By Charles Nelson
The tiny village of New Hope was the first community to occupy Brandon’s historic town center located on Hopewell Rd. (now Brandon Blvd.) at Parsons Ave. New Hope was settled in 1858 by a pioneering farmer, John Brandon. In 1890, John’s widow, Victoria, transformed the village into a new town and named it in honor of her late husband.
John Brandon’s story is a classic pioneering tale of a struggling southern farmer who found new hope for success in the rugged forests of Eastern Hillsborough County. When Victoria named the new community, she surely sought to respect the memory of her husband. In naming the town in his honor, she also esteemed many of our earliest pioneers.
One of John’s later family members described him as being stricken by ‘wanderlust.’ Born in Alabama in 1809, John eventually migrated to Tennessee, where he met and married his first wife, Martha, in 1832. In a few months, they moved to Mississippi, and, in 1833, the couple welcomed their first child, and only girl, Louise. Sadly, Louise died in 1836 from scarlet fever. In that same year, Jarrett Wesley, the first of their eight sons, was born.
Yet, despite a rapidly growing family, John was unwilling, or unable, to establish deep roots. Together, he and Martha worked five farms in three states, until they settled in Tishomingo County, Mississippi in about 1854.
John continued to search for new opportunities. In January 1857, he migrated to Tampa Bay with his large family, seven slaves and about 100 cattle. After short stays in Tampa and Seffner, Brandon bought 40 acres of land south of Hopewell Rd., very near today’s Oaks Bar and Grill on Lithia Pinecrest Rd. There, he achieved some modest success, and he encouraged other settlers to come to the area that became known as New Hope.
It would not be long, however, until the Civil War intruded on John Brandon’s family. Tragedy struck in July 1863 when John and Martha received word that their fourth son, Robert Marion, had been killed at Gettysburg.
In the same week as the Gettysburg battle, Vicksburg fell to a Union siege, completely disrupting the supply of Texas beef to Confederate troops. It was now up to Florida to provide meat for the soldiers. John Brandon, along with his sons Wesley and James, joined up with ‘The Sandpiper Unit’ of Florida’s famed ‘Cow Cavalry’ to help protect northbound cattle drives from raiding Union soldiers. Their service is memorialized in a granite stone standing in the Brandon family cemetery on Brandon Blvd. near Lithia Pinecrest Rd.
In 1867, Martha died, and Brandon moved his family to Polk County. There he met Victoria Seward Van, a 29-year-old war widow. They were married the following year and established yet another farm near Fort Meade. Their union produced five more children for the Brandon family.
In 1874, John and Victoria returned to New Hope and built a home near the intersection of today’s Knights Ave. and Victoria St., north of Hopewell Rd. To encourage new residents, John donated five acres of land for a new Methodist church, a school and cemetery. The New Hope Cemetery is still located at the original site of the church near the southwest corner of Mann Intermediate School.
John Brandon died in 1886 with New Hope well established as a small village. Victoria, however, was unhappy that both Limona and Valrico had train stations. She believed that New Hope would thrive only with facilities to match its rivals.
With the help of railroad engineer Charles S. Noble, a new, 40-acre town was platted, and a new rail station planned to attract the railroad’s attention. To redirect mail from Limona to the new town, she established a new post office in 1890 in her home and became the town’s first postmistress. The new subdivision, town and post office were all named Brandon in honor of her pioneering husband.
John Brandon’s story is an everyman’s story that represents those earliest pioneers that chose to migrate from the rural south to Eastern Hillsborough County seeking new opportunities. The Brandon town name is a fitting, living memorial honoring their stories.