History of Cone Bridge and the Cone family –Dr. Ken Sulak 2020-12-31

A Cone family member asked about the history of Cone Bridge on the Suwannee River. Dr. Ken Sulak writes:

I have been working on writing up the Cone story—on and off over recent months. What I sent is a hodge-podge from various sources. Much yet to be compared and validated and compiled in organized fashion—as best as that can be. However, feel free to send along whatever you wish to your members. But, I would add a caveat that this is a preliminary and partial.

Here is his preliminary and partial Cone Bridge story so far, with a few notes by me:

[Andrew Cone Godwin, Blount's Ferry, Piers of Old Cone Bridge, Suwannee River]
Andrew Cone Godwin, Blount’s Ferry, Piers of Old Cone Bridge, Suwannee River

Part 1

Well, I very rarely go exploring in a group—almost always solo hiking or paddling, unless I go with one or another friends. However, I have been to the old Cone Bridge site several times. I have a great deal of information on the Cone family. Here is a bit of it:

The Cone clan came to Florida in the early 1840s. They and you are descended from royalty.

The Cones were descended from Conn of the Hundred Battles, the first high king of Ireland in the second century AD. Conn was a powerful king who ruled over northern Ireland and Scotland. Variations in the family name over time are as follows:

Conn = Mac Con = MacHone = MacCone = McCone = Cone family lineage to Virginia in the early 1600s, eventually to Florida in early 1840s, 6 generations later: Conn of the Hundred Battles. Second Century AD, First High King of Ireland

Then I have not gotten into the lineage in Ireland/Scotland until Sir Archibald MacHone, Strathclyde, Scotland 1542-1583. He was the earliest direct progenitor of the Florida Cone lineage. An in that lineage Jared MacCone, Midlothian, Scotland 1675-1659.

And Neil MacCone, Scotland b1625, who immigrated to Isle of Wight, Va, d1679 — [IMMIGRANT TO BRITISH COLONIAL AMERICA] Gen 1.

The first Cone to come to Florida was William Henry Cone Jr. 1777-1857, who moved from Georgia to Blount’s Ferry, Florida, on the Suwannee River, about a mile south of the GA/FL border. He was also known as William Cone III and also Capt. William ‘Billy’ Cone. He got the Captain salutation from service in the war of 1812. He was active in the GA and FL militia during the Seminole Wars and built a blockade at Blount’s Ferry. He took over operation of the ferry in 1843 and 1844, and was postmaster there in 1845.

His descendant, William Haddock Cone 1825-1886 & his nephew Daniel Newnan Cone Jr. 1841-1919, built the original Cone Bridge—which was undoubtedly a timber wagon bridge. It was built in 1881, 17 years before the invention of Lally columns—steel cylinders filled with concrete and used to support steel bridges. Steel truss bridges began to be built in the late 1890s.

Photo: Gretchen Quarterman, Piers of old Cone Bridge, 2015-12-22
Photo: Gretchen Quarterman, Piers of old Cone Bridge, 2015-12-22

Cone Bridge was rebuilt on Lally columns (the toppled columns still remain along the end of Cone Bridge Road) as a steel through-strut single-lane, wooden plank decked bridge—probably in 1898 or a bit later. It was built by Andrew Cone Godwin 1865-1942 for William Haddock Cone—who was elderly by then.

[Andrew Cone Godwin 1927 --Deborah Shaw on Wikitree]
Andrew Cone Godwin 1927 –Deborah Shaw on Wikitree

That bridge was damaged by an overloaded truck in 1970, avoiding the main road checkpoint, and was dismantled thereafter. Construction of the original timber bridge put Blount’s Ferry out of business. From 1834 until 1881, the ferry was one of the most important Suwannee River crossings for settlers coming to Florida from SC and GA.

Photo: John S. Quarterman, boaters including Gretchen Quarterman at piers of Old Cone Bridge, 2015-12-22
Photo: John S. Quarterman, boaters including Gretchen Quarterman at piers of Old Cone Bridge, 2015-12-22

See attached files for more complete detail—and the six generations of Cones down to Capt. Billy. William Haddock Cone was adopted, so he is not a true genetic relative of the Cone lineage. His son Frederick Cone became governor of Florida. All of the Cones were active in public service as members of the Legislature, mayors, judges, postmasters, sheriffs, etc. The Cones and their relatives the Godwins (Godwin Bridge at Big Shoals)—related via marriage, were seriously involved in road construction in early Florida. US Highway 441 from GA to Lake City is named ‘Cone Highway’.

Hope this helps. You might be able to start from William Cone on Ancestry.com—and determine if you are related via the Cone lineage. I do not subscribe to Ancestry.com. The Irish-Scot gaelic families that came to the U.S. in the 1600s had the habit of using the wife’s family name as the middle name of the eldest boy—which is useful in connecting intermarried families. Thus: Andrew Cone Godwin, indicating that he was the eldest son of his Godwin father, and that his father’s wife was a Cone.

Part 2:

William Henry Cone (Sr) was the father to William Henry Cone (Jr—aka Captain Billy Cone), the first Cone to immigrate to Florida. William Henry Sr. was patriot fighter in the Revolutionary War in the Carolinas—an associate of Francis Marion—The ‘Swamp Fox’. He was known as ‘THE FIGHTING PARSON’, one of the guerilla fighters against the British. There is some dispute about who was the actual fighting parson that served as the inspiration for the Mel Gibson movie ‘Patriot’. Other candidates have been put forth. But, it appears very probable that William Henry Sr. was indeed that character around which the story plot was centered.

Part 3:

Capt. Billy Cone was 68 when he came to Florida.

[Apparently there is some confusion about Cone generations. The Revolutionary War Capt. William Henry Cone lived only to be 67, died 24 Dec 1816, and is buried in Old William Cone-Barber Family Cemetery, Ivanhoe, Bulloch County, Georgia, USA. According to Findagrave, which has much more information on him, this William Henry Cone did later command Georgia troops and went as far into Florida as St. Augustine, but he never settled in Florida. He was a son of William Cone and Elizabeth Morris Cone, and was born 27 Oct 1749 in what is now Martin County, North Carolina. He married Keziah Eudel Barber, and among their six children their third (and third son) was another William Cone, who was known as William Cone Sr.

The grave marker for William Cone Sr., b. 24 Dec 1777, d. 24 Aug 1857 aged 79, is in the Prospect Primitive Baptist Cemetery, White Springs, Hamilton County, Florida, USA. Findagrave includes a quite colorful newspaper obituary, which clams among other things that ‘He was formerly known as “Old Billy Cone,” the poet, and theman that surveyed the Okefenokee Swamp with a grape vine.’ That obituary came from the Augusta, Georgia, Daily Constitutionalist and Republic, Friday, 18 September 1857. It says it was this William Cone who was taken prisoner by the Spaniards and confied in the castle at St. Augustine. -jsq]

His story intermeshes with that of the Blount family, Mattox family, Frink family, and other families. At the time, Blounts Ferry was either in GA or FL depending on your leanings and loyalities. Also there are two different locations in the literature. The Wiregrass [Region] Digital [History Project] website 1870 land map for Old Appling places BF about a quarter mile below the southernmost GA/FL border survey line—the Watson Line.

[Blounts Ferry --Wiregrass Region Digital History Project]
Blounts Ferry –Wiregrass Region Digital History Project

But, that does not make sense, because the owner of the land at Blounts Ferry was Col. Elijah Mattox, via a GA land grant. He owned 980 acres of land at Blounts Ferry (both sides, Clinch & Echols Co parts of Ware Co) identified as Appling County GA (Ware = Echols/ClinchCounty) LD 13, LL 574 & 575. Other information I have places the town of Blounts Ferry further upriver on the Suwannee—indeed about 1/2 mi. north of the Watson Line. That location makes sense relative to the Mattox land grant. Florida also claimed the land, evidenced by the fact that the ferry license was granted by Florida. But the settlers were wary and did not obtain FL land patents—although they considered themselves Floridians. They appear to have squatted on the land legally owned by Col. Mattox. Mattox lived at Blounts Ferry in the 1840s but in 1853 moved his family to what would become Homerville, GA, founded by his son Dr. John Homer Mattox. I have not gotten very far into the genealogy of the Mattox clan. I assume that the ‘Homer’ middle name is the family surname of John’s mother, the wife of Col. Mattox.

Blounts Ferry was also known as North’s Station, attributed to Capt. John J. North, commander of a GA militia unit during the second Seminole War. His headquarters were at Ft. Gilmore about 7 mi further up the Suwannee where it is joined by the Suwannacoochee.

[Actually apparently Suwanoochee Creek, the border since 1858 between Echols and Clinch Counties, Georgia, and apparently also known as Fort Gilmer. -jsq]

The fort at Blounts Ferry was variously known as North’s Station, Ft. Repose, Norton’s Station, Ft. Norton, and Ft. Rosa. The blockhouse there on the east side of the river was built by William Cone. When the Seminoles were raiding from the west, settlers escaped across the river and sheltered in the blockhouse. Although Cone was in his late 60s and early 70s, he was a famous Indian fighter at the time.

So, that is part of the story.

Thanks to Dr. Ken Sulak for all this research.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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