Steaming down the St. Johns River


He was a Duval County native and sheriff, Florida’s governor in the 1900s and a leader of the southern Progressive movement – don’t forget a gun smuggler.

His steam boat, The Three Friends, made several runs from Jacksonville to Cuba. Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, his brother and an associate finished the boat in 1896, and for the next couple years hulled the 112 foot steamer loaded with men and munitions to Coo-ba – that’s how you’re supposed to say it.

Broward lost his parents when he was 12 and started working on tugboats to support his brother and self. After years aboard various boats travelling cargo up-and-down the St. Johns River, Broward and investors built The Three Friends. Now Broward had his own boat and the opportunity to pursue his own ventures.

At first, Broward’s boat would carry cargo and supplies like wood through the St. Johns. One day, he was approached by a Cuban native desiring to help rid Cuba from Spanish rule. To Broward, it was an opportunity for some easy money, so he took it.


I found a blog by Jeff Atwater, chief financial officer of Florida, who claims to be Broward’s great-grandson. His blog says his family preserved a pocket watch, which was given to Broward from Cuban patriot General Enrique Collazo. The watch had a Cuban flag on the outside and is engraved, “General Enrique Collazo and friends to Captain Napoleon B. Broward, March 17, 1896.”

His blog gives one particular run where The Three Friends was spotted by the Spanish army, and barely made it out alive – pretty cool, check it out if you want more info.

Broward was publicly scrutinized for filibustering, but his native pull gave him an advantage for sheriff. A few years later the sheriff would be elected Florida governor (1905-1909), and even served on the Jacksonville City Council.

In Florida, his philosophies were so dominant that the Progressive Era is often referred to as the Broward Era. His life was filled with poverty, politics and even filibustering.

Before his appointment as Florida senator, Broward died in Jacksonville in 1910, and was buried in the Evergreen Cemetery.



The New History of Florida, edited by Michael Gannon

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