by Ray Allen
Part 1 - Mama and Papa
Chapter 1: Mama's Family - The Moodys
That same year, over near Tampa, things were even more primitive than on the east coast. In the tiny farming community of Homeland, the young Benjamin Franklin Moody family was scratching out a living growing some citrus, and trying to raise other subsistence crops a few miles from the land homesteaded by Ben's father years before, along the wide Alafia River.
Young Ben was a very handsome man. Pictures show a strapping dark-haired young farmer with a lovely young bride named Nancy. They had had five children, but like so many young couples on the frontier, their marriage was marked with tragedy. In addition to the struggles to survive in a rugged wilderness, bearing her 5th child had been very difficult for Mrs. Moody, and she never really recovered. When she died, their three boys were 15, 13, and 11. The two girls were even younger. Adelaide was 8 and Ruth was just 1.
Even when she was a young girl, everyone noticed that Adelaide was particularly beautiful, thanks to her dad's good looks. Large wide-set eyes and thick dark hair made her a natural beauty. She was to be my grandmother.
1896 was just one year after her mother's death. And just six months after her father's remarriage. Ben really had no choice. With five children to raise, he had quickly married a woman from a neighboring farm named Harriet Waters. I was to hear all about her in later years.
A larger-than-life personality in Adelaide's young life was her grandfather, also named Benjamin Moody, the family patriarch. He was 85, a very old man for the frontier, and in the community, he was an important person. He had a long white beard, everyone called him "Old Benjamin" and he lived nearby with his third wife, Lydia. Old Benjamin was the veteran of five wars, a Methodist preacher, and a local legend for creating the first Methodist church in South Florida--in a log cabin on his homestead. He had fought in the Civil War, the Mexican War and all three Seminole Wars. He had served on the first Board of County Commissioners of Hillsboro County, the county that would one day be the home of the booming port of Tampa. And he was a signer of the "Elochoway Petition", the first petition for Florida statehood. Everybody knew and loved "Old Benjamin". He was a true pioneer.
In his time, when you were granted a "bounty land" homestead by the federal government for military service, the deal was clear. If you could hold the land for a certain number of years, it was yours free and clear. Holding it meant living on the land, staying alive and creating a way to make a living for yourself and your family. In the case of the Moodys, the Indians were the biggest threat. The mosquitoes were probably second. But they survived it all. Benjamin Moody was a natural leader, and had been at the head of all of the small community's affairs since his arrival.
That had been way back in the 1840s with his first wife, Nancy Hooker Moody, and their 7 children. The homestead he had received was unbroken wilderness, but it had promise. Mostly the magnificently wide, slow-flowing Alafia River afforded water and transportation. There was nothing else, really, except the Indians. The whole area was aflame with constant attacks and massacres. The Seminole Wars were some of the bloodiest in American history, and they never really ended.
After his wife died, old Benjamin married a widow from just across the river with two now-famous Florida names. She was Lydia Carlton Hendry. Her own family, the Carltons, were to figure prominently in Florida history, producing several Governors, judges and other important people. She had been married to James Hendry, and had had 11 children. It's easy to see that The Hendry family became important in south Florida. Today's Hendry County is nearby.
In 1854, when they were married, Lydia and old Benjamin had 18 mostly-grown children between them. They were both 43, but then had one more child together, a son. They named him Benjamin. This was Adelaide's father, the young Ben Moody who was about to move his family to Miami.
The 1890s had brought some severe frosts to the banks of the Alafia, and the resulting hardships had made life even more difficult. Part of pioneer life was discovering the climate of a new area, since no one trying to establish crops had any real experience in the region. In Florida, particularly, the pioneers counted on long frost-free growing seasons, since that was the great promise of their new sub-tropical home.
So due to the recent devastating freezes around Tampa, all the talk in Homeland in 1896 was about what was happening over in the little east coast town of Miami. There had been no freezes there. The new railroad was coming, and some friends of the Moodys were planning to move. The friends were the Burdine family, who lived on the next farm. The Moody and Burdine kids were best friends, and the two young families talked and talked about possibly pulling up stakes and undertaking the great adventure of moving where there might be more opportunity.
There is no record of the actual plans, of course. But in late 1896, the two families set out together by wagon, risking everything for lives in a new place. Crossing Florida then was not like it is today. What roads existed were all unpaved, and little more than paths through the woods or the Everglades saw grass. But like everything else they did, they managed to accomplish it, and arrived in the little waterfront town of Miami when Adelaide was 10. They arrived the same year as Mr. Flagler's railroad.
Soon after their arrival, the Moodys received the sad news that old Benjamin had died. It must have underscored the fact that they were beginning a whole new life, and there was no turning back. The Florida Methodist organization published an elaborate obituary, and the little Riverview Methodist Church, which had once been housed in old Benjamin's log cabin, hung a big portrait of Benjamin and Lydia over the main entrance as their founders, an old portrait that would be there forever.
The young family carried on, and first rented a house "on the ridge" in Coconut Grove. But just a few months later, they moved to a bigger rented place in Miami's downtown area.
The Moodys had decided a good way to make a living in their new hometown was to open a rooming house. After all, Mr. Flagler was building his most elaborate hotel--the Royal Palm on Miami's waterfront, and the town was full of workmen who needed places to stay. Mrs. Moody provided rooms for them, and strictly collected the rent each week. Ben Moody joined the workers and became a carpenter, and in time, more children were born, giving my grandmother half sisters and brothers. Adelaide was the oldest girl, and it was a Cinderella existence. Work was all she knew.
Two years after their arrival, in 1898, the Moody's friends from back home, the Burdines, opened a general store on Flagler Street, the first of its kind in Miami, and of course, the one that was destined to grow into one of the largest and finest department stores in the country.
After a few years, at the original store, where it still stands today (recently renamed as part of the Macy's chain) Adelaide Moody was hired as the Burdine's first non-family employee. She was 16, and with her good looks and pleasant personality, Mr. Burdine thought she was perfect for the store's new millinery department. She sold ladies' hats-the fashionable big ones with feathers and plumes. Of course, young girls didn't usually work in those days, but her stepmother insisted she bring home some income to help the struggling family. Adelaide happily complied, and enjoyed her work.
In the little town, nobody missed the particularly beautiful young girl working at Mr. Burdine's store. In short order, all the young men were talking about her, and when the tiny city held a parade one 4th of July, she was chosen to play the Statue of Liberty on a float the townspeople managed to create. We have a very old newspaper clipping of her riding down Flagler Street in long robe and spiked crown, holding the lamp of liberty aloft-the blushing star of one of those now-nostalgic American patriotic celebrations, with lots of fluttering flags and festive red, white and blue bunting. Surely it was a big event in sleepy little Miami.