Accession Number 1990.FB.006
This February we celebrate Black History Month on our blog by acknowledging and honoring people of color who were connected to Bonnet House. In this blog we will look at the life and contributions of Jeff Lockett.
Jeff Lockett was one of Fort Lauderdale’s earliest African American pioneers. Coming from Georgia in the 1890s with Senator Thomas E. Watson, Lockett was then hired by Hugh Taylor Birch as the caretaker of his land. This land included the property Bonnet House resides on today. But to Birch, Lockett was more than a caretaker and town representative for him; Jeff became, in his own words, “a faithful and dear friend”. He came to be well-known around town and gained the nicknames “Old Jeff” and “Uncle Jeff”.
According to the article “Fort Lauderdale’s African-American Pioneers” by Susan Gillis, “A document dated 1924 shows that he was the owner of a dredge (a fairly valuable vessel), which he sold to C.J. West and then dredged out the canal and lagoon around the Bonnet House. Lockett maintained a long acquaintance with the West family; West’s brother served as caretaker at the Bonnet House property. From this friendship came a wonderful portrait of Lockett, given by West as a token of his esteem.” We know that painting well here at Bonnet House, as it resides in our Drawing Room and is a highlight of that space. It was painted by Frederic Clay Bartlett, who married Birch’s daughter, Helen. They lived here at the house for a few winters before Helen passed away in 1925. The article goes on to state: “According to county probate records, she (Helen Birch Bartlett) left Lockett $1000 – a considerable sum at the time.”
Jeff Lockett obviously made an impression during his time here on Earth and was respected and valued in the community. He continued working at the Birch estate until 1930 and passed away in 1934 at the age of 82. We thank you for your passionate and dedicated work on this land, “Uncle Jeff”.
The photographs you see here are of Jeff Lockett and Helen Birch Bartlett on a coconut-collecting expedition in the early 1910s, a solo photograph from the early 1920s, and the portrait of him by Frederic Clay Bartlett, painted in the 1920s.
To learn more about Jeff Lockett and Hugh Taylor Birch, visit Hugh Taylor Birch State Park and History Fort Lauderdale: