At this very moment, two 15th-century Spanish caravels are tied up at St. Marks about 20 miles south of Tallahassee. Most folks will recognize their names – the Niña and the Pinta – because these were two of the ships used by Christopher Columbus and his crew to sail that proverbial ocean blue in 1492.
You can put down the phone, though – there’s no need to raise the alarm. The Spanish haven’t come for a third colonial occupation of Florida. Rather, these ships are replicas created by the Columbus Foundation as floating museums dedicated to educating the public about Christopher Columbus and the ships he used to explore parts of the Western Hemisphere.
The two ships and their crews are currently on a tour of the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Seaboard this winter and spring. At each port of call, they offer tours of the ships, which describe how the ships were sailed in the 15th century, what life was like for the sailors, and how the ships operate today in their replica form.
The Niña and the Pinta will remain in port at St. Marks until February 22nd, and will then sail on to Marco Island, where they will be in port from February 27th to March 1st. The ships will be anchored at Vero Beach on the Atlantic Coast from March 6-11, and then at Ponce Inlet from March 13-17. These dates are subject to change, of course – we recommend you visit the Columbus Foundation’s website at thenina.com for full details about the ships, their schedule, and tours.
With this fine-looking pair of Spanish caravels in port so close by, we at the State Library and Archives cannot help but think about some of the excellent resources we hold from the Spanish colonial era, several of which are available through Florida Memory. The oldest object in the State Archives, for example, is a 1589 map depicting the English privateer Sir Francis Drake’s 1586 raid on St. Augustine. This hand-colored map is the earliest-known depiction of a European settlement in what is now the United States. It was created by Baptista Boazio, an Italian cartographer working for the English at this time.
The Archives also holds a large collection of original records used by settlers to defend their titles to their land following the official transfer of Florida to the United States in 1821. One of the conditions of the treaty between Spain and the U.S. was that the United States government would honor existing land grants given by the Spanish Crown. The U.S. Board of Land Commissioners was established in 1822 to review claims and verify titles to these land grants, which claimants supported through deeds, correspondence, maps, and other materials establishing their ownership. These dossiers of material were retained by the Commission, and are now in the possession of the State Archives. The colorful maps and drawings alone make the collection worth a look, but for families with ties to these original claimants they can be great for genealogical research as well. Florida Memory has digitized the Spanish Land Grant collection in its entirety, and the images are available online.
Students of the Spanish colonial era will also find the East Florida Papers a very useful resource. A complete copy of the original records of East Florida held by the Library of Congress is available at the State Archives, along with an index. The documents include an index to Royal Decrees, financial records, and correspondence between Spanish officials on matters such as runaway slaves, the militia, religious authorities, and the transfer of the Florida Archives to the United States. The collection’s catalog record contains a fuller description of the contents.
These are just a few of the resources on the Spanish colonial era available to you through the State Library and Archives. Check out the State Library’s bibliography of resources relating to the Spanish colonial era, and contact us with any questions about the Archives’ holdings.