John Thomas Lesley, was born May 12, 1835 in Madison County, Florida, which was a northern part of the Florida territory in those days.  He was the eldest of 3 children of Reverend Leroy Lesley, of the Methodist Episcopal Church.  Rev. Lesley was assigned in 1848 to the Methodist Hillsborough Mission.  At 16, John exhibited his carpentry skills, helping his father construct the first Methodist Church in Tampa, at the corner of Lafayette and Morgan streets.  John joined his father's company, the "Florida Crackers" which was formed in 1856, as a corporal, later promoted to private and finally to 1st Lieutenant. 

Family Portrait, circa 1857.  L to R;  Father, Rev. Leroy G. Lesley, sister, Mary C., mother (Livingston), John T. Lesley, at age 22.  
Courtesy of Lesley Family.

John T. Lesley on his wedding day, August 26, 1858, at age 23.   Married Margaret (Brown) Tucker, age 20, widow of William W. Tucker. 
Courtesy of Florida Archives.

When the War for Southern Independence began, John formed his own company of volunteers, "The Sunny South Guards", made up of men from the best families in the vicinity.  In December 1861, they mustered into the CSA as Company K of the 4th Florida Infantry Regiment.  They were ordered to Fernandina Beach, where they received their "Baptism by Fire" from Federals in the area.  By September '62, Lesley, had risen to Major, to fill a vacancy in the 4th Florida.  By July, the 4th saw action in Chattanooga, TN in the Battle of Murfreesboro on December 31, 1862.   Two days later, the unit was involved in bitter fighting at Stones River, TN, and, was the last Confederate Unit to retire from the field.  After these engagements, Lesley was commended for his courage by the Commander of the 4th, Col. W.L.L. Bowen, who wrote "Much is due to....Major Lesley, for (his) active efficiencies in both actions."  On Feb 28, 1863, he resigned from the 4th, and came home to Florida to form the "Cow Calvary", Company B of the 1st Battalion, Florida Special Calvary, which was charged with the important mission of feeding the Confederate forces in the West (Army of Tennessee).  Although primarily a supply unit, the "Cow Calvary" was involved in numerous skirmishes, and saw some serious fighting, ranging from Bayport (Hernando Co.), encountering 800 enemy soldiers, to Ft. Meade, Cork, Bowlegs Creek and 12 mile Creek.




Commission from Florida Governor Perry, appointing Lesley as Captain of Volunteers, Florida State Troops, "The Sunny South Guards." 
Courtesy:  University of South Florida Special Collections.

Lesley, 50, in 1885, as a Florida State Senator, and a member of the Florida State Constitutional Convention. This was the epic of his statewide political career.  
Courtesy Mitchell & DeWall, Jacksonville & Florida State Archives.


At the end of the War, Lesley found himself involved in the harrowing escape of Secretary of State Judah Benjamin, as he fled the now conquered Nation. 

After returning home to Tampa, he built a sawmill on his property.  This, together with his cattle interests, Lesley regained his status as a man of means, becoming Sheriff, Tax Assessor & Collector ex officio of Hillsborough, and was later elected Mayor of the City of Tampa.  His first action was to disband the City.

In 1876, he was elected as Hillsborough County's Representative to the Florida House.  At the end of his first term, he was chastised by his peers for voting against tax increases.  "As for myself, I made no pledge in the late campaign that I did not plan to carry out and still intend to labor for".

In 1878, he was unanimously nominated, and elected at a Hillsborough County convention, to serve as the State Senator.  His platform was continual opposition to the Radical Reconstruction just ending at the time.  He later resigned his seat over a matter of principle.


By 1879, he was one of the most successful cattlemen in Florida, shipping over 12,000 head out of the area annually.  He was also involved in real estate and was the largest landholder in Hillsborough County.  He formed a town called Fort Brooke in 1887, and served as its Mayor until 1907, when it was incorporated into the City of Tampa.

Mr. Lesley, on his horse "Black", later in life.  
Note - left arm in fixed position due to a War wound from a mini-ball.  
Courtesy:   Lesley Family

Lesley played a prominent role in promoting the progressive development in the area.   "Captain Lesley was always prominent in civic affairs and in later years, his judgment and advice were counted in matters affecting the future of Tampa and its business development..." - Tampa Tribune, 1913, posthumously.

At the time of his death, on July 13, 1913, Capt. Lesley was 78 years old, and was survived by 5 of his 6 children.

Today, the legacy of Captain John Thomas Lesley is alive and well in the the Capt. John T. Lesley Camp #1282, Sons of Confederate Veterans.  We take very seriously the honour, courage and traditions exemplified by the life and legacy of Capt. Lesley.   We are honoured to count among our members, two direct descendents of Capt. Lesley.   They are the grandson of Capt. Lesley, John T. Lesley, Sr., and his son, John T. Lesley, Jr.