The Armed Occupation Act of 1842

Land records are some of the most useful items in a genealogist’s toolbox. They pinpoint specific people in specific places at specific times, and can serve as a stepping stone to other historic records that illuminate the lives of our ancestors. Sometimes land records can tell us a lot about a given moment in the broader history of Florida as well. The records associated with the Armed Occupation Act of 1842 are an excellent example.

By the end of the Second Seminole War, which lasted from 1835 to 1842, the number of Native Americans in Florida had dwindled considerably. Many had died in battle, and over 3,800 were forcibly removed to reservations out west. The few Seminoles who stayed in Florida retreated into the southernmost reaches of the territory. Eager to prevent any further conflict between the remaining natives and white settlers, Congress passed the Armed Occupation Act in 1842, which was designed to encourage settlers to populate the Florida peninsula. The idea was that if these settlers were limited by law to those who were able to bear arms, the territory would have the makings of an army at the ready if disturbances were to arise in the future.

A depiction of the Battle of Okeechobee during the Second Seminole War (1837).

A depiction of the Battle of Okeechobee during the Second Seminole War (1837).

Under the conditions of the act, any single man 18 years of age or older or any head of a family could apply for up to 160 acres of land through the government land offices at Newnansville and St. Augustine. If the settler established a home within a year, lived on the land for five consecutive years, and cleared and enclosed at least five acres of the granted land, he or she would receive title to the entire parcel for free. As each would-be settler selected his or her land and applied to the government land office for a permit, he or she would file an application affirming that they met the lawful requirements to receive it. These applications are excellent for genealogists because they identify the settler’s name, marital status, length of residence in Florida, and the location of the land desired. This is especially helpful information for those looking to identify the pioneer settlers among their Florida ancestors. Many of the settlers who took advantage of this law were from other parts of the United States, including ex-soldiers from the Second Seminole War. Consequently, in many cases these records are the first piece of a family’s paper trail in Florida.

Armed Occupation Act permit application for Elias Hart of Alachua County. Hart made his application as a single man aged over 18 and able to bear arms. The application reveals he had been in Florida since September 1818, and that he was requesting the right to settle a parcel of land near the Annutteliga Hammock in present-day Hernando County. This document was digitized by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and accessed through the LABINS database.

Armed Occupation Act permit application for Elias Hart of Alachua County. Hart made his application as a single man aged over 18 and able to bear arms. The application reveals he had been in Florida since September 1818, and that he was requesting the right to settle a parcel of land near the Annutteliga Hammock in present-day Hernando County. This document was digitized by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and accessed through the LABINS database.

A number of prominent Florida citizens received land under the Armed Occupation Act of 1842. Ossian B. Hart, governor of Florida from 1873-1874, received 160 acres of land along the Indian River just south of Fort Pierce. Douglass Dummett, who had arrived in Florida with his father in the 1820s, received land on Merritt Island, which he used to establish an orange grove whose fruit was reputed to be unusually hardy in the face of cold weather. A “castle” of a house was later built on the Dummett property by an Italian duke (more on Dummett Castle here). Mills Olcott Burnham, a Vermont native who moved to Florida in the 1830s seeking better health, received land near Ankona, also south of Fort Pierce. Burnham was a pioneer in pineapple cultivation, as well as a keeper of the Cape Canaveral lighthouse for over two decades.

Ossian B. Hart, 10th governor of Florida (1873-1874) and a beneficiary of the Armed Occupation Act (painted circa 1870).

Ossian B. Hart, 10th governor of Florida (1873-1874) and a beneficiary of the Armed Occupation Act (painted circa 1870).

Captain Mills Olcott Burnham of Cape Canaveral, businessman, pineapple farmer, and lighthouse keeper (circa 1880).

Captain Mills Olcott Burnham of Cape Canaveral, businessman, pineapple farmer, and lighthouse keeper (circa 1880).

So how do you go about using these documents? The State Library & Archives hold microfilm copies of these permit applications, along with an index (Record Series 1305). Also, the Department of Environmental Protection has digitized the originals as part of the LABINS database (click here to view it). To search the permit applications, set the “Document Type” field to “AOP” and add in the first and last names you wish to look up. Keep in mind that spellings for a single name can vary over time, so be prepared to try a few different versions of names if necessary. We recommend not filling out any other fields for this particular kind of search in LABINS.

To search for an ancestor's Armed Occupation Act permit in LABINS, select "AOP" from the Document Type menu and fill out the  name fields. Sometimes given names have variable spellings - consider searching for last names only at first.

To search for an ancestor’s Armed Occupation Act permit in LABINS, select “AOP” from the Document Type menu and fill out the name fields. Sometimes given names have variable spellings – consider searching for last names only at first.

If you find you have ancestors who received land through the Armed Occupation Act, you’ll likely also find them in the 1845 Election Returns, which are available digitally on Florida Memory. They may also appear in a number of records available for research in person at the State Library & Archives in Tallahassee. Check out our Guide to Genealogical Research for more details.

This return from Florida's 1845 statehood election records the votes of citizens voting at the home of Mills Olcott Burnham of St. Lucie County. Burnham served both as a voter and a poll inspector.

This return from Florida’s 1845 statehood election records the votes of citizens voting at the home of Mills Olcott Burnham of St. Lucie County. Burnham served both as a voter and a poll inspector.

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8 thoughts on “The Armed Occupation Act of 1842

  1. Found my ggg-grandfather Ivey Royal in the Labins Index reflecting a deed dated 1883. I have other records(census, Confederate Muster Rolls, and Confederate Pension) that prove he was in Florida prior to 1883. Why would he have waited until 1883 to file a deed?

    • Excellent question! A couple of possibilities come to mind. LABINS only covers land documents associated with government land sales. In other words, it does not cover sales of land between private individuals or corporations. Ivey Royal may have owned land prior to 1883 that he bought from a private owner instead of from the State of Florida or the federal government. In this case, the deed would be held by the county courthouse rather than the state. A second possibility is that he occupied a plot of land without actually owning it. This is more common than you would think, especially in the days when the State of Florida was in the habit of giving large grants of land to corporations that promised to improve them. Often the land would be held by these corporations for years without any activity at all, and settlers would use the vacant land for their own purposes, especially as range land for cattle. In this case, you won’t find a record at all, unless Ivey acquired the land somehow through adverse possession proceedings (separate kettle of fish). A third possibility is that he acquired land from the federal government rather than through the state government. Federal land grant records are available from the U.S. Department of the Interior here: https://www.glorecords.blm.gov/default.aspx

      Best of luck – let us know how your search turns out!

  2. Pingback: Weekend Update – 21 June 2015

  3. LABIN: http://www.labins.org/survey_data/landrecords/landrecords.cfm also has images of the original plat maps of Florida starting just after Florida became a U.S. Territory. Few names are on the maps, but roads and stage routes are to be found. If you have the legal description (township, range and section) of an ancestors property site then the above will show a surveyor’s graphic description of it before they settled it.

    You could with some work make an overlay for a modern map in GoogleEarth.

    • Tom-Thanks very much! I have been searching for proof of the stage coach road that, I have heard, ran through my front yard! In searching the LABIN records I found our property, with a dotted line going through it, however, no mention of what the line represents. Do you know how I can find out? I’m so interested because I have used a metal detector and found musketballs and civil war era bullets on my very first search! Thanks again for the great tip about LABIN!

  4. Do you have the AOA’s that weren’t proved out? Example, #150 for Thomas W. Pyles wasn’t used as he bought land from the Dell family and remained in or around Newnansville, Alachua Co., FL. Also, Henry Hope’s land wasn’t proved either. The national Archives sent me the file that his unused land was eventually purchased for Phosphate use c1900s. He bought his father-in-law (Michael Garrison)’s land in Hernando Co.

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