Francis Philip Fleming was born on September 28, 1841, and was the oldest of Lewis Fleming and his second wife Margaret Seton Fleming three children. He had two brothers, Charles Seton and Frederick A. He also had two half-siblings from his father’s first marriage to Augustina Cortez, Lewis I., and George. The Fleming’s were one of Florida’s most prominent families in the 19th and 20th centuries.
He spent his early years on his family’s St. Johns River plantation, “Hibernia” which narrowly escaped destruction at the hands of the Independent Battalion, Massachusetts Cavalry in mid-April 1864. A relative of the Fleming family, Colonel Guy V. Henry ordered it spared.
George Fleming, Francis’ paternal grandfather emigrated to northeast Florida from Scotland in 1785 via Charleston, South Carolina. Shortly after he arrived in Florida, he became one of the largest landowners after receiving numerous land grants from the Spanish government for his military service. He married Sophia Fatio, daughter of Francis Philip Fatio, managing partner of New Castle Plantation. Together they had three children, Mary, Lewis, and George, Jr. On his maternal side, his grandfather, Charles Seton, settled in Fernandina Beach in the early 1800s.
Francis was educated at home by private tutors. He left home along with his brother Charles in 1861 to join the Second Florida Infantry of the Confederate Army. On June 3, 1864, near Gaines Farm, his brother was killed in was is known as the Battle of Cold Harbor near Mechanicsville, Virginia. In November 1862, he became quartermaster-sergeant of his regiment, and later earned a battlefield promotion to First Lieutenant in Virginia. Later while on sick leave at home, he commanded a company of volunteers at the battle of Natural Bridge south of Tallahassee, Florida. During the Civil War, he served under Generals Magruder, Johnston, Hood, and Lee.
When the war ended, Francis studied law and was admitted to the bar on May 12, 1868, in Jacksonville and started practicing with his half-brother Louis I. Fleming and Col. J. J. Daniel, a former captain of the Second Florida Infantry. Originally the firm was known as Fleming and Daniel but later became Fleming and Fleming.
On May 23, 1871, Francis married Florida Lydia Pearson. Together they had five children, Francis P., Jr., Charles Seton (named in honor of his brother), Margaret, Florida L., and Elizabeth. In 1877 he started working on a memoir of his brother Charles titled The Florida Troops in Virginia, A Memoir of Captain C. Seton Fleming, C.S.A, and was published in 1908.
In 1876, Francis became involved in politics beginning as a member of the State Democratic Executive Committee and campaigned for Governor George F. Drew. In 1888, he was nominated by the Democratic party to be governor, and after an arduous campaign during the Yellow Fever epidemic, he defeated V. J. Shipman, the Republican candidate. He served as Governor from 1889 until 1893. At the time, only a single term was allowed by law.
During his term as Governor, he most notable issues were the creation of the State Board of Health in 1889, the repeal of the Florida Railroad Commission, many attempts at higher education reorganization, adjustment of the state revenues, the Farmers’ Alliance movement and finally the 1891 re-election controversy regarding U. S. Senator Wilkinson Call.
To distinguish the Florida flag of surrender which was white with the Florida seal in the center, the advocated for adding a red saltire. The proposal was adopted in 1900 by a statewide referendum.
When his term as Governor was up, he retired from politics and returned to Jacksonville to practice law. Developing a strong interest in Florida history, he edited a two-volume work by Rowland Rerick, Memoirs of Florida. He also helped to incorporate the Florida Historical Society in 1905. In 1907, he became the President of the Society’s Quarterly after contributing several articles to them.
Fleming was also involved in various groups ranging from the Florida Yacht Club, commander of the R. E. Lee Camp of Confederate Veterans, aide-de-camp to General John B. Gordon, Florida Division of the United Confederate Veterans, vestryman and warden of St. John’s Episcopal Church, member of the Florida Board of Trade, member of the Seminole Club, president of the Jacksonville Bar Association, member of the Florida Bar Association, president of the Old Confederate Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home Association, and trustee of the University School of Medicine of Richmond.
Fleming Island, Florida, an unincorporated community between Orange Park and Green Cove Springs in Clay County, was part of the Fleming family’s Spanish Land Grants.
The original football facility, University Athletic Field at the University of Florida was renamed Fleming Field in 1915 at the urging of his son Francis P., Jr. He had served on the university’s Board of Control and was an alumnus of the class of 1922.
Francis died in Jacksonville after a long illness on December 20, 1908. He and his wife are buried at the Jacksonville Old City Cemetery.
The photograph is part of the public domain.