The death of Harper Lee on Friday (2/19/2016) took lovers of Southern literature by surprise.
She is best remembered, of course, for her monumental novel To Kill a Mockingbird. It is a story about coming of age in a small Southern town and is filled with memorable characters, good and bad.
Principal among these is a small town lawyer named Atticus Finch, who teaches his young daughter about the humanity of all people. The character is based on Lee’s own father, a small town lawyer named Amasa Lee.
The similarity of the real name Amasa to the fictional name Atticus is obvious.
Gregory Peck received an Academy Award for his portrayal of Atticus Finch in the movie based on Lee’s novel. A monument to the fictional lawyer can be seen on the grounds of the historic old courthouse in Monroeville, Alabama, the town that Lee called home for most of her life. (Note: See Peck as Atticus Finch in the clip from To Kill a Mockingbird at the bottom of this article).
It is a little known fact, however, that Amasa Lee – the “real” Atticus Finch – spent part of his boyhood on a farm just north of Chipley in the Florida Panhandle.
His parents, Cader A. Lee and Eufrasa Windam Lee, moved from Alabama to Florida in around 1893. Amasa was then thirteen years old.
The family settled on a small farm just north of Chipley but then across the line in neighboring Holmes County. Realignment of county boundaries, however, left the site within the limits of today’s Washington County.
Cader Lee was a homesteader and moved to Florida to take advantage of the opportunity to claim free land by establishing a home and farm on previously unclaimed lands. The site he picked is low and swampy, with Holmes Creek about one-half mile away to the west and Alligator Creek a short distance in the opposite direction.
The elder Mr. Lee obtained title to his property on March 8, 1894 when Homestead Certificate Number 10880 was approved by the land office in Gainesville. The teenage Amasa lived and worked on the 160-acre farm until he reached adulthood.
Cader and Eufrasa Lee eventually moved to Graceville in neighboring Jackson County, where their graves can be seen today at Marvin Chapel Cemetery. Amasa, however, returned to Alabama where he studied law and married Frances Cunningham. His youngest daughter – Nelle Harper Lee – was born on April 28, 1926.
The farm near Chipley eventually passed on to other owners and is marked by groves of planted pines along Carr Road today. No other trace remains of the boyhood home of Amasa Coleman Lee, the real Atticus Finch.
Watch Gregory Peck portray Atticus Finch in this clip from To Kill a Mockingbird: