Madame Fortune Taylor, a former enslaved person, is credited with helping to connect East and West Tampa and has a bridge and street named in her honor

Madame Fortune Taylor Ranson (1825-1906) gained status and garnered respect in her community during a time when Black women were seldom allowed rights, let alone land. Hillsborough County honors her legacy through the historic Fortune Taylor Bridge.

A historic bridge for a historic woman

Madame Fortune Taylor, as she is often locally referred to, was born into slavery in South Carolina in 1825. Very little is known about her until 1866 when she married Benjamin Taylor. Both Fortune Taylor and Benjamin Taylor were living as free people when they wed in Tampa, which is noted on their marriage certificate. In fact, she and her husband were the second Black couple to legally marry in Hillsborough County.

Fortune and Benjamin Taylor's marriage certificate
Fortune and Benjamin Taylor's marriage certificate specified that they were a "freed woman" and "freed man" when they married on May 5, 1866. Photo courtesy of the Hillsborough County Clerk of Court and Comptroller's office.

Together, the Fortunes managed 33 acres of land in Tampa, which were homesteaded by Benjamin Taylor. Their property ran along the east side of the Hillsborough River (what is currently the Tampa Riverwalk), from the north side of Harrison Street into Tampa Heights. They tended orchards on their vast property and are considered to be among the first citrus famers in the city. Remembered for her business acumen, local lore claims Fortune Taylor used the fruit they grew to bake pies and other goods, which she then sold to the community.

Benjamin Taylor passed in 1869, and six years later in 1875, Madame Fortune Taylor became the legal landowner. Shortly thereafter, she sold 28 of her acres to a former Tampa mayor turned real estate developer. Almost 20 years later, a new drawbridge was constructed on a portion of that land, the Fortune Street Bridge.

The bridge was named after the street it linked to, which was Fortune Street, named in honor of Madame Fortune Taylor. It was part of a main artery joining the west side of town to the east side and served as a boon to West Tampa's cigar industry. Construction of the drawbridge started in 1892 and was completed within three months.

In 1901 a tugboat knocked the bridge off its foundation. The drawbridge was left stuck in an upright position, rendering it useless. A floating bridge was eventually built so pedestrians could cross the Hillsborough River near where the former bridge stood. It wasn't until decades later, in 1924, that a second Fortune Street Bridge was finally under construction. The new drawbridge was completed in 1927. In 2017 the bridge's name was revised to Fortune Taylor Bridge.

In the 1880s, prior to either Fortune Street Bridge being built, Madame Fortune Taylor married her second husband, Edward Ranson. She died in 1906 at the age of 81 and is buried in Oaklawn Cemetery, several blocks from the bridge named in her honor.

Madame Fortune Taylor Bridge historical marker
The Madame Fortune Taylor Bridge historical marker is at the intersection of West Laurel Street and Doyle Carlton Drive, on the right when traveling west on West Laurel Street.

Historical marker inscription

Fortune and Benjamin Taylor were brought to Florida from South Carolina in the 1850s. They were owned by the Howell family. At the end of the Civil War, the newly freed couple were among the first African Americans to legally marry. Freedom came to Tampa's enslaved African Americans on May 5, 1864; Benjamin and Fortune wed on that same date in 1866.

On January 20, 1868 Benjamin claimed a thirty-three acre homestead on the east side of the Hillsborough River. Together, the couple tended orchards of oranges, guavas and peaches. After Benjamin's death in 1869, Fortune was granted homestead to the property on July 1, 1875. The street that ran through the property from the river to Oaklawn Cemetery, was eventually named for her. The Fortune Street Bridge was built in 1892 in order to promote the struggling cigar industry in West Tampa. Financed by Hugh C. Macfarlane, the bridge connected Fortune Street to the east and Arch Street to the west. With the bridge in place, cigar factories flourished and the development of West Tampa began.

Fortune Taylor became a successful businesswoman. She married her second husband, Edward Ranson in the 1880s. She lived her final years on Spring Street and died September 11, 1906.

Marker location

The marker is at the intersection of West Laurel Street and Doyle Carlton Drive, on the right when traveling west on West Laurel Street.

The Madame Fortune Taylor Bridge historical marker was erected in 2018 by the Hillsborough County Historical Advisory Council, Friends of Madame Taylor, and Bill Wagner.

Image Caption: The Fortune Street Bridge, now known as the Fortune Taylor Bridge, was rebuilt in the 1920s and is still in use today.
Posted: 2/13/2024, 9:12:12 PM