Lake Worth Pioneers' Association, Inc.


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John Yeend

1109 S. Congress Ave.
West Palm Beach, FL 33406

Phone: 561-642-4200


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Hannibal Dillingham Pierce

Hannibal Dillingham Pierce was born 16 November 1834 at Readville, Maine. The oldest of three sons, Hannibal ran away to sea at age sixteen. Seven years and many adventures later, he was shipwrecked on Lake Michigan. A kindhearted citizen of Waukegan, Illinois, took him home to dinner. There he met Margretta Louise Moore. She had been born 11 November 1840 at the U.S. Army post at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, and was living in Waukegan when she met Hannibal. They were married 2 May 1857.

Margretta and Hannibal had three daughters, all of whom died young. Their son, Charles William Pierce, born 16 July 1864, was the only child living when Hannibal returned from serving the Civil War. He moved his little family to Chicago. There another daughter was born and also died young. Margretta's brother, William H. Moore, had been to Florida in 1870 and returned, telling of the wonderful climate. Hannibal, Margretta and Will made plans to take young Charles and move to Florida. They bought a 28-foot sloop, "Fairy Belle," and began outfitting her for the trip. The terrible Chicago fire of October 1871 hastened their depature time.

They made their way down the Mississippi, along the panhandle of Florida and on down to Cedar Keys, where they sold their boat and crossed the state by train to Jacksonville. They spent a year in Jupiter where Hannibal worked as assistant lighthouse keeper. They kept hearing growing reports of a large, freshwater lake farther south. Will bought a small sailboat and set off for the lake. Hannibal sloop-rigged a lifeboat from a shipwrecked steamer, and he, Margretta and young Charles started south too. It was an adventurous trip, for they sailed right into a hurricane which they, huddled together under their upturned boat on a small strip of land, survived. In October 1873, they sailed onto beautiful Lake Worth and discovered a large island at the south end. Hannibal homesteaded the south half of the island, and Will Moore took the north half.

This small family from Chicago were true pioneers in an untamed wilderness. Fish and game, wild fruit and fresh water were plentiful, but the nearest store was at Titusville, 160 miles north. Margretta learned to cook outside over an open fire. They built a house, mostly from lumber picked up on the beach, using palmetto fronds for the roof.

By the fall of 1874, there were ten or twelve people living on the shores of Lake Worth, so a man was dispatched from Miami to establish a voting precinct and name an election board. The Pierce home was the polling place selected. Charlie Moore, W.M. Butler, Will Moore and H.D. Pierce were named inspectors of election. When election day arrived, only one voter, old Doc Talbot who had been living with the Butlers, showed up. Ballots were cut from a sheet of paper. The ballot box was Pierce's palmetto hat. The inspectors voted, and five ballots were put into a used envelope, to be carried to Miami by Will Moore.

On 12 December 1874, Margretta had another son, who died the following summer and was buried on the island.

In 1876, the U.S. Government built five houses of refuge along the South Florida coast to give aid to ship-wrecked sailors. Hannibal accepted the position as keeper of the Orange Grove (Delray Beach) House of Refuge and moved his family there in May 1876. In August, Margretta had her seventh and last child, Lillie Elder Pierce, the first white girl born south of Jupiter. Happily, this baby lived. Margretta educated her son and daughter at home. That she did a good job is evidenced by the prolific writers both children became. Charles' book, Pioneer Life in Southeast Florida, published posthumously in 1970, is considered an authoritative work.

The Pierces found the Seminole Indians to be friendly and peaceful and established a good rapport with them. Soon after the Pierces moved into their houses, a party of Indians camped nearby. Margretta asked one of the squaws the Indian name of the lake. She answered, "Hypoluxo," meaning "water all around, no get out." The spelling was phonetical rendition of what the Indian woman had said. W.M. Butler suggested the Pierces call their island Hypoluxo which they did. Later research among the Indians has indicated the name did refer to the island, not the lake. The Creek spelling was "O-Po-Lus-Kee."

One day, Hannibal was building a large wooden "safe" or screened cupboard to keep food cool and free from insects. Some Indians happened by and stopped to watch. Finally, one asked, "What you make?" Pierce replied, "Cage to keep squaw and pickininny in." After a while, one Indian remarked, "Pierce, you lie."

Hannibal resigned his job as keep of the House of Refuge after thirteen months and moved his family back to their home on Hypoluxo Island. Even though cash was sorely needed, the $400 annual salary wasn't worth living in the isolation of the station.

Hannibal and his brother-in-law, Will Moore, made a trip to Key Largo in 1879 and brought back pineapple slips, which they planted for a cash crop. That fall, Hannibal, making his own shingles, built an addition onto the house. This house is thought to be still in existence in Manalapan.

H.D. Pierce was appointed keeper of Biscayne Bay House of Refuge in 1882 and moved the family once again to an even more isolated location. They stayed until early 1885 and then returned once again to their island home.

In the summer of 1887, Hannibal bought the "Illinois" from U.D. Hendrickson and began hauling tomatoes to Titusville. This evolved into a regular service, carrying freight and passengers as well. About that time, Hannibal also became postmaster of Hypoluxo, the starting place for the barefoot mailmen, and retained this post until his death in 1898. He was burned in Pioneer Park, now the property of the Norton Gallery of Art. Margretta lived with her daughter, Lillie, who married Frederick Christian Voss, until her death in 1912. She is buried beside Hannibal, the man for whom she had willingly traded the security of northern city life for the wilds of primitive Florida.


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