Edward A. Clarke - 10th Mayor Of Tampa

Edward Clarke

Born: 1831

Died: November 10, 1886

Term: October 25, 1866 - December 1866

Born in Cornwall-on-the-Hudson, New York, Edward Clarke moved to Tampa in 1853 where he opened a general store on the corner of Marion and Washington Streets. In 1855, Edward Clarke married Helen Branch, the daughter of  Dr. Franklin Branch and the sister of  Dr. Austin Branch, who served as Tampa's second and fourth mayor. The marriage was short-lived, as she died three years later of  yellow fever. Two years later, Clarke married Sarah Wall and they had a daughter named Flossie.

A staunch member of the Southern Branch of the American (Know-Nothing) Party, Edward Clarke strongly supported the party's pro-Slavery, anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant platform. He was also a Hillsborough County delegate to the 1856 Know-Nothing Party Presidential Convention. However, the party quietly disintegrated after their candidate, former president Millard Fillmore lost the presidential election to James Buchanan.

Following the outbreak of the Civil War, Clarke served as a Confederate States Deputy Marshal and later as a private in the Confederate Army.  He became a blockade runner, bringing in food, medicine and other supplies to cities and towns that were guarded by Union ships.  He was captured by Union troops and sent to Ship's Island prison, off  the coast of Mississippi.  As supplies were low, it is said that he survived by eating rats.  He suffered for many years after the war from starvation related ailments.

After the enlistment of Clarke and other men, Tampa steadily declined economically, socially and politically. The Union blockade of Tampa's port ruined much of the town's economy while the bombardment by Union ships destroyed a number of homes and businesses. Further, the Confederacy's constant need of recruits combined with individuals who moved into the rural areas had made Tampa a near ghost town. 

Clarke eventually received a Presidential Pardon and returned by foot to Tampa in May 1865.  He was appalled by the state of the town. The Union bombardments and decay of the town from neglect and the departure of most of its citizens made him wonder if Tampa could be revitalized. Including the settlers that lived outside of town, Tampa's population was less than 150 residents.

Some former residents of Tampa returned after the war and the citizenry began to re-build the town. Efforts were made by the citizens to re-establish the town's government. However, it took over a year before the citizens of Tampa were permitted to hold municipal elections. After the elections, the Florida State Legislature which was now controlled by a republican majority invalidated the election results. A state-designated commission was sent to Tampa to revise the town's election process and other aspects of the Tampa's government. New elections were held on October 25, 1866 in which Edward Clarke was elected mayor. Despite the return of many former residents and new settlers, the conditions in Tampa were so dismal that many residents thought the town would soon be abandoned and, thus, end Tampa's existence.  

The new President of the Town Council was Josiah Ferris while the other members included Dr. L. A. Liveley, Robert Nunez and B. C. Clarke. One of the first ordinances passed by the mayor and town council was intended to control numerous riots that were breaking out over the town, disturbing the peace, and drunk and disorderly conduct. The Town Council, faced with an empty treasury, quickly filled its coffers by levying fees on liquor stores, billiards halls, theatres, ferries, wharfs, drays and dog owners.

Edward Clarke, based on the council minutes, had little involvement in the town's activities for most of the two and one-half  years he was officially to have served as mayor. Josiah Ferris, President of the Town Council, served as Acting Mayor for most of Clarke's term. The City Marshal was also instructed on October 30, 1866 to check the brands of all cattle butchered for sale to minimize cattle theft. The council also passed an ordinance that prohibited firing a pistol or rifle within the city limits and violators were fined from $2 to $10. In addition, the City Watch was re-introduced in October 1866 to maintain law and order in the town but was suspended on June 26, 1867.

In 1867, a Yellow Fever epidemic inflicted many of the residents, while those that hadn't gotten sick fled to other towns and rural areas. During this period, there were few physicians in Tampa and all they could do was to offer some measure of comfort. No one had any clue as to the cause of the disease let alone a cure for it. The epidemic depleted Tampa's resources and faced with an empty treasury, government officials could do little more than set up a quarantine station at Ballast Point where a port physician examined the passengers and crew of incoming ships for signs of the disease. Individuals who were sick were kept in isolation and received medical attention. After the epidemic ended, federal troops and Republican administrators arrived in Tampa to enforce the Republican policies and oversee municipal and county government. Not surprisingly, local government officials and Tampa's residents deeply resented the presence of these individuals whom they regarded as invaders and destroyers of the homeland. Tensions increased as Union troops patrolled the streets of Tampa and its surrounding areas. Josiah Ferris, as Acting Mayor, made it quite clear that he was glad to have completed Clarke's term as he left office on March 1, 1869.

In the meantime, Edward Clarke had devoted his time and energy investing in Tampa real estate in and on the outskirts of town in the late 1860s and 1870s. He was part owner of the Tampa Streetcar Co.  As Tampa began to recover from its social and economic chaos, his properties became quite valuable and he was able to retire a wealthy man. He also served as a Master Mason of the Hillsborough Lodge for four years. Edward Clarke passed away in Tampa in November 1886.


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.

Tampa Council Minutes, City of Tampa Archives, Tampa, FL

January 1, 1857 - October 2, 1891 Microfilm Roll # 1

Additional Information supplied by Albert Leach, descendant of Edward A. Clarke