03 May 2011

Mappy Monday - Florida Spanish Land Grants

If you have ancestors who were early Florida settlers, this is a must see resource. If not, it is still an interesting peek at history.

In 1790, during their 2nd period in control of Florida, Spain started offering land grants to settlers in the hopes that they could reduce the vulnerability of the colony by boosting the population.  It didn’t work – in 1819, under the cover of retaliatory attacks on Indians that had been raiding American Alabama and Georgia and then withdrawing into Spanish territory, Andrew Jackson invaded Spanish Florida.  Jackson did punish the Indians, burning numerous towns in the process.

Using the claim that Spain had been arming the Indians against Americans, he also  captured the Spanish city of Pensacola. Many historians believe that this was the true goal of Jacskon's invasion, and Jackson's letter to President Monroe shortly before the invasion certianly suggests that this is true.  "Let it be signified to me through any channel... that the possession of the Floridas would be desirable to the United States, and in sixty days it will be accomplished."   At any rate, Spain recognized their inability to defend their colony, and capitulated. By 1821, Florida belonged to the United States.

As part of the treaty that transferred Florida to the U.S., it was agreed that Spanish land grants in the now former colony would be honored. Recognizing the possibilities for major fraud by forged claims, the U.S. set up a Board of Land Commissioners was in 1822 and forced all claimants to prove their rights to the land they were claiming.

In so doing, the government created not only a very interesting look at the early settlement of Florida, but also a very useful genealogy resource. To make it an even better resource, documents from these claims have been digitized and placed online by the Florida State Archives as part of their Florida Memory project. Requirements for sucessful proof of a claim (which may run from just a few pages to over 100 pages) always included the original grant in Spanish, an English translation of the grant and also a totally new survey of the land.

These surveys, or plat maps for the property being claimed are part of these digitized claims. The ones below are from the claim of Josiah Smith, Box 31, Folder 4, Page 33, for 1,000 acres of land near the junction of the St. Mary's and Bells Rivers in what was then St. John's County, now Nassau County, Florida:

This is the original Spanish plat map

The new survey ordered by the Land Commission

It is not often that you can accurately locate a metes and bounds survey on a modern map. But as the aerial photo below shows, the odd shape of the land and the proximty of two known rivers allowed it to happen this time

Modern topographic map of the claim

Sadly this is not one of my own ancestors. I am afraid that I am still looking for that..."large red oak tree near the middle of Horse Meadow Swamp."

1 comment:

  1. This is an interesting peak at history of Florida and also interesting how the land has changed in a relatively short period of time.