Shop Florida Memory!

It’s that time of year again. The stores are quickly filling to capacity as holiday shopping gets into full swing. Do you have a Florida enthusiast on your list this year? If so, bypass the crowds and take advantage of Florida Memory’s new online shopping cart feature! It’s now easier than ever to purchase high-quality prints and digital scans of Florida Memory’s 185,000+ photos depicting the history and culture of the Sunshine State.

Buying a print or high-resolution scan of a photo is easy. Search or browse the Florida Memory website for a photo you’d like to purchase, then select the “Buy Now” tab located just below it. The tab will display the options available for that image, including size or resolution, sepia toning, and quantity of prints. Click “Add to Cart,” and the item is retained in your “shopping cart,” much like Amazon and other online stores. You may then continue browsing the site, or you can click the Shopping Cart icon at the top-right corner of the page to complete your transaction. For more information, check out our Customer Service page for answers to frequently asked questions, estimated shipping times, our policies, and contact information.

Use the Buy Now tab to identify the kind of reproduction you would like to purchase.

Use the “Buy Now” tab to identify the kind of reproduction you would like to purchase.

Not sure what to look for? We suggest starting with your favorite Florida community. Maybe it’s your hometown, or a favorite vacation destination. Use our search box to find historic photos of your community, or perhaps a specific building or landmark in the area.

View of a hotel in Fernandina (circa 1900).

View of a hotel in Fernandina (circa 1900).

Key West Lighthouse, photographed by Joseph Janney Steinmetz (circa 1940s).

Key West Lighthouse, photographed by Joseph Janney Steinmetz (circa 1940s).

Florida Memory is also home to a variety of photo collections created by specific photographers or agencies. The Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission Collection, for example, contains over 800 images of Florida animal and plant life, in addition to photos of Commission employees at work in Florida’s natural spaces.

View of an Osprey (circa 1960).

View of an Osprey (circa 1960).

The Department of Commerce Collection is also popular. Florida Memory has over 30,000 images taken by professional photographers from the Department’s Division of Tourism between the 1940s and 1996. The photos cover everything from community scenes to popular landmarks and attractions to festivals and events.

Unidentified girl (circa 1990).

Unidentified girl (circa 1990).

Performers on waterskis at Cypress Gardens near Winter Haven (circa 1960s).

Performers on waterskis at Cypress Gardens near Winter Haven (circa 1960s).

Whatever Florida theme you’re looking for, Florida Memory has something to offer. We encourage you to visit our Photographs page to view the full list of photo collections available on Florida Memory. Happy shopping!

Civil War Voices from Florida

… I hope that ere next April we will have what is wished for a thousand times every moment. That is peace…

These words were penned October 12, 1864 by Albert Symington Chalker, a young private from Clay County stationed near present-day Baldwin during the Civil War. He was writing to Martha Ann Bardin, his sweetheart and future wife. The full letter reflects Chalker’s realization of the hardships of war, in terms of both what the young soldier observed around him, and what he was feeling within. Written “voices” like Chalker’s are invaluable for understanding historical phenomena like the Civil War, which is why the State Archives of Florida is eager to collect and preserve letters, diaries, and other documents from everyday citizens in addition to government records. Read more »

We’re on the Air!

fmradio

Florida Memory is excited to announce the launch of Florida Memory Radio, a 24-hour streaming Internet radio station playing selections from the Florida Folklife Collection. Listeners in Florida and around the world will now be able to enjoy the unique sounds of the Sunshine State anytime from their computers, tablets, or smartphones, either on the web at radio.floridamemory.com, or through the State Archives’ Facebook page.

Florida Memory Radio plays selections of music from several genres, including folk, blues, bluegrass, gospel, and music from around the world played in Florida. The programming schedule, seen below, can also be found at radio.floridamermory.com.

The music played on Florida Memory Radio comes from several sources. Much of it has been collected during field recording sessions, in which folklorists from the Florida Folklife Program have traveled all over the state to preserve its diverse musical traditions. The Folklife Program’s mission is to document and present the folklife, folklore, and folk arts of the state. The majority of the selections acquired by this program were recorded at the Florida Folk Festival, held annually at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center in White Springs.

Bell School FFA String Band performs at the 1959 Florida Folk Festival in White Springs.

Bell School FFA String Band performs at the 1959 Florida Folk Festival in White Springs.

Some of the oldest material on Florida Memory Radio comes from recordings made during the Great Depression by folklorists from the Works Progress Administration. As part of Florida’s contribution to the Federal Writers’ Project of that era, field researchers such as Zora Neale Hurston and Stetson Kennedy hauled bulky equipment to various points around the state and recorded the life histories, stories, and songs of everyone from turpentine workers to Seminole Indians to convict work crews.

Zora Neale Hurston, renowned author and one of several folklorists who contributed to the Florida Federal Writers' Project during the Great Depression (circa 1930s).

Zora Neale Hurston, renowned author and one of several folklorists who contributed to the Florida Federal Writers’ Project during the Great Depression (circa 1930s).

And we’re just getting started. The Florida Memory team is exploring a variety of ways to expand and improve the content of this radio station for the enjoyment of everyone. We hope you’ll listen and let us know what you think.

Listen to Florida Memory Radio now!

Use our contact form to send us feedback about Florida Memory Radio, and let us know what other content you’d like to see added to the station’s programming schedule!

Richard Keith Call Collection Now Online at Florida Memory

Florida Memory is excited to announce that the papers of Florida’s third and fifth territorial governor Richard Keith Call are now online and accessible for viewing. The collection was made available for digitization with the assistance of the Florida Historical Society, which holds the original documents.

Call was twice the territorial governor of Florida (1836-1839, 1841-1844), as well as a general in the state militia, a state legislator, and a Congressional delegate for Florida prior to statehood. The documents in this collection illuminate several aspects of our state’s territorial and early statehood history, including territorial politics, the challenges of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), and the emergence of Florida as a state. Moreover, the collection provides intriguing portraits of Call and his family, whose personalities and contributions make this a most useful addition to the State Library and Archives’ Florida Memory website for researchers and Florida history enthusiasts.

Governor Richard Keith Call, 1792-1862

Governor Richard Keith Call, 1792-1862

Although Call is most often remembered for his service as a military commander and governor, his Florida journey began much sooner, before the territory was a United States possession. Call accompanied General Andrew Jackson on his controversial invasion of Spanish Florida (1818) during the First Seminole War, and defended the general against the criticism that followed. Although the Spanish government protested Jackson’s intrusion, it was at that time in no position to force a showdown over the matter. Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1819, and following ratification of the transaction in 1821 President James Monroe appointed Jackson to become the state’s provisional governor. At Jackson’s request, Call went to Pensacola to prepare for the general’s arrival. Call and Jackson both had hoped that President Monroe would appoint Call as the Secretary of West Florida, but Monroe chose instead to appoint George Walton, II of Georgia to that post, citing the fact that he had already granted Call the favor of a commission as captain in the Army at a time when the military was downsizing.

A miniature painting of Florida territorial governor Richard Keith Call (circa 1830-1840).

A miniature painting of Florida territorial governor Richard Keith Call (circa 1830-1840).

Despite this setback, Call served the young territory in a number of other ways. He represented Pensacola in the legislative sessions of 1822 and 1823, with broad support from his constituents. In 1823, Call was elected as Florida’s delegate to Congress. Although as a territorial representative he was unable to vote, Call worked diligently on behalf of Florida’s interests. He persuaded Congress to provide a quarter section of land for the territorial capital that would eventually be built at Tallahassee, and he argued for bills excluding foreign commercial fishermen from Florida waters and authorizing the layout of new public roads in the territory.

Letter to Brigadier General Richard Keith Call from a Special Committee of the Municipal Council of Pensacola, describing the committee's confidence in his abilities as he prepared to represent Pensacola in the territorial legislature (April 18, 1823).

Letter to Brigadier General Richard Keith Call from a Special Committee of the Municipal Council of Pensacola, describing the committee’s confidence in his abilities as he prepared to represent Pensacola in the territorial legislature (April 18, 1823).

Extract from Richard Keith Call's diary describing his entering St. Augustine for the first time (1823).

Extract from Richard Keith Call’s diary describing his entering St. Augustine for the first time (1823).

Letter to Richard Keith Call from Andrew Stewart, House of Representatives regarding the prospect of building roads and canals in Florida (February 19, 1825).

Letter to Richard Keith Call from Andrew Stewart, House of Representatives regarding the prospect of building roads and canals in Florida (February 19, 1825).

Following a period of indecision over whether to run again for Congressional delegate, Call left Washington and returned to Florida in 1825 as the receiver of public monies for the government land office in Tallahassee. He also pursued a lucrative law practice, and used the proceeds from both of his positions to buy up public lands in the fertile Middle Florida region, especially in Jefferson and Leon counties.

Letter to Richard Keith Call from John G. Gamble, a Jefferson County planter, regarding Call’s interest in a Florida canal (August 7, 1828).

Although Call was generally popular, he was known for having a terrible temper at times, and he was not entirely without enemies in Florida.  Call’s political opponents often made thinly veiled jabs at the cluster of officials close to him at the government land office, referring to them as “the land office circle” or “the Nucleus.” Perhaps Call’s most ardent enemy was Colonel Joseph M. White, who had replaced him as Florida’s Congressional delegate in 1825. Call and White had been on the outs for years, but the politics surrounding that election made matters much worse. The two politicians traded insults that ultimately drove them to the brink of a duel, which they avoided only through careful negotiations and the assistance of several intermediaries.

Letter to Richard Keith Call from Daniel E. Burch regarding a dispute between Call and Colonel Joseph M. White (April 19, 1826).

Letter to Richard Keith Call from Daniel E. Burch regarding a dispute between Call and Colonel Joseph M. White (April 19, 1826).

Letter to Richard Keith Call from Colonel Joseph M. White (April 12, 1833).

Letter to Richard Keith Call from Colonel Joseph M. White (April 12, 1833).

Andrew Jackson, who had been elected President of the United States in 1828 and again in 1832, appointed Call territorial governor of Florida in March 1836, elevating him to the highest political post of his career. Call’s first administration was dominated by the difficulties of the Second Seminole War that had begun in 1835. As an increasing number of settlers moved into Florida, they came into conflict with the resident Seminole Indians, who still occupied much of the territory. The federal government struggled to resolve the problem diplomatically, but ultimately tensions broke out into open conflict. The United States Army entered Florida and attempted to pacify and expel the natives, but they refused to go quietly.

This engraving from the Florida Photographic Collection depicts the Battle of Palaklaklaha during the Second Seminole War.  This battle, which took place in late April 1842 in a hammock near Lake Apopka, was the last major military effort of the war.

This image from the Florida Photographic Collection depicts the Battle of Palaklaklaha during the Second Seminole War. This battle, which took place in late April 1842 in a hammock near Lake Apopka, was the last major military effort of the war.

The conventionally trained Army and its commanders were ill-equipped to deal with the situation, and months passed with little progress to show for their efforts. Governor Call fumed over the delays in bringing the war to a close. He called the Army’s performance disgraceful, and complained that the Navy had done little to stop maritime trade between the Seminoles and foreign powers.  Firmly believing that he could do what the regular generals had thus far failed to do, Call wrote directly to President Jackson outlining a plan for victory. In June 1836, the governor got his chance. Secretary of War Lewis Cass informed him that he would have command of the militia and enlisted forces in Florida. It was, of course, an unusual situation for a sitting governor to take the field as commander in such a broad operation, but Call set himself to the task with enthusiasm, calling for supplies and reinforcements from other states as he prepared to march.

For all his confidence, Call’s performance as a commander was mixed, and following a series of questionable moves in central Florida, President Jackson and Benjamin F. Butler, Jackson’s acting Secretary of War, elected to relieve the governor of his command. Call was hurt by the episode, especially since he believed his friend Jackson had made his decision without having heard all the facts of the case. The two were never as close afterward.

Letter to Richard Keith Call from Acting Secretary of War Benjamin F. Butler, responding to Call's allegations that his removal from command in Florida was based on erroneous information (January 14, 1837).

Letter to Richard Keith Call from Acting Secretary of War Benjamin F. Butler, responding to Call’s allegations that his removal from command in Florida was based on erroneous information (January 14, 1837).

Call’s political fortunes also began to sour around this time.  Martin Van Buren succeeded Andrew Jackson to the presidency of the United States in 1837, which left Call without one of his most powerful allies in Washington. Furthermore, the governor made something of a nuisance of himself with continued critiques of the federal government’s efforts to end the Seminole War in Florida.  The changing political landscape of the times played a role as well, as the lines between parties became firmer and Call and Van Buren found themselves on opposites of the developing political spectrum. In 1839, the President appointed Robert Raymond Reid to succeed Call as territorial governor of Florida. Call felt snubbed, but he understood that party politics had been to blame.

Call campaigned on behalf of William Henry Harrison, who succeeded Van Buren to the presidency in 1841, and Harrison promptly restored Call to the territorial governorship of Florida. The problems of Call’s second term were mostly economic, as the territory’s banks had gotten themselves into serious debt through irresponsible speculation and poor management. Foreign bondholders were putting increasing pressure on the territorial government for some kind of solution. Call worked with the legislature to hammer out a way of resolving these debts without bankrupting the government or tarnishing the credit of the territory.  As the end of Call’s term approached, he began hearing rumors that President John Tyler would not reappoint him. These reports turned out to be true, and in August 1844 John Branch succeeded him as territorial governor.

Letter to Richard Keith Call from Colonel Charles Downing, reporting that he had seen President William Henry Harrison (

Letter to Richard Keith Call from Colonel Charles Downing, reporting that he had seen President William Henry Harrison (“Old Tip”), and Harrison had said he would appoint Call as territorial governor of Florida. “Old Tip” is a reference to Harrison’s nickname “Old Tippecanoe,” which he earned in 1811 after defeating a band of Shawnee Indians at the Battle of Tippecanoe in what was then the Indiana Territory. The letter is dated March 8, 1841.

Letter to Richard Keith Call from Benjamin A. Putnam, congratulating him on his reappointment as territorial governor of Florida.  He describes the reaction in St. Augustine, which included

Letter to Richard Keith Call from Benjamin A. Putnam, congratulating him on his reappointment as territorial governor of Florida. He describes the reaction in St. Augustine, which included “a glorious salute of about 50 rounds, continued at intervals through the night, with hearty cheers from a large party of good fellows whose spirits were made bouyant at the prostration of a corrupt dynasty.” Letter dated March 26, 1841.

Meanwhile, Florida’s territorial delegate David Levy and his political allies had convinced Congress to elevate Florida to statehood. On March 3, 1845, Florida became the 27th state in the Union, necessitating an election for a new state governor and legislature. Call had already determined not to run for the office of governor, but a group of petitioners urged him to stand for election, and he did.  The Democratic party, whose national leaders had been at odds with Call for some time, held the political high ground in Florida at the time, and Call was defeated in favor of William Dunn Moseley, who took office June 25, 1845.

Relieved of political office, Call turned his attention to his law practice and the cultivation of his land. By this time he had purchased a second plantation, Orchard Pond, located north of Tallahassee, where he began conducting agricultural experiments in order to find an alternative to hemp fiber that could be raised in Florida. One of his most promising leads came from a species of yucca called “bear grass,” which he promoted.

Letter from Richard Keith Call to Florida Governor William D. Moseley, describing the possibilities for cultivating

Letter from Richard Keith Call to Florida Governor William D. Moseley, describing the possibilities for cultivating “Florida Hemp” as a cash crop.

Call’s final major contribution to Florida politics occurred in connection with the secession crisis that preceded the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War. In the aftermath of Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860, Democrats across the South began gathering in state conventions to discuss the possibility of leaving the Union rather than stay and face the chance that slavery might be undermined. Call, while a staunchly conservative slaveowner, considered secession a dangerous path for Florida to take. Although he was not selected to represent Leon County in Florida’s secession convention, he took to the press with an appeal calling for calm and cautious action rather than a hasty or rash response to the national situation. Call’s suggestion went unheeded, and the convention voted on January 10, 1861 for Florida to secede from the United States.  Ellen Call Long wrote in her book Florida Breezes that upon being told by some of the delegates what they had done, Governor Call raised his cane above his head and said, “And what have you done?  You have opened the gates of hell, from which shall flow the curses of the damned, which shall sink you to perdition.”

Letter to Richard Keith Call from John L. Crawford of Georgia in response to Call's pamphlet regarding the secession crisis (December 31, 1860).

Letter to Richard Keith Call from John L. Crawford of Georgia in response to Call’s pamphlet regarding the secession crisis (December 31, 1860).

Governor Call died September 14, 1862 at The Grove, his first plantation, located in Tallahassee. This house, later owned by Governor LeRoy Collins and his wife Mary Call Collins, a descendant of Governor Call, is now owned by the State of Florida and operated by the Division of Historical Resources in the Florida Department of State. Once opened to the public in fall 2014, The Grove will feature educational exhibits on all three of its meticulously restored floors, as well as the surrounding grounds.

View of the front of the Call-Collins house, the main edifice of

View of the front of the Call-Collins house, the main edifice of “The Grove,” Governor Richard Keith Call’s home in Tallahassee. The house was originally constructed between 1825 and 1832. In 1972, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Photo dated 2011.

In addition to the topics discussed here, Governor Call’s papers contain a number of materials relating to his eldest daughter, Ellen Call Long, who was an avid writer and historian of Florida, as well as other members of his family. Click here to access the full collection.

 

Animated Map Series: Wacahoota

Florida Maps: Then & Now is an animated map series from the State Library and Archives of Florida. The project uses Google Earth to create animated videos using historic and modern maps, photographs, and primary source documents from our collections.

This episode features historic maps of Wacahoota.

Transcript

Welcome to Florida Maps: Then & Now, an animated map series from the State Archives of Florida. This episode highlights historic maps of Wacahoota.

Florida’s cattle industry is the oldest in what is now the United States. Spaniards introduced the first cattle to Florida in the 16th century. By the mid-1600s, Spanish ranchos extended from the area near St. Augustine to the Apalachee district in the panhandle, and South to the Alachua Prairie. The largest rancho, known as La Chua, counted thousands of animals worked by European, African, and Native American cattlemen. Raids by Creek Indians and colonists from Carolina in the early 1700s destroyed the Spanish ranchos, including La Chua. Native American immigrants, later known as Seminoles, migrated into the area and began working the former Spanish livestock.

By the mid-1700s, the area around the Alachua Prairie, including Wacahoota (wack-a-hoo-tee), meaning “cow pen” in the Hitchiti language, contained thousands of animals grazing on the wet prairies that dotted the region. William Bartram, an English naturalist, described the scene as he saw it in the early 1770s:

“The extensive Alachua savanna is a level, green plain… scarcely a tree or bush of any kind to be seen… encircled with high, sloping hills, covered with waving forests and fragrant Orange groves, rising from an exuberantly fertile soil. At the same time are seen innumerable droves of cattle… Herds of sprightly deer, squadrons of the beautiful, fleet Seminole horse, [and] flocks of turkeys…”

The leader of the Alachua Seminoles at the time of Bartram’s visit was known appropriately as the “Cowkeeper.” The Cowkeeper and his people traded with colonists living along the St. Johns. They hunted and tilled the soil relatively undisturbed until the early 1800s. During the War of 1812, Georgia colonists known as the Patriot Army, with de facto support from the United States government, invaded Spanish Florida intent on fermenting rebellion against the colonial government.

The war spread into the Seminole country, and a series of skirmishes ensued. The Seminoles soundly defeated the invaders, but two decades later another conflict broke out—the Second Seminole War. This map, from the confirmed Spanish Land Grant of Domingo Acosta, shows lands once occupied by Bowlegs, one of the principal leaders during the Second and Third Seminole Wars. The area became known to the Americans as Bowlegs’ Old Plantation, and then Wacahoota once the Seminoles were evicted. Today, the area is a crossroads near the intersection of Marion, Alachua, and Levy counties, Southwest of Gainesville.

For more information and other animated maps: Florida Maps: Then & Now

FAMU Hospital

In commemoration of Black History Month, this series highlights African-American history in Florida.

Emancipation, and the period of Reconstruction that followed, brought civil rights to freed slaves throughout the former Confederacy for the first time. Black communities organized and built churches, schools, hospitals, businesses, and civic organizations. These institutions developed separately from their white counterparts during the era of legal segregation known as Jim Crow.

The legal gains of the 1860s and 1870s proved short-lived, and full equality remained only a dream until the triumphs of the modern Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

Dr. R.L. Anderson and nurse Lillie Mae Chavis with a patient, 1953

Dr. R.L. Anderson and nurse Lillie Mae Chavis with a patient

The Florida A&M University Hospital symbolized efforts by the black community to provide for its own health and wellness during segregation. Officially dedicated as a hospital on February 7, 1951, the institution first opened as a sanitarium in 1911. Before integration led to its closure in 1971, FAMU Hospital served as the only facility of its kind for African-Americans within 150 miles of Tallahassee.

Nurse Grace Kyler working with polio patients, 1953

Nurse Grace Kyler working with polio patients

Read more »

Black History Month Webinar

In commemoration of Black History Month, this series of blog posts highlights African-American history in Florida.

Looking for Black History Month resources? Check out our Florida Electronic Library/Florida Memory webinar to learn more about online resources for the study of African-American history and culture in Florida: http://bit.ly/1jAFz5w.

Abraham, Black Seminole war leader and interpreter, ca. 1838

Abraham, Black Seminole war leader and interpreter, ca. 1838

New on Florida Memory: The Patriot Constitution of 1812

In March 1812, a group of Georgia settlers known as the Patriot Army, with de facto support from the United States government, invaded Spanish East Florida. The Patriots hoped to convince the inhabitants of the province to join their cause and proclaim independence from Spain. Once independence was achieved, the Patriots planned to transfer control of the territory to the United States.

The Patriots seized Fernandina without firing a shot, but could not convince the government at St. Augustine to surrender. By July 1812, the “invasion” had reached a stalemate, with the Patriots encamped at Fort Mose, and the Spanish government firmly in control of St. Augustine and Castillo de San Marcos. Over the ensuing several months, the Patriots fought a series of skirmishes against the Spanish and their Seminole and black allies. The most significant fighting took place when the Patriots attempted to penetrate the strongholds of the Seminoles and their African-American allies near the Alachua Prairie.

page one of the Patriot Constitution of 1812

The Patriots eventually lost their tenuous support from the U.S. government and abandoned the Florida project in early 1813. During their time in control of Fernandina, the Patriots formed a temporary government and drafted a constitution to govern their territory. That document is transcribed and available on the Florida Memory website, along with other miscellaneous items related to the short-lived Republic of East Florida.

The original Patriot Constitution and associated documents reside in the collections of the Florida Historical Society (FHS) in Cocoa. The FHS lent the original documents to the State Archives in 2013 for digitization.

New Accession Spotlight: 1926 Miami Hurricane Letter

Collections Management staff at the State Archives of Florida spends much of their time bringing new collections into the Archives and readying them for public access. Though the majority of our holdings document the activities and functions of Florida’s territorial and state government, the Archives also preserves and makes available papers, journals, photographs, sound recordings, and other materials created by private individuals and organizations.

Despite the fact that our most recent manuscript donation consists of only one item, its provides a strong first person account of significant events in Florida history. This prompted staff to quickly digitize and transcribe the item for inclusion on the Florida Memory website.

Excerpt from a letter describing the 1926 Miami Hurricane

The donation consists of a single hand-written letter describing hurricanes that hit southern Florida on September 18 and October 21, 1926. Written by “Kaye” from the Floridian Hotel, Miami Beach, to Louise Webber (d. 1993) of Bangor, Maine, the twelve page account details Kaye’s activities both during and in the aftermath of the storms.

Excerpt from page 3: "There was a barge smashing against the viaduct and a beautiful yacht right under our window being dashed to pieces on the sea wall in the lull we could hear the men aboard shouting, finally the lights went out and we could hear no more. I suppose they abandoned her when the water got inside."

Excerpt from page 3: “There was a barge smashing against the viaduct and a beautiful yacht right under our window being dashed to pieces on the sea wall. In the lull we could hear the men aboard shouting, finally the lights went out and we could hear no more. I suppose they abandoned her when the water got inside.”

Kaye began with a brief account of the October 21st storm before plunging into the events of September 18th and the days that followed. While it is known from the letter that Kaye was a resident and employee of The Floridian Hotel, her exploits detail conditions beyond the Floridian, especially during her walk across the causeway and to Hollywood in search of “her folks.”

Do you have original materials related to significant people, places, or events in Florida history? Learn more about donating them to the State Archives of Florida.

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.