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!


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, 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

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.

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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.

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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

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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:

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.

Read more »

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.

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.