Died: November 25, 1856
Term: February 14, 1856 - November 25, 1856 (Died in Office)
Tampa was incorporated as a city on December 15, 1855 by the Florida Legislature and empowered to pass ordinances, levy taxes and enforce laws. Two months later, on February 14, 1856, the citizens of Tampa elected Joseph Lancaster, a native of Kentucky, as their first mayor. With his many years of government experience, Lancaster was an excellent choice. He had previously served as mayor of Jacksonville, Florida, two terms in the state legislature and a judge for the Southern Judicial Circuit before moving to Tampa in 1854. The first city council president was Darwin Austin Branch.
At the time of Lancaster's election as mayor, Tampa had about six hundred residents, seventeen stores, two sawmills, two physicians and seven attorneys. In December 1855, the raiding and destruction of settlements by the Seminoles caused a constant flood of refugees into Tampa but with only one hotel and several boarding houses in town, many of these settlers were forced to sleep in makeshift shacks or in the streets. The situation was further compounded by the ever-increasing demand for foodstuffs and a rapidly dwindling supply.
With the onset of the Third Seminole War (1855-1858), Lancaster and the city council quickly devised and implemented a plan of action to alleviate the food and housing conditions. Simultaneously, the mayor had to contend with the state legislature's constant demand for recruits when faced with a dwindling supply of eligible men. There were also pressing civic matters such as the placement of the Port of Tampa under quarantine and persuading the owners of the Florida Railroad to extend the line to Tampa. However, for political reasons and the personal gain of several state senators who owned much of the property, Cedar Key was chosen for the railroad. Cedar Key did have an excellent port and was well suited for the railroad company's needs. The residents of Tampa were justifiably angry but there was nothing that could be done. Tampa would remain a small city for the next thirty years when finally got its railroad in the early 1880s.
In early September 1856, Lancaster became too ill to perform his duties and, as City Council President, Darwin A. Branch became Acting Mayor on September 11, 1856. He served until December 6, 1856 when, by special election, Alfonso DeLauney was elected mayor.
Joseph Lancaster died in Tampa on November 25, 1856.
Sources for this Biographical Sketch:
Covington, Dr. James W. and Wavering, Debbie Lee, "The Mayors of Tampa: A Brief Administrative History," Tampa, FL: University of Tampa, 1987.
Grismer, Karl H., Tampa: A History of the City and the Tampa Bay Region of Florida, St. Petersburg Printing Company, FL, 1950.
Robinson, Ernest L., History of Hillsborough County, Florida: Narrative and Biographical, The Record Company, St. Augustine, FL, 1928.