In her debut novel The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls (Riverhead Books), Anton DiSclafani presents Thea Atwell, the 15-year-old daughter of a wealthy North Florida doctor who lives cloistered on her family's vast property at the dawn of the Great Depression. That is, until a family scandal prompts her banishment to a finishing school for girls in North Carolina. DiSclafani grew up in North Florida and rode horses as avidly as her heroine. Here Thea explains her family origins, which match the major influences on the history of her native state.
I was born in the house my parents sent me away from, built by my father as a gift for his new bride. My mother's family was New Florida, as those families were called, those that went there after the War Between the States when Georgia was no longer a tenable place to live. My great-grandfather, Theodore Fisk — for whom I'm named — decided on Florida because it was close, and he had heard the land there, worthless, was for the taking.
He and his wife were crackers first; wealthy landowners later. When the railroad was built — Henry Flagler was said to have been entertained and wooed in the Fisk family home — my mother's family's fortune multiplied exponentially. Mrs. Fisk served Mr. Flagler a piece of key lime pie, a delicacy the Northern man had never tasted. Citrus was from then on shipped by railroad and an industry was born.
My father's family was Old Florida, of Spanish descent. They weren't as wealthy as my mother's side: they'd herded cattle on land that no one owned until Florida began to sell this land, and then it became impossible to drive the cattle south, through newly erected fences and homesteads, toward the coast, where they would be shipped to Cuba.