by Barbara Joy Cooley
The beautiful place called Dinkins Bayou is named for a little man who lived a big life.
Josiah Jackson Dinkins was born in 1849 and grew up in the “Magnolia Midlands” region, in Tattnall County, Georgia, the son of Martha and Joshia Jenkins. As a teenager, Josiah worked as a machinist – most likely, an apprentice — on the Central of Georgia Railroad during the Civil War. In that job, his small stature may have served him well. After the war, in 1868, he moved to Florida and became a steamboat engineer, licensed in Apalachicola. He was then addressed as Captain Josiah Dinkins.
By 1870, he’d moved on down to Tampa, and then on to Fort Myers in 1873. He eventually met a charming young woman who was said to have worked as a “Fat Lady” in the circus. Her name was Susan Roxann Jeffries Langford. She was 9 years younger than Josiah.
Although a couple of Sanibel historical accounts say that Captain Dinkins’ wife had worked for the circus, I honestly don’t know how she had time. She was married in 1877 at age 19 to James Wilford Lankford in Tennessee. They had seven children together! The last of those seven, Grover Lankford, was born in 1893.
James Wilford Lankford died in 1894, at age 39.
In 1894, when Susan Roxann Jeffries Lankford was 36 and Josiah was 45, they married — a first marriage for him, and a second for her. They had a son in either 1894 or 1895 (the records are not clear) named Edward Jackson “E.J.” Dinkins. (As a young man, E. J. moved to Tennessee, then Michigan, and finally California, where he lived until his death in 1958.)
Then Captain Dinkins took advantage of an opportunity; in 1888, homesteading had begun on Sanibel. Captain Dinkins homesteaded at Wulfert on Sanibel beginning in 1898. He partnered with another homesteader, Thomas Holloway. They grew citrus and vegetables until the surges caused by the Big Storm of 1910, the Key West hurricane of 1919, and the hurricanes of 1921 and 1926 finally ruined the land for farming. Farming on Sanibel was a tough way to live. But in the 28 years he worked that homestead, Josiah was a dedicated, community-minded farmer. He donated an acre of his land for the Wulfert cemetery (now between 5615 and 5645 Baltusrol Court).
By 1900, Josiah and Susan were divorced. She was living in Fort Myers, and he was on Sanibel. In 1907, she married Henry Kratz and moved to Tampa.
After the divorce, Josiah met and married Louise, a woman who was described as having “held a warm place in the affections of people with whom she came in contact.” Perhaps she was the wife who had worked for the circus?
Josiah’s beloved Louise died from a heart attack in December 1924, when she was 56 years old. Captain Dinkins erected a monument to his wife at the Wulfert cemetery, although he and his wife were buried in Fort Myers.
Josiah lived to be 92 years old. He spent his final years living at the home of his niece, Mrs. D. D. Humphrey, in Tampa. His obituary states that he was one of the incorporators of the City of Tampa.
Now when you are kayaking, boating, fishing, paddle boarding, or daydreaming on Dinkins Bayou, you know something about the man for whom it is named.