Off the Beaten Path of History

One of the most exciting aspects of archival research is stumbling upon records and events you didn’t know existed. Did you know, for example, that Florida sent several companies of soldiers to fight in the U.S.-Mexican War of 1846-48? The war was short-lived and Florida’s role was small, which accounts for why the episode is so seldom mentioned in histories of the state. Floridians did serve in this conflict, however, and the State Library & Archives have several excellent resources for learning more about their participation.

The chain of events leading to the U.S.-Mexican War began with the United States’ annexation of Texas as the 28th state in 1845. Mexico considered Texas part of its territory, even though its military had retreated across the Rio Grande following the Texas Revolution of 1835-36. Mexican commander Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana had even signed a treaty agreeing to Texas’ independence from Mexico.

This excerpt of an 1845 map of the United States shows the disputed region of Texas between the Nueces and Rio Grande rivers. The mapmaker chose to show the Rio Grande as the southern boundary of Texas. Florida Map Collection, State Library of Florida.

This excerpt of an 1845 map of the United States shows the disputed region of Texas between the Nueces and Rio Grande rivers. The mapmaker chose to show the Rio Grande as the southern boundary of Texas. Florida Map Collection, State Library of Florida. Click the image to enlarge it.

Mexico was experiencing internal troubles and did not immediately attempt to retake Texas after Santa Ana’s retreat. The sticking point was the exact location of the border between the two entities. The Texans claimed their territory ran as far south as the Rio Grande, since that was how far Santa Ana had agreed to retreat after the Texas Revolution. Mexico, on the other hand, claimed the border was supposed to be at the Nueces River, about 150 miles north of the Rio Grande. When the United States annexed Texas as a state in 1845, President James K. Polk claimed the Rio Grande as the true boundary. Polk sent a diplomatic mission to Mexico City to attempt to buy the disputed territory, but this strategy failed. Both the U.S. and Mexico began moving soldiers into the disputed area between the Nueces and the Rio Grande, and after a series of skirmishes in early and mid-1846 the two sides declared war.

Meanwhile, across the Gulf of Mexico, Florida had just emerged from a conflict of its own, the Second Seminole War. It had also entered the Union as a state in 1845. News of the growing troubles on the Mexican border evoked a mixture of caution and enthusiasm among Floridians. Citizens in coastal communities like Pensacola and Apalachicola feared the Mexican government might call on privateers to interfere with American ships in the Gulf of Mexico. Pensacola’s citizens held a public meeting on May 4, 1846 and resolved to form a company of volunteers from Escambia and Santa Rosa counties to march to Texas and fight. Duval County citizens petitioned Governor William D. Moseley to enlist their services for a company, even offering to purchase their own uniforms.

A petition to Governor William Dunn Moseley from citizens of Duval County asking to be chartered as a militia company (1846), in Box 4, folder 10, Territorial and Early Statehood Papers of Florida (Series 2153), State Archives of Florida.

A petition to Governor William Dunn Moseley from citizens of Duval County asking to be chartered as a militia company (1846), in Box 4, folder 10, Territorial and Early Statehood Papers of Florida (Series 2153), State Archives of Florida. Click the image to enlarge it.

Shortly after the war began in earnest, President James K. Polk called on Governor Moseley to raise five companies of volunteers to fight in the war. Ultimately, only three actually went to Mexico, but many more remained in Florida to protect the coastline and maintain a state of readiness in case they should be needed.

Documentation for these activities is meager but easily available at the State Library & Archives. Governor Moseley’s correspondence (Series 679) and the Territorial and Early Statehood Papers of Florida (Series 2153) contain documents illustrating local enthusiasm for volunteering to fight, concerns about the safety of the coastline, and the logistical headaches of fielding a state militia in the 1840s.

One particularly notable document describes the kinds of medicines that were sent to the Florida troops in Mexico. Quinine, calomel, mustard, lemon syrup, castor oil, snakeroot, turpentine, tartar emetic, paregoric, and flax seeds are among the medicines Surgeon William Tradewell reports receiving on this list.

A list of medicines drawn up by Army Surgeon William Tradewell (1847), in Box 2, folder 63, Territorial and Early Statehood Papers of Florida (Series 2153), State Archives of Florida. Click the image to enlarge it.

A list of medicines drawn up by Army Surgeon William Tradewell (1847), in Box 2, folder 63, Territorial and Early Statehood Papers of Florida (Series 2153), State Archives of Florida. Click the image to enlarge it.

To explore deeper into mid-19th century medicine, check out the Journal of Dr. John M.W. Davidson and our exhibit on Early Florida Medicine.

Documents from the U.S.-Mexican War also present an opportunity for genealogists. Generally, when a militia company formed, one of its first tasks was to create a muster roll identifying its members. These lists were vital for determining how much the unit would need in terms of supplies, arms, and pay. The roll was also often sent to the state government as part of a request for the company to be officially activated.

The State Archives holds muster rolls for the three Florida companies that served in Mexico, plus two more that served at Fort Brooke near Tampa. These rolls (found in Series 1282) list each soldier’s name, rank, age, time and place of enlistment, and other details. These documents can potentially help pinpoint the location of a Florida ancestor whose whereabouts in the 1840s have been otherwise tricky to find, if in fact he volunteered for service in this conflict.

This is just one example of the many nooks and crannies in Florida’s history that deserve more attention than they often receive. Are there interesting but obscure historical episodes associated with your Florida community? Get a conversation started about them either by leaving a comment below or sharing with us on Facebook!

The Armed Occupation Act of 1842

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family History on the Farm

Sometimes the best genealogical information comes from truly unexpected sources. The State Archives of Florida holds records from a wide variety of state agencies, many of which have had direct contact with the state’s citizens over the years. As a result, many of the records document the specific locations of specific individuals at specific times, which can be a big help for folks tracing their family trees. Read more »

Doing Genealogy with Pension Records

The Confederate Pension Applications are one of the most popular series of historical documents on Florida Memory. They chronicle the efforts of Confederate veterans and their wives to obtain pensions from the State of Florida in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By law, in order to obtain a pension a veteran or his widow had to provide information about the veteran’s Civil War service, his birth, and proof of a qualifying disability. Widows of Confederate veterans had to provide proof of their marriage. The State Board of Pensions reviewed these applications and approved those that met the proper qualifications.

The applications alone are full of useful information for genealogists and historians, but when used in conjunction with other collections at the State Archives of Florida they can do much more. For example, if you know you have a Civil War veteran or veteran’s widow in your family tree who received a state pension, in many cases you can find out how long the person received that pension, how much they received, and where they lived while they were receiving it. This can be achieved by finding the veteran or widow’s pension application on Florida Memory, then visiting the Archives for a look through the State Comptroller’s records of pension payments (Record Series 678).

Let’s use Floridian Civil War veteran Robert H. Parker as an example. If you search for Robert H. Parker on the Confederate Pension Applications page, here’s what you get:

Search results for "Robert H. Parker" in the Confederate Pension Applications" on Florida Memory.

Search results for “Robert H. Parker” in the Confederate Pension Applications” on Florida Memory.

Sometimes an individual will have multiple application numbers, but as the example above demonstrates, usually only one application will have the best information. In Robert Parker’s case, if we click on the application numbered A01666, we’ll get over a dozen pages of information from his soldier’s pension application, as well as the widow’s application of his wife Marietta.

Page from the Confederate Pension Application file of Robert H. Parker of Hillsborough County. Paperwork from the pension claim of his widow Marietta is also included in the file.

Page from the Confederate Pension Application file of Robert H. Parker of Hillsborough County. Paperwork from the pension claim of his widow Marietta is also included in the file.

We see from Marietta’s pension claim form that her husband Robert died on October 16, 1914, and that the Pension Board approved her to continue receiving a Confederate pension as his widow. What we can’t tell from this paperwork is how long she continued to receive that pension, or whether she moved after her husband died. That’s where the Comptroller’s records can help!

Volume 24 of the State Comptroller's record of approved pension claims, 1895-1917 (Series 678, State Archives of Florida).

Volume 24 of the State Comptroller’s record of approved pension claims, 1895-1917 (Series 678, State Archives of Florida).

If you’ll notice in the example search results above, each of the Confederate Pension Applications is identified by a number. In Robert and Marietta Parker’s case, the number is A01666. The “A” in this code simply means the application was approved; the “1666” is the part used across state agencies to identify the pensioner.

The State Archives holds a series of ledgers from the State Comptroller’s office that record each payment made to each pensioner up through 1917. There are separate ledgers for soldiers and widows. The entries in each ledger are sorted by the pension number, so if we know Marietta started receiving a widow’s pension after her husband Robert’s death in 1914, we should be able to track her payments from that time by looking in the “Widow” volumes for entry number “1666.”

Volume 24 of the State Comptroller's record of approved pension claims, 1895-1917 (Series 678, State Archives of Florida)

Volume 24 of the State Comptroller’s record of approved pension claims, 1895-1917 (Series 678, State Archives of Florida)

And there she is! In the example above, you’re seeing the information recorded for pension payments made on October 1, 1915 by the State Comptroller’s office. For each pensioner, you get the pensioner number, name, pension amount per year, postal address, Comptroller’s warrant number, date the pension was sent, and the amount of this particular payment. The pension payments were generally sent quarterly.

Just from this entry alone, we learn a few helpful bits about Marietta Parker. We know she was living on a rural postal route near Lutz in Hillsborough County in October 1915, and that she was receiving $37.50 every three months. Each ledger page typically covers a year’s worth of payments. Let’s keep following Marietta Parker’s payments to see if anything else helpful turns up.

Volume 26 of the State Comptroller's record of approved pension claims, 1895-1917 (Series 678, State Archives of Florida)

Volume 26 of the State Comptroller’s record of approved pension claims, 1895-1917 (Series 678, State Archives of Florida)

Going through the Comptroller’s records of payments to Marietta, we learn that she moved to Tampa sometime in the spring of 1916, evidenced by the fact that her postal address changes. Also, when we get to the entry above, we learn that Marietta died sometime during the quarter leading up to the October 1, 1916 payment.

If you happen to be researching an ancestor whose death date or location have been tough to ascertain, these records can be very helpful. Plan a visit to the State Library & Archives soon to have a look. Remember, Series 678 only covers through 1917. If your Civil War veteran ancestor or his widow lived past that time, researching his or her later pension payments will require a different approach.

You might also want to have a look at our Guide to Genealogical Research. It has some helpful hints for getting started with your family history adventure!

Find Your Pioneers!

In 2014, Florida Memory digitized the returns of Florida’s 1845 statehood election. They explain who voted in each precinct, which offices each voter voted for, and whether their qualifications as a voter were challenged at the time of the election. Each return also contains the election officials’ certification of the results.

An example return from Precinct 1 (Tallahassee) of Leon County. Visit the 1845 Election Returns collection page to browse or search the entire collection.

An example return from Precinct 1 (Tallahassee) of Leon County. Visit the 1845 Election Returns collection page to browse or search the entire collection.

On the surface, that doesn’t sound like much information. To a genealogist, however, these
documents can be a real treasure. First of all, voters were assigned to precincts based on
where they lived. So, if you locate an ancestor in these returns, you can determine with
some degree of certainty the county and precinct in which that ancestor lived as of May 26,
1845, when the election was held.

Excerpt from an election return from Sopchoppy Precinct in Wakulla County. Click on the image to view the full return.

Excerpt from an election return from Sopchoppy Precinct in Wakulla County. Click on the image to view the full return.

But there’s more. To have voted in the statehood election in 1845, a voter would have to
have been at least 21 years of age, and would have to have lived in Florida for at least
two years to vote for statewide officers. This can be very helpful information if you have
what we call a “mystery” ancestor, whose details are so obscure you may not even know which
generation they belong to.

It also helps if you are looking to be certified as a descendant of a “Florida Pioneer”
through the Florida State Genealogical Society. To obtain a state-level “Florida Pioneer Descendant”
certificate from the Society, you must demonstrate that you descend from someone who
settled in Florida before it became a state in 1845. In theory, any person who voted in this election would legally have had to live in Florida for some time prior to statehood. Other evidence may be necessary to receive a certificate from the Society; consult their website for details.

The documents have their drawbacks, of course. Women, persons under 21, and African-
Americans do not appear in the collection, as they were not permitted to vote at this time. Finding an ancestor using this source, however, can be the first step in locating many more.

Do you have ancestors who voted in the 1845 statehood election in Florida? Tell us about it by leaving a comment below, or by sharing this blog on Facebook!

Genealogy Resources on Florida Memory

Looking for your relatives on Florida Memory? Several of our online collections provide excellent materials for researching genealogy and family history.

Did your relatives serve in World War I? Were they from Florida, or entered the service while in Florida? On Florida Memory, you can search for their World War I Service Cards.

World War I Service Card for Albert McLeod Bethune, son of Mary McLeod Bethune

World War I Service Card for Albert McLeod Bethune, son of Mary McLeod Bethune

Did your relatives serve for the Confederate Army during the Civil War? Were they from Florida, or lived in Florida after the war? You can search for their Confederate Pension Applications on Florida Memory.

Confederate Pension Application for Joseph H. Haddock of Duval County, submitted by his wife Martha Haddock

Confederate Pension Application for Joseph H. Haddock of Duval County, submitted by his wife Martha Haddock

Did your family live in Florida before the United States took control of the territory in 1821? On Florida Memory, you can find Spanish Land Grant claims. These records represent claims made for land purchased in Florida from the Spanish government prior to 1821.

Confirmed claim of Reuben Hogan

Confirmed claim of Reuben Hogan

Photographs are a great resource on family history. We have over 170,000 photographs available online, some of which contain unidentified persons. Perhaps your relative is waiting to be identified on Florida Memory? Search the Florida Photographic Collection.

Portrait of an unidentified family: Gainesville (ca. 1900)

Portrait of an unidentified family: Gainesville (ca. 1900)

Found a great photo or document from your family’s history on Florida Memory? Share it with us in the comments.