I traveled up through the heart of the Florida peninsula, through orange groves as far as the eye could see. I drove past vast Lake Okeechobee (which is, incidentally, 35 times bigger than Loch Ness but contains only 2/3's as much water...and is full of alligators). And went kayaking in Manatee Springs State Park. But now I've left the madness of Florida behind me; I've arrived in the Deep South.
The Creek Indians led a largely passive existence. For thousands of years, they lived off the land, hunting deer, alligators, turkey and quail; they basically kept themselves to themselves. But their peaceful life was shattered with the arrival of the white man and life as they knew it effectively ended on March 27th, 1814. Major General Andrew Jackson led United States forces in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, forcing the Indians off their land, claiming it for the ever-expanding union. Much of this land was absorbed into Georgia, the state formed by British General James Oglethorpe in 1733, named after King George II of England.
This captured land was the wild frontier, right on the edge of the developed world. Little was known of the place; only the brave ventured here. One such man was Thomas Jefferson Johnson. He quickly claimed land for himself and established Pebble Hill Plantation here in 1825. Obviously rather partial to his own name, he named the area around the plantation Thomas County and the emerging nearby town Thomasville.
I pulled into Thomasville from the south along the tree-shrouded Old Monticello Road. The mature oaks covered the road; Spanish moss hung from the branches like cobwebs on a ghost-train. Just beyond the vast tree trunks stood grand antebellum houses, painted white and pastel blue, large pillars supporting wooden balconies around the entire first and second floors, swing-benches sheltered from the sun, turrets rising out of the pointed roof lines. These weren’t modern houses built by a speculative developer. These were old houses, oozing class and elegance. There was money in this town. Real money. Old money.
Where had this money come from? I had my suspicions, not all of them savoury, and I had two days to find out.