Researching Escambia County at the State Archives and State Library of Florida

Looking for books, photographs or historical records on Escambia County and its communities? The State Archives and State Library of Florida can help! The State Archives collects and preserves unpublished materials, including records from government agencies and from private citizens, businesses, families and organizations. These documents take many forms, including diaries, letters, meeting minutes, reports, photographs, audio recordings, films, memoranda, maps, drawings and more. The State Library is home to thousands of books, maps and other published materials relating to Florida’s history and culture. It’s also the official repository for published documents created by Florida’s state government agencies.

Many of these historical materials may be helpful for studying the history of Escambia County or the families who have lived there. The following is a selected list of materials from the State Archives and State Library that may be especially useful for this topic. It’s by no means an exhaustive list–just the highlights. Try searching the State Library’s online catalog or the State Archives’ online catalog to find more items relating to your research.

 

Available Online on Florida Memory

Florida Memory is free to use, requires no login and offers a robust search engine for finding what you need quickly. You can choose to search the entire site at once, or search or browse a single collection. Here are some of the best collections for researching Escambia County on Florida Memory:

 

Florida Photographic Collection – More than 205,000 digitized photos from the collections of the State Archives and State Library, including more than 5,300 images from Escambia County! Try searching for specific towns or landmarks, such as Century, Molino, Palafox Street or the USS Massachusetts.

Florida Map Collection – More than 300 maps of Florida dating from the 1500s to the 20th century. Some of the earliest maps in the collection show Pensacola, including a 1700 map of North and Central America drawn by cartographer Guillame de L’Isle, as well as a number of nautical charts showing Pensacola Bay.

Selected Documents Collection – These are items selected from collections throughout the holdings of the State Archives and State Library of Florida. More than 120 types of media are represented in the collection–everything from recipe cards to invitations to restaurant menus to paper currency, stocks and bonds, playbills, poems, posters and sheet music. In almost all cases, each item is drawn from a collection that has not yet been digitized on Florida Memory, so the records in this collection can be an excellent gateway for further research. Each item provides a description of its source to help you locate its parent collection in the State Archives or State Library. More than 30 items in this collection involve Escambia County, including a 1944 booklet for service members stationed in the area, titled Guide to Pensacola, Florida: The Annapolis of the Air.

1845 Election ReturnsFlorida held its first election for state officers in 1845. A total of 262 Escambia County voters participated, including 178 voters from Pensacola.

Confederate Pension Applications – The State of Florida granted pensions to thousands of aging or disabled Confederate veterans and their widows starting in 1885. This series contains the forms and correspondence associated with each Confederate veteran or widow who applied for a pension in Florida. A total of 431 applications are from Escambia County. That number doesn’t include Confederate veterans who may have lived in Escambia County during the war but later moved and applied for their pension from some other county.

Florida Auto Registrations, 1905-1917 – Did you know Leslie E. Brooks, who operated a real estate and mortgage business on Palafox Street in Pensacola, was the first person from Escambia County to register an automobile with the state? Would you have guessed that it only had 6 horsepower? Use these records to research some of Florida’s earliest automobile owners, including 627 from Escambia County.

World War I Service Cards – At the end of World War I, Congress ordered the military to create a brief service record for each person who served during the war and submit them to the adjutants general of each state. Florida Memory has digitized these service record cards—all 42,412 of them! More than 1,700 records document the service of soldiers who lived in Escambia County before the war.

WPA Church Records – The Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided employment for millions of Americans during the Great Depression by establishing all sorts of useful public works programs and even research and writing projects. One of the WPA’s Florida projects was a complete inventory of every church in the state, along with a listing of available church records. WPA field workers completed 145 reports on individual churches, but there is also a list of church incorporation dates that may include additional places of worship.

 

State Archives Collections Available for In-Person Research or Phone/Email Requests

Florida Memory is growing every day, but it offers only a tiny fraction of the material available for research at the State Archives in Tallahassee. A complete research facility is open to the public, including a full staff of archivists to help researchers find the resources they need. In many cases, if your request is specific enough the Reference Desk staff can locate the records or information you are looking for and make scans or copies without you visiting the Archives in person. Staff members must limit their research to 30 minutes per request, however, so this may not be possible for more detailed inquiries. Visit archivesflorida.com to learn more about the State Archives’ policies, procedures and fee schedule for copy/scanning services.

The following is a list of archival collections containing a significant amount of material on Sumter County. Each link will take you to the collection’s catalog record in the State Archives’ online catalog, where you can view a listing of the boxes and folders it contains.

 

County and State Officer Directories, 1845-1997 (Series S1284)Since Florida first established a territorial government in the 1820s, the Secretary of State (Secretary of the Territory prior to 1845) has maintained a directory of state and county officials. The records for county officials are generally organized by county name, so it’s easy to quickly locate a list of the individuals who held county offices such as sheriff, county commissioner or justice of the peace at any given time in your county. In many cases, the State Archives also holds copies of a county officer’s commission from the governor, written oath and bond (if one was required). Read our blog, “Researching State and County Officers,” for more details on finding records documenting the service of individual county officers.

Election Returns by County, 1824-1926 (Series S21) – These are official election returns sent to the Secretary of State by individual voting precincts. The documents often show the names of the individuals who voted at each precinct. This is another tool for locating specific ancestors in specific places over time. Boxes 11 and 12 of this series contains scattered returns for Escambia County from 1826-1926.

Election Return Canvasses, 1865-2004 (Series S1258) – This series contains national, state and county canvassing reports for the State of Florida dating back to the end of the Civil War. These records are a valuable tool for studying the political history of a community because they show how many votes each candidate received in each election–the winners as well as the losers. The records are arranged chronologically, so canvassing reports relating to Escambia County elections will be located throughout the volumes.

First Bank and Trust Company of Pensacola Records, 1914-1998 (Collection N2000-21) – This series contains the records of the Banking, Savings and Trust Company of Pensacola (established in 1914), which was later renamed First Bank and Trust Company of Pensacola, and in 1966 became affiliated with Barnett Banks. The materials include historical records, financial ledgers, daily statements, draft registers, meeting minutes from the Board of Directors dating back to 1914, stockholders’ meeting minutes, stock certificates and a variety of other records.

Governors’ Records (Multiple Series) – The correspondence and subject files of Florida’s governors are excellent sources for understanding what was happening in a Florida community at a specific point in time. County and state officials, as well as everyday citizens, often write to the governor to discuss their concerns or ideas about important subjects or events. These records are typically organized alphabetically by topic or county in each governor’s records. The correspondence and subject files of Governor Farris Bryant, for example, contain four folders of material relating specifically to Escambia County. Governor LeRoy Collins’ papers contain another seven folders. There’s a separate collection (or series, in archives-speak) for each governor. Visit the State Archives’ Online Catalog and search for a specific governor to find the records you’re looking for, or visit our Guide to Florida Governors and the Florida Cabinet on Florida Memory.

State Defense Council Subject Files, 1940-1946 (Series S419) – The State Defense Council coordinated civilian defense activities in Florida during World War II. Every county and many major cities and towns had their own local defense councils, which worked closely with the state entity to manage tasks such as blackout preparedness, scrap collection, bond drives, food conservation, enemy aircraft observation teams, auxiliary policing and more. Box 17 of this series contains folders relating specifically to Escambia County, although the records are organized by topic as well as by county, so there’s likely much more useful information scattered throughout the records.

Tax Rolls (Series S28)These records document the taxable property of each household in the state over time. The records include tax rolls for Escambia County from 1845 to 1880, with some years missing.

 

State Library Resources

The State Library collects a variety of published resources relating to Escambia County and its communities. Items available online include links; items without links must be viewed in person. Those items may also be available at other libraries near you.

Ephemera File – This collection contains brochures, information booklets, fliers, programs, advertisements and other documents. Many relate to tourist attractions or special events and festivals. Three folders of material in this collection relate to Escambia County.

Vertical File – The State Library maintains an extensive collection of news clippings and other miscellaneous documents on a wide range of topics. The file includes folders for each of Florida’s 67 counties, including a large file on Escambia County.

Selected Books and Documents:

Bense, Judith Ann. Archaeology of Colonial Pensacola. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1999.

Bliss, Charles H. Pensacola Harbor: Beautiful Views and Pertinent Facts Regarding the “Deep Water City” of the Gulf of Mexico; Pensacola Navy Yards, Pensacola Shipping, and Pensacola Fortifications. Pensacola: Charles H. Bliss, 1904.

Brown, Alan. Haunted Pensacola. Charleston: Haunted America, 2010.

Bruington, Lola Lee Daniell. Rural Cemeteries in Escambia County, Florida, 1826-1950. Pensacola: L.L.D. Bruington, 1985.

Chipley, William D. Pensacola (The Naples of America) and Its Surroundings Illustrated: New Orleans, Mobile, and the Resorts of the Gulf Coast. Louisville: Courier-Journal Press, 1877.

Clune, John J. Historic Pensacola. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009.

Coker, William S. The Spanish Censuses of Pensacola, 1784-1820: A Genealogical Guide to Spanish Pensacola. Pensacola: Perdido Bay Press, 1980.

Davis, Charlie. Growing Up in Pensacola: Personal Narratives. Gulf Breeze, FL: East Bay Publishers, 2009.

Florida Legislature. Acts and Resolutions of the General Assembly of the State of Florida. 

Hoffman, Carl Timothy. The Early History of Pensacola. Pensacola: Pfeiffer Printing Co., 1980.

Hoskins, Frank W. The History of Methodism in pensacola, Florida: Its Rise and Progress. Nashville: Methodist Episcopal Church South, 1928.

Manuel, Dale. Pensacola Bay: A Military History. Charleston: Arcadia Press, 2004.

Oaks, Frank J. The Port of Pensacola, 1877-1920. N.p., 1970.

Parks, Virginia. Pensacola in the Civil War. Pensacola Historical Society, 1978.

Parks, Virginia. Underground Pensacola. Pensacola Archaeological Society, 1989.

Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Quade & Douglas. Industrial and Economic Survey of Pensacola, Prepared for the Junior Chamber of Commerce and Senior Chamber of Commerce, Pensaola, Florida. New York: Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Quade & Douglas, 1927.

Pensacola Chamber of Commerce. Pensacola on the Florida Gulf Coast: A Delightful Year-Round Resort. Pensacola: Chamber of Commerce, 1925.

Pensacola City Company. The City of Pensacola, Florida: A Future Commercial Emporium of the Southern States. Pensacola: The Company, 1870.

Pensacola Commercial Association. Pictures and Pointers about Pensacola: Best Place in Florida or Anywhere Else. Pensacola: The Association, 1911.

Robinson, Celia Myrover. Jackson and the Enchanted City: Stories of Old Pensacola. Pensacola: Pensacola Printing Company, ca. 1900.

Rucker, Brian R. Encyclopedia of Education in Antebellum Pensacola. Bagdad, FL: Patagonia Press, 1999.

Southern States Lumber Company. The Perdido Country: The Region Embracing the Highlands of Escambia County, Florida and Baldwin County, Alabama, Adjacent to the Gulf Coast. Pensacola: Southern States Lumber Company, 1903.

Strohl, Evan R. Cemeteries of Escambia County, Fla. Pensacola: West Florida Genealogical Society, 1986.

Thompson, Keith. Pirates of Pensacola. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2005.

United States Post Office Department. Record of Appointment of Postmasters, 1832-1971.  (This National Archives microfilm publication shows the dates of establishment and discontinuance of post offices, name changes, and appointment dates of postmasters. Escambia County’s post offices are on reel 1 of 3.)

United States Post Office Department. Reports of Site Locations, 1837-1950. (This National Archives microfilm publication includes applications for new post offices and periodic reports giving detailed descriptions of where post offices were located in relation to railways, roads and bodies of water. Escambia County post offices are included on roll 91.)

Wilson, Jacquelyn Tracy. Remembering Pensacola. Nashville: Trade Paper Press, 2010.

 

History Beneath the Waves

There’s an important piece of Florida and United States history located about a mile and half southwest of Pensacola Pass in the Gulf of Mexico. There’s not much to see on the surface, just a couple of rusty cylinders that look as though they might have once been the foundation for a platform or a beacon of some sort. They’re just the tip, however, of something much more significant lying beneath the waves–the final resting place of one of the United States’ oldest battleships, the USS Massachusetts.

A portion of the submerged USS Massachusetts, located southwest of the entrance to Pensacola Bay (1993).

A portion of the submerged USS Massachusetts, located southwest of the entrance to Pensacola Bay (1993). Box 5, Folder 18,  Archaeological Sites and Activities Slide and Video Recordings – Bureau of Archaeological Research (Series S2318), State Archives of Florida.

The Massachusetts (BB-2) was launched in 1893 as part of the United States’ new “Steel Navy.” Naval vessels were becoming faster and more deadly as the technology behind guns and engines improved. Congress realized a strong navy was critical to national security, so in 1890 it authorized the construction of three steel-hulled, armored battleships powered entirely by steam. These ships, termed the Indiana class, included the Indiana, the Massachusetts and the Oregon. The Massachusetts was built by William Cramp and Sons of Philadelphia; the keel was laid on June 25, 1891, and the completed ship was launched on June 10, 1893. Officially commissioned by the Navy in 1896, the battleship was 350 feet long, 69 feet wide at the center and had a draft of 24 feet. Its top speed was 15 knots, and it featured two 13-inch guns and eight 8-inch guns along with smaller armaments.

The USS Massachusetts in harbor (circa 1918).

The USS Massachusetts in harbor (circa 1918).

After being fitted out at Philadelphia, the Massachusetts was assigned to the Navy’s North Atlantic fleet and spent several years traveling up and down the Eastern Seaboard on maneuvers. The ship’s first military action came during the Spanish-American War in 1898. On May 31 of that year, the Massachusetts  joined the Iowa and New Orleans in firing on the Spanish warship Cristóbal Colón off the coast of Santiago, Cuba. The Massachusetts missed out on the rest of the ensuing battle, having been forced to steam over to Guantanamo Bay to refuel. On July 4, the ship helped sink the Spanish cruiser Reina Mercedes and later steamed over to Puerto Rico to help transport troops during the U.S. occupation of the island.

The so-called

The so-called “black gang” of the USS Massachusetts, nicknamed for their blackened faces and clothing resulting from long days shoveling coal in the ship’s boiler room (circa 1918).

The Massachusetts had a relatively short service period, coming along in a time when naval technology was improving rapidly and older ships quickly became obsolete. It did have its high points, however. It was one of the first ships to have a permanent wireless telegraph system aboard, the installation being supervised directly by the inventor of the wireless telegraph, Guglielmo Marconi. During a European tour in 1911 it marked the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary of England with a 21-gun salute on behalf of the United States. The following year, the Massachusetts had the honor of offering a similar salute for President William Howard Taft during a review of the fleet at New York City.

The USS Massachusetts band (circa 1918).

The USS Massachusetts band (circa 1918).

The Massachusetts was decommissioned in 1914 (actually for the second time), but the outbreak of World War I led naval authorities to put it back into service as a gunnery practice ship for reserve crews training off the Atlantic coast. The ship returned to Philadelphia after the war, where it was decommissioned permanently and struck from the official Navy List. With no more missions to complete, the Navy offered the Massachusetts to the War Department, which decided to use it for target practice for coastal defenses near Pensacola. In January 1921, the Navy towed the ship around the tip of Florida and anchored it just outside the entrance to Pensacola Bay. The first attempt to scuttle the ship backfired when naval authorities realized the spot they had chosen was too shallow, and the ship had to be painstakingly refloated and moved to deeper water.

Map showing the location of the USS Massachusetts in relation to Pensacola and Santa Rosa Island. Included in an informational brochure on the USS Massachusetts published by the Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources in 2013.

Map showing the location of the USS Massachusetts in relation to Pensacola and Santa Rosa Island. Included in an informational brochure on the USS Massachusetts published by the Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources in 2013.

Meanwhile, the Army set up coastal artillery pieces at Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island and Fort Barrancas on the mainland and aimed them at the sunken ship. For 12 days they fired on the Massachusetts, stopping periodically to study the damage done by different kinds of ammunition shot from various angles. By the end of the month, the tests were complete, and the ship was abandoned with parts still protruding from below the waves of the Gulf.

A diver explores part of the wreckage of the USS Massachusetts (1993).

A diver explores part of the wreckage of the USS Massachusetts (1993). Box 5, Folder 18,  Archaeological Sites and Activities Slide and Video Recordings – Bureau of Archaeological Research (Series S2318), State Archives of Florida.

Despite having been underwater for nearly a century, the USS Massachusetts has been an uncommonly useful shipwreck. During World War II, student aviators from Naval Air Station Pensacola used the ship for target practice, and parts of its superstructure were harvested for urgently needed scrap metal. It was declared a Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserve in 1993 and has become a popular site for both diving and fishing. Amberjack, cobia, grouper and snapper are just a few of the game fish that make their home in the decaying hull of the Massachusetts.

Looking for more information and photos relating to Florida shipwrecks? Try searching the Florida Photographic Collection, and visit the Florida Museums in the Sea website, a fun, easy way to learn more about Florida’s twelve Underwater Archaeological Preserves.