spanish. Another of Jackson’s confidantes, Robert Butler, joined Call in Tallahassee as the surveyor general. These men set themselves up to have the pick of the best lands in north Florida.
Call purchased a large tract of land north of Tallahassee on Lake Jackson that became Orchard Pond Plantation. He also purchased land approximately one mile north of the capitol that later became the Grove. His position as receiver also led him to become a land speculator and to invest in many projects going on in the Florida Territory. With his position of prominence in Tallahassee secured, Call believed the election of his good friend, Andrew Jackson, to be President of the United States, would net him some type of political appointment. Call did not have to wait long for an appointment, yet it was probably not what he expected.
Shortly after taking office, Jackson appointed Call as a special agent on a diplomatic mission to Cuba to retrieve archival papers pertaining to the Spanish occupation and governance of Florida. His mission was not successful, however Call now felt the aspirations of political office. He challenged the incumbant, Joseph White, for the Territorial delegate seat to the U.S. Congress. Call was defeated in the election and his political desires had to take a back seat to rising tensions with Native Americans. Pressed back into military service, Call led a small army of volunteers to rendezvous with another force of soldiers led by General Duncan Clinch and together they marched to confront Chief Osceola and a band of Seminole warriors on the Withlacoochee River. A battle raged for hours and Osceola eventually withdrew his men further south. Unfortunately, though, due to his inaction and lack of support for General Clinch, Call’s reputation as a military leader was tarnished and territorial newspapers lampooned him. Despite the loss of reputation as a military leader, Call remained close with President Andrew Jackson.
In March 1836, Call received the appointment he had hoped for when Jackson named him Territorial Governor of Florida. He had scarcely gotten acclimated to the position before he began making plans to redeem himself as a military leader. However, Call’s second turn at engaging the Seminoles in hostilities was a failure. President Jackson denounced the failure bitterly and Call was quickly removed from command of the Territorial forces. He allowed his bitterness over the entire episode to fester and he soon found himself at odds with the new presidential administration of Martin Van Buren. After two years of back and forth criticisms with the administration, Van Buren finally demanded Call relinquish the governorship for three reasons: he was too involved in national politics, many citizens of the Territory had begun asking for his removal, and for Call’s poor performance in the course of the earlier war. Call’s reaction to this action seemingly finished him in politics in Florida as he turned from the Democratic Party and give his whole-hearted support to the Whig candidate, William Henry Harrison in the 1840 presidential election.
Call’s support of Harrison was quickly rewarded. Within days of the inauguration, the new president re-appointed Richard Call to the Territorial Governorship of Florida. The people of Florida were not pleased, though, and especially not those Floridians closely aligned with the Democratic Party. Call also lost most of his support in Washington when President Harrison died barely a month into his presidency. Vice-president John Tyler became President and pursued a much more cooperative course of action with the Democrats. This action and continuing troubles during his second term as governor all but doomed Call in Florida politics. After he left the Territorial Governorship in 1844, Florida became a state in 1845. Call ran for the first Governor of Florida on the Whig ticket but was defeated by William Moseley, a planter from Jefferson County. Call left politics for good after this defeat.
Though Call sided with the Unionists in opposition to secession as the Civil War loomed near, he also stridently defended slavery and the holding of enslaved persons. In an 1860 letter to the editor of the Tallahassee Sentinel, Call clarified remarks he made regarding resisting Lincoln’s inauguration. Call stated that he did not advocate resistance as that would bring a Civil War, which he believed the South was unprepared for and that he longed for the preservation of the Union. Call also adamantly defended slavery and the rights of the slaveholder. He stated that Lincoln’s “Black Republican party” had perverted the Declaration of Independence by applying it “to the African race.” He criticized attempts to extend the rights of the Constitution to enslaved persons and disavowed the belief that the enslaved were born free under the principles of the Declaration Call states “Can anyone doubt this design in this perversion of the Declaration of Independence, which was intended by our fathers to apply only to the white man, to our own Anglo Saxon race?” Call went on to say he hoped to save the Union, however he was making preparations for war. Richard Call died in his home at the Grove September 14, 1862.
1.Brevard, Caroline Mays. "Richard Keith Call." Publications of the Florida Historical Society 1, no. 3 (1908): 8-20. Accessed March 1, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/30138222.
2.Brevard, Richard Keith. "Richard Keith Call." Publications of the Florida Historical Society 1, no. 2 (1908): 2-12. Accessed February 29, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/30138212
3.Call family genealogy, n.d., M92-1, Box 2, Folder 2, Item 10, Call Family Papers, Florida State Archives, Tallahassee, FL
4.Draft of Letter, November 1, 1860, M92-1, Box 1, Folder 6, Item 7, Call Family Papers, Florida State Archives, Tallahassee, FL
5.Groene Bertram, Ante-Bellum Tallahassee (Tallahassee, FL: Florida Heritage Foundation, 1971), p.31 http://ufdc.ufl.edu/FS00000017/00001/39j.
6.Knott House Museum. Know Your Neighborhood: Tallahassee Street Name Origins. Tallahassee, FL: Knott House Museum, 1997
7.Martin, Sidney Walter. "Richard Keith Call, Florida Territorial Leader." The Florida Historical Quarterly 21, no. 4 (1943): 332-51. Accessed March 1, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/30138466.
8.Statehood election results, May 26, 1845, S 486, 1845 Election Results, Florida State Archives, Tallahassee, FL
The Grove Museum - http://thegrovemuseum.com/learn/history/call/