Plantation owners weren’t the only pioneers that sought a new life in a tropical, fertile land. Life for lower-class pioneers wasn’t an easy one. Henry J. Wagner described the life of these early settlers of Dade County from 1840 to 1880. He depicted the first settlers in Dade County living on sow belly, grits and the fruits of the land. They made a starch from the stems of the indigenous "coonti" plant that had to be shipped to Key West and sold at auction for 1.5 to 5 cents a pound. Settlers grew a few vegetables for their own use but only farmed sweet potatoes, pumpkin and field corn. Orange trees were planted, then avocado, mangoes, sapodilla, grapefruit, citron and bananas. Transportation began improving with boats that were much faster and larger, making it easier for the people to market and sell their crops.
The use of steamboats in the Civil War led to growing commerce and industry in various port cities. Tampa, for example, became the economic and transportation hub for Southwest Florida and the interior of the State. In Tampa’s early years, lack of education and job opportunities for women left many to turn to exploitation and prostitution. Tampa became a “Sin City of the South." The seaport gave offerings of alcohol and houses of ill-repute.