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Frances Perry Gilchrist

(1838-1901)

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At a Glance

According to several sources, Fanny Gilchrist was given the privilege of choosing a new name for the town of Alligator, Florida, because her husband, James M. Baker, was a prominent politician and had long campaigned for a new name to make the town more attractive. She chose the name Lake City, which remains today.

She was Vice Regent for Florida of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union. She and her husband had six children, five of whom survived past childhood.

Story

Fanny Gilchrist was born about 1838. Her parents were Adam and Mary Blaine Gilchrist of Fayetteville, NC. The Rev. Adam Gilchrist, a graduate of Dickenson College and Princeton Theological Seminary, served as the minister of the Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville for 20 years and was much loved and admired in his community. Fanny and her sisters Susan and Lucy were listed at students at the Burwell School. Her mother, Mary Blaine Gilchrist, was from Pennsylvania; perhaps they met when Mr. Gilchrist was at Dickenson College.

The Gilchrists had three daughters, Susan, Hester Maria, and Fanny (Frances). Maria apparently died very young.

The Book of Burwell Students states that three Gilchrist sisters attended the School: Susan, (or Susy), Lucy, and Fanny. However, there may be some confusion or mistake concerning Lucy, as there is no surviving record of the Gilchrists having a daughter named Lucy. No Lucy appears in any census, nor is she mentioned in the various biographical articles about Rev. Gilchrist’s life.

Fanny married James McNair Baker, 15 years her senior, on August 9, 1859 and moved with him to Florida.

Mr. Baker was born and raised in Robeson County, which is adjacent to Cumberland County and Fayetteville. He attended Davidson College and then studied law. He first practiced in Lumberton, NC but left because of typhoid fever and then established himself in Florida, where he had made a distinguished career in law and politics, serving in the territorial government in Tallahassee. He brought Fanny to his home in “Alligator,” Florida, where he had been endeavoring to have the name changed to something more attractive. According to several sources the new bride was given the privilege of picking a new name and selected “Lake City,” in honor of the many lakes in the area. The name was accepted by the Florida legislature. Other anecdotal histories of the town repeat the story that the bride would not put up the lace curtains in her new house until the name change was effected. The couple eventually settled in Jacksonville.

During the Civil War Mr. Baker was elected as a Senator to the Confederate Congress in Richmond, living in Room #22 of the Spotswood Hotel. After the war Mr. Baker continued in the legal field as a judge, appointed to the fourth judicial circuit. Part of the area he served included St. John’s County, which was divided into three counties during his tenure; one of these was named for him, a singular honor, and remains Baker County today. He died in 1892, having played a significant political role in the development of Florida and its recovery from the Civil War, having served with distinction as a lawyer and judge, and as an elder of the Presbyterian church for 50 years (see reprinted biography at the end of this document).

The 1860 US Census lists for Lake City, Florida, shows the household of James M. Baker, 36, and Fanny Baker, 22. The 1870 US Census shows that in Jacksonville, Duval County, James M. Baker, age 47, Doctor of Law, was head of a household that included Fanny G. Baker, age 32, and their four children Susan (9), Fanny (8), William (3) and Joseph, 2 months. Also listed is Mary D. Gilchrist, Fanny’s mother, and “Hinton” Baker age 24, Doctor of Law, who was presumably a male relative of Judge Baker’s. The 1880 Census, again for Jacksonville, Duval County, includes additional sons James and Robert but no mention of Joseph. Mary Gilchrist, Fanny’s mother, widowed in 1861, is again listed. It appears that the Bakers had six children but one, Joseph, may have died young, and the couple is usually noted in biographical records as having five children. Two sons pursued distinguished legal careers and formed the firm of Baker and Baker. Other direct descendants established “Florida Rock” in 1929 which was for decades one of the largest firms in the state and the southeast to acquire and distribute rock for building and road construction. The business was sold out of the Baker family in 2007.

We know little of Fanny’s life in Florida except that she was the wife of a very prominent judge and public figure and raised five children. She clearly was a lady of some industry and social prominence, as is listed as the Vice Regent for Florida of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Society of the Union, which had organized itself to preserve and protect Mount Vernon. Fanny is mentioned as being in attendance in the 1897 report of the society, which met at Mount Vernon that May.

Fanny Gilchrist Baker died in 1902 and is buried with her husband in Jacksonville, Florida at Evergreen Cemetery. Their graves are marked by a single obelisk, inscribed on one side for him and on one side for her. Fanny’s inscription includes a quote from Psalms: “The Lord knoweth the days of the upright and their inheritance shall be forever.” [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

Biographical Data

Frances was called Fannie or Fanny.

Important Dates

Frances Perry Gilchrist was born on July 21, 1838. She died on August 1, 1901, and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery.

Places of Residence

Schools Attended

Relatives

References

  1. Florida Place Names: Alachua to Zolfo Springs by Allen Morris

    http://books.google.com/books?id=dp5kwOwlBeYC&pg=PT155&lpg=PT155&dq=james+m+baker+house+lake+c ity+florida&source=web&ots=EEuVWARRGm&sig=E8-vOOIr_D76gTVREeEz6-t9wqI&hl=en#PPT155,M1

  2. The History of Florida: Past & Present

    The Lewis Publishing Co., Vol II, page 34, 1923

  3. The Presbyterian Historical Almanac and Annual Remembrance of the Church

    by Joseph M. Wilson

    http://books.google.com/books?id=ighLAAAAMAAJ&printsec=titlepage&dq=rev+adam+gilchrist+school+fayetteville

  4. United States Census of 1860.
  5. United States Census of 1870.
  6. United States Census of 1880.
  7. http://www.findagrave.com/