Florida crackers were colonial-era British, American pioneer settlers in what is now the U.S. state of Florida; the term is also applied to their descendants, to the present day, and their subculture among white Southerners. The first crackers arrived in 1763 after Spain traded Florida to Great Britain following the latter's victory over France in the Seven Years' War, though much of traditional Florida cracker folk culture dates to the 19th century.
The term cracker was in use during the Elizabethan era to describe braggarts and blowhards. The original root of this is the Middle English word crack, meaning 'entertaining conversation' (which survives as a verb, as in "to crack a joke"); the noun in the Gaelicized spelling craic also retains currency in Ireland and to some extent in Scotland and Northern England, in a sense of 'fun' or 'entertainment' especially in a group setting. Cracker is documented in William Shakespeare's King John, Act II, Scene I (1595): "What cracker is this same that deafs our ears / With this abundance of superfluous breath?"
By the 1760s, the ruling classes, both in Britain and in the American colonies, applied the term cracker to Scots-Irish, Scottish, and English American settlers of the remote southern back country, as noted in a letter to the Earl of Dartmouth: "I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by Crackers; a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascalls on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia, who often change their places of abode." The word was later associated with the cowboys of Georgia and Florida, many of them descendants of those early colonists who had migrated south.
In Florida, those who own or work cattle traditionally have been called cowmen. In the late 1800s, they were often called cow hunters or cowhunters, a reference to seeking out cattle scattered over the wooded rangelands during roundups. At times, the terms cowman and cracker have been used interchangeably because of similarities in their folk culture. Today, the western term cowboy is often used for those who work cattle.
The Florida "cowhunter" or "cracker cowboy" of the 19th and early 20th centuries was distinct from the Spanish vaquero and the Western cowboy. Florida cowboys did not use lassos to herd or capture cattle. Their primary tools were dogs and cow whips. Florida cattle and horses were smaller than the western breeds. The Florida Cracker cattle, also known as the "native" or "scrub" cow, averaged about 600 pounds (270 kg) and had large horns and large feet.[dead link]
Among some Floridians, the term is used as a proud or jocular self-description. Since the huge influx of new residents into Florida in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, from the northern parts of the United States and from Latin America, the term Florida cracker is used informally by some Floridians to indicate that their families have lived in the state for many generations. It is considered a source of pride to be descended from "frontier people who did not just live but flourished in a time before air conditioning, mosquito repellent, and screens" according to Florida history writer Dana Ste. Claire.
Cracker Storytelling Festival
Since the late 20th century, the Cracker Storytelling Festival has been held annually in the fall at Homeland Heritage Park in Homeland, Florida. The year 2013 marked the 25th anniversary of the festival. The Cracker Storytelling Festival includes many storytellers from around Florida who come to share their stories with visitors. The majority of visitors who attend this event are students, because storytelling is part of the Florida educational curriculum. The festival also incorporates local crafts and artwork, food vendors, a whip-cracking contest, and living-history re-enactment of 19th-century homestead life.
Notable Florida crackers
- Bone Mizell (1863–1921) – the best known of the original Florida cracker cowboys, made famous as the subject of a Frederic Remington painting
- Ben Hill Griffin Jr. (1910–1990) – "Cracker millionaire from Frostproof, Florida"
- Al Burt (1927–2008) – journalist at The Miami Herald, and chronicler of contemporary Florida cracker subculture.
- Lawton Chiles (1930-1998) - 41st Governor of Florida and self-described Florida cracker from Polk County, Florida.
- Cracker (term) – about use of the term as a slur
- Cracker Country – a living-history village at the Florida State Fair
- Florida cracker (disambiguation) – lists things named after the Florida crackers (architecture, trail, cattle and horse breeds, etc.)
- Florida Western – a film and novel genre set in 19th-century Florida
- Georgia cracker – the related subculture of the US state of Georgia, just to the north of Florida
- "The Present State of the West-Indies: Containing an Accurate Description of What Parts Are Possessed by the Several Powers in Europe". 1778. Retrieved August 30, 2013 – via World Digital Library.
- Clark, James C. 200 Quick Looks at Florida History. p. 189.
- Bennett, Jim (October 1999). "Bone Mizell: Cracker Cowboy of the Palmetto Prairies". Wild West. Weider History Group.
- Howard, Vivian (May 1, 2020). "How Do You 'Cue? (Florida section)". Somewhere South. Season 1. Episode 6. @ approx. 20 minutes in. PBS. Retrieved May 2, 2021.
- "Florida Memory". Retrieved 5 November 2012.
- Tasker, Georgia (February 6, 2007). "Rancher preserves Florida's Cracker history". The Miami Herald. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. Retrieved February 21, 2007.
- Ste. Claire, Dana (2006). Cracker: Cracker Culture in Florida History. University Press of Florida. ISBN 978-0-8130-3028-9.
- Schottelkotte, Suzie (October 7, 2010). "Tellin' Stories: Take a Trip Back in Time at Homeland Cracker Storytelling Festival". The Ledger. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016.
- "Cracker Storytelling Festival". 2013. Retrieved October 23, 2013.
- Many works by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings: South Moon Under (1933), Golden Apples (1935), The Yearling (1938), Cross Creek (1942), and numerous short stories are set amidst early-20th-century Florida cracker subculture
- Strawberry Girl (1945) – children's novel by Lois Lenski set in mid-20th-century cracker Florida
- Seraph on the Suwanee (1948) – novel by African-American novelist Zora Neale Hurston, and her only work that focuses primarily on white characters
- A Land Remembered (1984) – a multi-generational novel about a Floridian family from 1858 to 1968, by Patrick D. Smith