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Gamble Plantation State Historic Site

In 1844, Major Robert Gamble was on of the first settlers of the southwest Florida area. Far from the resources of civilization, Gamble built one of the most successful sugar plantations in Florida. Covering 3,500 acres along the Manatee River, Gamble produced sugar cane, molasses, citrus, wild grapes and olives. The products were sent by boat to the market in New Orleans.

In the mid 1800's, Gamble's mansion headquarters was one of the finest homes on the southwest coast of Florida. The mansion was skillfully designed so that it would remain relatively cool in south Florida's hot summers. Much of the mansion was constructed with a primitive form of concrete called "tabby", which is a mixture of water, shells and limestone.

Today, only 16 acres of the original plantation and mansion remain, making the location the only antebellum plantation house surviving in south Florida. The house is furnished in the original mid 19th century style, as it appeared when the plantation was one of the most successful sugar producers in Florida. A guided tour through the house depicts a time and way of life that were very much a part of Florida's unique history. The difficulties the early settlers faced trying to manage a business in the Florida wilderness is explained at Gamble Plantation. Settlers were often forced to conduct business as usual during turbulent times that included Indian uprisings.

In 1925, the mansion was designated the Judah P. Benjamin Confederate Memorial. The name was given to the mansion in memory of a dramatic episode that took place in the early days following the War Between the States. According to historical sources, Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin took refuge in the mansion in 1865 after the fall of the Confederacy. With Union troops searching for him, Benjamin made his way south, crossing the Suwannee River on May 15, 1865. Arriving in central Florida on May 20, Benjamin hid at Gamble mansion while friends searched for a boat. On May 23, he sailed from Sarasota Bay, escaping by a hazardous route to England, where he became a leading member of the English Bar.

The mansion was saved in 1925 when the United Daughters of the Confederacy purchased it. Donated to the state shortly after its purchase, the mansion now stands as a memorial to Judah P. Benjamin's famous escape from Florida.

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