A Guide to Researching the Territorial Era

at the State Archives of Florida

Capitole de Tallahassee
The territorial Capitol as sketched by the Comte de Castelnau and painted by Paris A. Bertrand in 1842


Maps & Land Documentation

Land and its products were in many ways the currency of the realm in cash-poor territorial Florida. One of the United States government's initial priorities upon receiving Florida from Spain was to clarify the titles granted before 1821 by the Spanish government, and then open the remaining land to public sale. In 1824, Territorial Secretary George Walton, Jr. selected a spot southeast of the capitol to become the starting point for a grid system that would eventually encompass virtually all land in Florida. Government surveyors then began measuring the land on all sides of this point into six-mile township squares, each comprised of one-mile square sections. As these squares were surveyed, the land was made available for sale at public land offices.

The collections in this section document issues regarding land titles, surveying, and distribution. The majority of the collections pertain to the process by which the United States government adjudged claims made by individuals who had received grants of land from the Spanish government. Other records document the activities of the United States Government Land Office branches in Florida.

This guide provides the name and a description of each collection or series, plus its identification number, which is hyperlinked to its record in the Archives Online Catalog. Once inside the catalog record, you can access a list of the volumes, boxes, or folders that make up the collection or series.

Series 59: Surveys of Private Claims – U.S. General Land Office, 1827-1853

The series contains surveys of private claims, 1827 to 1853, made by the Office of the Surveyor General of the United States, for the Territory of Florida and for the State of Florida. Each survey includes a certification that attests the property has been surveyed and the boundaries marked. It includes the property owner's name, a map of the tract surveyed and a property description. The surveys document the land grants and private claims that the United States Board of Land Commissioners or the Florida District of the United States General Land Office confirmed as private land claims.

Series 543: Key Biscayne and Cape Florida lighthouse maps, 1827-1897

This series contains maps of Key Biscayne and architectural drawings of the Cape Florida Lighthouse collected by the Division of Recreation and Parks. The series includes 13 items, ranging in date from 1827 to 1897. Most of the items are copies from originals or from field survey notes. The maps in this series were collected by the Division of Recreation and Parks for the preparation of exhibits.

Included in the series is a copy of an 1827 survey of the parcel of land on which the Cape Florida Lighthouse was constructed.

Series 606: Register of Tracts Purchased – Florida District of the U.S. General Land Office, 1825-1833

The series consists of a register of tracts purchased in the Territory of Florida from 1825 to 1833. It documents the public land sales recorded by the Receiver of the United States Land Office at Tallahassee. The register contains the date of purchase, the county in which the land was located, the name of the buyer, the receipt number issued, the description of the tract, the number of acres purchased, the rate per acre and the total sum paid.

Series 617: Township Survey Plats – Florida District, U.S. General Land Office, 1823-1933

Note: Two online sources provide access to these plats. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Bureau of State Lands provides black and white scans of the plats in TIFF, PDF, and GIF formats through its Land Document Search system. The United States Department of the Interior offers color scans of original surveys and resurveys through its database of Government Land Office records. Note that these scans are not from the same originals held by the State Archives of Florida, and generally lack notations and adjustments made by state officials over the years.

This series contains approximately 6,800 survey plats, 1823 to 1933, drawn by the Surveyor General of the United States for the Territory and State of Florida. The survey plats were maintained by the Florida District of the General Land Office until it was closed. The majority of the plats are copies made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries of surveys originally completed between 1840 and 1860.

The survey plats represent an average of four plats or survey maps for each of the nearly 1,700 townships. The entire state is covered, with two major exceptions: the Forbes Purchase, the approximate boundaries of which are St. Marks, Woodville, Bristol and Apalachicola; and the area around Lake Okeechobee and the western halves of Palm Beach and Broward Counties.

The series also contains other maps which cover more specific areas, such as land grants, military reservations, wildlife refuges and maps submitted by surveyors summarizing township boundaries and the areas of specific surveying contracts.

The average township plat contains a one-square foot map with a scale of 80 chains (one mile) equals two inches. Also found on the plat are a table of the area of land in each of the 36 sections, meanders (bearings and distances) of natural boundaries (shorelines, etc.), information concerning when and by whom the survey was done, and notes relating to the sale and/or disposition of land within the township. Many of the maps are colored.

Series 619: Tract Books – Florida District, U.S. General Land Office, 1824-1890

Note: The Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Bureau of State Lands provides black and white scans of the tract books through its Land Document Search system.

The series contains the Florida tract books maintained by the Florida District of the United States General Land Office. It documents the sale of federal public lands in the Territory and State of Florida from 1824 to 1890. Each entry lists a description of the tract, purchaser, date, and type of fund.

Series 990: Confirmed Spanish Land Grant Claims, 1763-1821

Note: The Spanish Land Grant Collection on Florida Memory contains a complete digital copy of the contents of series 990 and 991.

The series consists of "dossiers" containing those papers which were filed in evidence and confirmed as valid claims before the Board of Land Commissioners. Each land claim with its supporting documents was later encased in a manila jacket on which appears the name of the applicant, the number of acres claimed, disposition of the claim and page reference to the American State Papers. The supporting documents include petitions or memorials to a governor for land; surveys or plats; attests; deeds of sale, gifts, wills, bequests, and exchanges; applications; and translations of Spanish documents. Most of the documents for claims in West Florida are missing.

Series 991: Unconfirmed Spanish Land Grant Claims, 1763-1821

Note: The Spanish Land Grant Collection on Florida Memory contains a complete digital copy of the contents of series 990 and 991.

The series consists of "dossiers" containing those papers which were filed in evidence and not confirmed as valid claims before the Board of Land Commissioners. Each land claim with its supporting documents was later encased in a manila jacket on which appears the name of the applicant, the number of acres claimed, disposition of the claim and page reference to the American State Papers. The supporting documents include petitions or memorials to a governor for land; surveys or plats; gifts; attests; deeds of sale, gifts, wills, bequests, and exchanges; applications; and translations of Spanish documents. Most of the documents for claims in West Florida are missing.

Series 992: Memorials and Concessions presented to the U.S. Board of Land Commissioners, 1786-1821

This series consists of memorials and concessions made by the Spanish Governor for land grants to individuals in East Florida between 1786 and 1821. The documents were filed with the Board of Land Commissioners as evidence of petitioner's right to ownership of land under the required conditions set forth by the Spanish government.

Many of these memorials and concessions were filed by claimants not covered in series 990 and 991.

Series 993: Memorials for City Lots in St. Augustine presented to the U.S. Board of Land Commissioners, 1764-1821

The series contains memorials (petitions) for confirmation of ownership of city lots in St. Augustine from 1764 to 1821. A name index is available in the first folders of Boxes 1 and 2. The series also contains other documents relating to claims in St. Augustine, including deeds to town lots; deeds to land in St. Augustine with its own index; an inventory of lots in St. Augustine; leases in St. Augustine; and a Day Docket of the Board of Land Commissioners meeting in St. Augustine.

These records contain much the same kind of information as series 990 and 991, only for city lots rather than the larger parcels of land in the countryside.

Series 995: Minutes and Testimony taken before the U.S. Board of Land Commissioners, 1823-1825

The series contains the minutes of the Board of Land Commissioners for East Florida from March 29, 1824, to December 20, 1825, and testimony taken before the Board of Land Commissioners from December 11, 1823, to December 28, 1825. The minutes reflect the procedures and actions of the Board's decision making powers. The testimony reflects the statements of the person(s) presenting a claim before the Board. A more complete copy of the minutes from 1823 to 1827 is located in Series 1001.

Series 996: Memorials for Town Lots in Fernandina presented to the U.S. Board of Land Commissioners, 1808-1821

The series contains memorials (petitions) for confirmation of ownership of town lots in Fernandina, East Florida, from 1808 to 1821. Records include memorials, patents (documentary evidence of title), and memorials for patents. Each type of record includes a name index.

These records contain much the same kind of information as series 990 and 991, only for city lots rather than the larger parcels of land in the countryside.

Series 997: Concessions for New Settlers of Spanish Florida, presented to the U.S. Board of Land Commissioners, 1791-1821

The series contains the concessions for new settlers, granted from 1791 to 1821, by virtue of a Royal Order communicated to the Spanish Government on October 29, 1790. The concessions were filed with the Board of Land Commissioner as evidence of settlement of lands in East Florida. This Order encouraged new settlers move to Florida by giving them land to which they could gain title if they held and cultivated it for ten years. The series includes a name index.

Series 1001: Record Books of the U.S. Board of Land Commissioners, 1773-1828

The series contains record books of the Board of Land Commissioners for East and West Florida from 1773 to 1828. Records documenting the activities of the Board in East Florida include minutes from August 4, 1823, to November 30, 1827; registers of claims for the first and second session of the Board; copies of grants; concessions; memorials; surveys; and decrees. Records documenting the activities of the Board in West Florida include minutes from July 15, 1822, to July 24, 1824; records of proceedings; lists of claims reported to Congress; claims and titles to land filed; and translations relating to land titles derived from the Spanish government. The series also contains copies of royal titles, deeds of mortgage, sales, concessions, and judicial tax sales in St. Augustine, city and vicinity, from 1773 to 1809. Each volume is indexed by name.

Series 1022: Spanish Protocols Collected by the U.S. Board of Land Commissioners, 1804-1819

The series contains various Spanish protocols or legal instruments from 1804 to 1819 which are related to the land claims that were submitted to the Board of Land Commissioners in East Florida. Records include wills, deeds, titles, testimony and bills of sale.

Series 1023: Miscellaneous Spanish Florida Land Records, 1804-1849

This series contains several different types of land records from 1804 to 1849 which are related to the Spanish land grant claims that were submitted to the Board of Land Commissioners. Included are documents of private claims of individuals; abstracts of claims to lots in Pensacola and records related to claims in West Florida; descriptive lists; docket of claims; land surveys; and correspondence.

Series 1232: Survey Plats of Spanish Land Grants Collected by the U.S. Board of Land Commissioners, 1791-1836

The series contains the original survey plats of Spanish land grants in East Florida. The bulk of the plats date from 1791 to 1820. The records consist of a plat drawing of the land grant and a description of the boundaries. The documents were filed with the Board of Land Commissioners as evidence of a petitioner's right to ownership of land under the required conditions set forth by the Spanish government.

Series 1235: Memorials and Concessions Not Acted Upon by the U.S. Board of Land Commissioners, 1804-1821

This series documents those Florida Spanish land claims in East Florida that were not acted upon by the Board of Land Commissioners. It contains memorials and concessions made by the Spanish Governor to individuals in Spanish Florida from 1786 to 1821. The documents were filed with the Board of Land Commissioners as evidence of petitioner's right to ownership of land under the required conditions set forth by the Spanish government.

Series 1439: Spanish Concessions for Services presented to the U.S. Board of Land Commissioners, 1815-1821

The series contains concessions for services, granted from 1815 to 1821, by virtue of the Royal Order of 1815, which were filed as evidence with the Board of Land Commissioners. The Royal Order had granted lands in East Florida to militia officers and soldiers who defended the province during the rebellion (Patriot War of 1811-1812). The land grants were in proportion to the size of their families. The series includes a name index.

Series 1472: Survey Field Notes – Florida District, U.S. General Land Office, 1824-1890

The series contains the field notes created by the surveyors in Florida who delineated the boundaries of townships, ranges, and sections throughout the Territory/State beginning in 1824. These notes provided the basis for establishing boundaries of land that were divided and sold. The bulk of the surveys were executed throughout the nineteenth century with the later surveys being done as the population moved south in the state. Some twentieth century material is included and deals with "re-surveys" or new surveys of virgin territory.

Most rolls contain several volumes of field notes. The volumes are numbered, and when a volume had to be continued onto the next roll the page number of the volume where it stopped is indicated in parentheses. There is no volume 192. Box number MF 094 contains an index which is arranged according to township and range, which then provides the name of the surveyor, volume number where notes are located, and year of survey.

The original field notes are maintained by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Bureau of State Lands. Black and white digital scans of these field notes are available through the Bureau's Land Document Search system. Search for document type "SFN."

Series 1812: Plat Maps of Counties – Florida District, U.S. General Land Office, 1820-1845

This series contains copies of survey plats drawn by the Surveyor General of the United States for the Territory and State of Florida. The survey plats were collated into the Florida counties that contained the township/range listings that were the subjects of the survey. The forty-four counties represented in this series were all created in the nineteenth century with the exception of Bay (1913). There are two counties missing, i.e. Franklin and Liberty.

Some maps cover specific areas, such as land grants. Some maps also contain a table of the area of land, meanders (bearings and distances) of natural boundaries (shorelines, etc.), information concerning when and by whom the survey was done, and sometimes notes relating to the sale and/or disposition of land within the township as well as land set aside for use by the United States War and Navy departments. This series has much of the same information as Series 617 but it has been organized into the counties and not in Township and Range form.

Series 1815: Plat Maps – Florida District, U.S. General Land Office, 1824-1851

This series contains copies of survey plats drawn by the Surveyor General of the United States for the Territory and State of Florida. The survey plat copies were collated into volumes that contained the township/range listings that were the subjects of the survey.

Some maps cover specific areas, such as land grants. Some maps also contain a table of the area of land, meanders (bearings and distances) of natural boundaries (shorelines, etc.), information concerning when and by whom the survey was done, and sometimes notes relating to the sale and/or disposition of land within the township as well as land set aside for use by the United States War and Navy departments. One volume deals with the Florida Keys.

Series 1818: Map of St. Augustine, 1834-1835

This map of Saint Augustine, Florida, produced by the Office of the United States Surveyor General, contains information as to the location of various civic and religious buildings, the owners of some lots, the names of streets and the location of military fortifications and barracks in and around the city.

Collection M75-100: Fernando M. Arredondo Letter, 1822

This letter of Fernando de la Maza Arredondo of Havana, Cuba is addressed to Moses E. Levy of Elizabethtown, New Jersey and regards the former's willingness to compromise on the settlement of his land grant. The letter is dated August 20, 1822. Levy has written a note at the bottom of the second page in English.

Collection M75-103: Maps of Florida, 1829-1888

The maps in this collection represent the state of Florida or parts of it. Four maps cover the whole state in four separate years: 1834, 1837, 1846, and 1855. Other maps are sectional, representing East Florida (1840), South Florida (1856, 1888). The 1856 map was drawn by the U.S. military and details especially the area west of Lake Okeechobee where much of the fighting in the Seminole wars took place. Finally, there in an 1829 map of Tallahassee and an 1858 map of Madison County.

Collection M79-185: Samuel C. White Papers, 1803-1863

The collection contains the papers of Samuel C. White of Leon County, Florida. The records consist of mostly deeds and indentures between White and others including Ephraim, Joshia and Stephan Saunders, John Havis, W. J. White and John Townsend. These deeds are issued mostly from Leon County, but some are from Thomas County, Georgia. It also contains two pieces of personal correspondence. The papers cover part of Florida's territorial period and into its statehood. Also included in the collection is a eulogy of Samuel C. White, which extols his "uniform Christian character."

Collection M82-10: Papers relating to the Forbes Purchase, 1817-1910

William Panton, John Leslie and Thomas Forbes owned Panton, Leslie & Company, a large and prosperous merchant business in colonial Georgia and South Carolina. During the Revolutionary War, their British sympathies led them to move their business to Spanish-held St. Augustine. Much of their business was conducted with the Indians of the region, and consequently by 1792 the business was in financial trouble due to the accumulation of large Indian debts. A suggestion by the Spanish government that they recoup these debts through Indian land cessions resulted in the company (by then known as the John Forbes & Company) receiving approximately 1,200,000 acres between the Apalachicola and St. Marks River in 1804. This cession is commonly known as the Forbes Purchase.

After the War of 1812, it became evident that the United States would obtain Florida from the British. Since Forbes was not an American citizen, he felt that either the land would be confiscated or he would not receive a fair purchase price from the U. S. Government. The land was therefore sold to Colin Mitchel, a Havana merchant, in 1817.

Years of litigation followed in which the U. S. government questioned the authenticity and legality of certain documents used as proofs of ownership. Many of the documents were located in the Spanish archives in Cuba and had to be copied and translated; accusations of forgery and mistranslations flew.

Finally in 1835 the U. S. Supreme Court decided in Mitchel's favor. He formed the Apalachicola Land Company with headquarters in New York and sold the land piecemeal to the newly arriving American settlers. The company became insolvent in 1858.

The collection contains correspondence and legal papers concerning the litigation, as well as receipts, indentures and other agreements made by interested parties. The case of Andrew Garr vs. the Apalachicola Land Company is well documented, as are the suits filed by the Union Bank of Tallahassee. Most of the documents date from the mid-19th century when the litigation occurred, though some papers date to 1910.

Collection M83-3: Corliss Manuscript Collection, 1807-1885

The collection contains documents of varied origin which were amassed over time by Mr. Corliss. It includes a decree and petition from Isaac Johnson, governor of Louisiana, to Governor Grand Pre of West Florida, 1807; a letter from Thomas S. Jesup to Capt. J. F. Lee of the U. S. Army Quartermasters Corps, regarding Jesup's raising a regiment of Creek warriors under command of R. K. Call, 1843; a letter from John Forsyth, Secretary of State, to Nicholas Biddle, president of the Bank of the United States, announcing commissions, 1836; a travel voucher of Thomas S. Jesup, 1812; and an engraving of a portrait of Hernando de Soto with a facsimile of his signature (undated). Also part of the collection is the application of Dickerson N. Hoover (father of J. Edgar) for membership in the American Legion of Honor (1885) and a transmittal of accounts to Brig. Gen. N. Towson, Paymaster, from Jacob Brown, Palataka (1841).

Collection M83-3: Corliss Manuscript Collection, 1807-1885

The collection contains documents of varied origin which were amassed over time by Mr. Corliss. It includes a decree and petition from Isaac Johnson, governor of Louisiana, to Governor Grand Pre of West Florida, 1807; a letter from Thomas S. Jesup to Capt. J. F. Lee of the U. S. Army Quartermasters Corps, regarding Jesup's raising a regiment of Creek warriors under command of R. K. Call, 1843; a letter from John Forsyth, Secretary of State, to Nicholas Biddle, president of the Bank of the United States, announcing commissions, 1836; a travel voucher of Thomas S. Jesup, 1812; and an engraving of a portrait of Hernando de Soto with a facsimile of his signature (undated). Also part of the collection is the application of Dickerson N. Hoover (father of J. Edgar) for membership in the American Legion of Honor (1885) and a transmittal of accounts to Brig. Gen. N. Towson, Paymaster, from Jacob Brown, Palataka (1841).

Collection M88-5: Plats Exhibiting the State of Surveys in Florida – Office of the Surveyor General, 1839-1840

This collection contains two plat surveys of Northern Florida created by the General Surveyor's Office in 1839 and 1840, which were used to determine township and range. The surveys depict the area from the northern border to south of Lake George and show the status of the surveys--whether a township is full sectioned or simply marked out. Noted on the surveys are the Forbes Purchase, the Arredondo Grant, major lakes and rivers, and some towns such as St. Marks, St. Augustine and Fernandina. Proposed new survey areas are also marked. The scale on both surveys is 18 miles to 1 inch.


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