PIECES OF THE PAST: Nathan Mayo — A Precocious Agriculture Commissioner

Tacy CalliesPieces of the Past


By Brenda Eubanks Burnette

Florida’s agriculture commissioners have always been extremely important to the state’s citrus industry. One of the first Citrus Industry magazine articles I was able to find on a past Florida commissioner of agriculture was about the appointment of Nathan Mayo. It appeared in the November 1923 issue of the magazine. I thought it was extremely interesting considering the enormous amount of business experience he had at such a young age.

Following are excerpts from the original article:

“Honorable Nathan Mayo, of Summerfield, who was recently appointed as commissioner of agriculture by Governor Hardee, following the resignation of Commissioner McRae, took up the duties of his new position on November First.

“Nathan Mayo was born on a plantation at Whitakers, Nash County, N.C., December 1st, 1876. His father was Col. James M. Mayo and a native of Richmond, Va., and his mother a native of North Carolina. His family moved to Florida in 1886 and settled at Ocala, where he finished his education in the public schools. 

“At the age of 12 years he undertook his first business venture, which was a cool drink and confectionery stand under the firm name of Mayo and Livingston, their building being a piano box, and next door to the Munroe & Chambliss Bank. At the age of 14 years and between school hours, he began working for the Anti-Monopoly Drug Store. This position he held, becoming part owner of same, until he was 23. Finding this business very confining and very much against his health, he moved to Summerfield, Marion County, with a capital of less than $200, and started a small store in which the post office was located. After five years he was owner of a flourishing country store, and today the Mayo-Lyles store is the largest gen­eral store between Ocala and Dade City. The firm has done some ex­tensive business as cotton buyers, and buyers of farm produce, and handle everything from the ‘cradle to the grave.’” 

The article goes on to describe Mayo’s growth in the agricultural arena: “He is interested in and operates a large farm and nursery at Summerfield and owns citrus groves at Weirsdale and extensive real estate holdings. He has always been a great worker for good roads and the small farmers in helping them market their crops to the best advantage. He is a director of the Munroe & Chambliss National Bank, Ocala, Fla., of the Florida Development Board, Summerfield Tomato Growers’ Association, Marion County Fair and Agricultural Association. (He) was a practical naval stores operator for several years, and until the boll weevil destroyed the cotton crops was president and general manager of the Farmers Gin & Mill Company, which was one of the largest cotton gins in the central part of the state. 

“Mr. Mayo served in the 1921 and 1923 terms of House of Representatives from Marion County, in which position he has made an enviable rec­ord. During the 1923 session he served on the following committees: Agriculture, Appropriations, Finance and Taxation, Public Roads, Efficiency, Legislative Expense, Insurance, and was chairman of Convicts Committee. He also served on the following special committees: Investigation of Boys’ School at Marianna, and the Hospital for the Insane at Chattahoochee. (He) was chairman of House Conference Committee on Convict Bill and on House Conference Committee on Appropriation Bill.”

The article goes on to say: “Mr. Mayo says that he will continue the advertising policy of Mr. McRae in letting the world know of the many advantages Florida possesses as an agricultural and fruit-growing state. He is a great advocate of cooperative marketing, having had a great deal of successful personal experience … He further stated that his greatest aim would be to bring more land under cultivation and larger financial results to the acreage already cultivated; to invite more and new in­dustries, to specialize on certain pro­ducts in various parts of the state, to cooperate with every civic body in the state possible to advance the best interests of our great state, in other words, A GREATER FLORIDA, and invites your support and cooperation.”

This last paragraph is still an apt description of what the mission of the Florida commissioner of agriculture’s role should be. 

Brenda Eubanks Burnette is executive director of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. Pieces of the Past is presented in partnership with Florida Southern College’s McKay Archives Center in Lakeland.