You Can Put the Boy Back into the Country, But It's Hard to Get the Country into the Boy

I have the roots, but decades of citification mean that I'll continue to get my meat wrapped in plastic, not fur.

A lawyer-columnist who formerly wrote for The Laker often delivered colorful war stories (legal and otherwise) drawn from his local, country-boy roots around these parts. In terms of personal experience I have nothing on him. I grew up on Davis Islands, where “roughing it” meant having to drive a Buick loaner while your Caddy was in the shop. So no, I’m not qualified to discuss the defense of clients whose activities have attracted the attention of Fish and Wildlife officers. But from a geneology standpoint I’m definitely in the hunt.

My great-great-great grandfather, Dennis Hankins III arrived in North Florida sometime between 1824 and 1836, after leaving South Carolina and settling briefly in Georgia. His ancestor Dennis Hankins had arrived in the Carolina colony around 1730, perhaps from Glasgow as family legend holds (and in the ensuing century Dennis's descendants had petitioned King George III for redress of grievances a year before the Declaration of Independence, fought in the Revolutionary War, and been state senators, ministers, and tree farmers). His son William Wesley Hankins fired the last shot in Florida’s second Seminole Indian war, dispatching the last of a band of marauders hunted down and surprised in camp by a posse of which he was the youngest member. William was a gunsmith, known as "Uncle Billy."

His son Sylvanus Masters Hankins Sr. fought in the Civil War as a master sergeant and returned to his home in Live Oak, later migrating to Lakeland and ultimately to Tampa, where he drove Henry Plant’s work locomotive laying the rails into downtown Tampa, owned a dry goods store on Twiggs Street, served as a sheriff’s deputy and lumber company engineer, and ultimately wound down as a hotelier in Safety Harbor. Once he entered his seventies, his doctor told him he could fish in the heat of the day or drink whiskey, but not both. He was found dead in his boat with his dog in August of 1918.

My grandfather, Sylvanus Masters Hankins Jr. suffered a crippling hip injury in a fall from a tree at age 12, allegedly exacerbated by inadequate medical attention during a yellow fever epidemic. Spared the horrors of World War I, he became a real estate broker, helping to sell out Davis Islands, which had been pumped up out of mere mud flats into a sea-walled enclave for speculators in Florida’s land boom. When the Depression struck, tenant in houses he owned or managed often paid him not money but chickens.

My father, Marion Sylvanus Hankins, always went by Hank. A member of the greatest generation, he participated in the North Africa and Italy campaigns, flying fragile transport gliders towed behind C-47 cargo planes. He survived a harrowing crash landing as the tail of his craft began to break up in flight, and later was shipped back stateside and awarded a purple heart (which he hardly spoke of and never displayed), suffering from a severe case of malaria. He sold real estate for his father, and later on his own, mostly acreage, putting a hundred thousand miles a year on Cadillac convertibles before behemoth developers and big-box retailers crowded out the small developers who had turned Florida from pines and palmettos into ranch houses and strip centers.

Times were different then, and we know less about the women who accompanied them through their lives, Sarah Connor, Almira Church, Elizabeth Stubbs and Virginia McNorrill, but like my mom, Dot Hankins, herself now a Land O' Lakes resident, retired real estate broker and college administrator, they have their places in history.

No, I’m not a country boy. The cartridges of all the ammunition I’ve ever expended would fit in one hand and I have three college degrees I’m sure some of my hardier ancestors would have scoffed at. But when I see the stars and bars displayed here and there around town, I do see something more than a symbol of oppression, I see the duty and sacrifice of people who stood up with their friends, neighbors and kin in a war not of their making; and I hope that those displaying it are more of that mindset rather than still using it as a middle finger after nearly 150 years.

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Dwight H. Kocher July 12, 2012 at 01:38 PM
Mark, I enjoyed your article. Sylvanus Masters Hankins, sr is my great grandfather. His daughter, Edna (Hankins) Haven was my grandmother and your grandfather's sister. My mother was Elizabeth (Haven) Kocher. The State of Florida Archives has a copy of a manuscript written by SM Hankins, sr regarding his memories of the "confederate war". My mother took the original manuscript (with typo errors) and made the minor corrections. I have a photo of SM Hankins, sr. riding in a convertible car during a possibly mid-1920's confederate veterans parade in Tampa. Your grandfather is driving the car and my grandmother is riding in the back seat with her mother (I think). You sound like you have the geneology bug as I do. My mother spend more than 2 decades researching the family lines and has a published book in the New York City Library. I believe several university libraries also have copies of her book. I feel like you do about the stars and bars and our shared southern heritage. It is not about hate as some believe, it about pride in our heritage. All those civil war veterans were Americans and the fact they fought against each other does not diminish their service to their country. Respectfully, Dwight Haven Kocher


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