The Landing of the Scots

In the 1880s, The Florida Mortgage and Investment Co. had invested in Florida and was looking for colonizers to settle in Sarasota. Articles had been placed in newspapers in Scotland exclaiming the wonders of Sarasota. Scots John Browning, John Lawrie and others read these articles and were convinced that this was their future.

They wrote for an information pamphlet describing Sarasota in glowing terms. Karl Grismer, in the "The Story of Sarasota," stated that the pamphlet described that "an estate of forty acres in that marvelous land, and a town lot besides, could be purchased for only one hundred pounds sterling. In just a few years those Sarasota estates would be worth a fortune!"

Scottish families including the Brownings, Lawries and 51 other colonists paid for their 40-acre estates and town lots. They all gathered at Glasgow and were called the Ormiston Colony.

They arrived in New York City on Dec. 10, 1885. After spending three days in New York they boarded the steamship "State of Texas" and proceeded to Fernandina, arriving Dec. 17. The colonists then boarded a small train and arrived in Cedar Keys on Dec. 18. It was there that they were informed that the town was not built yet, but the lumber was waiting to be shipped.

They were told to wait and some of the colonists began to have misgivings of their venture. They were told that a town would be waiting for them. The colonists waited until after Christmas and then they chartered a steamer to finish the last leg of the journey.

On Dec. 28, 1885, the steamer came into Sarasota Bay. The colonists gathered to see their new home but could not find it. There was not a sign of a town anywhere up or down the coast. It was then that the colonists found out that the Town of Sarasota just existed on a map. They could only see a few rundown shacks and no streets to speak of.

According to Grismer in "The Story of Sarasota," "A. C. Acton, local representative of the Florida Mortgage & Investment Co., told them that they had come earlier than had been expected and that no houses for them had been provided. He admitted the town had not yet passed beyond the blueprint stage. But he insisted that everything would turn out well. He declared that Sarasota would quickly become the finest city in all of Florida. He declared that there were millions of dollars behind this investment and that the company was determined to make it a success."

Settlers came to greet the newcomers, including members of the Whitaker, Abbes, Crockers and Tatums families. They helped the colonists get settled the best way they could. The colonists began to look for their "40 acres" and soon found out that many were miles from the "town" and were only good for cattle ranges.

However, many were determined to stay and began to work the land but found the work to be very hard and painful. These colonists were not farmers and knew nothing of working Florida soil. To make matters worse, on Jan. 9, 1886, it snowed. Discouraged and worried about their futures, the colonists began to leave by the end of January 1886. Many felt they would starve if they stayed. All money invested by them was lost and many had to borrow money to travel north to stay with friends or relatives. By May 1, 1886, only the Browning family and a few others remained.

Although the colony failed, the company began to cut streets, built a dock, provide temporary houses and built a rooming house. The "town" that was promised to the colonists slowly emerged. The Florida Mortgage and Investment Co. did eventually build the town that it promised.

Sarasota would struggle to grow for the next decade but the earlier settlers and the remaining colonists laid the foundation of the Sarasota of today.

Historical Society of Sarasora . Mark D. Smith, archivist