Sylvester R. Otis

Male, #9990, (27 Jan 1810 - 14 Jun 1893)
Father*Jacob Otis Jr.1 (1795 - 11 Jul 1856)
Birth*27 Jan 1810 Sylvester was born at Rhode Island on 27 Jan 1810. Susan N. Cline wrote
     "There was no record of his birth in Rhode Island, or any surrounding states. I am confident that he was born in Rhode Island, however, because the 1860 and 1870 Federal Census state his place of birth to be Rhode Island. Interestingly, the 1880 Federal Census states his place of birth to be Connecticut. I am sure this an error made by the informant who was probably his wife, Martha Ann Hillard, at the time.
     "On the 1885 Florida State Census , Sylvester R. Otis reports that his father was born in Rhode Island. This is the first correctly reported place of birth for his parents.      "Going on the assumption that the birthplace of his father was Rhode Island, we examine the 1820 Federal Census of Otis families in Rhode Island, we find only one candidate for Sylvester's father - and that would be Jacob Otis, Jr. who lists himself, wife, and male child between the age of 10-15. This would be correct for Sylvester, who was 10 at the time of the census.
     "There is no reference to Sylvester's mother in any records I examined. Sylvester was born in 1810 and I find it odd that his birth record is not recorded in the Rhode Island Births and Christening records."1,2,3,4 
1820 Census7 Aug 1820 Sylvester was probably a free white male, age 10 and under 16, in an unknown person 's household, on the 1820 Census at Providence, Providence Co., Rhode Island.5 
Relocation*between 1826 and 1836 He relocated sometime between 1826 and 1836 to Alabama or Florida. It is not known why this young man from Rhode Island would relocate to the south, but there was probably no family connection holding him in Rhode Island. Sylvester's father, Jacob, was only 15 when Sylvester was born. In 1820, Jacob declared bankruptcy, and in 1828, when Sylvester would have been 18, Jacob was deemed a "drunkard" and placed in an asylum. Jacob is also shown living in an asylum for paupers in 1850. Nothing is known about Sylvester's mother. Jacob's father, Dr. Jacob Otis, relocated from Rhode Island to Orange Co., NY in 1835 at age 77 to live with a married daughter who had relocated there. The combination of the move of Sylvester's aunt and grandfather, coupled with the shame over a drunkard father, may well have been the motivation for Sylvester to seek his fortune elsewhere.6 
Marriage*say 1836 He married Malinda (?) say 1836. Their date of marriage is estimated based on the fact that their first known child was born in 1837. 
Indian Wars*1836 He served as an officer in one of the Creek and Seminole Indian Wars in 1836
(Sylvester R. Otis was a Third Lieutenant in Captain Irvin's Company, 8th Regiment, Florida Militia, Florida War (against the Seminole Indians). Congress had promised to give sailors and soldiers land in leu of or in addition to pay. Sylvester R. Otis subsequently applied for and got in 1859 his 80 acres along the Old Spanish Trail, about 5 miles north of Allentown.)2 
Birth of Son29 May 1837 His son Edwin Houston Otis was born on 29 May 1837 at Alabama.7 
1840 Census*1 Jun 1840 Sylvester was listed as the head of a family on the 1840 Census on 1 Jun 1840 at Pike Co., Alabama.8 
Birth of Soncirca 1843 His son Sylvester R. Otis Jr. was born circa 1843 at Alabama.3 
Relocationbetween 1843 and 1848 He relocated sometime between 1843 and 1848 at Bagdad, Santa Rosa Co., Florida. Bagdad had a large lumber mill for virgin pine heart wood, and ship-building was also an important activity. It is not hard to imagine how someone from Rhode Island, with its ship-building history, might have ended up in Bagdad. But why he first was in southeastern Alabama, far from the coast, is not clear. However, the Conecuh River is navigable from Pike County in Alabama down to Florida where its name changes to the Escambia River and then flows into Escambia Bay which connects with Blackwater Bay and Bagdad. Perhaps while he lived in Pike County, Sylvester was involved in harvesting lumber that was then floated down the waterway to the lumber mill and shipyard in Bagdad.6 
Deed*7 Feb 1848 He granted a deed to Edwin Houston Otis on 7 Feb 1848 at Santa Rosa Co., Florida,

Book A, Page 87. Sylvester R. Otis to his son Edwin Houston Otis, SE 1/4 of the NE 1/4 of the SW 1/4, Sec 34, Twp 2, Rage 28 N&W, about 10 acres, Wit: John Chairs, R. H. Mayo; recorded 22 Nov 1869.9 
Land Grant/Patent*10 Aug 1850 Land was granted to Sylvester R. Otis on 10 Aug 1850 at Santa Rosa Co., Florida:
Patent for 40 acres of land [W½NW, Sec 35, Twp 2-N, Range 28-W], located just north and east of the present Milton High School. He later purchased a half-acre lot with a school house on it.2,10 
Deed12 Oct 1850 He was granted a deed on 12 Oct 1850 at Santa Rosa Co., Florida,

Book A, pages 85-86; Sherriff J. R. Mims grants to Sylvester R. Otis at auction at the court house door land on Escambia Road near Milton.9 
Death of Father11 Jul 1856 His father Jacob Otis Jr. died on 11 Jul 1856 at Providence, Providence Co., Rhode Island.1,11 
Land Grant/Patent1 Jun 1859 New land was granted as a patent to Sylvester R. Otis on 1 Jun 1859 at Santa Rosa Co., Florida,

Land patent for 80.2 acres at W½NW, Sec 35, Twp 2-N, Range 28-W.12 
1860 Census*1 Jun 1860 Sylvester was listed as the head of a family on the 1860 Census at Milton, Santa Rosa Co., Florida.3 
Census*1867 A census listed Sylvester as head of household at Santa Rosa Co., Florida, in 1867.13 
Death of Spouse1868 His wife Malinda (?) died in 1868 at Santa Rosa Co., Florida.2 
Marriagesay 1869 He married Jane (?) say 1869. 
Death of Son1 Sep 1869 His son Sylvester R. Otis Jr. died on 1 Sep 1869 at Santa Rosa Co., Florida.2 
1870 Census*1 Jun 1870 Sylvester was listed as the head of a family on the 1870 Census at Milton, Santa Rosa Co., Florida.4 
Marriage*10 Jan 1871 He married Martha Ann Hilliard at Santa Rosa Co., Florida, on 10 Jan 1871 at age 60.14 
Deed31 Jan 1872 He granted a deed to Edwin Houston Otis on 31 Jan 1872 at Santa Rosa Co., Florida,

Book A, page 495, Sylvester R. Otis to Edwin H. Otis, 40 acres in 35-2N-28.9 
1880 Census*1 Jun 1880 Sylvester was listed as the head of a family on the 1880 Census at Santa Rosa Co., Florida.15 
Census1 Jun 1885 A census listed Sylvester as head of household at Santa Rosa Co., Florida, on 1 Jun 1885.16 
Death*14 Jun 1893 He died at Santa Rosa Co., Florida, on 14 Jun 1893 at age 83.2 
Burial*after 14 Jun 1893 His body was interred after 14 Jun 1893 at Milton Cemetery, Milton, Santa Rosa Co., Florida.2 
Research note Bagdad Village Timeline
     Joseph Forsyth named the town, in 1842, Bagdad, after the Middle East renaissance city called Baghdad. The lumber mills of Bagdad, Florida, cut virgin Blackwater Swamp cypress and long leaf heart pine timber, which was shipped to ports in Europe, South America, Cuba and the East coast of the United States. The precious virgin timber logs just kept floating down the river as lumber jacks cut the trees and sent them South down the creeks and rivers of the Blackwater River watershed. This prized commodity made Bagdad the Prince of Wood. During the Civil War, Bagdad lost most of the mill buildings and dry docks but after the war, they were rebuilt and she quickly regained the fame and glory of delivering priceless lumber worldwide.
     At the end of the 19th Century, Bagdad was comparable to Pensacola in commerce and its main company, the E. E. Simpson and Company lumber mill, was the largest exporter and the largest company in the State of Florida. Santa Rosa County became the center of commerce for the state, but as the amount of lumber slowly decreased so did business. In 1929, the Press Gazette published an article stating, “There is at least 100 years of lumber left.” Ten years later it was all gone.
     In 1939 the last lumber mill in Bagdad closed. In 1941 World War II began and shortly thereafter most families had either moved north into Alabama or south into Pensacola looking for work. During its prime, the town had around 60 different businesses, many churches and a good school, but 1939 marked the end of Bagdad’s renaissance. Almost all the businesses were related directly or indirectly to lumber, so when the logs stopped coming down the river, narcosis began.
     A deep sleep fell on the little town. Pensacola & Milton took up the mantle of growth. Both had diversified into many industries other than lumber, such as agriculture, shipping, and military exploits. Bagdad, the once center of opportunity, began a slow arduous decline going from disregard to decay to almost oblivion followed by being simply forgotten by most people.
     Then came growth not only to South Santa Rosa County via Navarre and Gulf Breeze, but also growth in Pace and Milton. The increase is most apparent in residential construction with the advent of many housing developments creating an atmosphere associated with “bedroom towns.” Many people looked to Santa Rosa County as a place to live and raise their children but preferred to work in Escambia or Okaloosa Counties, hence, the term “bedroom towns.”
     Much should be said for a few visionary people who have realized Bagdad’s historical value. It processes a very important era of not just Florida or Santa Rosa County history but also American history. After all, much of the lumber produced by the Bagdad lumber mills were shipped to ports in Europe, South America, Cuba and the East coast of the USA creating, next to cotton, the country’s most precious exported commodity. A very valuable slice of our past lies in the soil of Bagdad.
     The Spirit of the past both, post-bellum and antebellum, is again rising. Through the efforts of dedicated people like the Bagdad Village Preservation Association and other faithful residents, the world again is noticing the beautiful lady. For example, in 2003, 16 reporters came to Bagdad to do articles and 4 were from European nations. Events in 2003 like the Blackwater Heritage Tour, the Beaches to Woodlands Tour, and the much publicized Civil War writings on the wall of the Thompson House are just a few of the many venues directing people back to the past, back to the Prince of Wood, back to Bagdad.
     One need only walk the main street, called Forsyth after the founder of Bagdad, John Forsyth, and the shore of the Blackwater River to sense the past. From a Greek Revival plantation home built in 1842, to reproductions just finished, from 1880 restored homes, the smell of the smoke stack, the sound of the steam engine, the blowing of the ships fog horn, the rubble of the horse drawn wagons, and the whistle of the train attacks the senses like sweet dreams. Now on the National Historical Directory, the once sleepy village is primed for an even greater future than her majestic past.17 
Research note For additional details on Bagdad's early lumber and shipbuilding businesses, see History of Santa Rosa County, A King's County, by M. Luther King. Two chapters are of particular significance:
Bagdad's Background at, and
Water Transportation at

Family 1

Malinda (?) (1804 - 1868)
Marriage*say 1836 He married Malinda (?) say 1836. Their date of marriage is estimated based on the fact that their first known child was born in 1837. 

Family 2

Martha Ann Gill (Jul 1831 - 16 Apr 1906)
Marriage*10 Jan 1871 He married Martha Ann Hilliard at Santa Rosa Co., Florida, on 10 Jan 1871 at age 60.14 
ChartsWLC / Warren L. Culpepper Ancestral Chart
WLC / John and Priscilla Alden's Descendant Chart
WLC / Richard Oates Descendant Chart (incl. Otis and Ottis)
Last Edited1 Jan 2012


  1. Sylvester Otis Lineage, Susan N. Cline, Cline Research Services, 13 Hoxsie Road, West Kingston, RI 02892; e-mail address, to Warren Culpepper, 10 Nov 2011.
  2. Simeon Otis Report, Edie Geiger, 4621 Geiger Road, Milton, FL 32583, to Warren Culpepper, 1999.
  3. 1860 Federal Census, United States.
    Milton, Santa Rosa Co., FL, Family #244. image
    S. R. Otis, 57, M, W, Ship Corker, RE=100, PE=100, RI
    Malind Otis, 47, F, W, GA
    E. H. Otis, 23 M, W, Engineer, RE=500, PE=200, FL
    S. R. Otis, 16, M, W, Laborer, AL.
  4. 1870 Federal Census, United States.
    Milton, Santra Rosa Co., FL, Family #108, image 14
    S. R. Otis, 57, M, W, Mechanic, RI
    Jane Otis, 40, F, W, Keeps House, AL [2nd wife].
  5. 1820 Federal Census, United States.
    Providence, Providence, Rhode Island, Page: 159; NARA Roll: M33_117; Image: 136, enumerated 7 Aug 1820
    Jacob Otis Junior, 1M10-15, 1M16-25, 1F16-25.
  6. Warren L. Culpepper (#1942), Former publisher of Culpepper Connections, e-mail address.
  7. Harry Stuart Culpepper and Alma Elaine Payne Ancestors, Culpepper/Payne Family Bible, Steven Edward Culpepper, owner, Sandy Springs, GA, (2005).
  8. 1840 Federal Census, United States.
    Unk Twp, Pike Co., AL, Page 372. image 25
    Sylvester R. Otis, 1M0-4, 1M20-29, 1F0-4, 1F20-29, 1FSlv10-24.
  9. Santa Rosa County Clerk, Santa Rosa Co., FL Deeds, Volume A, 1850-1873 Genealogical Society of Utah , Repository: LDS Family History Library - Salt Lake City, Call No. Film 929,753.
    Transcribed by Warren Culpepper.
  10. General Land Office Records, compiler, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records, Online, Bureau of Land Management.
    Doc #9304, Accession # FL0200_.224.
  11. Rhode Island Deaths, 1630-1930 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2000:
    Jacob Otis died 11 Jul 1856, age 59. Shows "Kin 2, Delana Munroe."
  12. General Land Office Records, compiler, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records, Online, Bureau of Land Management.
    Doc #13789, Accession # FL0270_.472.
  13. 1867 Florida State Census, Santa Rosa County, Page 22 (White Inhabitants)
    S. R. Otis, 2 M21+, 1 F21+, 3 Total, 1 M18-45 (therefore 1 M45+).
  14. Santa Rosa Co., FL Marriage Records, Rootsweb: USGenWeb Archives.
    Page 3, S. R. Otis and M. A. Hilliard, 10 Jan 1871.
  15. 1880 Federal Census, United States.
    Precinct 1, Santa Rosa Co., FL, Page 174D. LDS CD.
    Sylvester R. Otis, HH, 70, Gardener, CT/CT/CT
    Martha A. Otis, wife, 49, GA/GA/GA [3rd wife?]
    Henrietta M. Otis, dau, 8, FL/CT/GA.
  16., compiler, Florida State Census, 1867-1945, Online database at, 2008.
    ED 5, Page 3, Lines 39-41, Santa Rosa Co., FL
    S. R. Otis, Head, Wh, M, 49, md, RI/RI/RI, Minister
    Martha Otis, Wife, Wh, F, 49, md, GA/GA/GA
    Henrietta Otis, Dau, Wh, M, 10, sng, FL/RI/GA.
  17. Bagdad Village Preservation Association website: