United States vs. Schooner Emperor (1839)

This series highlights antebellum cases from the files of the Florida Supreme Court and its predecessor, the Florida Territorial Court of Appeals.

With its long coastline, numerous bays, inlets, and treacherous reefs, Florida presented unique problems for the creation and enforcement of maritime law.

One consequence of Florida’s coastal geography and proximity to the Caribbean was that the territory served as a frequent terminus for the illicit slave trade. Although the international slave trade was formally abolished in 1808, slave catchers continued to kidnap African people and transport them across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas. Such illegal trafficking in human cargo provoked the case United States vs. Schooner Emperor.

Page from the U.S. Supreme Court case U.S. vs. Schooner Emperor (1839)

In early 1837, the schooner Emperor left Cuba for the United States. Its destination was the port of St. Joseph along Florida’s northern Gulf coast. Charles G. Cox, captain of the vessel, intended to discreetly unload his illegal cargo and reap a handsome profit. According to a Florida law passed in 1822, the fine for smuggling slaves into Florida was $300 per infraction. Men like Cox considered this sum well worth the risk.

Harbor officials apparently made no effort to thoroughly inspect the Emperor upon its arrival in St. Joseph Bay. Local citizens, however, alerted authorities when they perceived black people moving about on the ship’s deck. At some point the kidnapped Africans were brought ashore, marched overland, and then ferried across St. Andrew’s Bay (near modern-day Panama City). Their intended final destination was a life of servitude on a plantation in Washington County.

United States Marshall Samuel Duval followed the rumors and recovered the smuggled Africans. Under the law of 1822, these people should have received their freedom, but their fate is unclear from the documents remaining in the case file. Perhaps they were returned to Africa? Documents from the case suggest that the group indeed came directly from Africa, as opposed to having been kidnapped from elsewhere in the Americas.

Attention now turned to the fate of the Emperor. Upon depositing its cargo at St. Joseph Bay, the ship traveled to Pensacola, then Mobile, and planned to return to Havana. Captain Cox apparently took a detour and landed again at Pensacola instead of immediately sailing for Cuba from Mobile. Authorities seized the ship when it docked at Pensacola and took Cox into custody. He quickly posted bail and thereafter disappears from the remainder of records related to the case.

The Circuit Court of West Florida in Pensacola debated what would become of the ship. The evidence implicating the vessel in the illegal slave trade proved scant. No one came forward to testify on behalf of the territory of Florida, so the court determined to return the vessel to its owners. Apparently, too many people still benefited from the illegal slave trade. No one who originally alerted authorities to the illegal cargo came forward and no one pressured the original whistleblowers into testifying.

Lawyers challenged the decision to return the Emperor to its owners and the case went to the Territorial Court of Appeals. The high court determined to put the Emperor up for public auction, with the proceeds reverting to the territory of Florida. Marshall Duval collected the funds, but refused to deposit them into the territory’s coffers. Eventually, Duval conceded, but, because of a lack of evidence, the funds ultimately returned to the claimants of the Emperor.

This case provides an example of the illegal slave trade activity that took place in Florida’s waters before the Civil War. It also demonstrates the difficulty in bringing to justice those that continued to kidnap African people and import them illegally into the United States.

To learn more about this case, see Dorothy Dodd, “The Schooner Emperor: An Incident of the Illegal Slave Trade in Florida,” The Florida Historical Quarterly 13:3 (January 1935): 117-128.

Dade’s Battle (December 28, 1835)

The State Library and Archives of Florida provides access to a multitude of published and unpublished resources for the study of Native American history and culture. In recognition of Native American Heritage Month, this series highlights materials in the collection that speak to the past and ongoing influence of Native peoples in Florida history.

The Second Seminole War (1835-1842) is regarded by historians as the longest and costliest Indian war in United States history. The conflict began in December 1835 with an event known as Dade’s Battle, or, from the American perspective, the Dade Massacre.

Map of the Dade Battlefield, published in Myer M. Cohen, Notices of Florida and the Campaigns (Charleston: Burges & Honour, 1836)

Map of the Dade Battlefield, published in Myer M. Cohen, Notices of Florida and the Campaigns (Charleston: Burges & Honour, 1836)

The battle took place along the Fort King Road near modern-day Bushnell. Seminole and black warriors opened fire on U.S. troops under the command of Major Francis L. Dade as they passed along a section of the road bordered by saw palmetto and pine scrub. The initial volley killed half of the white soldiers and within hours all but three of Dade’s 110 men lay dead on the battlefield. Only one soldier survived long enough to recount the American defeat.

The account of the battle below was attributed to the Seminole leader Halpatter Tustenuggee (Alligator) and published in John T. Sprague, The Origins, Progress, and Conclusion of the Florida War (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1848). Alligator’s account provides insight into the Seminoles’ war strategy and the tactics that yielded several victories in the early stages of the Second Seminole War. His account is significant because it represents one of the few available from the Native American perspective.

Spellings used in the original are retained, with minimal notes in brackets for clarification when necessary.

Alligator’s Account of the Dade Battle

“We had been preparing for this more than a year. Though promises had been made to assemble on the 1st of January, it was not to leave the country, but to fight for it. In council, it was determined to strike a decided blow about this time. Our agent at Fort King [General Wiley Thompson] had put irons on our men, and said we must go. Oseola [or Osceola] said he was his friend, he would see to him.

“It was determined that he [Oseola] should attack Fort King, in order to reach General Thompson, then return to the Wahoo Swamp, and participate in the assault mediated upon the soldiers coming from Fort Brooke, as the negroes there had reported that two companies were preparing to march. He was detained longer than we anticipated. The troops were three days on their march, and approaching the Swamp. Here we thought it best to assail them; and should we be defeated the Swamp would be a safe place to retreat.

“Our scouts were out from the time the soldiers left the post, and reported each night their place of encampment. It was our intention to attack them on the third night, but the absence of Oseola and Micanopy prevented it. On the arrival of the latter it was agreed not to wait for Oseola, as the favorable moment would pass.

“Micanopy was timid, and urged delay. Jumper earnestly opposed it, and reproached the old chief with indecision. He addressed the Indians, and requested those who had faint hearts to remain behind; he was going, when Micanopy said he was ready. Just as day was breaking we moved out of the swamp into the pine-barren. I counted, by direction of Jumper, one hundred eighty warriors. Upon approaching the road, each man chose his position on the west side; opposite, on the east side, there was a pond. Every warrior was protected by a tree, or secreted in the high palmettoes.

“About nine o’clock in the morning the command approached. In advance, some distance, was an officer on a horse, who, Micanopy said, was the captain; he knew him personally; had been his friend at Tampa. So soon as all the soldiers were opposite, between us and the pond, perhaps twenty yards off, Jumper gave the whoop, Micanopy fired the first rifle, the signal agreed upon, when every Indian rose and fired, which laid upon the ground, dead, more than half the white men. The cannon was discharged several times, but the men who loaded it were shot down as soon as the smoke cleared away; the balls passed far over our heads.

“The soldiers shouted and whooped, and the officers shook their swords and swore. There was a little man, a great brave, who shook his sword at the soldiers and said, ‘God-dam!’ no rifle-ball could hit him. As we were returning to the swamp, supposing all were dead, an Indian came up and said the white men were building a fort of logs. Jumper and myself, with ten warriors, returned.

“As we approached, we saw six men behind two logs placed one above another, with the cannon a short distance off. This they discharged at us several times, but we avoided it by dodging behind the trees just as they applied the fire. We soon came near, as the balls went over us. They had guns, but no powder; we looked in the boxes afterward and found they were empty. When I got inside the log-pen, there were three white men alive, whom the negroes put to death, after a conversation in English.

“There was a brave man in the pen; he would not give up; he seized an Indian, Jumper’s cousin, took away his rifle, and with one blow with it beat out his brains, then ran some distance up the road; but two Indians on horseback overtook him, who, afraid to approach, stood at a distance and shot him down. The firing had ceased, and all was quite when we returned to the swamp about noon.

“We left many negroes upon the ground looking at the dead men. Three warriors were killed and five wounded.”

State of Florida vs. Luke, a Slave (1853)

This series highlights antebellum cases from the files of the Florida Supreme Court and its predecessor, the Florida Territorial Court of Appeals.

Many antebellum cases before Florida’s Territorial Court of Appeals and Supreme Court involved individuals who left little evidence of their lives in the historical record. This is especially true for cases involving African-American slaves.

In 1853, the Florida Supreme Court considered the case of State of Florida vs. Luke, a slave. Luke stood accused of committing a crime at the behest of his master, Abraham Dupont. Following his master’s orders, Luke killed mules belonging to Joseph M. Hernandez, a planter and Florida militia commander during the Second Seminole War (1835-42). The animals, according to Dupont, had ravaged crops on his land. Adam, a slave and head driver for Hernandez, discovered the mules dead along the road that connected the two plantations with St. Augustine, and traced the source of the deed to Luke.

Page from the Florida Supreme Court case State of Florida vs. Luke, a Slave (1853)

The Circuit Court located in St. Johns County had, in 1851, found Luke guilty of “malicious destruction of property” under Florida’s penal code of 1832. Another issue of note from this case was that Dupont had allowed Luke to carry a firearm, as evidenced by his shooting of the mules. Florida law was unclear about this point. In practice, masters strictly prohibited slaves from keeping firearms, except in cases such as Luke’s where the weapon had a specific purpose.

The lawyer for the defense, McQueen McIntosh, challenged the Circuit Court decision on the grounds that slaves were not afforded protection under the penal code as revised in 1832. The 1832 law outlined separate punishments for blacks and whites who committed the same offense. The debate then turned to whether the 1832 law adequately covered the questions raised by the crimes committed by Luke, or if he should be tried under an earlier law of 1828, specifically, in accordance with the slave codes reserved for bondsmen. In essence, the case boiled down to whether or not Luke was capable of exerting free will, or if he had to kill the mules because he was ordered to do so by his master. If he had no choice in the matter, should his master instead be charged with the crime?

These questions proved too complex for the court to fully consider and the case was vacated on procedural grounds. The judge found that in order to perpetuate the institution of slavery and the superiority of whites over blacks, Luke could not be charged under the 1832 law. The case also brought forward issues involved with the interpretation of the 1828 slave codes, but the court declined to engage the myriad problems arising from the 1828 and 1832 laws as they related to slaves.

This case demonstrated the powerlessness of the enslaved in the antebellum legal system in Florida. As made clear in the case of Luke, white jurists would rather forgive his crimes than allow a slave to stand trial on equal footing with white men.

Native Floridians through European Eyes

The State Library and Archives of Florida provides access to a multitude of published and unpublished resources for the study of Native American history and culture. In recognition of Native American Heritage Month, this series highlights materials in the collection that speak to the past and ongoing influence of Native peoples in Florida history.

It should be no surprise that some of the earliest images of Native peoples in what is now the United States originated in Florida. The first recorded European expedition to North America, under the command of Juan Ponce de León, landed somewhere along the east coast of Florida in 1513. Several conquistadors followed over the ensuing half century and left a trail of bloodshed across the peninsula.

"Floridae Americae Provinciae Recens & Exactissima," attributed to Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues (1591)

“Floridae Americae Provinciae Recens & Exactissima,” attributed to Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues and published by Theodor de Bry (1591)

In 1564, the second of two French expeditions landed in northeast Florida near the St. Johns River. They established a short-lived settlement, dubbed Fort Caroline, which survived until it was destroyed by the Spanish in 1565.

Plate I: The Promontory of Florida, at Which the French Touched; Named by Them the French Promontory, by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1591)

Plate I: The Promontory of Florida, at Which the French Touched; Named by Them the French Promontory, by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1591)

One of the members of the ill-fated French settlement, cartographer and artist Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, is credited with creating the earliest known images of Native Floridians during his brief stay. Le Moyne survived the Spanish attack and sought refuge in England upon his return to Europe.

It is unknown whether Le Moyne’s sketches made in Florida survived the journey across the Atlantic, or if he later reproduced drawings from memory. Regardless, by 1591, engraver Theodor de Bry had acquired sketches and an account from Le Moyne’s widow and published them, along with other scenes of the Americas, in a series known as Grand Voyages.

Plate VIII: The Natives of Florida Worship the Column Erected by the Commander on his First Voyage, by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1591)

Plate VIII: The Natives of Florida Worship the Column Erected by the Commander on his First Voyage, by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1591)

De Bry’s renditions of Le Moyne’s images are some of the most significant and controversial artifacts that document European activities in 16th century America. Scholars have long pointed out the inaccuracies present in many of the de Bry engravings. Despite the problematic nature of the engravings as a whole, they do provide small glimpses into Native American culture in 16th century Florida.

The images below are among those in the de Bry series that provide hints into the life and customs of Native Floridians. The indigenous people depicted in the images were known as the Timucua, and they inhabited northeast and north-central Florida at the time of first contact with Europeans and Africans in the early 16th century.

The Timucua were divided into several small chiefdoms and subsisted on farming, hunting, and harvesting marine resources. Ethnographic evidence from the 17th century, in the form of documents created by Spanish priests, lend additional credibility to some of the elements portrayed by de Bry in his 1591 publication.

Plate XVIII: The Chief Applied to by Women Whose Husbands Have Died in the War or by Disease, by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1591)

Plate XVIII: The Chief Applied to by Women Whose Husbands Have Died in the War or by Disease, by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1591)

The motivations of the artist are quite apparent in the above image. The European soldiers in the background stand armed with superior technology–guns–while the Native warriors carry only bow and arrows. The intended message was that Europeans need not worry about the military prowess of the Indians, because the Europeans enjoyed far greater firepower.

The portrayal of women kneeling before the chief is more complex. The chief is adorned with elaborate tattoos, a detail unlikely fabricated by de Bry. Later evidence gathered by European observers confirms that Native American men and women tattooed their bodies with a variety of symbols.

The caption that accompanied this image explains that, as part of his chiefly duties, the chief had the power to compel warriors to attack rival tribes and take captives. The captives would then become part of the capturing tribe through ritual adoption.

This image alone might convey to European males the notion that women were subordinate to the chief, and men in general, in their society. However, as elsewhere in the Native southeast, the chief in this case is obligated to the women to launch a military campaign to replace loved ones lost to war or disease.

Plate XXXVI: The Youth at Their Exercises, by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1591)

Plate XXXVI: The Youth at Their Exercises, by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1591)

The image above portrays the various types of athletic activity engaged in by Timucuan youth. The pole at the center represents a local version of a game found throughout eastern North America. Sometimes called the ball game, or stickball, tribes from New England to Florida to the Mississippi Valley played versions of this game, and their descendents still do today.

One of the best accounts of the game was collected in 1676 by Juan de Paiva among the Apalachee, western neighbors to the Timucua.

Plate XXII: Industry of the Floridians in Depositing Their Crops in the Public Granary, by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1591)

Plate XXII: Industry of the Floridians in Depositing Their Crops in the Public Granary, by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1591)

There are two aspects of the above image worth noting. First, the portrayal of the dugout canoe corresponds to the findings of archeologists throughout the state of Florida. Canoes found in Florida, constructed in the manner depicted here, date from 5,000 years ago to the early 20th century, the most recent versions built by Seminole and Miccosukee Indians.

The second important aspect of this image is the reference to the public granary in the accompanying caption. Evidence from throughout the southeast indicates that certain tribes used public granaries to store and dispense commonly harvested agricultural goods.

In the largest chiefdoms, the chief alone distributed the contents of the granary to his people. Well into the historic period, leaders in the Muskogee world, including the Creeks and Seminoles, maintained public granaries and other methods of communal distribution.

Plate XXIIII: Mode of Drying Fish, Wild Animals, and other Provisions, by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1591)

Plate XXIIII: Mode of Drying Fish, Wild Animals, and other Provisions, by Theodor de Bry (ca. 1591)

This final image depicts Timucuan methods of cooking meat in the fashion known today as barbecue. The modern English language term barbecue likely derives from baribicu, meaning “scared fire” in Timucuan and related languages spoken by Native inhabitants of the Greater Antilles.

Although we certainly learn more about the ideology and intentions of the European creators of these images than we do about the Native people they portray, the  significance of the de Bry engravings cannot be discounted in the history of Native American-European encounters. These images certainly influenced many who saw them and have figured prominently in the European imagination of Native Americans from the time of their creation to the present.

Visit the de Bry engravings collection page on Florida Memory to learn more about the significance and controversy surrounding these remarkable images.

November is Native American Heritage Month

The State Library and Archives of Florida provides access to a multitude of published and unpublished resources for the study of Native American history and culture. In recognition of Native American Heritage Month, this series highlights materials in the collection that speak to the past and ongoing influence of Native peoples in Florida history.

One of the unique resources held by the State Archives is the Florida Folklife Collection. State folklorists and the Seminole Tribe of Florida collaborated on several initiatives that produced a wealth of documentation on modern Seminole culture.

Canoe builders Bobby Henry (left) and Danny Wilcox, Tampa, 1988

Canoe builders Bobby Henry (left) and Danny Wilcox, Tampa, 1988

For example, the Seminole Slide and Tape Project, conducted in the early 1980s, resulted in a number of interviews and photographs documenting traditional arts and crafts. Other projects, such as the Seminole Video Project, yielded additional ethnographic materials used to educate Floridians about Seminole history and culture.

Some of the interviews gathered during the slide and tape project, facilitated by Seminole interpreters, feature informants speaking Muskogee (Creek) or Hitchiti (Mikasuki), indigenous languages spoken by members of the Seminole and Miccosukee Tribes in Florida.

Agnes Cypress holding a pole used to grind corn, Ochopee, 1989

Agnes Cypress holding a pole used to grind corn, Ochopee, 1989

In addition to formal interviews, the Florida Folklife Collection also contains sound recordings of Seminole musicians and storytellers who appeared at the Florida Folk Festival in White Springs, from the 1950s to the early 2000s. Prominent Seminole leaders, such as James Billie and Betty Mae Jumper, regularly participated in the festival.

James Billie and Don Grooms performing at the Florida Folk Festival, White Springs, 1983

James Billie and Don Grooms performing at the Florida Folk Festival, White Springs, 1983

“Back to the Swamp,” by James Billie

Download: MP3

Stay tuned for more posts on Native Americans in Florida history, featuring original and published materials held by the State Library and Archives of Florida.

Justus R. Fortune vs. City of Tallahassee (1850)

This series highlights antebellum cases from the files of the Florida Supreme Court and its predecessor, the Florida Territorial Court of Appeals.

In 1850, the Florida Supreme Court considered the case City of Tallahassee v. Justus R. Fortune. The case came to the state’s highest court on appeal from Leon County. It centered on the responsibility of an incorporated body, in this case the City of Tallahassee, for maintaining a public road within its boundaries.

Page from Florida Supreme Court case Fortune v. City of Tallahassee (1850)

Justus R. Fortune was a resident of Tallahassee. According to the case file, he operated a tin shop along a city-maintained road and owned at least one horse. On October 3, 1848, Fortune lent his horse to George W. Hutchins, who borrowed the animal for an unspecified purpose.

When Hutchins finished his business and returned the horse, he hitched it to a post near Fortune’s tin shop in the customary fashion. At some point, the horse broke loose from the hitching post and escaped. A thorough search of the surrounding area failed to recover the animal.

The next day, Fortune discovered the horse, badly injured, at the bottom of a ditch that crossed the city road adjacent to his property. The horse later died. He blamed the City of Tallahassee for failing to maintain the regularly-traveled public thoroughfare, as evidenced by the “nuisance” ditch, which had resulted in the death of his horse. Fortune sought to recover $125 from the city as compensation for his loss.

Fortune’s case against the city rested on language contained within Tallahassee’s Act of Incorporation. According to the Act, the city had both the power and the responsibility to “prevent and remove nuisances” within its corporate limits. In this case, the section of road in question existed firmly within city limits, and therefore, Tallahassee officials had the responsibility to provide for its maintenance.

Fortune’s legal representation cited various U.S. court cases from other states and English Common Law as precedent for upholding the principal that the City of Tallahassee bore responsibility for maintaining the road and answering for accidents such as that which befell Fortune’s horse. The court agreed: “…that the City of Tallahassee was guilty of a nonfeasance in permitting the nuisance mentioned…to remain…”

The only brief point of contention was whether Fortune had taken all necessary and deliberate care to protect his property. Could he be to blame for not better securing his horse? Whether Hutchins could be charged with negligence did not become an issue.

The court found that: “…if a person should go headlong with his beast upon a nuisance, which (with ordinary care) he might have avoided, he ought not to have damages for his loss in consequence of his own recklessness.” The court determined that citizens daily hitched their horses and other animals throughout the town along public roads. Sometimes these animals escaped. But, these escapes were certainly accidental occurrences, instead of widespread negligence.

This case established important precedent in Florida law, following English Common Law and decisions made by courts in other states. Overtime, the responsibility (and liability) of incorporated settlements to maintain public property within their boundaries extended far beyond roads to include all types of infrastructure, and even persons employed by cities and towns on official business. Cases like Fortune form the legal basis for the rights of citizens to make cities and towns responsible for maintaining public works and other manifestations of taxpayer-funded infrastructure within corporate limits.

Digitizing the Governor Milton Letterbook (Part One)

Reunited, and It Feels So Good…

On July 10, 2013, volume one of Governor John Milton’s letterbooks returned to Tallahassee. The mostly dis-bound, fire-damaged letterbook resided in Florida’s capital city on at least two separate occasions prior to this year when the Florida Historical Society lent it to the State Archives for digitization.

The State Archives holds part two of Milton’s letterbooks, which covers the period from 1863 to 1865, but this is the first time in a long time that both volumes have been in the same location. The story of how these two letterbooks were reunited in Tallahassee reveals the often circuitous route taken by historical documents, from the time of their creation until they find a permanent home.

Letter from John Milton to Jefferson Davis, November 1861

Letter from John Milton to Jefferson Davis, November 1861

The most obvious distinguishing feature about volume one of Milton’s letterbook is the fire-damaged pages. The fire in question occurred at the residence of William Hall Milton, grandson of John Milton, in Marianna, Florida, in about 1912. According to W.H. Milton, the fire burned many family papers, but a tin box preserved the letterbook and a few other documents tucked safely inside.

In 1937, W.H. Milton came into contact with Daisy Parker, a student at the Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee (FSCW). Parker was in the process of writing a senior paper on John Milton and somehow became aware of the singed papers in Marianna.

Kathryn Abbey, a professor at FSCW, wrote to Watt Marchman, a professor at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, about Parker’s discovery. Marchman, a member of the Florida Historical Society (FHS), contacted W.H. Milton about adding the letterbook to their collections. Milton agreed to the proposal, and promised to have the letterbook forwarded to Jacksonville (then the home of the FHS) upon the completion of Parker’s research.

The letterbook arrived in Jacksonville on July 1, 1937. It is not known whether Parker consulted volume two of Milton’s letterbooks, which at the time resided at the State Library in Tallahassee, or if she ever submitted her senior paper.

And so it was that one Milton letterbook left Tallahassee for the second time since its creation during the early years of the Civil War.

By 1979, the FHS collection, including volume one of Milton’s letterbooks, had been transferred to the University of South Florida in Tampa. Archivists overseeing the FHS collections contacted the Bureau of Archives and Records Management (BARM) in Tallahassee about exchanging copies of the letterbooks to aid researchers at both institutions. In the summer of 1979, an agreement was made and the two repositories swapped photocopies of their Milton letterbooks.

Since the exchange of photocopies in 1979, researchers at both institutions (FHS later moved to Cocoa, Florida) have enjoyed access to the complete John Milton letterbooks, though with one volume at both sites being in the form of photocopies.

Because of the fragile nature of the fire-damaged portions of the letterbook, few researchers have had access to the volume one originals. This will remain the case, but through digitization researchers can now see the originals online, burnt edges and all.

Careful high-resolution scanning of the originals will ensure the continued integrity of the documents as well as make them available online via the Florida Memory website. The digitization of this project is ongoing and should be completed in the summer of 2014.

Stay tuned for future posts on interesting finds in the charred pages of John Milton’s first letterbook…

FHS Digitization in Progress…

Each year, the Florida Memory team selects one large archival collection for digitization and addition to the website.

This year, our friends at the Florida Historical Society in Cocoa loaned us two collections from their holdings for digitization. The first is Governor John Milton’s letterbook from 1861-1863. The second collection includes correspondence and other documents related to two-time territorial governor Richard Keith Call and his daughter Ellen Call Long.

We will scan the original documents, such as the one below, and make them searchable through an online database. This process will take about one year, with the collection going live in the summer of 2014.

Image from John Milton's Letterbook, 1861

Image from John Milton’s Letterbook, 1861

This series of blog posts will chronicle the digitization of these remarkable collections and highlight significant documents discovered along the way.

Stay tuned for the second installment, which examines the journey of Governor John Milton’s letterbook to Tallahassee… for the third time.

Old Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Home

One of the newest collections on Florida Memory is the Old Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Home. This collection consists of applications for admission to the Home as well as a small amount of documentation attesting to the veracity of the applicant’s claim.

Confederate veterans reunion, Crawfordville, 1904

Confederate veterans reunion, Crawfordville, 1904

The Home opened in Jacksonville in April 1893 and operated until 1938. In its final years of operation, organizations such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy played a significant role in caring for the veterans.

These documents provide a wealth of information about Confederate veterans and the health problems they incurred as a result of their service. These records complement the Confederate Pension Applications, which provide more comprehensive information about Confederate veterans and widows living in Florida after the Civil War.


This series looks at the etymology of Florida place names derived from the Muskogee and Hitchiti languages.

Many Florida place names owe their origins to Muskogee and Hitchiti, two of the languages spoken by members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. The persistence of Muskogee and Hitchiti words as modern Florida place names reflects the prominent role played by Native Americans in the region’s history.

Today’s term is Okeechobee, meaning “big water.” The word is a combination of okee (water) and chobee (big).

Excerpt from “Map of the Seat of War in Florida,” (1839)

Excerpt from “Map of the Seat of War in Florida,” (1839)

Okeechobee is perhaps the best known Muskogee language place name in Florida. Prior to the 19th century, however, the lake was known by a succession of different names. For example, in the map below the lake is labeled as “Lac du St. Esprit,” a French version of the Spanish imposed name Laguna Espiritu Santo (Lagoon of the Holy Spirit).

Excerpt from "Carte de la Floride et de la Georgie," by Jacques Nicolas Bellin, 1780

Excerpt from “Carte de la Floride et de la Georgie,” by Jacques Nicolas Bellin, 1780

Another name for the lake used by Europeans in the late 1700s was Lake Mayaco, as shown on the map below by English cartographer Bernard Romans. The term Mayaco is possibly derived from Mayaimi, a name for an indigenous tribe that occupied the area at the time of first contact with Europeans and Africans.

Excerpt from "General Map of the Southern British Colonies," by Bernard Romans, ca. 1776

Excerpt from “General Map of the Southern British Colonies,” by Bernard Romans, ca. 1776

Maps from early territorial Florida also used forms of the ancient term, such as Macaco in the below example by H.S. Tanner.

Excerpt from "Map of Florida," by H.S. Tanner, 1823

Excerpt from “Map of Florida,” by H.S. Tanner, 1823

The Americans learned a great deal about the geography of southern Florida during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). Sometime in the early stages of that conflict, U.S. Army topographers started using Okeechobee as the name for the large, shallow lake that serves as the headwaters of the Everglades. The area around Lake Okeechobee witnessed significant combat during the Seminole Wars, especially during the Battles of Lake Okeechobee (December 25, 1837) and Loxahatchee (January 24, 1838).

Seminole families reoccupied the region near Lake Okeechobee following the conclusion of the Seminole Wars. As late as the 1920s and 1930s, Seminole camps in the area extended from as far north as Sawgrass Lake in western Brevard County, to as far south as the Palm Beach canal, and at several spots along the northern rim of Lake Okeechobee, from west of Fort Pierce to the Indian Prairie. Many of these camps moved to the Brighton Reservation after 1936. The Indiantown families moved to Dania (now Hollywood) in about 1928.

The majority of Seminoles in the early 20th century lived south of Lake Okeechobee, near the Big Cypress Swamp and along the Tamiami Trail. These southern bands of Seminoles, predominately Mikasuki-speakers, were sometimes known as either the Cypress or Miami Indians. Their counterparts living north of Lake Okeechobee were sometimes known as the “Cow Creeks,” after a small stream west of Fort Pierce that flows into the great lake.

Excerpt from "Approximate Location of Permanent Seminole Camps," by Roy Nash, 1930

Excerpt from “Approximate Location of Permanent Seminole Camps,” by Roy Nash, 1930

On the map above, Seminole camps near Lake Okeechobee circa 1930 are marked by numbered circles: 1. Billie Smith; 2. Sam Jones (not included on excerpt above); 3. Billie Buster; 4. Naha Tiger; 5. Joe Bowers; 6. Summerlin; 7. Willie Johns; 8. Charlie Micco; 9. Billy Bowlegs; 10. Billie Stewart; 11. Dan Parker; 12. Ella Montgomery.

Charlie Micco, Brighton Reservation, 1949

Charlie Micco, Brighton Reservation, 1949

Despite the tendency for Seminoles to live in matrilocal camps during the period depicted in Nash’s map, many outsiders, including government officials, assigned settlement names according to the resident elder male. This reflected an ongoing misunderstanding of the Seminoles’ social organization and a tendency to recognize men alone as suitable heads of household.

To learn more, see Bertha E. Bloodworth and Alton C. Morris, Places in the Sun: The History and Romance of Florida Place Names (University Presses of Florida, 1978); John K. Mahon, History of the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842 (University of Florida Press, 1991 [1967]); Jack B. Martin and Margaret McKane Mauldin, A Dictionary of Creek/Muskogee, with Notes on the Florida and Oklahoma Seminole Dialects of Creek (University of Nebraska Press, 2004); Roy Nash, “Survey of the Seminole Indians of Florida,” 71st U.S. Congress, 3rd sess., Senate Document 314 (Washington, D.C.: Govt. Print. Office, 1931); John T. Sprague, The Origins, Progress, and Conclusion of the Florida War (University of Tampa Press, 2000 [1848]); John R. Swanton, Early History of the Creek Indians and Their Neighbors (University of Florida Press, 1998 [1922]).