The Spanish Land Grants were land claims filed by settlers in Florida after the transfer of the territory from Spain to the United States in 1821 in order to prove land ownership. Starting in 1790, Spain offered land grants to encourage settlement to the sparsely populated and vulnerable Florida colony. When the United States assumed control of Florida, it agreed to honor any valid land grants. Yet residents had to prove that validity through documentation and testimonials. Therefore, these records were the dossiers filed by grantees to the U.S. government. They were either confirmed (found to be valid) or unconfirmed (found invalid) by the US government through land commissions, federal courts, or by the U.S. Congress. Unfortunately, most of the records for West Florida are missing.
The grants provide information on the settlement and cultivation of Florida during the Second Spanish Period (1783-1821) and the Territorial Period (1821-1845). Grantees had to provide the following information: description of land granted; date of grant; size of grant; property boundaries; and proof of residency and cultivation. Therefore the records contain surveys and plats, copies of royal grants, testimonials, correspondence, deeds, wills, and translations of Spanish documents. A note of caution: because many of the grants conflict and overlap with each other, not all of the information in the records can be considered accurate. Some of the surveys were not verified on the ground, nor was there a complete survey for Florida until the late 1820s. Serious researchers should also consult other land collections (see Related Resources).
The WPA's Florida Historical Records Survey, under supervision of the State Library Board, created and published the Spanish Land Grants in Florida in 1942.
Written by historian Louise Biles Hill, the introduction to this five-volume transcription and abstraction is still useful as an extensive history of the creation, use, and preservation of the Spanish land grants.
Until the State Library and Archives of Florida made the Spanish land grants available online, the WPA's publication was the main source for researchers on the Spanish land grants and the Second Spanish Period Florida (1783-1821).
The introduction to the Spanish Land Grants in Florida is reproduced here with scanned images and a written transcript.
Digital copies of the Spanish Land Grant documents may be downloaded from this Web site at no charge. Photographic copies of the documents are available from the State Library and Archives of Florida.
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