Upcoming Special Events at the State Archives

October is American Archives Month, and the State Archives of Florida is celebrating with special events to help you make the most of our state’s archival treasures. Are you interested in genealogy? The history of your local community? A topic in Florida’s past? Archives Month is an excellent time to visit and see how we can help!

On Tuesday, October 6th and Tuesday, October 13th, the State Archives reference room will be open from 9:00am to 8:00pm. This is an excellent opportunity for patrons with busy work schedules who are unable to visit during our usual hours of operation.

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Hidden History in Civil War Documents

During the American Civil War (1861-65), Florida faced serious shortages of many consumer items that were normally obtained through trade. Clothing, weapons, ammunition, hardware, and even salt became scarcer and scarcer as the Union Navy encircled the Florida coastline with a blockade. What limited trade items could be obtained were generally funneled to the front lines for soldiers’ use.

C.S.S. Florida

C.S.S. Florida “runs” the Union blockade at Mobile Bay. “Blockade runners” used small, fast vessels to sneak past or outrun Union blockade ships and conduct trade (1862).

These privations were tough, especially the lack of food, arms, ammunition, and metal goods. Sometimes, however, the best illustrations of history come from the tiniest details. Want to see a great example of how strapped Florida’s citizens were for certain supplies during the Civil War? Look at their writing!

The words written on a historical document are certainly very useful, but sometimes how they are written, what they are written on, and what they are written with can be just as important for learning something new about the past. Take this document, for example:

Letter from "Julius" to an unidentified friend, August 24, 1863 (MS 109, State Library Manuscript Collections).

Letter from “Julius” to an unidentified friend, August 24, 1863 (MS 109, State Library Manuscript Collections).

This letter was written August 24th 1863 by a man named Julius, who was stationed at Legare’s Point on James Island near Charleston, South Carolina. You’ll notice right off that he wrote the letter in two directions, at right angles so as to be as readable as possible. He italicized his handwriting, which also increased the readability of the letter.

Why go to all this trouble? The answer is simple – as the war grew longer, paper and stationery supplies grew increasingly tight throughout the Confederacy. This was particularly true for soldiers on the front like Julius, who were often away from towns for long periods at a time. Although there were paper mills in the South in the 1860s, most letter-writing paper still had to be imported. The paper produced in the South was generally quite coarse, almost like craft paper. With the blockade in place, good stationery was difficult to obtain. Accordingly, folks “made do” with what they had. Throughout the collections of the State Library & Archives, we see examples of “cross-writing” like that above, as well as re-using paper and even using envelopes to write messages.

Message to Wagon Master Richard Joseph Adams at Waldo written on the back of an envelope, April 24, 1863 - Richard Joseph Adams Papers (MS 1, State Library Manuscript Collections).

Message to Wagon Master Richard Joseph Adams at Waldo written on the back of an envelope, April 24, 1863 – Richard Joseph Adams Papers (MS 1, State Library Manuscript Collections).

A lack of paper wasn’t the only challenge facing Floridians and other Southerners wanting to drop a line to someone during the war. Ink supplies also ran low, which led some citizens to turn to older natural sources. Long-time State Librarian Dorothy Dodd’s papers contain recollections from Floridians who reported using nutgalls and pomegranate skins to produce ink.

Tallahassee resident Susan Bradford Eppes confirms in her diary that her family was forced to find substitutes for ink, although she reports that it blotted and faded easily. This widespread substitution likely explains why the writing in some of the Civil War-era documents at the State Library & Archives is so faded, even when much older letters can still be read easily.

Excerpt from an April 3, 1864 letter with faded ink. Contrast had to be added digitally to make the document legible (Washington Ives Papers - MS 44, State Library Manuscript Collection).

Excerpt from an April 3, 1864 letter with faded ink. Contrast had to be added digitally to make the document legible (Washington Ives Papers – MS 44, State Library Manuscript Collection).

The State Library & Archives collectively hold a wealth of information about Florida in the Civil War. Diaries, letters, government reports and documents, military records, and other primary sources are available, as are books and periodicals relating to the Civil War era. If you’re looking for information about a Civil War-era ancestor, the Library’s genealogy section is a great place to get started.

Check out our Guide to Civil War Records and our Guide to Genealogical Research to learn more, or search our catalogs.

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!