My ancestry includes some of the earliest settlers of Connecticut, including one Thomas Hungerford. He was recorded in Hartford early, 1639, moving to New London in 1650 where he died a dozen years later. Of late, I've been looking into his descendants, many of whom are clustered in the NW & SE parts of the state.

The starting point for this diary is the short life of Dr. Robert Hungerford (1862-1888), which will lead us to the nation's first all-Black incorporated town, and its most celebrated resident, Zora Neale Hurston.

I don't know much about the family of Robert's mother, Ann Gilbert Daniels, but perhaps something can be inferred by her listing in the 1850 Census at Wesleyan Academy in Wilbraham, MA at age 15. The school was the first coeducational boarding school in the nation, back when any sort of formal education for girls was controversial, and it admitted Chinese students starting 1847. It served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Robert's father, Edward Codringham Hungerford (1827-1910) was the firstborn son of a man who was 50 when he was born. After his father's death when he was 15, Edward taught school for a few years, then headed west to Utica, NY where he went to work for Fairbanks & Co, scale makers, as a machinist. He must have caught someone's eye because six years later, he "had charge of many men" in the construction of the St. Mary's canal between Lakes Superior and Huron. He stayed on for nearly a decade, working as a surveyor and state road commissioner on Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

In 1862, he returned to Connecticut where his son was born, after "having jurisdiction over 180,000 acres of mining and timber land" in Michigan by the age of 35. Back in his home state, he held a variety of public offices, church and civic positions, and was treasurer, then president of the Chester Savings Bank, which he had co-founded.

Edward never went to college, but his only son Robert did, earning his medical degree from Columbia University.

By all accounts, Robert was an idealistic young man. After the Civil War, many northern abolitionists turned their attention to education for the nation's freed slaves. Dr. Robert Hungerford did so personally. He also cared for a young pupil stricken with yellow fever, which he contracted himself, and died from in 1888.

Edward Hungerford was an early snowbird, establishing a winter retreat at Maitland, Florida.

When the [Seminole] Indian wars ceased and the fort had been torn down, people began settling in this area because of the natural spring water and extensive pine forests. At the close of the Civil War, settlers came buying large tracts of land, clearing them and planting citrus groves. ... There was a large hotel, Park House, built between Park Lake and Lake Catherine, which became the winter resort for famous people of the time, including two presidents, Grover Cleveland and Chester Arthur.

By 1876 the orange trees were coming into production and difficulty in marketing the fruit caused Dr. Haskell, of the Boston Herald newspaper, to form a syndicate and construct a railroad from Jacksonville to Maitland in 1880.

Immediately adjacent to Maitland was the town of Eatonville, the nation's first incorporated black township, founded the year before young Dr. Robert Hungerford's tragic premature death, after having wintered in Maitland 1887-8 "for his health."
City Council, 1907. Eatonville, Florida is an all black town, founded in 1887.
Eatonville, Florida City Council (1907)
The town's famous daughter, writer Zora Neale Hurston, described it some decades later for the WPA Guide to Florida:
Methodist Church, Eatonville, Florida
Methodist Church, Eatonville
Maitland is Maitland until it gets to Hurst’s corner, and then it is Eatonville. Right in front of Willie Sewell’s yellow-painted house the hard road quits being the hard road for a generous mile and becomes the heart of Eatonville. Or from a stranger’s point of view, you could say that the road just bursts through on its way from Highway #17 to #441 scattering Eatonville right and left.

On the right after you leave the Sewell place you don’t meet a thing that people live in until you come to the Green Lantern on the main corner. That corner has always been the main corner because that is where Joe Clark, the founder and first mayor of Eatonville, built his store when he started the town nearly sixty years ago, so that people have gotten used to gathering there and talking. Only Joe Clark sold groceries and general merchandise, while Lee Glenn sells drinks of all kinds and whatever goes with transient rooms. St. Lawrence Methodist church and parsonage are on that same side of the road between Sewell’s and “the shop” and perhaps claim the souls of the place, but the shop is the heart of it. After the shop you come to the Widow Dash’s orange grove, her screened porch, “double hips”, and her new husband. ... Take the left side of the road and except for Macedonia Baptist church people just live along that side and play croquet in Armetta Jones’s backyard behind the huge camphor tree
But all of Eatonville is not on the hard road that becomes Apopka Avenue as it passes through town. There are back streets on both sides of the road. The two back streets on the right side are full of little houses squatting under hovering oaks. These houses are old and were made out of the town’s first dreams.
They call the tree-shaded land that runs past the schoolhouse West Street and it goes past several minor groves until it passes Jim Steele’s fine orange grove and dips itself into Lake Belle, which is the home of Eatonville’s most celebrated resident, the worlds largest alligator... And west of it all, village and school, everybody knows that the sun makes his nest in some lonesome lake in the woods back there and gets his night’s rest.

Hurston was born in Alabama in 1891, but the family moved to Eatonville before she turned two.
portrait of writer Zora Neale Hurston, c. 1940, Library of Congress: Reproduction number LC-USZ62-62394 (b&w film copy neg.). Card #2004672085.
Zora Neale Hurston, c. 1940
In Eatonville, Zora was never indoctrinated in inferiority, and she could see the evidence of black achievement all around her. She could look to town hall and see black men, including her father, John Hurston, formulating the laws that governed Eatonville. She could look to the Sunday Schools of the town's two churches and see black women, including her mother, Lucy Potts Hurston, directing the Christian curricula. She could look to the porch of the village store and see black men and women passing worlds through their mouths in the form of colorful, engaging stories.

Growing up in this culturally affirming setting in an eight-room house on five acres of land, Zora had a relatively happy childhood, despite frequent clashes with her preacher-father, who sometimes sought to "squinch" her rambunctious spirit, she recalled. Her mother, on the other hand, urged young Zora and her seven siblings to "jump at de sun." Hurston explained, "We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground."

Russell C. Calhoun, a graduate of Tuskegee Institute, found his way to Eatonville a few years later:
On April 29, 1897, both Miss Clinton and myself were called to a school in South Carolina, and in a simple way, with $50 saved, we married and boarded the train for our new field of labor. After giving up our work and reaching Sanford, 125 miles away, we received a letter asking us to defer our coming until the following October.

This was a very, very sad disappointment and trial to us. It was two weeks before the State examinations would be held. We prepared as best we could, and as a result of the examination we were sent to Eatonville, Fla., to take charge of the public school there. Eatonville is a Negro town with colored officers, a colored postmaster, and colored merchants. There is not a single white person living within the incorporated city; it promises to be a unique community. It is situated near the center of Orange county, six miles from Orlando, the county seat, and is two miles from the Seaboard Air-Line Railroad, and one and one-half miles from the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad.

It was said ... that you might travel the whole State over and not find a more healthy place. We were here but a few days when we decided that this was the place for us to begin putting into practise the lessons taught us at Tuskegee. We felt that we wanted to do something toward helping our people. We decided to cast our lot permanently at Eatonville.

At first working at the local school, the Calhouns dreamed of opening a school after the model of their alma mater, Tuskegee. One of their earliest cash donors was Booker T. Washington himself:
Incidentally, we heard of the philanthropic instincts of a gentleman, Mr. E. C. Hungerford, living at Chester, Conn., who had conditionally offered to another school twenty acres of land, and whose offer was not met. I wrote to him asking if he would give us the land. He replied that he would be glad to give us forty acres if we would use it for school purposes.

On February 24, 1899, having the deed in hand, a board of trustees was selected, and, with the aid of nine men who cleared one and one-half acres of land while their wives furnished the dinner, we started what is now the Robert C. Hungerford Industrial School. The new school now owns 280 acres of land secured as follows: From Mr. and Mrs. E. C. Hungerford, 160 acres; from Mr. and Mrs. T. W. Cleavland, 40 acres; from Mrs. Nancy B. Hungerford, 40 acres; by purchase, an additional 40 acres.

Robert Hungerford Normal and Industrial School, Booker T. Washington Hall.
Booker T. Washington Hall, dormitory at Robert Hungerford Normal and Industrial School
The school taught academics and trades, keeping the budget above water in part through the labors of the students.
The Robert Hungerford Industrial School was soon established and it provided African Americans with means of learning as well as direct industrial work experience.  The school owned more than two hundred acres of suitable land for farming and building.  The students of both sexes would attend school for half of the day and work the other half of the day.  The county of the school was given two hundred and forty dollars a month to cover the wages of the teachers, however, the principle nor the treasurer received any pay for their work.
Sawmill of the Robert Hungerford Normal and Industrial School
Sawmill, Robert Hungerford Vocational High School
Hurston attended the school, and mentioned it in her WPA sketch of her home town. Before coming to work for the WPA, Hurston had published novels and worked with Alan Lomax in 1935, gathering music and folklore in rural Florida.
There is no State in the Union with as much to record in a musical, folk lore, Social-Ethnic way as Florida has. ... No other State in the Union has had the history of races blended and contending. Nowhere else is there such a variety of materials. Florida is still a frontier with its varying elements still unassimilated. There is still an opportunity to observe the wombs of folk culture still heavy with life. Recordings in Florida will be like backtracking a large part of the United States, Europe and Africa for these elements have been attracted here and brought a gift to Florida culture each in its own way. The drums throb: Africa by way of Cuba; Africa by way of the British West Indies; Africa by way of Haiti and Martinque; Africa by way of Central and South America. Old Spain speaks through many interpreters. Old England speaks through black, white and intermediate lips. Florida, the inner melting pot of the great melting pot -- America.
Hurston claimed credit for discovering bluesman Gabriel Brown.
Zora Neale Hurston, Rochelle French, and Gabriel Brown; gathering folklore and music in Florida, June 1935
(l-r) Zora Neale Hurston, Rochelle French and Gabriel Brown, Eatonville, FL (June 1935), photographed by Alan Lomax

She arrived at the WPA's Federal Writer's Project with a reputation preceding her:

One day in May of 1938, Dr. Corse called the state editorial staff into her office and announced that "Zora Neale Hurston is coming on board." Zora, it seems, had signed on as a "Junior Interviewer," just as I had six months earlier, and at the same rate of pay. At the time Hurston had already published Jonah's Gourd Vine and Mules and Men, which meant she would be the only widely published author on the Florida project's payroll.

Not only was Zora signing on, but she would soon be paying a state visit to the state office. Unaccustomed as we were to receiving blacks of any description, Corse cautioned us that Zora had been lionized by New York literary circles and was consequently given to "putting on airs," including the smoking of cigarettes in the presence of white folks, and we would therefore have to make allowances. And so Zora came, and Zora smoked, and we made allowances
Hurston's production was sporadic, as was many writers's who were on their own in the field, again myself included. There were times when those in the office did not hear from Zora for several weeks. Periodically, Dr. Corse would pop out of her office (she never merely emerged), look around the editorial room, and ask, "Anybody heard from Zora?" When we all looked blank, Corse would look at me and say, "Better write her a letter and jog her up!" In response to my letters, we would receive a thick packet of fabulous folksongs, tales, and legends, possibly representing gleanings from days long gone by. We did not care how, where, or when Zora had come by them--each and every one was priceless, and we hastened to sprinkle them through the Florida Guide manuscript for flavoring.

It is worth noting that Eatonville is not far from Sanford, Florida which has had its place in national headlines of late. With that in mind, I'm including Hurston's profile of another town, a profile which was filed and forgotten for decades. It was not published by the WPA anywhere.

William Clark had been running a store in the Negro settlement there in 1886, and it was through his efforts that the incorporation came about. He was not the first mayor, however. On the first Monday in December 1891, Walter Williams was elected mayor of the town, with John Wesley Small, clerk of the court, William Clark, policeman.

The next year the town opened a school, with Katie Stubbins as the first teacher. ... John Wesley Small was the first postmaster, and William Clark built the first house. Zion Methodist was the first church.

The thriving city of Sanford looked with displeasure on the new town, not because it was colored, but because it was incorporated, and thus would seem to block the westward expansion of Sanford. Many efforts were made to induce the Negro town to give up its charter, but to no avail. It became a source of great irritation to the bigger Sanford enthusiasts, but it seemed that nothing coud be done about it. It remained for Forest Lake, then state senator from Orange County, to find a solution. He induced the legislature to rule that since that body had the right to grant a charter, they also had the right to take one back. They voted to take back the charters of both Sanford and Goldsborough. Then Sanford speedily reorganized itself and included the Goldsborough tract in their next application for a charter, which was speedily granted. Thus ended the existence of the second incorporated Negro town in Florida.

Robert Hungerford Chapel Trust still grants scholarships to black students in Florida. Robert's daughter Constance was born three months after her father died, so she never knew him. But she appears to have been raised with similar values. According to her grandson George Nye, the KKK burned crosses in her Mt. Dora, FL front yard in the 1960s.

One never knows what might turn up when one goes exploring the branches of the family tree.


Hungerfords were very prominent in UK long ago, with towns and castles bearing their name dating back nearly a thousand years. Way back when, they were on the wrong side of the War of the Roses (Cousins War) and generally not strangers to intrigue. From time to time, some were hanged or beheaded for same.

Farleigh Hungerford Castle, outer court
Farleigh Hungerford Castle, Somerset, England (now a publicly-owned part of English Heritage, operated as a museum)
In England nowadays there's more Hungerfords on the maps than in the national census. American descendents of Thomas Hungerford of Connecticut, in addition to lots of farmers and a few scoundrels and ne'er-do-wells, include the following:

Originally posted to Genealogy and Family History Community on Fri Feb 28, 2014 at 10:17 AM PST.

Also republished by History for Kossacks and Black Kos community.


Your Email has been sent.