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Florida Bar Journal

Free Florida Land: Homesteading for Good Title


This is the third article in a trilogy about the origins of real estate titles in Florida to be published by The Florida Bar Journal. The first article discussed Spanish land grants; the second, British land grants.1 This article will recount the little-known story of how some early Floridians got title to their land for free by staking a claim and surviving on it. Their efforts to eke out a living from the land were far from easy. With modern air conditioning, mosquito control, electricity, and supermarkets, we can scarcely imagine their hardships in the Florida wilderness.

Florida homesteader//Illustration by Joe McFadden An excellent portrait of the rigors of early pioneer life in Florida has been traced in the highly acclaimed historical novel, A Land Remembered, by Patrick Smith.2 Many readers will be familiar with it, and others may wish to peruse this interesting account. As we will see, not all American “homesteaders” were out West on the Great Plains. We have our own variety of homesteaders here in Florida, both white and black, with their own tale to unravel that explains how their title to land originated. But before examining the homesteaders’ story, it is important to understand several things about their adversaries in the fight over ownership of Florida real estate.

As lawyers are aware, title to real estate is a somewhat curious thing. You can’t touch it, feel it, taste it, or even actually see it, although you can read about it. Florida lawyers are so used to the concept of title and private ownership of land that they tend to take it for granted, akin to a fundamental law of nature, like gravity. They can give opinions on title after reviewing abstracts, and they depend on courts to settle any disagreements, ultimately ruling on who has “good title” and who doesn’t.

It was not always thus in Florida. For thousands of years before Europeans came to this peninsula, a succession of native peoples lived here with very different ideas about owning land. They had names like Calusas, Tequestas, Temucuans, and Apalachees. One estimate suggests that there were “as many as 350,000” living here before the Spanish arrived in the 16th century.3

Notice that the name Seminole is missing from the foregoing list. Although the Seminoles, and three separate wars between them and the United States, figure prominently in the passage of Florida homesteading laws, the Seminoles did not exist as an independent tribe until the 18th century, over a century after the arrival of the Spanish and the decimation of the indigenous people to disease, war, and social changes.4 The Seminoles arose as sort of an amalgamation of a variety of Southeastern Indian tribes, primarily “Lower Creek,” as southward immigration occurred from what is now Alabama and Georgia into the largely deserted and unpopulated areas of Florida. As the 18th and early 19th centuries unfolded, the population of Seminoles on the ground in Florida increased, even though Spain nominally governed on paper (except for the brief British period, 1763-1783).5 A good case can be made for the proposition that as actual Seminole presence and power waxed during these decades, Spanish influence and physical authority waned. History clearly teaches that political power abhors a vacuum, and as Spain’s international power declined, the stage was set for a battle over Florida between the Seminoles and the newly emerging United States.

The first of the three clashes between these two occurred while Spain still claimed sovereignty over Florida in 1817-1818. In late 1817, the Army attempted, unsuccessfully, to seize a Seminole chief named Neamathla at his south Georgia village called Fowltown, destroying the village in the process. A week later the Seminoles saw a chance to retaliate. A boat carrying nearly 50 people — soldiers and civilian dependents — was on its way up the Apalachicola River toward Ft. Scott when the Seminoles attacked it, killing nearly all occupants of the boat except one woman who was taken prisoner and six of the soldiers who escaped.6

Subsequently, the United States sent an army headed by General Andrew Jackson to the immediate area of the violence. The scope of Jackson’s actual authority might best be described as “unclear,” and the propriety of his actions has been debated at great length in the aftermath of the fighting. In any event, Jackson invaded Spanish Florida, captured Pensacola and St. Marks and, before withdrawing back to American territory, basically pushed the Seminoles southward away from the Georgia and Alabama borders.7

One can easily surmise that Gen. Jackson’s actions in Florida caused considerable consternation and unease in Madrid. Since, by this time, Spain lacked the necessary military power to do much about these events, a diplomatic resolution developed giving the United States the foundation to claim that it owned legal title to Florida (or the Floridas, East and West, as they were known).

This diplomatic resolution took the form of a treaty between the United States and Spain, primarily negotiated between U.S. Secretary of State John Adams (who later became president) and Spanish diplomat Don Luis de Onis. The treaty, referred to as the Adams-Onis Treaty, was negotiated in 1819 and finally ratified and put into effect in 1821, when the “Floridas” were officially transferred to the United States.8 The terms of the treaty were described in some detail in the first article of this series, “The Case of Florida’s Missing Real Estate Records,” which explained that the U.S. did not actually pay Spain $5 million for Florida, but instead only agreed to pay claims owned by Spain to bona fide claimants up to a total cap of $5 million.9 In fact, as it turned out, the United States ultimately paid over $4 million in claims to Americans who could prove that Spain owed them legitimate debts.10 This real estate transaction had very significant benefits for Americans and could certainly be argued to be one of the best deals ever negotiated by the United States. For the payment of a relatively small sum, paid not to a foreign power but instead to Americans, the emerging nation secured its southeastern border and added millions of acres to the public domain. In one of its early cases, U. S. v. Percheman, 32 U.S. 51 (1833), the U.S. Supreme Court analyzed the transaction as follows:

Florida was a colony of Spain, the acquisition of which by the United States was extremely desirable. It was ceded by a treaty concluded between the two powers at Washington, on the 22d day of February 1819.. . . “His catholic majesty cedes to the United States in full property and sovereignty, all the territories which belong to him situated to the eastward of the Mississippi, by the name of East and West Florida.”11

The Court, in the same opinion, also explained some of the real estate logic behind the treaty in this manner:

The United States had acquired a territory containing near thirty millions of acres, of which about three millions had probably been granted to individuals. The demands of the treasury, and the settlement of the territory, required that the vacant lands should be brought into the market; for which purpose the operations of the land office were to be extended into Florida. The necessity of distinguishing the vacant from the appropriated lands was obvious; and this could be effected only by adopting means to search out and ascertain pre-existing titles.12

Consider the situation from the point of view of the chief executive at the time, President James Monroe, his administration, and the Congress. The young nation now had approximately 27 million acres of land with which to do something. One might consider this something of a real estate developer’s or nation builder’s dream situation, but there were issues. Following its typical and normal pattern, Congress organized Florida with a territorial government containing executive, legislative, and judicial branches, all supervised from Washington in the territorial system. (This period lasted from 1821 to 1845, when Florida was admitted to the Union as a state.) Policymakers in Washington began addressing the interesting problem of what to do with millions of acres of new, largely unfamiliar land in Florida. Recall that one of the big differences between the 13 formerly English colonies to the north and the two Spanish ones (East and West Florida) to the south was that the English colonies tended to have far more settlers, farmers, and pioneers on the ground than the Spanish had managed to lure to Florida. True, Spain had established certain fortified positions and military garrisons in Florida, and the Spanish crown had granted land to numerous individuals hoping to promote more intensive population settlement, but results were only spotty at best. The hard reality was that in 1821, when the transfer was made, Florida had a substantial population of very hostile Seminole Indians, very few roads or other internal improvements, clouds of mosquitoes, and hordes of snakes and alligators inhabiting vast, nearly trackless swamps. Though the weather was mild in winter, in summer it was brutal, tropical heat with attendant diseases like yellow fever and malaria. Consequently, the problems faced by Washington officials concerning how to proceed in Florida were considerable. But opportunities seemed available, too. The northern sections of the territory in the Red Hills area offered much good potential farm land and the center of the peninsula, north of Lake Okeechobee, dotted with hills and lakes, was very promising also. Naturally, Washington officials were prepared to sell parcels of the newly acquired land.

Once the territorial government was organized, Congress did pass measures allowing the sale of Florida acreage. This allowed investors with sufficient capital to acquire large tracts, set up plantation-type operations, and begin agricultural production normally based on slave labor. The territory saw this type of development primarily along its northern tier. Congressional acts also addressed the complex difficulties of sorting out which Spanish land grants were genuine, under the terms of the Adams-Onis Treaty, from those which were spurious. This task absorbed a huge amount of both executive and judicial work during the territorial period and even thereafter.13

One authority summarized the situation concisely and accurately as follows:

Throughout the territory, two issues were of fundamental importance: access to land (or validation of existing deeds) and removal of the Seminole Indians. Spain ceded nearly 40 million acres of land, much of it uninhabited and a potential bonanza to speculators and settlers. The absence of land records for West Florida complicated transmittal of deeds.. . .
Under terms of the Adams-Onis Treaty, the United States agreed to recognize valid Spanish titles, and Congress created a board of commissioners for Pensacola and St. Augustine to adjudicate the claims. In 1826, unsettled Spanish land grant claims were assigned to the receiver of the Land Office and later to the federal courts. Congress also passed a Donation Act in 1824 to permit squatters to acquire valid titles to a maximum of 640 acres. In 1828, it became possible to “pre-empt” previously settled land from public sale for a fee of $1.25 an acre.14

Notice two important points about this citation: 1) It asserts that Spain ceded “nearly 40 million acres of land,” substantially more than the 30 million-acre figure cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Perchemen case referred to earlier; and 2) it indicates Congressional action to encourage settlement in Florida by persons who were neither wealthy nor capable of establishing large-scale agricultural enterprises. Indeed, the author suggests that the 1824 Donation Act allowed “squatters” to get clear title of up to 640 acres, which is a full section of land under the government survey method. Most likely, the Congressional drafters of the legislation wanted to create an avenue for small farmers to stay in Florida, building a strong presence of settlers on the ground in the tradition of the former English colonies to the north. A thorough search of the literature reveals little about the actual effects of the Donation Act of 1824, in terms of either the number of settlers who used it, or the total amount of land distributed under it. At the early stage of the territorial period when it was in effect, the presence of hostile Seminoles in Florida no doubt had a considerable influence on the attitudes of settlers. For example, one historical reference discusses comments attributed to Territorial Governor William P. DuVal as follows:

After some investigation, he seems to have come to the realization that the lands presently occupied by the Seminoles were also the only good lands in the territory. As he told Calhoun, “It will be a serious misfortune to this Territory if the Indians are permitted to occupy this tract of Country.” The United States owed more than $4 million on the peninsula, and the only way to come up with those funds was to sell the land to settlers and speculators. Giving the Indians the best part of Florida was out of the question.15

Thus, we come to the root of the problem. The United States was in legal, if not physical, possession of millions of acres of Florida land; a territorial government had been organized, but further development was jeopardized by potential hostilities from the Seminoles who occupied or used much of the most desirable land. The Seminoles, of course, cared little about the niceties of legal title to land from Spain or in Washington. They correctly deduced that further intrusion by Anglo settlers into Florida threatened their means of livelihood, and indeed, their very existence.

Although more trouble and fighting awaited in the future, the balance of the 1820s and the first half of the 1830s saw considerable efforts to avoid open warfare with the Seminoles. These events were succinctly explained by one historian, who discussed an 1823 treaty negotiated by territorial and federal representatives with Seminole leaders:

Over 400 Indians attended the treaty negotiations at Moultrie Creek, five miles south of St. Augustine, where the chiefs agreed to remove their people to a protected reservation of 4 million acres north of Charlotte Harbor and south of Ocala but not within twenty miles of either coast. In the years immediately following, the treaty proved unsatisfactory to both Indians and whites. The chiefs complained that the designated lands were too small to support their peoples; the whites, lusting after the rich interior farmlands, proposed a policy of general Indian removal to the trans-Mississippi West. That policy took formal shape at Payne’s Landing on the Oklawaha River in 1832, where seven chiefs and eight subchiefs (compared to thirty-two signers at Moultrie Creek) signed a treaty pledging that they would move to Arkansas, provided seven of their number inspected the new lands and approved of them.. . . The federal government made plans for Indian removal within three years, but a number of Seminole chiefs rejected the treaty.

On December 28, 1835, Indians shot and killed an Indian agent and a lieutenant outside Fort King, near Ocala. On the same day Indians ambushed Major Francis L. Dade and two companies of soldiers, of whom only three survived, near Bushnell. Thus began the Second Seminole War, the longest and most expensive Indian war in the country’s history. For nearly seven years, in a guerrilla campaign unlike any that the U.S. Army had fought before, the Seminoles resisted a massive military effort to drive them from their homes.16

For an excellent and detailed account of this conflict, readers can consult The Seminole Wars: America’s Longest Indian Conflict.17 Another historian, James Covington, in his book primarily about the Third Seminole War (1855-1858), had this to say about the events of the Second Seminole War:

Grant Foreman, the famed historian of Indian removal, wrote that the blackest chapter in our dealings with the Indians was the one relating to the removal of Seminoles from Florida.. . . the United States Army repeatedly violated pledges and captured various individuals and bands, shipping them to Indian Territory. Since it was most obvious that they were unable to conquer the Seminoles in combat, several commanders resorted to tactics in the field which could hardly be called honorable. Some Seminoles were captured under the so-called protection of a flag of truce. Other captives were threatened by hanging or by the death of their children if they did not urge their friends in the field to surrender. Although similar things happened in most wars, the Seminoles soon learned to distrust the word of the white man.

During the conflict some three thousand Seminoles were removed from Florida by various means, but since the Indians had no overall commander who could order a general surrender, the war continued on a piece-meal basis. The cost soared to a figure between thirty and forty million dollars, and the death rate to nearly fifteen hundred men. The troops were needed for action against other Indians and the Mexicans. It was necessary to call the war to an end with the goal of complete Seminole removal still unattained. On May 10, 1842, President John Tyler announced the termination of military action against the two hundred and forty Seminole Indians reported to be remaining in Florida, suggesting that peaceful overtures be extended toward them in the hope that they would join their kinfolk in the west.. . .

On August 14, 1842, the troops in the field were notified in Military Order 28 issued by Colonel William J. Worth that the hostilities were at an end and the Indians were to be given temporary use of some land for hunting and farming purposes.18

You might conclude that the U.S. government ended the Second Seminole War on terms which probably sound familiar to modern ears — basically President Tyler said that major combat operations were over, declared victory, and moved on, leaving Seminoles whom the Army could not (or would not) subdue still in the field. This did not work out very well, since the third and final Seminole War would erupt a little over a dozen years later. However, in the interim, Congress sought to enact policies that would develop the territory and also attempt to reduce the further incidence of violence and bloodshed in Florida.

Florida Homesteading Law Enacted

In 1842, Congress enacted the Armed Occupation Act, legislation that had been introduced by Sen. Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri with a policy goal to “attract families to the territory.” The key provisions of this law allowing the free distribution of federal, public land in Florida were as follows:

1) About 200,000 acres (below modern Gainesville) were opened for distribution,

2) Claimants had to be a “head of family, or single man over eighteen,” provided that claimant could bear arms,

3) Claimants were required to live “in a house fit for habitation for 5 consecutive years” and “cultivate at (least) five acres,”

4) Up to 160 acres could be acquired in this manner, so long as the parcel was not “within two miles of a fort,” on a “coastal island,” on a “private claim previously established,” or within the Seminole Reservation below the Peace River, and

5) Claimants had to act relatively quickly, since the law was only to be effective for nine months after it was signed.19

The historical record contains a good deal of information on how this law was implemented, how many acres were distributed, and how population grew, with anecdotal experiences and conflicting opinions about the overall success or failure of the initiative. As to some basic facts:

In 1830, there were less than 35,000 people in Florida, about half of them slaves. 1840, the number had increased by only about 20,000, mostly in the extreme north. In contrast, Michigan, another frontier territory, went from about 31,000 to 212,000 people in the same period, and few of them were slaves. It was not until after the Seminole War ended that the population of Florida began to swell significantly. 1850, the census showed almost 90,000 people living in Florida.20

You may think that today’s efforts by state leaders to promote tourism and by developers to sell subdivided lots and homes in Florida is something new, but if so, you would be mistaken. Consider the following sales pitch made during the territorial period:

In order to boost population, leaders in the territory began the difficult task of “selling” Florida to wary settlers. One of the territory’s most enthusiastic proponents was congressional delegate David Levy. In a letter to the National Intelligencer, Levy laid forth, in the most glowing terms, all the advantages of life in Florida: “To the wealthy planter, Florida is eminently inviting.. . . But to the poor and the moderate in circumstance, it is, beyond comparison, the paradise of earth. There are no freezing winters to be provided against by close houses, magazines of supplies for embargoed and shivering families.. . . The means of subsistence are obtained with less labor, and labor is more productive, and industry more quickly blessed with accumulation and plenty than is conceivable to the inhabitants of a less fortunate region.”

It was a tough sell. Years of “negative press” had made people wary of Florida.. . . Nonetheless, settlers trickled in.21

The negative press referred to in the previous citation of course refers to the long years of the Second Seminole War between 1835 and 1842 and the press accounts of battles, campaigns, and Army casualties. As another way of catching the flavor and sentiment of the times, a portion of Sen. Benton’s speech introducing the bill, which subsequently passed as the Armed Occupation Act of 1824 illustrates his views as follows:

Armed occupation, with land to the occupant, is the true way of settling and holding a conquered country. It is the way which has been followed in all ages and in all countries from the time that children of Israel entered the promised land with the implements of husbandry in one hand, and the weapons of war in the other. From that day to this, all conquered countries have been settled in that way. . . the peninsula of Florida is now prepared for this armed settlement: the enemy has been driven out of the field. He lurks an unseen foe in the swamps and hammocks.. . . We want people to take possession and to keep possession; and the armed cultivator is the man for that. The blockhouse is the first house to be built in Indian country; the stockade is the first fence to be put up. . . these are the proof that the owner has come, and means to stay.. . . 22

Did the hype and the opportunities afforded under the Armed Occupation Act work? Looking backward from the vantage point of the 21st century, we find diverse results in the historical record. There is some data available to researchers, for example:

During the nine month period in which the law was in effect 1,312 permits were issued; nine hundred and forty-two at Newnansville and three hundred and seventy at St. Augustine.. . . 1,184 permits were issued a total of 189,440 of the 200,000 acres available. Although most applicants desired land in the western and central part of the peninsula, there was some interest displayed in the Atlantic coastal section.23

Another authority discussing settlement under the Armed Occupation Act (AOA) tells us that, “In this way nearly 1,200 individuals received title to 200,000 acres of land and 6,000 persons moved to south Florida. Claimants rushed to formerly remote regions such as Indian River on the Atlantic Coast and Hillsborough County in southwest Florida….”24

Notice that the two preceding citations are very similar statistically in that the latter appears to have simply rounded off the numbers. Recall that the act prohibited settlement within two miles of an Army fort, but perhaps understandably, many got as close as they could as described in this account:

[M]ost settlers selected land near a fort. The largest settlement of some 300 claims was comprised within a radius of twenty miles of Ft. King. Another large settlement was around Ft. Cross, just west of the upper reaches of the Withlacoochee river, while there were smaller settlements south of Ft. Fanning on the Suwannee river, around Hillsborough Bay between the Hillsborough and Alafia rivers, and south of the Manatee river.25

To sum up, did the Armed Occupation Act of 1842 achieve its policy goals of increasing Florida’s population of hardy, self-sufficient settlers? The answer to this question, at least according to some of the commentators, is a mixed one. For example, in discussing this law, one author wrote:

The intention was for well-armed settlers to bravely defend their homes against what few Indians were left in the territory. As it turned out, most of the homesteaders did not even own a rifle, and at the first rumor of Indian trouble they quickly fled to the safety of the nearest military post. Fortunately for the settlers, the few Indians that remained in Florida were doing their best to stay clear of the white population.26

Another historical researcher took a little more balanced view by reporting that:

The Armed Occupation Act was deemed a success in settling central Florida by the federal official in charge of the operation – Commissioner Richard M. Young. He hailed the movement of approximately six thousand persons into an unknown, unsurveyed, and unpopulated district containing few or no roads and no mail facilities as a major successful operation. These settlers had been severely handicapped by the heavy rains washing out the primitive roads which were the only link with the outside world but in spite of the many obstacles, they demonstrated their bravery to all by residing near the haunts of seemingly hostile Indians.27

But others were not so charitable in their assessment:

According to Governor Thomas Brown of Florida in 1849, the Armed Occupation Act was not able to create a determined band of hard fighting farmers who would fight until the last to protect their land. The governor ruefully admitted: “Settlers under the. . . Act have neither weapons nor the disposition to use them – not one of ten appearing with arms of any description.” He fortified his observation with an even more startling statement, “If ten warriors break loose they will break up and scatter the entire line of new settlements even if (the settlers) are ten fold in number.”28

In an article about the effect of the Armed Occupation Act on southeast Florida, the authors reached this rather dour conclusion:

The Armed Occupation Act provided an opportunity for many persons to acquire homesteads in a frontier area…. However, the Act’s impact on southeast Florida was short term…. Moreover, the Act failed to contribute a fighting force to expel the Seminoles from Florida. Though an interesting chapter in the history of southeast Florida, the Armed Occupation Act played only a minor role in advancing the state’s development.29

Nevertheless, even though the following viewpoint is not unanimous, probably a more balanced and more general opinion of the overall effect of the act was expressed by one researcher thusly:

In spite of certain admitted deficiencies in martial demeanor and selection of proper agricultural land, as demonstrated by the settlers, the Armed Occupation Act must be deemed a success. Those who settled under the terms of the act formed a hard core of pioneer communities extending from Indian River to Tampa Bay, which gradually attracted others into the frontier region. It was these pioneers who constantly complained about the Seminole Indian threat in Florida and finally forced a showdown by reluctant federal officials.30

In 1845, Florida was admitted to the Union, ending the territorial period. Even though the Third Seminole War occurred from 1855 to 1858, the events of secession from the Union and the Civil War from 1861 to 1865 were far more disruptive to the smooth development of Florida’s agricultural and other economic interests. However, the upheaval of the Civil War and its conclusion delivered the last chapter in the story of homesteading for good title to Florida land.

The Southern Homestead Act of 1866

In 1866, Congress passed the Southern Homestead Act. It applied to five southern states, including Florida. We are told by one authority that the public policy goal was:

that only by reserving the public lands for actual settlers through homesteading would it be possible to curb speculators and land companies from monopolizing the public lands as they had done to a great extent in the prairie states before the Civil War. It was also intended to ensure to freedmen and poor whites an opportunity to acquire land. To make sure that its benefits would be as wide as possible, the act limited the free homesteads for the first two years to 80 acres, thereafter the maximum amount was to be raised to 160 acres.. . . And titles to 80 or 160 acre claims could only be acquired after residence and improvement on the land for five years.31

Many readers will recall from American history classes that one of the political slogans of the immediate post Civil War era was for the Union to somehow provide former slaves with “40 acres and a mule” as a means of livelihood and subsistence. Apparently this act, at least in part, represented Congressional efforts to deliver on the slogan.

It is difficult to tell from the available record how effective this law was at putting freedmen (former slaves) and poor whites into ownership of land. Efforts to ascertain this have been made as follows:

Let us look at the record of the operation of the Southern Homestead Act insofar as there is any reliable record, for the office which had prime jurisdiction over it quite ignored it in the early years. The reports of the General Land Office give us no help in determining the race of applicants for homesteads or even the number of them, until the act became subject to abuse by persons who entered homesteads without any intention of farming the land, but to extract tar, pitch, and turpentine from the pines and to cut and remove the more valuable trees.. . . . It was the Freedman’s Bureau which called attention to the Homestead Act, encouraged blacks to acquire land under it, and provided assistance in finding suitable locations for them.. . . It appears that a considerable number of applications for entry were made, possibly as many as the 4,000 that General Oliver O. Howard may have optimistically mentioned at one time, of which 3,000 may have been made in Florida. Lack of funds, utensils, horses, skill, and credit, and the hostility of white land officers and nearby residents all made their chances of success doubtful. Some homesteaders may have acquired title, but the record is not clear and in any case the number is small.32

As seen by the foregoing citations, Congress, as it had done in 1824 (the Donation Act) and in 1842 (the Armed Occupation Act) was once again establishing policy to enhance opportunities for people of limited means to get title to land in Florida. The obvious goal emphasized enhancing opportunity for former slaves, but poor whites were also included. As indicated by the references, this act apparently did not achieve the type of large scale results that Congress may have hoped for, but it does give evidence of a continuing concern by Congress in the 19th century to provide opportunities for lower income citizens to improve their circumstances.

Both Florida lawyers and all who own real estate in Florida may share an interest in how title to Florida land works and how it originated. As just delineated here, title to land does not exist in isolation from other developments. The events of history, including politics, war, legislation, human ambition, hard work, and more have shaped the legal landscape the people of Florida live in, both in years gone by and today. Understanding public policies that once allowed citizens of modest means a chance to obtain real estate and make themselves a better life is important for modern attorneys to know as they use these lessons from the past to help shape legal policies that increase fairness and justice for citizens of Florida in the future.

1 Glenn Boggs, The Case of Florida’s Missing Real Estate Records, 78 Fla. B.J. 10-17 (Oct. 2003); and Glenn Boggs, Florida Land Titles and British, Not Just Spanish, Origins, 81 Fla. B.J. 23-31 (July/August 2007).

2 Patrick D. Smith, A Land Remembered (1984).

3 John and Mary Lou Missall, The Seminole Wars: America’s Longest Indian Conflict 2-3 (2004).

4 Id.

5 Id. at 4-7, 12.

6 Id. at 32-39.

7 Id. at 38-43.

8 Adams-Onis Treaty, available with commentary at

9 Id. at art. 11

10 Florida State Archives Online Catalog, Record Group Number 001025, Series/Collection Number S 976.

11 U.S. v. Juan Percheman, 32 U.S. 51 (1833).

12 Id. at 89.

13 See Glenn Boggs, The Case of Florida’s Missing Real Estate Records, 78 Fla. B.J.10-17 (Oct. 2003).

14 Michael Gannon, ed., The New History of Florida 215 (1996) (emphasis added).

15 See John and Mary Lou Missall, The Seminole Wars: America’s Longest Indian Conflict at 61 (2004).

16 Robert J. Huckshorn, Ed., Government and Politics in Florida 17-18 (1991) (emphasis added).

17 See John and Mary Lou Missall, The Seminole Wars: America’s Longest Indian Conflict (2004).

18 James W. Covington, The Billy Bowlegs War (1855-1858) The Final Stand of the Seminoles Against the Whites 2(1982).

19 Id. at 3.

20 SeeJohn and Mary Lou Missall, The Seminole Wars: America’s Longest Indian Conflict at 208 (2004).

21 Id. at 209.

22 James W. Covington, The Armed Occupation Act of 1842, 40 Fla. Hist. Q. 42 (July 1961).

23 See James W. Covington, The Billy Bowlegs War (1855-1858) The Final Stand of the Seminoles Against the Whites at 3(1982) and
also “According to a history of Volusia County: ‘In 1854, when Volusia County was created, nearly all of the fifty property holders had obtained 160 acres of land from the government under the Armed Occupation Act of 1842.’ One hundred and twenty-eight of the permits were annulled.. . . ”

24 See Michael Gannon, ed., The New History of Florida at 218 (1996) (“Near the deactivated military outpost at Fort Pierce on Indian River a colony of migrants from Augusta, Georgia, created a thriving settlement. Caleb Lyndon Brayton, one of the Augusta migrants, had moved from Massachusetts to Augusta in the 1830s and prospered as a merchant. When he heard of the AOA he headed for the south Florida frontier. Despite periodic bouts with tuberculosis, Brayton threw himself into pioneer life with remarkable energy, clearing land and building a cabin on high ground overlooking the Indian River. spring 1845 he had planted over 140 acres of arrowroot, pumpkins, and other produce and had begun to market poultry, dried fish, and green turtles in Key West. He acquired a schooner to facilitate his trade and dreamed of the wealth he would gain from pineapples and other fruits and vegetables planted on an additional 160-acre tract he purchased. Filled with unbridled enthusiasm, Brayton’s letters to his wife in Augusta are an enduring testimonial to the rigors as well as to the exhilarations of pioneer life. They also document the profound loneliness of solitary life on the south Florida frontier.”).

25 Dorothy Dodd, Letters from East Florida (1843), 15 Fla. Hist. Q. 53.

26 SeeJohn and Mary Lou Missall, The Seminole Wars: America’s Longest Indian Conflict at 209 (2004).

27 James W. Covington, The Armed Occupation Act of 1842, 40 Fla. Hist. Q. at 51 (July 1961).

28 Id.

29 Joe Knetsch and Paul S. George, A Problematical Law: The Armed Occupation Act of 1842 and Its Impact on Southeast Florida, 53 Tequesta
78 (1993).

30 See James W. Covington, The Armed Occupation Act of 1842, 40 Fla. Hist. Q. at 52 (July 1961).

31 Paul W. Gates, Federal Land Policies in the Southern Public Land States, 53 Ag. Hist.212-213.

32Id. at 214.

Glenn Boggs is a professor at Florida State University’s College of Business. He is a 1975 honors graduate of FSU’s College of Law and a 1968 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. After admission to the Bar, he spent a year in general practice and later served as unlicensed practice of law counsel with The Florida Bar. In 1981, he joined the faculty at FSU, where he teaches law-related classes to business students.