Just Why is Dade City Called That?
From a military fort to a scattered settlement and flourishing young city, the Dade name was honored and memorialized by our first settlers.
Today, with a population of more than 7,000, Dade City carries several distinctions that no other municipality in Pasco County has.
With its “Proud Heritage, Promising Future” slogan, this small community not only serves as our county seat, but it was also the first incorporated municipality in Pasco County.
So, why was this quaint country town named Dade City?
Simply put, this name was derived from the earlier military fort and community name of Fort Dade — named in honor of the gallant Maj. Francis Dade, 4th United States Infantry.
But, who was Maj. Francis Dade?
With direct lineage to Francis Dade, English Royalist and 1658 Speaker of the Virginian House of Burgesses, Francis Langhorne Dade was born Feb. 22, 1792, in King George County, Virginia, into a family that held a rich heritage of military and political prowess.
Early in his adulthood, young Dade engaged in the study of law, but in 1813 had decided upon a military career by entering the service of the United States Army.
By 1815, this career change brought him to the Florida frontier where tensions between native tribes and scattered white settlements culminated in what is historically known as the First Seminole War.
After 10 long years of scouting, marching, and taking orders, Dade achieved the promoted rank of captain and eventually major.
But, it’s not just these early services for which we memorialize Maj. Dade or even the instance when his brave company saved a group of settlers from being slain at the Hicks Town Indian village in north Florida.
Instead, we memorialize Francis Langhorne Dade for being killed-in-action, along with 107 of his fellow, well trained, company men on Dec. 28, 1835, during the performance of their duties to our country.
Dade and the soldiers were Marching from Fort Brooke [Tampa] to Fort King [Ocala], via the Fort King Road. Five days and 65 miles in, the company was ambushed during a well planned attack lead by Seminole Chief Micanopy.
The officers, including Maj. Dade, were killed by the first shots of the musket.
And, with the company officers dead, the remaining un-commanded brave soldiers had nothing to rely upon but their own infantry and artillery training.
After nearly eight hours of battle, the dust and smoke settled, revealing the massacre of all 107 men in Dade’s command, with the exception of three.
Two survivors were mortally wounded, but Private Ransom Clarke, although shot numerous times — once through the head — survived his wounds.
More amazingly, the seriously wounded Clarke, stripped of his clothes, reportedly crawled for five days and nights, and 65 miles, until he made it back to headquarters at Fort Brooke [Tampa].
This single event forever changed the Florida frontier and prompted the beginning of the Second Seminole War. Lasting from 1835 to 1842, this war proved to be one of the most expensive* campaigns ever waged by the United States.
But, the lamented Maj. Dade and the men in his command would never be forgotten.
Construction of Fort Dade is Ordered
December 23, 1836. It was exactly one year after Maj. Dade and his men departed from the safety of Fort Brooke [Tampa], never to return.
General Thomas Jesup issued Order No. 26, reading in part:
“A fort will be erected… on the big Withlacoochee, at the point where the Fort King Road crosses it, which will bear the name of the gallant and lamented Dade.”
The orders instructed Lieutenant Colonel William Foster and the 4th United States Infantry, to proceed to the designated site on the river’s south bank to start construction—on land now part of Pasco County.
By Christmas day 1836, the steady sound of the axe chop echoed down the river banks and the smell of fresh cut pine was in the air.
The men were busy clearing the land for the new Fort Dade.
Log after log was cut, trimmed, and sharpened at the top — the butt ends laid in the ground, straightened and secured with smaller logs, and then anchored into place horizontally with course cut nails sent up from Fort Brooke.
After two long weeks of steady work, Fort Dade was beginning to take its form — supplies from Fort Brooke already piled inside.
On Jan. 8, 1837, arriving from Tampa, Gen, Jesup established a temporary headquarters for the entire Army of the South, but within a few days had relinquished the fort’s command to Col. Foster — its construction far from finished.
In the weeks that followed, the work continued. When completed, a thousand logs stood shoulder to shoulder to make the enclosure and a thousand more were cut and worked to create the blockhouses, barracks, storerooms, and hospital within.
During the lengthy Second Seminole War, Fort Dade was the scene of events that shifted the focus of the war, including the Feb. 22, 1837, peace talks between Seminole chiefs and military leaders, which resulted in the signing of the Fort Dade Capitulation — the eventual end of the war.
On May 10, 1842, President John Tyler announced the termination of the Second Seminole Indian War, stating there were only about 80 adult male Seminole Indians remaining in Florida.
As the war came to an end, Fort Dade became less significant and was used for shorter and shorter periods, until eventual abandonment in 1849.
From Fort Dade, a Community is Born
With the passing of the Florida Armed Occupation Act of 1842, the heart of the former Seminole Nation was thrown open to government-backed settlement with an incentive of 160-acres of unsettled lands free and clear.
But, one condition of the act was lands had to be two or more miles from any garrisoned military post.
In the shadows of the poignant military post bearing Dade’s name, Fort Dade’s earliest residents arrived — James Gibbons, William T. Brown, and W.S. Spencer.
Gibbons, Fort Dade’s first settler, chose 160-acres less than half a mile east of the Fort King Road — now the apex of U.S. 301 and U.S. 98.
Here, his plantation and whitewashed, two-story, split-board home became a popular stop and regular trading post for travelers of the Fort King Road.
And, by 1844, his homestead had grown with such popularity Gibbons applied to Washington to establish the first post office in what eventually became Pasco County.
He named the new office Fort Dade, and, on January 2, 1845, Gibbons took his position as its first postmaster — the Fort Dade community was born.
But, as time passed history would seem lost as few would remember that this place was once named after an established military post located about 8 miles to the north.
From Fort Dade to Dade City
It had been 35 years since troops occupied the old military fort and the Fort Dade name was beginning to die.
Population had grown, but the assignment of each new postmaster meant the Fort Dade post office was shifted from house to house with its respective keeper.
But, the final blow for the old Fort Dade name was the arrival of the railroad.
The former Gibbons’ plantation was the site chosen for the new depot, and, on Dec. 18, 1884, the Dade City name and a new post office were born.
By December 1885, the fledging young town became official through an actual incorporation and election of its first mayor and town council.
But, the Fort Dade post office and name held on for a few more years, until April 15, 1889, four days after the election to make Dade City our county seat.
The last location of the old Fort Dade post office was about three miles east of Dade City, where its last postmaster Newton A. Carter lived.
But, Dade City wasn’t the only place named in honor of the fallen Francis Langhorne Dade. Other places that bear his name include Dade County, Missouri; Dade County, Georgia; and Dade County, Florida, now known as Miami-Dade County.
Today, 176-years after his death, Dade’s name lives.
In 1966, to recognize the significance of the former military post, the Board of Parks and Historic Memorials erected the Fort Dade historic marker in Pasco County — placed were U.S. 301 crosses the Withlachoochee River.
On April 14, 1972, the site in Sumter County where Dade and his men died officially became a U.S. National Historic Landmark. This former battlefield and surrounding 80-acres is now part of the Florida State Parks system, known as the Dade Battlefield Historic State Park.
In 2002, the Miami-Dade County Courthouse was renamed to the Major Francis Langhorne Dade County Courthouse.