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Salt was an essential commodity during the Civil War because it was required for the preservation of meat and fish. When the Confederate states no longer had access to vital sources of salt in West Virginia and Louisiana, southerners compensated by boiling salt-rich seawater until all that was left was the precious residue. Florida became the region's most important source of salt because of its expansive seashore with uncounted bays, coves, and easily concealed locations for primitive salt "factories." It has been estimated that by 1863, Florida's major salt works produced as much as 7,500 bushels each day. The New York Herald on January 5, 1864, noted "Salt works are as plentiful in Florida as blackbirds in a rice field." Salt production was so important that the Union naval attacks on salt works changed from raids of opportunity to fully-planned attacks in an effort to disrupt supplies carried by southern blockade runners.
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Tampa was the southernmost location of Gulf coast salt production because some Floridians in the sparsely populated area south of Tampa had Union sympathies. Moreover, the coast south of Tampa was subject to shore patrols from Union naval ships stationed in the Florida Keys. Perhaps the
most well-known incident involving Tampa salt production took place in the fall of 1864. The Spanish-born patriarch of one of Tampa's pioneer families was alone tending a salt boiler on Frazier's Beach. Joseph Robles spotted a Union landing party from the USS Nita and USS Hendrick Hudson approaching. Robles, armed only with a double-barreled rifle, hid in an abandoned steam boiler and fired upon the party. Most of the landing party retreated to the craft and departed, leaving eight sailors behind. They surrendered to Robles, who marched them to Tampa while guarding them with his empty rifle. This replica salt boiler stands as a reminder of the importance of a simple "cottage" industry, operated by as many as 2,500 civilians, to the southern war effort.