Douglass D. Dummitt (1784-1857)
Freeze of 1835
Second Seminole War
Douglass D. Dummitt (sometimes spelled Dummett) was born in 1784 on the island of Barbados, the son of an English planter. According to legend, Dummitt migrated to Spanish Florida in 1807 and was so attracted by the fragrance of orange blossoms along the east coast of Florida that he became determined to find the source. His search lead him to the East Bank of the Indian River on the northern end of Merritt Island, south of New Smyrna and near the present-day location of the John F. Kennedy Space Center. Here he found a wild grove growing on high ground between two tidal basins, the Indian River and the Banana River.
Dummitt established his own grove, one of the earliest in the Indian River region. There he invented a new grafting technique in which he grafted sweet orange trees to sour trees. The method became known as “top-working” because budding began several feet above ground. The first fruit was shipped commercially from this region in 1828. He also utilized other types of budding techniques after he received buds from the Mays Grove in Orange Mills, which in 1830 was the first recorded use of budding in Florida. He also established a grove using seed plantings brought from another grove in the region. Dummitt’s settlement also provided one of the first permanent settlements in the Cape Canaveral region of Florida.
Perhaps owing to its warm location and unique woodwork, Dummitt’s groves survived the disastrous freeze of 1835 largely intact. Dummitt’s groves furnished stock to re-establish the citrus industry in this region of Florida. “Top-working” also became common practice after Dummitt’s successful use of it. Dummitt was one of the few growers in the region not to abandon his property during the Second Seminole War (1836-1842). During that conflict he served as captain in volunteer unit known as the “Mosquito Roarers.”
Dummitt’s groves were known as the finest in a region of Florida that came to be well-known for its excellent citrus. For this and other reasons, he is known as the “Father of the Indian River Citrus Industry.” By 1860, his groves had over 2,000 trees, planted 20 x 20 feet and were said to average ten to twenty boxes each.
The Dummitt Orange Variety was named after a seedling propagated by John D. Sheldon that was budded into Dummitt’s groves. Although it is not grown today, the Dummitt and another variety simply known as Indian River formed the basis of the Indian River citrus industry between the years of 1860 and 1890.
Dummitt was said to have taken a scientific approach to growing citrus, which is one of the reasons his stock was used for new groves along the East Coast of Florida. Sixty years after the freeze of 1835, a series of disastrous freezes occurred in the winter of 1894-1895. Although Dummitt had long since passed, his profound effect on the citrus industry was felt again, as stock was taken from these groves to re-invigorate the Florida Citrus Industry.
Much of Dummitt’s original grove now lies on property belonging to the Kennedy Space Center and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.