Newtown’s Timeline

Evolution over the last century

The first free African Americans began to settle in Sarasota in 1884.  They and their descendants have been important partners in the development of Sarasota’s institutions, infrastructure, culture and social history. They helped carve Sarasota out of the wilderness by clearing snake infested land for real estate developers, laying railroad ties, building houses, roads and bridges; planting and harvesting citrus and celery, and helping to plat golf courses. They were an integral part of Sarasota’s early days as a thriving community, working for the Ringling Circus, tapping pine trees to collect resin for turpentine, mining dolomite  and laboring as domestics and drivers for the city’s affluent white residents.

Enterprising residents established their own businesses to survive Jim Crow segregation. Survival was the priority, then when basic needs were met, community leaders focused on equal rights and political representation.


The War of 1812

The War of 1812 begins. In West Florida, British forces enlist both Blacks and Native Americans. The ensuing fight in the region becomes known as the Patriots War. Sarrazota (also known as Angola) existed in the Tampa Bay-Sarasota-Manatee area. Florida was a sovereign territory of Spain. Free people of color, formerly enslaved Africans (some were called Black Seminoles and Seminole Indians) lived along the Manatee River in a farming community that stretched into Sarasota.


The Patriots War

During the Patriots War, more Blacks ally with the British. Their forces are defeated. In 1815, the British leave a fort at Prospect Bluff on the Apalachicola River to Blacks where they reside and create villages nearby with Native American allies. The place becomes known as Negro Fort.


U.S. Navy Attacks Prospect Bluff Fort

Under the direction of then Gen. Andrew Jackson, the U.S. Navy attacks Prospect Bluff Fort. A cannon ball strikes the fort’s stockpile of ammunition causing an explosion that instantly kills about 270 of 320 inhabitants. Some survivors, including the fort’s Black commandant Garcon, were executed. Displaced Blacks moved south and throughout Florida.


Jeffrey Bolding

Jeffrey Bolding, formerly enslaved in North Carolina came to the area in 1857 and worked for the Whitaker Family. He died at age 70 in 1904.


Sarasota’s first black settler.

Lewis Colson came to Sarasota with his wife Irene and assisted Richard Paulson in platting the town of Sarasota at Five Points in 1885. Sarasota was platted by the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company, a Scottish entity. 


Colson worked with Robert E. Paulson

 In 1885 Colson worked with Robert E. Paulson to survey and plat the original town of Sarasota for the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company.


Lewis and Irene Colson sold the deed

In 1897 Lewis and Irene Colson sold the deed for the land to build Bethlehem Baptist Church for $1.


The first African American church

In 1899, Bethlehem Baptist Church was the first church built by and for African Americans. John Mays, a carpenter and builder helped complete the construction of the church.

Colson appointed first minister of Bethlehem Baptist Church.

In 1899, Lewis Colson was appointed as the first minister of Bethlehem Baptist Church.

Twelve African American churches founded

Between 1899 and 1937, twelve more African American churches are founded.


Leonard Reid arrived in Sarasota

In 1900, Leonard Reid arrived in Sarasota from South Carolina. He graduated as valedictorian from Savannah Normal School before coming to Sarasota where he became a community leader.


Leonard Reid Worked for Mayor Colonel John Hamilton Gillespie

In 1902, Sarasota is incorporated. Colonel John Hamilton Gillespie is elected as the first mayor. Leonard Reid worked for Col. Gillespie and assisted in designing Sarasota’s first golf course and became its first greenskeeper.


Second African American Church

In 1903, Payne Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church was the second church built by and for African Americans. Leonard Reid and wife Eddye Coleman were influential in forming this church.

The Railroad in Sarasota

Arrival of Sarasota’s railroad in 1903


Gillespie Golf Course opened

Between the years 1905 and 1925, the Gillespie Golf Course was opened.


Josie Washington opened the first kindergarten in her home

In 1910, Josie Washington opened the first kindergarten in her home. Lucinda Wiggins also started a home-based school.  


First formal school facility for African American children

In 1912, the first formal school facility for African American children was established in the Knights of Pythias Hall. Emma Edwina Booker, who Wright Bush helped to recruit, became the principal.


Mt. Moriah Church

Mt. Moriah Christian Church is established in the year of 1913.


The first addition to the Newtown

In 1914, the first addition to the Newtown Plat was filed on August 6,  creating 74 additional lots.

Newtown was established

In the year of 1914, Newtown was established. The neighborhood was platted by C.N. Thompson and son on April 20. The subdivision contained 240 lots on forty acres designated “exclusively for colored people.”


New organizations established

In 1916, the Free and Accepted Masons, Pride of Sarasota Lodge, Knights of Pythias, and St. Mary’s Calanthe Court organizations were established.


The Selective Service

Congress passed the Selective Service Act on May 18, 1917.

World War I Recruits

Recruiting officer Charles Ayler (from Bradenton) recruited black and white men to serve for battle in WWI, October 2,  1917.


“Colored Selects” Recruited

More than 100 “Colored Selects” recruited from Sarasota and Bradenton were sent to train as Army soldiers at Camp Devens, Massachusetts on August 4, 1918.

Truevine Missionary Baptist Church established

In the year of 1918, Truevine Missionary Baptist Church is established.