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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

There's Always Something To Learn

Baby teeth. That’s what has been on my mind lately.

A kitten took up residence on our deck a couple of weeks ago and refused to go away, despite the lack of welcome by last year’s new resident, Valeria. I think there must be an invisible sign in our driveway that says “suckers live here,” and cats can read this and welcome themselves. We also were blessed with an older and pregnant cat last year. We named her Luella for my last living aunt; Valeria was named for an aunt-by-marriage. We managed to give all five of Luella’s kittens to good homes, but she was a disruptive presence compared with this fall’s arrival. He’s a joyous little boy, and we’ve decided to call him Eddie in honor of Hubby’s last uncle.

Eddie the kitten has a sense of humor much like Uncle Eddie, but in the feline family, this finds expression with running, jumping, stalking, and biting – which is why I was inspired to think about baby teeth. Although I’m sure it seems logical to him, we are trying to teach Eddie that biting our feet is not the best possible way to get the attention of people who are infinitely taller than he is. Human babies have to be several months old before they begin to cut teeth, something that nursing mothers appreciate. I didn’t know, though, whether or not other mammals are so considerate of their mothers, so I researched it. It turns out, according to reliable internet sources, that most baby animals are born with baby teeth.

Despite growing up on a farm, I never knew that even big mammals such as calves and colts have what the experts term “milk teeth” – or in even more expert jargon, “deciduous teeth.” I had known “deciduous” only in terms of trees that drop their leaves, as opposed to conifers, or evergreens, which do not. I had never witnessed nor even heard of anyone who witnessed this replacement of teeth in animals, so I called a friend who is a veterinarian. Yes, he said, kittens, puppies, and most other animals whose mothers nurse them are, in fact, born with baby teeth in their mouths. We rarely notice when they fall out and are replaced with permanent teeth because the animal usually swallows its loose tooth. The only major mammal born with permanent teeth is the piglet. No, I don’t know why. There’s always something to learn.

* * *

Last week I mentioned some downtown streets, including Fortune Street, which was named for African-American homesteader Fortune Taylor. I also cited Cass Street, without any explanation of its origin, and someone asked me. It was named for Lewis Cass, the 1848 Democratic nominee for president. Most of Tampa’s original streets were named by professional surveyor John Jackson – and he was a strong Democrat.

George Washington, you know, did not profess a political party, and there were none until he expressed his desire to retire after two terms. Washington’s vice president was John Adams; his secretary of state was Thomas Jefferson, and Adams became the second president in 1796 – but with several candidates, there were more electoral votes against Adams than for him. He responded by building the Federalist Party of conservatives, while Jefferson did the same with the Democratic Party and liberals. (Very broadly stated, as only property-owning Christian white men were eligible to vote.) Liberal Jefferson defeated conservative Adams in 1800, and you will notice that although we have streets named for Washington and Jefferson, there is no Adams Street in Tampa.

Democrats continued to carry the day with the elections and re-elections of James Madison and James Monroe, both protégés of Jefferson, and they are honored with Tampa street names. The election of 1824 was even more controversial than that of 1800, and it brought John Quincy Adams, who represented what was left of the old Federalists, to the White House -- even though Democrat Andrew Jackson had both more electoral votes and popular votes than Adams the Second. That was the same year that Fort Brooke began, but Tampa streets were not yet platted. A few, such as tiny Water Street, had vernacular names, but the city did not yet exist.

Voters made their liberal intentions clear in 1828, when Andrew Jackson defeated John Quincy Adams by a landslide. That marked the true end of the Federalists, and the opponents of Democrats became the Whig Party, the Liberty Party, and the “Know Nothings,” which was today’s version of the Tea Party -- except that instead of vilifying immigrants, they cursed Catholics. Andrew Jackson’s protégé Martin Van Buren won the 1836 election, but lost in 1840 to William Henry Harrison, an old Indian fighter and Whig who caught cold on inauguration day and died. His vice president, John Tyler, served out the term, and we have both Harrison and Tyler streets downtown. Polk Street is named for James K. Polk, also a Democrat, who won the 1844 election.

Surveyor John Jackson began naming Tampa streets in 1847, and he included both the Whig and the Democrat in the 1848 election. The loser was Democrat Lewis Cass, noted above, and the winner was Whig Zachary Taylor, whose name was shorted to “Zach.” This might have been a display of non-partisanship on the part of John Jackson, but it also could have been a nod to Zachary Taylor’s area presence: he had commanded Fort Brooke during the Second Seminole War. His wife, Margaret Mackall Taylor, and his daughter, Ann Taylor Wood, also lived at Fort Brooke, and they nursed soldiers through a malaria epidemic in the late 1830s.

Twiggs Street also dates to this era. Levi Twiggs was an officer assigned to Fort Brooke during the war against Florida’s natives, and like most other Fort Brooke soldiers, he went on to the war in Mexico – the one in which we grabbed Mexican territory from Texas to California. Twiggs died in combat in 1847, the same year that John Jackson began naming Tampa streets. Thus, when the 1848 election occurred, Zachary Taylor was an elderly army general. Like the earlier army man, William Henry Harrison, Taylor also died in office. His successor was Millard Fillmore, and that there is no street named for him correlates to the fact that Taylor/Fillmore won as Whigs. A Democrat, Franklin Pierce, won in 1852, and we have a Pierce Street.

The tradition skips the 1856 election, however, even though the Democratic nominee won. I suspect that is because John Jackson found James Buchanan’s administration to be to too conservative. A large number of the era’s other Democrats also were becoming more conservative as the Civil War loomed, especially in the South. In contrast, the new Republican Party, which ran its first nominee in 1856, was decidedly liberal. Most women who wanted to vote placed their hopes with the new party, and most of its founders were abolitionists -- radicals who wanted to upset the entire economic system by abolishing slavery. The “Free Soil” Party soon merged with the Republicans, working not only for an end to slavery in new territories, but also for their goal of free land. They won the 1860 election, and in 1862, a Republican Congress and President Abraham Lincoln granted their wish with the Homestead Act. It gave 160 acres of land to anyone who lived on it for five years, even part of a year. The greatest “entitlement” act ever, the program was a huge success.

* * *

But no Tampa street was named for Abraham Lincoln, nor for Lincoln’s successor Ulysses S. Grant, nor for Grant’s successor, Rutherford Hayes, who “won” in 1876. A street could have legitimately honored Samuel Tilden of Massachusetts, the Democrat whose victory was stolen that year by unconstitutional congressional actions. Much more than the 1848 loser, Lewis Cass, Tilden merited a street name. Namer-in-chief John Jackson still was alive, but I suspect he didn’t choose the 1876 Democratic loser because Tilden was from Massachusetts -- something that made him axiomatically suspect in the South.

So, to sum up, Lincoln, Grant, Hayes, and the following Republican, James Garfield, and his vice-presidential successor, Chester Arthur, got no street names – but the next president, Grover Cleveland, was a Democrat and does have a street. The 19th century’s last election was in 1896, when Republican William McKinley defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan. No street was named for Bryan, however, even though Tampans overwhelmingly preferred him. Not only was he was a very popular Democrat, but he also was kin to Florida Governor William Jennings (and later would retire to Miami). Oddly enough, we do have a McKinley Street – but it is far from downtown and I suspect was not named for the Republican president. That’s another thing I could research. I also need to research Morgan and Whiting streets, as well as to confirm that “Marion” honors Revolutionary war hero Francis Marion. Known as the “Swamp Fox” for his victories against the British in coastal marshes, he was especially a hero to South Carolinians – and the pioneer Lykes and Howell families came from there in the 1840s.

Just a few words on others. Franklin Street is named for Ben, of course, who also was a known liberal. Kennedy Boulevard was LaFayette, named for the great French revolutionary, until JFK was assassinated just a few days after riding down that boulevard in 1963. Ashley Street is our most interesting story, which I’ve told before. It honors William Ashley, a friend of platter John Jackson – and so liberal that Ashley married his longtime slave, Nancy, and instructed Jackson as his executor to put that fact on their tombstone. You still can see it at Oaklawn Cemetery, near I-275 and bounded by Harrison, Morgan, and Jefferson streets. The stone’s most compelling sentences read: “Stranger, consider and be wiser. In the grave all human distinction of race or caste mingle together in one common dust.”


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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