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.

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.

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.

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.

Tallahassee Democrat Collection

The Tallahassee Democrat Collection contains photographic negatives taken by Tallahassee Democrat photographers from the 1950s to 1970.

Three unidentified African American servicemen posing with a woman in Tallahassee (ca. 1955)

 

Two unidentified cigarette girls in Tallahassee (1956)

 

FSU football players in Tallahassee (1957)

FSU football players in Tallahassee (1957)

 

FSU freshmen sitting in front of William James Bryan Hall in Tallahassee (1953)

FSU freshmen sitting in front of William James Bryan Hall in Tallahassee (1953)

 

Dorian Stripling getting his first haircut in Tallahassee (1957)

Dorian Stripling getting his first haircut in Tallahassee (1957)

 

Governor LeRoy Collins monitoring Democratic primary election results with supporters in Tallahassee (1956)

Governor LeRoy Collins monitoring Democratic primary election results with supporters in Tallahassee (1956)

 

Unidentified African American football players in Tallahassee (1953)

Unidentified African American football players in Tallahassee (1953)

Join us tonight, October 11, from 6:00 to 8:00 PM for a slideshow event featuring images from the Tallahassee Democrat Collection.

Unidentified in the Tallahassee Democrat Collection

The Tallahassee Democrat Collection contains photographic negatives taken by Tallahassee Democrat photographers from the 1950s to 1970.

Many of these images are only partially identified and contain unidentified people and places. If you have additional information about any of the unidentified images please let us know in the comments, or contact us at the State Archives of Florida.

Two unidentified women reading the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper (1957)

 

Three unidentified African American servicemen posing with a woman in Tallahassee (ca. 1955)

 

Unidentified young women at the Watermelon Festival in Monticello (1957)

Unidentified young women at the Watermelon Festival in Monticello (1957)

 

Unidentified WTVT cameraman in Tampa (1957)

 

Two unidentified cigarette girls in Tallahassee (1956)

 

Two unidentified Tallahassee police officers (1957)

 

Unidentified boy with go-kart in the Quincy parade (1953)

 

Unidentified pharmacist with a box of Chux disposable diapers in Tallahassee (1957)

Join us this Friday night, October 11, from 6:00 to 8:00 PM for a slideshow event featuring images from the Tallahassee Democrat Collection.

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McLeod Diary

One of the newest collections on Florida Memory is William McLeod’s Civil War diary. The diary describes McLeod’s experiences as a Confederate soldier from June 1864 through January 1865.

Pages 71-72 from William McLeod's Civil War diary

McLeod’s account begins during the Atlanta Campaign and describes day-to-day siege warfare and the various engagements in which he was involved, including the Battles of Peachtree Creek, Atlanta, and Jonesboro. The diary also mentions the Battle of Dalton, Georgia in October 1864 and the subsequent advance northward into Alabama and Tennessee. McLeod provides details on the actions of the Seventh Florida Regiment at Franklin, Murfreesboro (Second Battle), and Nashville.

The diary concludes in the aftermath of the Confederate defeat at Nashville and documents the retreat into Mississippi in late 1864 and early 1865.

WPA Church Records Collection

Florida Memory is now the digital home of the WPA Church Records Collection. The collection consists of approximately 20,000 individual pages from 5,500 church and synagogue surveys conducted by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

St. Augustine Cathedral, home to the oldest church parish in the United States (established ca. 1565)

St. Augustine Cathedral, home to the oldest church parish in the United States (established ca. 1565)

Page one of the St. Augustine Cathedral survey

Page one of the St. Augustine Cathedral survey

The records contain a wealth of information about congregations, clergy members, church buildings, property and archival record holdings. Created in an age when religious institutions often held the only documentation of major life events—such as birth, marriage and death—the WPA church records offer tremendous potential to genealogists and anyone interested in Florida history. In a broader sense, these records illustrate how central organized religion was to community life in America’s history.

Plymouth Congregational Church: Coconut Grove (December 10, 1936)

Plymouth Congregational Church: Coconut Grove (December 10, 1936)

Page one of the survey for Plymouth Congregational Church in Coconut Grove

Page one of the survey for Plymouth Congregational Church in Coconut Grove

All documents contained in the WPA church records database are accessible on the Florida Memory website. Users can search the records by pastor’s name, church/synagogue name or denomination, and also sort the records by county, year of church incorporation and ethnicity. Accompanying the church records are digitized copies of the original forms used by survey workers, the field manual issued by the WPA and a historical essay on the scope and significance of the collection.