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Ormond Causeway Drive n031678

Causeway Drive, Ormond, Fla. (ca. 1900) State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/141201

(Click photo to enlarge the image to see the buggy.)

Late-night skulking thuggery and robbery–robbery of ballot box Presidential votes–forced Ormond Beach to resort to a dummy ballot box of false ballots and a secret mission to prevent election-rigging.

It was November 1875, and Reconstruction after the Civil War still ruled the South, and much of Florida was (Southern) Democrat, the political party opposed to the Lincoln’s legacy of what the South saw as carpetbaggers and scalawags.

At the time, northerners were settling into Florida after the Civil War, and nine miles north of Daytona, families from New Britain, Connecticut, had established a town loyal to a unified United States. The land for this little river town along the Halifax River had been purchased only two years earlier in 1873, and the town was named New Britain (but was renamed as Ormond four years after the Presidential election).

The men of New Britain all sided with the Republican Presidential candidate Rutherford B. Hayes, but many Volusians supported Samuel Tilden, a Democrat; and four days before election day Sam Dow from New Britain sailed south on the Halifax to Port Orange to pick up the mail at the only post office in the area. With the temperature that day in the 50’s, it was breezy and chilly with a ten-mile-per-hour wind coming across the river from the ocean. When he arrived at Port Orange, he tied up his boat, the Tom Cat, at Jim Francis’s warehouse, and Dow stepped into the grocery and asked if there was any news to tell.

One of the men said that when he was at the post office he had overhead some West Volusia men saying that on Tuesday they were going to steal the New Britain ballots before they would get counted in Enterprise. (Enterprise was the county seat until the yellow fever epidemic of 1888, which, in part, caused the county seat to be moved to DeLand.)

Hearing about the conspiracy to rig the election, John Anderson (Sam Dow’s cousin) countered that the ballots would need to be protected by taking them to Enterprise without using the only road that connected Port Orange to Enterprise. In 1875 there was no road from New Britain (Ormond) to Daytona and no road from Daytona to Port Orange. Everyone used the Halifax River. [John Anderson is best remembered today by the road named after him along the east bank of the Halifax River in Ormond Beach.]

Loomis Day, the son of the founder of Daytona, was living in New Britain, and he suggested that a dummy ballot box be sent on the main road and he would take the real ballot box by the back trail through the woods to Enterprise. Anderson offered to take the dummy ballot box.

When the polls closed on Tuesday, Loomis Day took a mule named Old Bill to pull the buggy with the real ballot box to make the slow overnight trip through the dark woods, a distance, even on today’s modern roads, of nearly 40 miles (almost 80 miles round-trip). In 1875, using rutted forest trails, it was a longer and lonely trip, and rain was falling as dawn approached.

No ballots were eligible to be counted unless they had arrived at the elections office in the courthouse in Enterprise before the official counting was to be done at the start of day on Wednesday morning, but before sunup as Loomis Day stepped to the courthouse, an African American janitor was leaving with a broom and an umbrella in hand; and Day explained that he was delivering the ballots from the New Britain precinct, which surprised the janitor who told Day that he had heard that the New Britain ballots were lost on the way to Enterprise.

New Britain’s votes were counted, and although there were only 18 votes, all of them were for Rutherford B. Hayes, which made the difference–Hayes won the state of Florida by only 4 votes.

To write this I used these sources:

Ianthe Bond Hebel. Centennial History of Volusia County, Florida, 1854-1954.  Daytona Beach, Florida: College Publishing, 1955.

Gordon E. Kipp. A Day in Old Florida: Loomis Day’s Recollections of Early Daytona and Ormond. Ormond Beach, Florida: Ormond Beach Historical Trust, 2006. (This is the source of the historical incidents.)

Ormond Beach Historical Trust. Ormond Beach (Images of America series). Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 1999.