An Artist’s Adventures in Florida

By Rachel Laue –

William E.B. Hayman was born in 1837 in Devon, England. It is unclear when Hayman emigrated to the United States, but by 1880 he resided in Newport, Rhode Island, with his wife Rebecca, and his three children, Willie, Clara, and Emma. He owned a business in Newport as a decorator and painter. Though he lived much of his adult life in Rhode Island, and died in Newport in 1893, he spent several years in Florida where he worked as one of the artists on the Ponce de León Hotel, along with his son Willie.

Illustrate the text
W.E.B. Hayman stuck knee-deep in a swamp.

Notes from Willie credit the decoration of the grand rotunda of the hotel to W.E.B., while Willie himself worked as a gilder on the building. The elder Hayman first traveled to Florida in 1884 and soon became enchanted by the sunshine state. To capture his enthusiasm for this new land he sent pencil and ink drawings back home to his children that illustrated the diverse new landscapes he encountered.

His sketches depicting the wildness of the Florida woods and swamps in and around St. Augustine and Deland are now available in the P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History.  The artwork includes a map of Hayman’s land purchase near St. Augustine, two sketches of the bridge over Moultrie Creek, and a variety of scenes in town, including one of the city gate.

An artist with a well-developed sense of humor, Hayman often sketched his various misadventures for the amusement of his family back in Rhode Island. In one series of drawings, Hayman illustrates his first days traveling in Florida via steamboat.

Florida Cockroach
Hayman gets a fright from the local insects.

He begins his journey feeling good, but quickly finds his first night broken by a horrifying discovery—the Florida cockroach. By day two he receives a second blow which he portrays as a portrait of himself, standing at the railing, looking disheveled with seasickness. His lows didn’t last for long though, as in the next sketch titled “Four Days Out” a cheerful, recovered Hayman tucks into a feast fit for a king.

Hayman appears to have spent much of his free time with a man named Johnson, who Hayman identifies in his letters as a Senator in St. John’s county. The two men are almost always dressed for hunting, fishing, or other outdoor adventures, complete with deerstalker hats. In one memorable sketch from February 1887, Hayman and Johnson find themselves almost waist deep in impassable mud. Hayman captioned the image, “This is the worst scrape I got into you have heard of quick sand. This was quick mud. How it would pack around my legs and seem to draw one in deeper each step. The place was only about 15 or 20 feet wide and to look at it was simple enough. I think I was an hour getting out …”

Allligator in the Duck Pond
Hayman and Johnson spy an alligator at the duck pond.

Hayman’s escapades with Johnson were indelible in his Florida experiences. He writes, “I don’t think I shall ever forget my adventures and the trip generally.” His enthusiasm for the land shines out of his rough pencil sketches. He returns to certain places again and again. The bridge at Moultrie Creek and Cypress Dam attracted his particular attention, along with Mose Creek in St. Johns County. In one image from “Mose Creek,” Hayman takes note of the diverse wildlife of the area. “There are a large quantity of oysters but very small, also clams, crabs and fish, in abundance at Mose Creek and aligators [sic], also otters, coons, possums, wild cats. Deer are scarce so are bears and panthers and snakes … Somebody shot an alligator last Wednesday and brought it into Vedden, it was 9 feet long.” Alligators make several appearances in his drawings. In another sketch he writes, “Saw lots of fresh places made by gators on the bank. They hear us coming and slide off into the water.”

Hayman’s unusual house design.

Hayman also designed houses in his spare time. The collection contains sketches of two of them. One is of a house he eventually built in St. Augustine in the late 1880s and a second house, seen here, that was not built. Perhaps because it was something of an architectural oddity.

Whether picnicking at Moultrie Creek, riding sedately home from church in Deland, or sitting quietly in a boat, shotguns at ready, in the duck pond with Johnson, Hayman’s sketches vividly depict his world as a visiting artist in late nineteenth-century Florida.