The Story Behind Pasco County's Name
This is the first in a series titled "What's In a Name?" In the series we'll explore the name origins of communities, roads and natural features in Pasco County.
Today, 67 counties comprise the state of Florida.
Most of them carry the name of a state or national political dignitary, or of a natural feature synonymous with the respective county.
So how did we get the distinct name of Pasco County?
Prior to 1887, there was no Pasco County. Instead, we were part of what was then known as Hernando County-- encompassing all of today’s Citrus, Hernando, and Pasco Counties.
On June 2, 1887, because of its sheer size and an enthusiasm among the residents for division, Florida Gov. Edward A. Perry signed into law a bill to divide Hernando and make the counties of Citrus and Pasco.
In a letter written May 25, 1927, Florida legislator Dr. Richard Bankston recalled the processes.
In 1887, enthusiasm was spontaneous and hope ran high. The result was a mass meeting which was attended by nearly all our male citizens, and was very representative, there being present people from every precinct in the southern end of the county. Unanimous sentiment was for division. After deliberation, it was resolved that a committee of two be named to go to Tallahassee in the interest of the desired end… Mr. James Grady moved that we be instructed to call our county “Banner” county."
It was late in the legislative session, and things looked doubtful for the local delegation, charged with securing the new county with a proposed name like “Banner.”
Most favored the forming of the new counties, but the proposed name “Banner” received great opposition since everyone believed theirs was a “Banner” county.
It seemed as though the bill was dead, until inspiration struck.
Earlier, the joint session in voting for U.S. Senator had, very enthusiastically, elected Samuel Pasco to the position.
Bankston soon realized if the joint session had voted so favorably in electing Pasco to the senate seat, then how could they deny a name like Pasco?
So, he immediately went to work on revising the bill with the new, unobjectionable name, that neither session could refuse — Pasco County.
Introduced by Representative James Latham, the revised bill passed the senate and house with only two dissenting votes. Bankston’s change worked.
On June 2, 1887, the bill was signed into law by Perry, and on August 16, 1887, public lands officially transferred from the Hernando County government to the newly formed counties of Citrus and Pasco.
So, who is the man behind the name?
Samuel Pasco was born June 28, 1834 in London, England. His family migrated to the United States in 1844 and settled in Charlestown, Massachusetts, where he graduated from the Charleston High School in 1854.
After high school, Pasco obtained higher education at Harvard University, where he graduated in the Class of 1858 with a bachelor in arts.
His graduation came with high recommendations to a group of wealthy planters in Florida, who wrote the college seeking someone qualified enough to organize a school in their small neighborhood, about 20 miles east of Tallahassee.
In January, 1859, 25-year-old Samuel answered that written request and moved to Jefferson County. There, he took charge of the newly established Waukeenah Boys' Academy as its principal and primary educator.
For the first few years he lived in Waukeenah’s town hotel, but his quiet life of hotel living and teaching at the boy’s academy would soon end and he’d be forced to face the difficult decision of enlistment during the Civil War.
Speaking of Pasco, Gen. B. W. Partridge once said,
In the third year of his life in the South—the call to arms and War Between the States startled this great land of ours. Samuel Pasco—without a drop of kindred blood south of Mason and Dixon’s Line—without a penny of investment in the South—with loved ones and influence and wealth at home in Boston—with nothing to offer but a splendid manhood and spotless life—faced the problem of a choice. With that calm temperament that always characterized his conduct in life he left the quiet school house—not alone—carrying with him fifteen of the young men—whose fathers were satisfied to give them up to the care of their worthy preceptor.
Enlisting as a private with Company H, 3rd Florida Infantry, Pasco and his students engaged in some of the most historic battles of the war including Perryville, Jackson, and Chickamauga.
Pasco worked his way through the ranks, serving as a company clerk and eventually as sergeant.
In July 1863, under the heavy fire of the Battle of Jackson, Mississippi, Pasco witnessed one of his students, Pvt. Thomas L. Pettus, fall on the battlefield after being struck by a Minnie ball or piece of shrapnel.
Writing in his diary, Pvt. Clarence W. Smith recalled that fateful day when Pettus went down. He noted how Pasco rushed out among the wounded and dying to retrieve his wounded comrade.
Pettus died the next day and for his gallant service, Confederate Vice-President, General John C. Breckenridge, recognized Pasco for his selfless acts on that horrific day.
But, in November 1863, Pasco himself would receive wounds during the Battle of Missionary Ridge, which resulted in him being taken prisoner.
Imprisoned at Camp Morton, Indiana, Pasco refused to take an Oath of Allegiance to the U.S. and remained in prison for 14 months, until paroled at war’s end.
In 1865 he resumed his position at Waukeenah Academy, until being elected to his first political seat — Jefferson County’s Clerk of the Circuit Court.
While having his deputy clerks tend to most of the duties, Pasco devoted his attention to the study of law, and, on October 5, 1868, was admitted to the Florida Bar. He then joined his wartime commander, Col. D.S. Dilworth, in forming the Monticello law firm of Dilworth-Pasco.
In September, 1869, Pasco inherited Dilworth’s interest in the firm, most of which he was able to retain. He also accepted a position as a trustee of the Jefferson Academy and soon after became known as a distinguished and prominent Mason in his community.
Today, Pasco’s name appears among the top 10,000 famous Freemasons in the United States.
In 1869 he was elected to the Monticello town council, serving the position for nine years and only after declining a re-election in 1878 to enter a new career in state level politics.
But, not before returning to Harvard to further his education by earning his A.M. degree (Arts Master) in 1872 — the same year he was seated on the Florida Democratic Executive Committee, a position that allowed him to move up through the political ranks.
Political Offices & Positions Held by Samuel Pasco
1866-1867- Jefferson County Clerk of the Circuit Court, 1869-1878- Councilman Town of Monticello, 1872- Florida Democratic Executive Committee, 1876-1886- Chairman of the Florida Democratic Executive Committee, 1880- Member of Democratic National Committee, 1880- Elected Presidential Elector for Democratic Ticket, 1885- President of the Florida Constitutional Convention, 1886- Democratic Nominee for Governor’s Race (withdrew), 1886- Florida House of Representative, 1887- Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, 1887- U.S. Senator elected by Florida Legislature, 1893 Appointment by Governor Mitchell to serve U.S. Senator ad interim, 1899-1905- Member of the Isthmian Canal Project (Presidential appointment)
Samuel Pasco visits Pasco County
With his public and political life, serving as Grand Master of the Florida F. & A.M. Lodges, and with family living in Tampa, it’s likely that Samuel Pasco passed through or came to Pasco County on several occasions.
However, we have very few documented instances of his visits to the county that bears his name, and the few that we do have were no grand affairs.
On Oct. 24, 1891, the Bismarck Daily Tribune reported one of the only known documented visits by Samuel Pasco to the Pasco County.
Pasco’s 1891 visit was one of business, arriving to Dade City to attend a lengthy Florida Farmers’ Alliance meeting where the topic of discussion was reform of the organizations treasury plan.
During the meeting, Pasco went on the record against the proposed plan, which, after five hours, was endorsed by the Dade City chapter.
After his service on the Isthmian Canal Project, Pasco retired from public life to his home in Monticello, Florida.
In his retired life he devoted much of his time to giving public addresses, including one before the Grand Lodge of Florida F. & A.M. in 1905.
He also enjoyed research and writing history including a book titled Jefferson County Florida, 1827-1910.
On March 13, 1917, at age 83, Samuel Pasco died at the home of his daughter Mrs. J.C. Tims in Tampa. His remains were returned to his home town of Monticello, Florida, where he was buried in the town’s cemetery.