WHAT IS A FLORIDA CRACKER?

Be careful who you call a Florida cracker. Some folks like to be called a cracker; others hate it.

Florida Cracker Pioneer Home

It all depends on who is doing the calling and who is doing the hearing.

For example, if a black man calls a white man "Cracker", it is not usually considered a compliment. It is a word for "bigot", and is very derogatory in that sense.

If a Yankee calls a country boy from North Florida a cracker, it might not be well received.

If that same Yankee calls a cowboy from Kissimmee a cracker, it might be okay.

The term "Florida cracker" defies easy definition. Having said that, I'll stick my neck out and give you mine.

Florida Cracker Cowboy by RemingtonFlorida Cracker Cowboy "Bone" Mizell by Frederick Remington

He or she is from a family that was here long before the huge population explosions in Florida after World War Two. He or she is almost always Caucasian.

They and their ancestors lived in Florida and prospered before the days of cars, highways, mosquito control, air conditioning, medicare, social security and government welfare.

Quite often they are defined as second, third, fourth, fifth generation Floridians, or even more. I know one man who is 7 generations removed from Captain Francis Hendry, a pioneer cattleman and the founder of LaBelle, Florida.

A Florida cracker usually has a rural upbringing, either on a farm or in a small town with plenty of woods and water for hunting and fishing and land for planting.

That's because a Florida cracker is self sufficient.

When modern civilization collapses, the Florida cracker will be hunting, fishing, trapping and growing his own food while the rest of us will be standing in line at the government owned grocery store with our ration stamps.

The Florida cracker usually has a southern heritage, and his ancestors sympathized with the Confederacy during the Civil War. You might even find a Confederate flag license tag on the front of his pickup truck.

The first crackers came to Florida before the Revolutionary War when Spain traded Florida to Great Britain.

After the new United States of America won the war, the Spanish got Florida back again from the British. It went back to the U.S. again in 1819 and became a U.S. territory in 1821.

The Origin of the name Florida Cracker

There are several versions. Here are four, but there are probably more. Somebody is probably doing a PhD dissertation on the subject even as I write this.

  • One guess goes way back to England in the 1500's. The Elizabethan era English used the word "cracker" to refer to braggarts. For example, from Shakespeare's "King John" in 1565: "What cracker is this ... that deafes our ears / With this abundance of superfluous breath?"  In other words, the great Bard is describing a blowhard. Starting about 1730 in the years before the Revolutionary War, there was a huge influx of Scots-Irish settlers from Northern Ireland to the colonies.  Many of these settlers and their descendants ended up living rural lives in the southern colonies. The English called these newcomers "crackers", and there was no love lost between the two groups. The "cracker" term was soon associated with the descendants of these early settlers, especially the cowboys and farmers of Georgia and Florida.

  • Another version of the origin of "cracker" comes from the Spanish term "cuaquero", which means "Quaker". The early Scots-Irish settlers were mostly Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist. The Spanish used to call all Protestants "Quakers", and it was not an endearing term to the Catholic Spanish.When Florida came back into the U.S. in 1819, there were twice as many Spanish Floridians as Anglos, so it's possible the nickname came from the Spanish. Majority rules, you know. Just ask the victims of ethnic jokes.
Florida Corn CrackerCorn Grinder
  • Another possibility is the sound made by the crack of the bull whips that the early Georgia and Florida settlers used to control their cattle and drive their wagons. This is still the favorite theory of Florida crackers in the cattle counties of central and southwest Florida. They're still cracking the whip even in modern times.

  • Some folks believe the term came from "cracking corn", not like "Jimmy cracked corn and I don't care" (which means to drink corn liquor), but as in grinding corn like the early Georgia and Florida settlers did to make corn flour for corn pones, corn bread, hush puppies and grits.

Florida crackers have their own language, and I've learned a few of their key words in my half century in Florida.

One day after a super heavy rain in Orlando, my Florida cracker friend Howard described it as a "litard knot floater". I needed a translation as I had only been in Florida a couple of years back then.

That's when I learned that a litard is a fat pine knot used like kindling to start fires.  A fat pine knot is very heavy, and it takes a lot of water to make it float.

If you have been wanting to learn a second language, you could do worse than to study the Florida Cracker language.

Other cool words that are still being used by Florida Crackers include:

  • Chitlins: Hog innards, cleaned and cooked.
  • Cooter: A soft shelled turtle still served by the Yearling Restaurant in Cross Creek and celebrated by the town of Inverness in an annual festival.
Florida CooterFlorida Cooter
  • Corn Pone: A cake made from cornmeal batter using milk instead of water and deep fried.
  • Cracker Horse: A small horse descended from the herds that the Spaniards brought over in the early 1500's. They evolved into surefooted herding animals used by the Florida cowhunters.
  • Croker Sack: A burlap bag.
  • Glove Box:  it's what northerners call a glove compartment in your car.
  • Greens:  the leafy part of turnips or collards that are good to eat.
  • Grits: This is a southern staple made from dry coarse ground corn. Never served as a cereal, and not hominy grits Yankees eat. The Civil War would have ended much sooner if the Confederate Army had run out of grits. 
  • Hominy: Whole grains of white corn soaked in lye and boiled. 
  • Perloo: A one dish meal of meat and rice cooked together, like shrimp perloo. Yankees call it pilau. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings has her favorite perloo recipe in her "Cross Creek Cookbook".
  • Fat Back: Fatty meat from a hog's back. Cut up in small pieces to flavor beans and greens. Also used to make lard. Also can be roasted crispy and eaten like popcorn.
Florida Feral HogFlorida Piney Woods Rooter
  • Pineywoods Rooter: A feral hog, good to eat. Crackers like to trap them, pen them and fatten them up with corn before killing them for food.
  • Pull: To take a drink of liquor from a bottle or jug. As in "take a pull of this here shine".
  • Scrub Chicken: Gopher tortoises. Crackers loved to eat them; now it is illegal to kill them.
  • Swamp Cabbage: The heart of Sabal palm, cut into chunks and boiled. A cracker delicacy.
  • Varmit: Any small animal like a rat, rabbit, or other varmint or vermin.

Some folks in recent Florida history that might be considered Florida crackers were former Florida Governors Lawton Chiles, Leroy Collins, Fuller Warren, and Doyle Carlton.  They would be considered "Cracker Aristocracy" because of their education and positions.

Congressman Bob Sikes from the panhandle was the quintessential cracker politician. Although born in south Georgia, he spent most of his life in Florida.

Sikes referred to himself as the "He Coon" when talking about how he protected his brood of constituents.

Florida Governor Lawton ChilesLawton Chiles in his Coonskin Coat

Lawton Chiles used the "He Coon" reference in his final debate with Jeb Bush in the Florida Governor's race in 1994.

Chiles was behind in the polls and said to Bush during the debate:

"The old he-coon walks just before the light of day."

I saw the debate, and Jeb Bush looked puzzled at Chiles's he-coon remark. Most viewers were also puzzled.  Chiles meant that even though he was behind in the polls, he'd make a comeback and win the election. And so he did.

When I first moved to Florida in 1960, I don't think there was a single Republican in any elected position.  Almost all office holders and politicians were Democrats and Florida Crackers in those days.

The state was run by the "Pork Chop Gang", a powerful group of north Florida and panhandle cracker politicians who controlled the Florida legislature.

To hear some Florida Cracker language, check out this old video of Governor Charley Johns, a pork chopper,  debating aspiring gubernatorial candidate Leroy Collins.

Another example of "Crackerese" is this video of a Carabelle, Florida fisherman named William Massey showing you how to clean a mullet without damaging the roe, also known as "cracker caviar".


Much of the information in our website has been published in a series of Amazon Kindle books for each of Florida's eight geographical regions.

Florida Backroads Travel, a separate Kindle book, covers all of the regions of the state in one volume.

All books can be read on a computer, tablet, Kindle and most smart phones.

Click on the book cover for free previews of these books at Amazon.com.

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