First was the heat. Heat in Florida isn’t so much searing as it is stifling. Summer temperatures hover in the middle nineties, but the humidity makes it feel at least 10 to 20 degrees hotter than that. Sweat pours off a person in sheets. If there’s a breeze, it’s at best tolerable. But if the air is still, a cloud of heat hangs around your body like a presence. The New Americans had never felt heat like this.
Before they could even build their farms, though, they first needed to clear land. Cutting through virgin pines, oaks, and palmettos with late 19th Century tools was slow going. Progress was measured in inches at times, but eventually land was cleared, homes were built, and the business of farming began.
Neither Sanford nor the immigrants knew it, but the community was doomed from the start. Mosquitoes – which some call the Florida state bird - are ever percolating in the still waters of Florida. After a year or so, the mosquitoes brought a deadly disease to their doorsteps that would put an end to St. Joseph’s.
Southerners, and Floridians in particular, lived in mortal fear of mosquito-borne yellow fever. Back then, no one really understood the disease. It was a commonly held belief that it was spread through the air. During outbreaks, many people would move to the coastal cities, thinking the air would be purer there. But even those who lived on the coast couldn’t escape yellow fever. It had a high mortality rate, and it was known to wipe entire communities off the map.
In 1886 or 1887, a family of four, whose names are now lost to history, lost one child, then the other to yellow fever. Soon the parents died as well, all before the priest could arrive from Tampa to give them their Last Rites. They were all hastily buried on their land, and the remaining pioneers abandoned their homesteads in fear of the disease and promptly left the state.