JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – From childhood memories at Neptune Beach to college life at the University of North Florida, Sheril Whitehouse is deeply rooted in the River City. Even though her life’s journey took her to Tennessee, she still gets excited when she hears something about her hometown.
“Well, it’s home! I love Jacksonville,” Whitehouse said. “Anytime something on the news comes on, ‘Oh, it’s Jacksonville’! My mom and I stop and have to watch.”
One thing Whitehouse has been watching closely is plans for the city’s upcoming bicentennial celebration. It turns out her great-great-great-great-grandfather had a hand in Jacksonville taking on its identity. Literally, a hand. His name was David Solomon Hill Miller.
“He was an Englishman, he came over to the Jacksonville area in 1799 when it was under the second Spanish occupation,” Whitehouse said. “He was appointed, he was bilingual.”
Because Miller could speak both English and Spanish, Whitehouse said, he was appointed captain of the rural militia at Fort St. Nicholas. According to the Jacksonville Historical Society, Jacksonville’s name first appeared on a petition dated June 15, 1822, addressed to then U.S. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. The petition requested he designate “Jacksonville,” as a port of entry. Sixty-one residents signed the petition. David Solomon Hill Miller was one of them.
“Yes, he signed everything, it looks like ‘DSH Miller,’” Whitehouse said. “So, that’s how he signed the petition to make Jacksonville, ‘Jacksonville.’”
Adams denied the petition, but “Jacksonville,” named for the territory’s first provisional governor, Andrew Jackson, still caught on, replacing references to “Cowford.” The name wasn’t officially approved until 10 years later.
Given Jackson’s controversial legacy, ideas about renaming the city have been tossed around, but have gained little traction. With the bicentennial event scheduled for this weekend, Whitehouse said it’s a celebration for the city as a whole and those who call it home.
“Whether you’re an original descendant of some of the people there, or if you’re just moving into town, you are part of the story now,” Whitehouse said. “You’re continuing the legacy.”
A historical marker dedicated to David Miller now stands at the intersection of Atlantic Boulevard and Mayfair Road in the St. Nicholas neighborhood. It highlights his settlement, his marriage to a woman named Anna Hogans Bagley, and his duties as Deputy Surveyor.
Whitehouse said she’s planning a return trip to Jacksonville for the city’s celebration. She looks forward to marking the occasion and says Jacksonville will always be home.