With roots from England, John Hanahan Sams became a Florida pioneer on Merritt Island Florida in the late 1800s. His property is now a site for visitors, conservationists and archeologists. John H. Sams Homestead is open to the public daily.
Ancestral immigrant of Florida pioneer John Hanahan Sams: In the book The Sams Family of South Carolina published by the SC Historical Society, I learned that Bonham Sams, Jr. was the immigrant ancestor of the Sams family of Merritt Island, Florida. Bonham came from Somerset England and was the only one of his siblings to come to America in the 1600s.
Homestead built in Florida is a landmark today: Since I live in Brevard County, Florida, the county seat of Merritt Island, I am interested in all things Brevard. Bonham’s descendant John Hanahan Sams, son of William and Sarah Adams Reynolds Sams was born February 11, 1839 in Saint John’s Parish, Old Colleton County, SC. John graduated from St. Timothy in Baltimore and served in the Confederate Army as a Private in the Third Regiment of the South Carolina Cavalry during the Civil War. In 1865 he married his cousin Sarah Stanyarne Sams, the daughter of Berners Barnwell Sams. Following his learning that Florida established a homestead act welcoming residents to move there, John moved his family from Beaufort SC to Eau Gallie, FL in 1875, whereupon he became a Florida pioneer.
Together John and his wife Sarah with their five children along with John’s brother and sister joined the homesteaders, building a 600 sq. ft. cabin with three rooms in Eau Gallie. Other family members lived on nearby Merritt Island, one of two barrier islands east of the Cocoa area of Brevard. Following a crop failure John decided to move his home and family to Merritt Island. In order to make a second move in 1878 they deconstructed their cabin and moved the pieces on a raft along the Indian River Lagoon to Merritt Island. This reconstructed cabin is believed to be the oldest dated structure on Merritt Island per waymarking.com. It is attached today to the kitchen of his second residence, a vernacular 1260 sq. ft. two-story home built by Sams.
Occupations of John Hanahan Sams. In Florida he served as Brevard County’s first school superintendent for 40 years, beginning in 1880. As with many families in the 1800s he also grew crops; in his case, citrus fruits and pineapples. I believe he operated his packing house on the land also. He had acquired a grant for 156 acres in 1884 which allowed this fruit production acreage.
John Hanahan Sams’ death: John died in the early 1920s and his family continued to live on the homestead until 1995. Today this is the John H. Sams Homestead historical site for all to visit in North Merritt Island’s Pine Island Conservation Area. This historical site is also now the management and education center the Environmentally Endangered Lands Program’s Pine Island Conservation Area.
Archaeological findings: There have been several archeological digs on the homestead land. Discoveries include a prehistoric Native American occupation site. Findings cover the Middle Archaic Period of 5000 to 3500 BC through the Malabar I period of 500 BC-AD 750. I live near Malabar and always wondered about the origin of that name. Now I know more.
Per the Sams House website, this is also a pleistocene fossil site. Findings include potsherds, tool marking flakes, coquina grinding stone, spear points, dishes, broken bottle pieces, square nails, and bones of animals. Who knows, during their diggings perhaps they will find a human bone or two!
Recently the Sams House was renovated. Staff uses most of the lower floor and there are bunk-bed rooms on the second floor for volunteers, such as members of the Sierra Club while visiting on projects.
Great pictures of Sams House and family photos and more can be seen on Facebook.
Sams House is located at 6195 N. Tropical Trail on Merritt Island; the phone number is 321-255-4466. It is evidently open from Thursday through Saturday 9am to 5pm. This may change, so do call. Trails are open October through April from 7am to 6pm and May through Sept from 7am to 8pm.
I love history, genealogy and Florida. Hope you enjoyed this combination article. Donna