Charles Blacker Vignoles (31 May 1793 – 17 November 1875) He was born at Woodbrook, County Wexford, Ireland. Having been orphaned when very young, he was brought to England and raised by his grandfather, Professor of Mathematics at the Woolwich Royal Military Academy. He trained in mathematics and law and was articled to a proctor in Doctors' Commons. Deciding to give up the practice of law, Vignoles left home in 1813.
Because his parents died while his father was a serving officer, he had been gazetted as an ensign on half pay from the age of eighteen months. He entered Sandhurst as the private pupil of Thomas Leybourn, one of the lecturers who was also guardian of Mary Griffiths. Charles and she became engaged in secret and later married.
In 1814 Vignoles gained a commission in the Royal Scots regiment, serving at Bergen op Zoom and then in Canada. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1815. After a spell in Scotland, he became aide-de-camp at Valenciennes to General Sir Thomas Brisbane under the command of Wellington following the Peninsular War. When the war was over, Vignoles and others were put on half pay in 1816. He sought alternative employment, although he did not formally resign his commission until 1833.
Marriage and family Returning to England, Vignoles married Mary Griffiths at Alverstoke in Hampshire on 13 July 1817. They had a child Camilla.
Working in the United States He soon set sail for America. Originally intending to serve under Simón Bolívar. He became an assistant to the state civil engineer at Charleston in South Carolina where they arrived in September 1818. He was given quarters at Fort Moultrie without charge. He had a son born in Charleston, Charles Ferdinand, in August of 1819. In 1820 he did a surveying expedition on the banks of the Savannah River and neighbouring islands.
On his return to South Carolina he again began to survey plantations. He was commissioned by the city of Charleston for a complete set of plans and he finished a map of the state of South Carolina. While he was in South Carolina his wife had another child, Thomas, in England.
In 1821 he became the city surveyor for St Augustine, Florida, which was slowly being developed. By July 3 he was making "a superb plan of St. Augustine and a propos of plans...On August 21 he wrote from St. Augustine: "Almost immediately on my arrival I was nominated Surveyor and Civil Engineer for this city; but the incessant heavy rains which have fallen in the southern parts of America have rendered the country very unhealthy."
He was given a certificate in St. Augustine: St. Augustine, East Florida: August 28, 1821. These are to certify-- that Mr. Charles Vignoles was, during the latter end of the year 1817, and the whole of 1818, employed under the sanction and orders of his Excellency Andrew Pickens, Governor of the State of South Carolina, as an assistant engineer, surveyor, and draftsman to the State Engineer, for which he received a fixed salary.
That during the year 1819 he was engaged by his Excellency John Geddes, Governor of that State, as a surveyor on behalf thereof, to make surveys and maps of the sea-coast of Carolina, at a stated salary of $2,000 per annum. that during the year 1820 he was engaged under a special contract, to the amount of $3,700, to make surveys and maps of the southwestern section of the State of South Carolina, from the mouth of Combahee River, including the harbours of Port Republican, Dawfuskie, and Tybee, the left bank of Savannah River, and sixty miles into the interior of the country.
That the said Charles Vignoles has also acted as a private surveyor, and his plots and returns have been recognised by the courts of law and equity in the said State of South Carolina.
Certified by the subscribers, resident during the aforesaid period in Charleston.
Signed by Colonel Chambers. John Geddes, Esqre. Charles Robins, and the French Consul.
In October 1821 he wrote about his appointment as 'city surveyor and engineer,' He wrote: "I am here at the head of my profession, but the public caprice is uncertain. I am likely however, to make money as a land agent as well as surveyor.'
By December 1821 Vignoles had surveyed the northeastern coast of Florida from the border of Georgia southwart to the 27.5 degree of latitude, and had drawn a map of that coastline.
On December 19, 1821 he received a letter from Captain Bell acting Indian Agent for the American government.
St. Augustine: December 19, 1821. Sir, --- In acknowledging the receipt of your letter of yesterday, accompanied by a map of East Florida from the Georgia line to the twenty-seventh and a half degree of latitude, together with a report on the geography and soil of the country, which at this time is very interesting and important information for the Government authorities at Washington, permit me, Sir, for myself and in behalf of the head of the War Department, before whom these papers will be placed, to tender you thanks for the signal services you have rendered me in the discharge of the various duties I have been called upon to perform in the affairs of this province. Also to express to you the sense I feel of the great value of your talents and accomplished acquirements, as thus rendered to the Government of your adopted country, with the sincere hope on my part that a more solid remunerationmay be offered you for these services by the liberality of the Secretary of War, who, I believe, is not slow to reward the meritorious who devote their services to the State.
Believe me, &c., &c., R Bell Capt. 4th Regt. U. S. Artillery, and Acting Indian Agent.
In February 1822 he writes: "The dreadful malady [yellow fever] which devasted this city had the effect of stopping all business, and I have scarcely done more than pay my way. I set out tomorrow to Capes Sable and Florida, thence to the Tortugas, and up to tampa Bay, and back to this place overland. I shall be accompanied by General Scott, of the U. S. Army, and his staff, the surveying portion being under my control. All this is part of my original plan of manking a new map of Florida, to be published with a memoir in June next.
He was listed by William G. D. Worthington, territorial secretary and acting governor of East Florida as Public Translator and Interpretor of French and Spanish Languages in the "Register of Public Officials of East Florida.
On March 31, 1822 he wrote: I have extended my acquaintance to the principal towns in the United States, and my reports upon this country are published, and are considered a standard authority. But for the uncertainty of postage, I would send you a Boston newspaper, in which I am spoken of in the highest terms. I have been continually travelling since Christmas, and in a few days shall again set out on a two months' journey. On my return I shall complete my map, which is to be published immediately afterwards. In the meantime, however, I have a hard struggle.
He would move to New York city to publish his book and map. He had sent a collection of Florida plants to Dr. Mitchell of New York.
The map was engraved by Mr. Henry S.Tanner in Philadelphia and the book was published by Bliss and White of New York as Observations on the Floridas, by Charles Vignoles, civil and Topographical Engineer, 1823 The title was registered on March 1, 1823.
Struggling financially, Vignoles in May 1823 returned to Britain when his grandfather died.
Charles Blacker Vignoles is also the designer of the typical flat-bottom rail section now standard on railway tracks used around the world.
Vignoles most impressive work was done in mainland Europe. In Russia he built the Kiev Bridge over the River Dnieper (1847-53) and the Tudela & Bilbao Railway in Spain (1857-64).
He became a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1827, and its 15th President in 1869. Elected as a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society on 9 January 1829. In 1841, he had become the first Professor of Civil Engineering at University College, London. 1855 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society and published Observations on the Floridas (1823). Founding member of the Photographic Society of London. 1855, served as a member of the royal commission on the Ordnance Survey, and was connected with the Royal Irish Academy and the Royal Institution.
A New Map of Florida (City Gazette and Commercial Daily Advertiser, November 13, 1822) Early in October, will be published, A New Map of Florida, compiled from recent actual surveys and observations, and also from authentic documents, made and collected during a residence in that country.
To accompany the Map, but for the public convenience issued separately, at the same time, Observations Upon the Floridas, from original notes taken during several journies [sic] in the interior, particularly through parts hitherto unexplored, and information drawn from the most authentic sources, By Charles Vignoles, Civil and Topographical Engineer, lately of South Carolina; and at present a resident Surveyor of East Florida.
The Map will be about 26 inches square, delineated on a scale of 20 miles to the inch the whole of the principal and almost all the tributary water courses and the chief lakes will be laid down; the existing carriages roads and all the main Indian paths, the names of places of entertainment, &c. will be noted --- the local appellations being carefully retained to avoid confusion, as it will be an object to render the Map as convenient and useful as possible to travellers; independent of the general details, all large grants of land will be located as far as is practicable.
The accompaning book will contain a review of the state of the province in a statistical and civil light, for a few years previous to and at the time of its Cession.
A summary description of the country in general as respects soil, climate and topographical details, with remarks on the different appropriate cultures, particularly coffee, sugar, Cuban tobacco and fruit.
An abstract as far as is obtainable of all the grants made by the Spanish authorities in the Floridas, with the names of the original grantees, &c. explanations of the principal [sic] upon which lands were generally conceded, and an account of the different laws, royal orders &c authorizing the Gouvernors to make grants.
Such information respecting the Indians, the wrecking systems among the Keys and Reefs, and other general points as they may be considered useful or interesting to the public.
The price will be made as low as possible, it being presumed that the Map and Pamplet may be issued at a sum not exceeding $3 for both. Names of Subscribers for the Map and Book will be received at this Office until the 1st September next, and the copies will be accordingly forwarded as soon as published, payable on delivery
St. Augustine, June 29, 1822.
His book credits the manuscripts of George I. F. Clarke, Esq. surveyor general of East Florida, and lieutenant-governor of the northern district of that province, while under the dominion of Spain. He also credits N. A. Ware, Esq. a commissioner of land claims who gave general ideas of what to include. The St. Mary's River on the map was from the manuscript survey of Zephaniah Kingsley, Esq.
Observations - George Clarke St. Augustine, 25th July, 1821
Capt. John R. Bell, Commanding the province of East Florida.
The following is intended to comply with your desire of information on the northern division of this province; and in order to your comprehending the true state of that section, and the character of its inhabitants, to whom, as the officer that presided over them for the last five years, I feel grateful for their confidence, their devotion, and their support, permit me to recapitulate a part of its history; and first to premise; that it is bounded on the north by Camden county, Georgia, the southernmost part of the Atlantic states; the river St. Mary, the line of demarcation, and a very narrow one, has long been the "jumping place" of a large portion of the bad characters who gradually sift through the whole southwardly; war climates are congenial to bad habits. Second, that, unfortunately for Florida, the laws of both governments had the effect of making each country the asylum of the bad men of the other; consequently, Florida must have received, we will suppose, twenty of those for one it returned to Georgia. this must be the result, on taking only a numerical view of the population of the two countries. And thirdly, that by the orders of the Spanish court, prohibiting citizens of the United States from being received as settlers in Florida, the only part from whence it was ever to expect a population sufficiently large to make it respectable, the good were prevented from coming in, while the bad must come. The result of an observation, perhaps inadvertent; made in congress long since, Florida must ultimately be ours, if only from emigration, and loudly commented on by the Spanish minister.
The revolution, commenced in March, 1812, had spread general desolation and ruin over the whole province; the dust of a siege had been thirteen months snuffed within the walls of St. Augustine. On the 6th May, 1813, the assailants were withdrawn, and the town of Fernandina was restored to the Spanish authorities.
The Spanish government had published a general pardon to its subjects, but, unfortunately, had limited it to three months, a time too short for the ehullition of individual feelings to subside. Many, and those of the most energetic and influential character, would not trust themselves among the opposite party. The time expired, and those were consequently left out. and in August, of the same year, hostilities re-commenced; more sanguinary scenes ensued; and the insurgents aided by bands of idlers from Georgia, took and kept possession of all the territory lying to the west and north of St. John's river. Fernandina having become too weak for offence, and St. Augustine not being willing to let out all its troops, to hunt "bush fighters," the newly styled Republic of Florida, over which the influence of order had not been felt since March, 1812, and having now no compulsive inducement to union among its members, soon fell into the most wretched state of anarchy and licentiousness; even the honest were compelled to knavery in their defence, and thus continued until august, 1816--- while the most rancorous feelings were bandied between the "Pat-Riots" of the main, and the "damn'd Spaniards" of Amelia island.
At that period preparations were making on the main for a descent on Fernandina, then too weak to stand even on the defensive and no succors were to be expected from our friends, nor was there any thing like good quarters to be looked for from our enemies. Governor Coppinger had lately received the command of the province. I knew his energetic and benevolent character; that his discretionary powers were very great, but his want of means, deplorable; and I personally knew the people of the main, and had had in other days, influence among them. I proposed a plan of reconciliation and re-establishment of order. It was patronized by the governor, and I received orders to proceed according to circumstances. Messrs, Zephaniah Kingsley and Henry Younge went with me up St. Mary's river to Mills' ferry, and met about forty of them, and after much debate an agreement for a general meeting at Waterman's Bluff in three weeks, was concluded on.
The day of meeting arrived, and none others but the gentlemen I have mentioned would leave Fernandina. We knew that nothing short of an election of officers would subdue those people, even should they be willing to submit to order at all; and that was a course opposite to the principles of the Spanish government. However, extraordinary cases require extraordinary remedies; and circumstances authorising a long stride, I provided several copies of a set of laws adapted to their circumstances, blank commissions, instructions, &c. A gathering of several hundred, besides a crowd of spectators from Georgia, met us at the place appointed, a mere mob without head or leader. I tendered them a distribution into three districts of all the territory lying between St. John's river and St. Mary's, with a magistrate's court and a company of militia in each; and those to be called Nassau, Upper and Lower St. Mary's; an election of officers from the mass of the people of each, without allowing the candidates to offer themselves; that the officers to be elected should be immediately commissioned to enter on the functions of their offices; and that all the past should be buried in total oblivion. These were received by a general expression of satisfaction; a table was brought out on the green, and in a few hours a territory containing about one half of the population of Florida was brought to order; three magistrates and nine officers of militia elected, commissioned, instructed and provide laws. Every demonstration of satisfaction ensued; they took up their officers on their shoulders, hailed by the shouts of hundreds. A plentiful feast and many interesting scenes of friendship and mirth closed the important day.
His excellency approved of the proceedings, and tendered me a superintending jurisdiction on the whole, which I admitted, on his consenting to strike out Amelia island; that had a commandant who had a plenty of leisure to attend to the complaints of Fernandina, and I have ever since allowed them the election of officers in filling up vacancies.
Such have been the confidence and resignation of those people, that all complaints and appeals that should have gone before the superior courts at St. Augustine, have been referred to me for an opinion, and those opinions have ever been voluntarily conclusive, to any amount. And such their devotion to the government, that at the shortest notice, any part or the whole force of the three districts has met me at the place appointed, mounted, armed and victualled, each at his own expense.
Three facts speak volumes in favor of those inhabitants: --- First, that in five years there has not been one appeal and but one complaint to their superior authorities, in St. Augustine, although the right road to both has all the while been open. Second, that Georgians prefer suing Floridians in that part of Florida to suing them in Georgia. Thrid, that the credit of Floridians stands higher in Georgia than ever it did before, from whence they get all their supplies. Such is the deplorable state of human nature, that a robbery or a murder will occur in the best regulated societies; within a fortification; but I can venture to assert, that in no part of the civilized world do fewer irregularities occur among so many inhabitants, than in the northern division of this province.
I would caution, that when the people of Florida are spoken of with censure, some regard would be paid to the person speaking, as to who he is, or from whence he gets his information; to the period to which reference is had, and the part of Florida alluded to. I am aware that the time has been when these were censurable, for they were above four years in a state of anarchy; the broadside of their country open to the idle and vicious of Georgia; and even after they were called to order, in 1816, some time was required for purification, by compelling many to decamp, and others to mend their manners. And on the other side of St. John's river, under another local jurisdiction, many who were hunted out from the northern division found toleration.
We knew that a practice called Lynch's law had done more good in Georgia in a few months, before Florida was found to be an ayslum for the vicious, than the civil authority could have done in as many years in that part of the country; and we were aware that some such energetic measure was indispensible to accelerate our purification. Fines, floggings and banishment, therefore, became the penalties for all wilful injury committed on the property of another, not as a law of Spain, but as a special compact of the people. A man who stole his neighbor's cow, was tried by a congress of from twenty to thirty persons of his district, summoned for the purpose, and on being clearly convicted, he was sentenced to receive, tied to a pine tree, from ten to thirty-nine lashes, to the amount of his sentence; and the second offence of the same class was punished by flogging and banishment from the districts. A few such examples firmly managed, and executed under the rifles selected from a company, drawn up for the purpose, (and but few were required) did us more good than a board of lawyers, and a whole wheel-barrow of law books could have done.
A mere remonstrance was sufficient to reduce to a small amount, on our side of St. Mary's river, the very grievous evil of parties of Floridians and Georgians combined, going frequently to the indian country of Florida to plunder cattle; a lucrative practice that had been going on for years, and was carried to such excess, that large gangs of cattle could be purchased along that river, at the low price of from two to three dollars per head. Efforts to suppress it altogether, we found to be in vain, without a suitable coincidence on the Georgia side; and experience had shown that the civil authority was too heavy booted to make much impression on those "moggasin boys." I then wrote to General Floyd, who commanded a part of the Georgia militia, and his prompt and efficient aid soon enabled us to put a finishing stroke to a practice replete with the worst of evils.
When General McGregor got possession of Fernandina, he was in the belief that he had conquered Florida to the walls of St. Augustine, and that there was nothing more to be done, as related to those people, but display his standard, fill up his ranks, and march to the possession; and under that impression he brought several sets of officers. But neither the offers, threats nor intrigues of himself and his successors, Irvin, Hubbard and Aury, and their many friends in many places, could bring one of them to his flag. Whereas, when a call was made for volunteers to commence in advance the expedition formed in St. Augustine, for the re-capture of Amelia island, every man turned out, well equipped, not exceting the superannuated. We go possession of all Amelia island to the very town of Fernandina, and kept it for several days awaiting the troops from St. Augustine. During that time twenty- seven of these men sought for, gave battle to, drove from the field, and pursued to within the range of the guns of Fernandina, above one hundred of McGregor's men, with the loss of seven killed and fourteen wounded, and without having lost one drop of blood on our side; leaving us to bury their dead. The reverses that afterwards attended that expedition were wholly to be attributed to the conduct of the commanding officer who arrived from St. Augustine.
When the constitutional government was ordered in Florida, a few months since, some small alterations were made in the laws of those districts. They were but small, for the laws handed them in 1816 were principally bottomed on the same constitutional government, which had been in force in this province in 1813 and 14. But the administration of St. Augustine having been pleased to form the whole province, about fifty thousand square miles, into one parish making that city the centre, so far defalcated what those people conceived their constitutional rights, that they petitioned government; and not getting what they expected, they had in meditation to send a representative to the captain-general of Cuba, and further should it be necessary, when the near approach of the surrender of the province to the United States levelled all dissentions.
Those three districts contain about one half of the population of East Florida, say about fifteen hundred souls, and embrace three fourths of the agricultural interest of the whole province. They are very thinly settled, and form one of the most inferior sections of Florida, as relates to good lands, and indeed many other natural advantages. The causes that have congregated so large a portion of the industrious part of the population into one of the least delectable sections, are these. Its vicinity to Georgia, a populous country, bordering on the river St. Mary, a near and ready market for their produce and their supplies, and the facility of avoiding duties of exports and imports; the occupancy or neighborhood of Indians in better sections; the want of protections; the want of a population sufficient to protect itself; and revolutionary broils with government, forced upon us by foreigners in their over-strained assiduity for our welfare, gagging us with freedom, the most free, civilized people perhaps in the world, and would fain lately have put it down our throats with negroes' bayonets. [Vide the Jenett, the Mathews, and the McGregor invasions, in 1794, 1812, and 1817.]
East Florida was literally evacuated by the British, when delivered to the Spanish authorities in 1784. Perhaps no such other general emigration of the inhabitants of a country, amicably transferred to another government, ever occurred. Spain allowed it many extraordinary privileges, such as were not enjoyed by any other part of her dominions, and continued augmenting them ever since. In 1792, Florida was opened to a general emigration, without exception of country or creed; and it was rapidly progressing to importance, when the report of the Spanish minister I have mentioned, closed the gates against American citizens, some time about 1804, and virtually shut us in from the world as a to large population.
The decline of this province must be dated from that period, in which a very large portion of the convulsions of Europe necessarily fell to the share of Spain, from her contiguity to imperial France, and which called her attentions and resources to objects of more consideration. But that decline was graduated by the nature of things to a slow progression, and we had other fair prospects in our favour, notwithstanding the prohibition of a population from the United States, when the troubles of 1812 spread, in one year, universal ruin. The war between the United States and Great Britain, and the visit of McGregor, following in close succession, almost every one, who had the means of migrating, abandoned a country so much and so unmeritedly affected.
Your obedient servant, Geo. I. F. Clarke.
Letter to John R. Bell from Gab. G. Perpall from Joseph M. Hernandez, Josiah Smith, F. M. Arredondo, Bernardo Segui, Guillermo Travers John R. Bell, Esq., Captain of the United States Artillery. St. Augustine, December 21, 1822
When a people receives from its rulers the protection due to the persons and property of the individuals who compose it, when such rulers cause the laws to be observed, and when their actions are guided by the general good, so that their fulfilment of their august charge, is consonant with the duties imposed on them by society, they make themselves at the same time, worthy of the esteem and gratitude of that community over whom they have presided.
The Floridians call to mind with pleasure the short but satisfactory period, when in you sir were united the civil and military command of this province, wherein we are aware you acted as far as was practicable for the public welfare, in the administration of justice; and consequently it was not with an ear of indifference that the sentence given by the court of this country was heard, amercing you in the sum of three hundred and seventeen dollars and four reals, for a proceeding, in which your sense of equity could not allow you to act otherwise than you did. It is not to be understood however, that the award of the court is called arbitrary or unjust; the people are too well aware of the respect due to all tribunals to attempt to trench upon their prerogatives: but they however know, that under the circumstances in which you gave the order, in consequence of which this fine has been laid, such a measure was necessary for the tranquillity of this place. In a country recently taken possession of by another government different in its laws, language and customs, wherein the new authorities have no definite knowledge of its inhabitants, its necessities, in a word of any thing, there must naturally result in the changes from one administration to the other some defects which are consequences of the confusion reigning upon the establishment of a new system. What a vast field was there not opened for felons to commit in this state every species of crime; and who is there that doubts the propriety of rigorous measures being adopted against them in the very outset?
Under these views, the inhabitants and the proprietors of this city have been pleased to appoint us the subscribers to express to you their sentiments; and we therefore, have the satisfaction of being their organs, for the purpose of offering the just tribute of gratitude to merit; and they beg that you sir, will condescend to allow, that the damages be paid by them, we being authorised to deliver the amount immediately.
This is a general wish of the people, who can duly appreciate men, who, like yourself, have gained the esteem of many adherents, among whom are ranked.
Your most obedient and affectionate servants.
Gab. G. Perpall Joseph M. Hernandez Josiah Smith F. M. Arredondo, Bernardo Segui Guillermo Travers
St. Augustine 22d December, 1821.
Gentlemen, I received your letter of this morning. The various emotions it has excited it is impossible for me to express. The language of feeling is brief; and I must reply to it with the bluntness and sincerity of my profession.
I was called upon to exercise the undefined and dangerous powers entrusted to me by the governor of the Floridas. I would willingly have evaded this invidious trust, but I was commanded, and it was my duty to obey. I was not promised, have not expected, nor have I received any benefit for my services. I found myself called upon to protect a virtuous and industrious people, from the rapacity and violence of adventurers from every part of the world who looked for redemption from punishment, form the absence, as they supposed, of all law and government. I was actuated by a sincere desire of protecting the rights of the citizens of Florida, committed to my charge, without any regard to their being Spanish or American. I did not think it necessary to ascertain with legal precision, whether my powers were to be measured by the limits imposed by the old or new constitution of Spain. The good of all, the peace of the whole community were my only rule of conduct. I had no antipathies to indulge in, no resentments to satisfy. I was a stranger to all. If I have erred, if the verdict of a jury of my countrymen should at some future period, be brought up in array against me when circumstances are forgotten, I will powerfully appeal for my acquittal to your affectionate letter, and challenge the world to pronounce the person guilty of tyranny and oppression, who has received so unanimous a testimonial of approbation of his administration, from a people so feelingly alive to a sense of injustice, so warm hearted and so generous. I cannot therefore decline your offer.
The time is not far distant, when under the favoring influence of the American constitution, the virtues of the antient inhabitants and proprietors of Florida will be duly appreciated, when they will have to claim and will assert their right to the exercise of government, and when the base individuals, who now endeavour to set one portion of the community in array against the other, will receive due execration.
Be pleased to present my affectionate regard to the gentleman whose sentiments of approbation you have conveyed, and for yourselves, receive the gratitude for the feeling language in which it has been expressed.
I remain your affectionate servant.
[signed] Jno. R. Bell.
To Messrs. Perpall, Hernandez, Smith, Arrendondo, Segui and Travers.
On the part of the inhabitants and proprietors of the city of St. Augustine.
Map of Florida Charles Blacker Vignoles with selections from Observations on the Floridas