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The Case of Florida’s Missing Real Estate Records

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Most Florida lawyers are probably aware of the historical connection between Florida and Spain. The chain of title to some Florida real estate runs back to a beginning with a Spanish land grant. Perhaps only a few Florida lawyers know that Spain claimed sovereignty in Florida for nearly 300 years—longer than the United States has held the peninsula so far.1 Probably only a tiny handful of Florida lawyers are aware of the mystery that surrounds the missing real estate records that Spain was supposed to turn over to the United States, but did not.


The two principal cities in Spanish colonial Florida were St. Augustine and Pensacola. Travel between these two sites was very difficult—either a long voyage around the Keys or an arduous overland trip through a frequently hostile wilderness. Quite naturally, Spain developed the administration of “La Florida” by dividing it into two parts: East Florida and West Florida. Consequently, colonial government offices were situated in Pensacola (West Florida) and St. Augustine (East Florida) and resulting governmental files, documents, and archives began accumulating in each location. Spanish officials in both Pensacola and St. Augustine reported to and received instructions from more senior colonial administrators, often located in Havana, Cuba.

To best understand Florida’s colonial history, it is useful to recall that Spain was once one of the world’s greatest military and economic powers with an empire that stretched across the Atlantic and the Pacific reaching the Philippines, and included most of what is now Central and South America and much of North America as well. Spain’s history reveals many exploits of epic proportions including, for example, Cortéz’s conquest of the Aztec Empire in Mexico, Pizarro’s parallel triumph over the Inca nation in Peru, and DeSoto’s march of exploration from Florida to the Mississippi River. Spain’s very considerable power probably peaked in the latter years of the 16th century.2 Many Spanish officials, administrators, and military officers were very proud of their nation and its accomplishments. Indeed, critics of Spanish authority probably perceived an attitude of imperious arrogance liberally distributed throughout the Spanish domain.

the early years of the 19th century, however, Spain’s prominence on the international stage was declining. At this juncture, the interests of the newly emerging United States and those of the Spanish colonial province of Florida became heavily entangled. In 1817, the U.S. appointed Andrew Jackson as commanding general of an American army with a mission to improve protection to U.S. settlers living near the border of Spanish Florida. This action resulted partly from complaints from American settlers that their lives and property were repeatedly jeopardized by attacks from Seminole Indians. Clearly, there were atrocities committed by both settlers and Indians, but one of the most provocative incidents was an attack by Indians on a boatload of soldiers and their dependents, on the Apalachicola River in late 1817.3

During the ensuing months, General Jackson marched his soldiers into Spanish Florida, battled and chased the Seminoles further south into the peninsula, captured Spanish garrisons at St. Marks and Pensacola, and court-martialed and executed two British nationals for aiding the Seminoles. In 1818, Jackson triumphantly withdrew from Spanish Florida, ending what is known to history as the First Seminole Indian War. (There were two more later, for a total of three Seminole Indian Wars.) Looking back at this situation, it now seems clear that Jackson’s incursion into Florida signaled the beginning of the end of the Spanish era. The very next year, 1819, U.S. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and Spanish diplomat Don Louis De Onis negotiated a treaty ending the long tenure of Spain in Florida. This treaty was subsequently and duly approved by the U.S. Senate and Spanish authorities. In 1821, General Jackson, who was by then appointed governor by President Monroe, returned to Florida from Tennessee. That July, a formal military ceremony was held in Pensacola and Governor Jackson officially took possession of “La Florida” on behalf of the United States.

The central terms of the treaty that accomplished this land transfer are remarkable and, to be blunt, very one-sided in favor of the Americans. Some authorities describing the treaty report that the U.S. agreed to pay Spain the sum of $5,000,000 for Florida. This is not technically correct. Instead, what the U.S. promised was to pay debts owed by Spain to various third party claimants up to a total sum of $5,000,000. This is considerably different from a cash deal. Furthermore, the treaty granted the U.S. the sole right to judge whether the third party claims were legitimate, and even if they were, the U.S. retained an option to pay the claims using bonds with future maturity dates instead of paying in cash.

Can you imagine selling your house to a buyer on these terms? If you did, the transaction would go something like this: 1) You transfer title to the buyer, but get no direct payment. 2) Instead, the buyer runs a series of ads in the local newspaper to see if anyone claims you owe them money. 3) The buyer alone decides whether any claims are valid, but still does not actually have to pay them immediately—even if they are genuine. 4) Finally, the buyer can give bona fide claimants promissory notes to pay the claim in the future, up to a total cap.

Why would Spain agree to terms like this? Perhaps as a “face saving” device, the treaty afforded the Spanish crown a better arrangement at the time than a potential future outright seizure of the province by the Americans. After all, Jackson’s army had already run roughshod in the territory before. That was humiliating enough, and who could say whether it would happen again, perhaps on a more permanent basis. So Spain signed.

Consider, however, the effect of these developments on Spain’s colonial officers in Florida at the end of a long line of Spanish grandeur. The treaty (Article 2) required them to turn over:

Archives and Documents, which relate directly to the property and sovereignty of said Provinces, are included in this Article. The said Archives and Documents shall be left in possession of the Commissaries, or Officers of the United States, duly authorized to receive them.

Did the Spanish colonial officials fully cooperate and abide by the express terms of the treaty? The short answer is: No, they did not. Perhaps they were resentful regarding the one-sided nature of the treaty, or perhaps some were spiteful due to wounded pride on losing Florida. Maybe incompetence or corruption played a part. For these reasons, or perhaps others, Spain’s colonial officials did not transfer a full and complete inventory of their real estate records to the U.S. Ownership of hundreds of parcels and some vast tracts of Florida land, with corresponding livelihoods and fortunes, frequently depended on these land titles.

The Nature of the Problem

A core principle of American jurisprudence when acquiring jurisdiction over territory from other sovereign nations was that legitimate individual landowners from a previous regime should be afforded protection for their private property rights.4 One of the delicate and contentious points of the treaty that transferred Florida addressed this issue. It is found in Article 8, as follows:

Article 8: All the grants of land made before the 24th of January 1818 by His Catholic Majesty or by his lawful authorities in the said Territories ceded by His Majesty to the United States shall be ratified and confirmed to the persons in possession of the lands, to the same extent that the same grants would be valid if the Territories had remained under the Dominion of His Catholic Majesty. But the owners in possession of such lands, who by reason of the recent circumstances of the Spanish Nation and the Revolutions in Europe, have been prevented from fulfilling all the conditions of their grants, shall complete them within the terms limited in the same respectively, from the date of this Treaty; in default of which the said grants shall be null and void. All grants made since the 24th of January 1818 when the first proposal on the part of His Catholic Majesty, for the cession of the Floridas was made, are hereby declared and agreed to be null and void.

Notice that this article of the treaty highlights a dilemma faced by the U.S. On one hand, the U.S. government wanted to obtain title over as much of the Florida territory as it could for its own use and purposes; but on the other hand, the federal government was committed to treating private property owners justly, even when their claims arose under Spanish authority. The mechanism for resolving this conflict of interest was spelled out in Article 8 of the treaty. The parties agreed that January 24, 1818, would be a cut-off date. If the Spanish Crown, or other lawful Spanish authority in Florida, made a grant before that date, then the U.S. agreed to recognize the legitimacy of claims to land arising thereunder. If a Spanish land grant was made since January 24, 1818, however, such a grant would be “null and void.” Consequently, the U.S. would end up owning the land covered by grants of this latter type.

This situation was ripe for abuse. Look at it from the Spanish viewpoint. “La Florida” was being lost anyway—and under an “unfair” treaty to boot. Spanish officials, from the king on down, might easily be tempted to pass as much Florida land as possible to their friends, supporters, business associates, family, or even to themselves, since otherwise it would end up in the hands of the U.S. government.

Disputes regarding alleged Spanish misconduct in this area surfaced almost immediately, even before the treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1821. Consider the comments of U.S. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams on this subject, as recorded in his diary on February 22, 1821, the day the Senate ratified the treaty:

This day, two years have elapsed since the Florida Treaty was signed. Let my sons,. . . meditate upon all the vicissitudes which have befallen the treaty.. . . Let them remark the workings of private interests, of perfidious fraud, of sordid intrigues, of royal treachery, of malignant rivalry, and of envy masked with patriotism, playing to and fro across the Atlantic into each other’s hands, all combined to destroy this treaty between the signature and the ratification, and let them learn to put their trust in the overruling providence to God. I considered the signature of the treaty as the most important event of my life.. . . It promised well for my reputation in the public opinion.. . . but materials in the hands of my enemies to dose me with poison extracted from the laurels of the treaty itself. An ambiguity of date, which I had suffered to escape my notice at the signature of the treaty, amply guarded against by the phraseology of the article, but leaving room to chicanery from a mere colorable question, was the handle upon which the King of Spain, his rapacious favorites, and American swindling land jobbers in conjunction with them, withheld the ratification of the treaty, while Clay and his admirers here were snickering at the simplicity with which I had been bamboozled by the crafty Spaniard.. . .5

One source explained the Secretary of State’s initial difficulties as follows:

It had been agreed by Adams and Louis de Onis that after January 24, 1818, the Spanish government would grant no more lands, and that if lands were granted after the stipulated date, they would be null and void. In December 1820, Adams discovered the existence of three tremendous grants made by Spain after January 24, 1818, but predated in order that they would appear legal. Adams and Onis immediately exchanged notes couched in the most polite diplomatic terms but with a distinct note of ire on the part of the New Englander. The Spanish government eventually and reluctantly cancelled the grants, but, if Mr. Adams’s immediate problems with the Florida purchase agreement seemed to be at end, the future still held many vexations for those who would implement the treaty.6

Secretary Adams was not the only American official expressing misgivings about Spanish land grants and the lack of observance of treaty terms. Only five months after receiving possession of Florida from Spain at Pensacola, President Monroe “reported to Congress that the Spanish officials ‘not only omitted, in contravention of the order of their Sovereign, the performance of the express stipulation to deliver over the archives and documents’ but that they had defeated every effort of the United States to obtain them.”7

It seems that Spanish officials in Florida had sent over 730 “bundles of government records relating to the Spanish provinces of Louisiana, West Florida and East Florida” to Havana, Cuba, two years prior to turning over Florida to the Americans. Also, the U.S. Secretary of State sent an agent, Colonel James Gant Forbes, to Havana on the dual mission of making diplomatic arrangements to transfer Florida to General Jackson and to recover the documents sent to Havana regarding Florida. Although Florida was, of course, transferred, the documents remained in Cuba since Forbes was unable to retrieve them for the U.S.8

Over the next decade or so, the U.S. made repeated efforts, with little success, to recover missing Florida archives and real estate records from Spanish authorities. Ready availability and access to complete and authentic real estate records were critically important to Florida courts and land officials. Without them, they faced not only the possibility of fraudulent land grants initiated by Spanish officials, but also the risk of false real estate documents submitted by land speculators and sharp dealers entering the new territory. Without the original real estate records to compare against spurious claims and documents, separating the false from the bona fide would prove to be a time consuming and formidable task, which contained a variety of twists and turns.

Territorial Florida

Following the typical pattern for assimilating new acquisitions, Congress initially organized Florida with a territorial form of government. This model provided for a territorial governor, legislature, and court system—all of which operated under general supervision and control from Washington. This period lasted from 1821 until 1845 when Florida was admitted to the Union as a state. Accordingly, most of the initial grappling with real estate problems fell to territorial officials, land commissioners, and especially to the territorial courts. It is probably not an exaggeration to suggest that Florida’s territorial courts were choked with real estate cases. Decisions from both the territorial courts and the state courts could, in appropriate cases, be appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. For example, between 1832 and 1853, the U.S. Supreme Court published opinions deciding almost 50 different cases involving disputes over Florida real estate and Spanish land grants.9 These cases represent only the tip of an iceberg of such cases, since many more were no doubt resolved in the system at lower levels.

Because of the volume of Spanish land grant cases and the pressure to get them resolved, considerable effort was expended by the U.S. to get a full and complete accounting of the Spanish archives relating to Florida real estate. The U.S. did obtain some Spanish real estate records, and the territorial officials in Florida began working with what they had, but they consistently sought access to the complete archives. As an example of the issue involved here, one source reported as follows:

Investigations by this commission revealed wholesale fraud, including forgery of every description. After the Louisiana Purchase some Spanish officials, visioning the probability of the annexation of Florida as the next step in the “Manifest Destiny” policy of expansion of the United States, and the subsequent rise in land values, saw to it that their friends were rewarded with extensive grants which otherwise would have been transferred to the public domain of the United States. A notorious example was offered by the claims of Vicente Sebástian Pintado, surveyor of Louisiana and the Floridas from 1801 to 1818, who was well posted on the available lands and their relative values. His preposterous claims included the entire unoccupied waterfront of Pensacola and large areas of that town as well as four miles of Santa Rosa Island extending from bay to gulf, and large tracts nearby. The character of these claims, reported the commission, “is calculated to create a presumption of fraud.. . . ”10

Consequently, the federal government was sympathetic to the plight of the territorial authorities. As previously noted, President Monroe sent James Forbes to Cuba in 1821 to arrange the transfer of Florida and to get the missing records. Forbes succeeded only with the transfer arrangements, so a second diplomatic attempt to get the archives was launched in 1822. A U.S. Naval officer, Captain James Biddle of the frigate Macedonian, was dispatched to Havana to get the archives, but his efforts were no more successful than those of Forbes.11

Undaunted, the U.S. continued its diplomatic efforts to obtain the records. Altogether a total of six diplomatic missions would be attempted, including those of Forbes and Biddle. Next, in 1824, Thomas Randall was sent to Havana.12 The Captain General/Governor of Cuba at the time was Francisco Dionesio Vives who had, by coincidence, been the Spanish minister in Washington, D.C., in 1821, when the treaty transferring Florida was concluded.13 At first Vives said the matter was closed, and no Florida archives were in Cuba. After repeated urging by Randall, Vives finally ordered a search, but subsequently told Randall that the search was “fruitless.”14

About three years later, the U.S. again tried diplomacy to get the archives. This time, in 1827, the U.S. Secretary of State sent Daniel P. Cook to Havana mainly to investigate the island’s military preparedness for a potential attack perhaps being considered by Mexico, Colombia, and England.15 Obtaining the Florida archives was a collateral duty for Cook, but unfortunately, all he received—like Forbes, Biddle, and Randall before him—was “soothing expressions and plausible excuses.”16

In the meantime, in one of those unexpected turns that history sometimes produces, Andrew Jackson became President and took the oath of office in 1829. Jackson, of course, was well versed in Florida matters. Jackson did not mince words, and he was accustomed to getting what he wanted. He decided to send one of his proteges, Richard Keith Call, to Havana to get the archive records. (Call was very active in Florida affairs and would himself later become a Florida territorial governor.) The Secretary of State gave Call instructions to tell the Spanish authorities that, “we have an undoubted right. . . to demand and receive. . . all original archives and documents. . . important towards a fair and legal adjustment of private land claims.. . . ”17 Call arrived in Havana in January 1830, and after some initial wrangling with Governor Vives, did manage to pry some documents loose from the authorities related to major claims involving the Arredondo grant, Panton, Leslie & Co., and the Forbes grant.18

According to one authority,

Further investigation convinced Call that there were in Havana many documents which, if returned to the United States, would safeguard the public domain against claims based on fraudulent sales and gifts of land. Upon his return to Florida he urged that another appeal be forwarded to His Catholic Majesty King Ferdinand VII. Such a request was made by President Jackson. It produced a royal order dated February 15, 1832, for the delivery of the remaining Florida papers.19

Although Call achieved more success than his predecessors, the U.S. continued to believe that there were many more Florida archive documents remaining in Cuba. It was hoped that the Spanish Royal Order of 1832 (requiring the delivery of archive documents according to the treaty) would finally produce compliance. With this in mind, a new diplomatic mission was commissioned in 1832.20 This was the sixth diplomatic effort to obtain Florida records, and it would prove to be the final one. Jeremy Robinson was appointed as a special agent by the Secretary of State to accomplish this task. Robinson was well seasoned and experienced in international affairs.21

Robinson prepared well for his trip. He first went to Florida to visit and confer with knowledgeable people such as Thomas Randall in Tallahassee, Richard Keith Call in Marianna, and several others in Pensacola.22 He arrived in Cuba in mid July 1832.23 Even though the Secretary of State who appointed him suggested that Robinson could accomplish his mission in Cuba in about two months, he wound up staying there two and one-half years. Even that period was abruptly terminated by Robinson’s death while still on the island.24

Reviewing Robinson’s letters and reports back to the U.S. during his extended time in Havana opens a window through which conditions surrounding Florida real estate records and Spanish stewardship of them may be observed. While Robinson was in Cuba, one particular lawsuit over a Spanish land grant was under review by the U.S. Supreme Court involving an extremely large tract of land.25 Approximately 1,250,000 acres of North Florida land were at stake, and Richard Keith Call had advised Robinson that his primary goal in Cuba was to acquire real estate records which would help the U.S. with this suit and keep this vast area in the public domain.26 This great parcel, which covers all of at least one county and parts of other counties in modern North Florida, is known to history as the “Forbes Grant” and can be seen on the 1841 Florida map approved at that time by the state’s surveyor general (see page 11). The plaintiff in the lawsuit, Colin Mitchell, sought a clear title to this huge tract.

In due course, Robinson developed a decidedly negative attitude with regard to Mr. Mitchell. In fact, one commentator said

Mitchell was, according to Robinson’s observations, the powerful evil force at work to prevent the accomplishment of the archive mission. A partner in John Forbes & Company, Florida traders, Mitchell maintained a large trading business in Havana,. . . When his overtures to Robinson were coldly rebuffed, he became vindictive, according to Robinson, spread malicious rumors, and used his money and influence to frustrate efforts to secure the Florida papers. Robinson and Cleveland soon became convinced that Mitchell had bribed Spanish functionaries to forge and alter records to assist him in his suit before the supreme court of the United States.

It was Mitchell’s connection with the Florida trading house of John Forbes & Company that gave Robinson acute concern in his search for the Florida archives. This company was the successor of Panton, Leslie & Company. . . Robinson’s patriotic ire was aroused when he learned that through this company the Spanish government had secretly supplied the Indians with goods, arms, and munitions of war, that with the connivance of officials of this company a spirit of hostility had been fomented against the aggressions of Georgia backwoodsmen, and that as a result many of his fellow citizens had been killed.. . . As Robinson peered farther into the dark recesses of land entanglements, he noted that John Forbes and his partners in the Company had demanded indemnification for the various losses sustained,. . . It was pointed out in confidence to Robinson by Calderón, one of the Spanish commissioners, that such transfers of land were illegal,. . . Calderón’s inference was that at least forgery had been practiced to complete titles to such lands.

Robinson reported: Each day furnishes additional evidence, amounting to mental and moral conviction, of collusion between the former Governors and Intendents of Louisiana, the Floridas and Cuba, and the British mercantile house of Panton, Leslie & Co., and John Forbes and company, late of Pensacola, proof whereof may possibly be obtained and transmitted to the Department of State.27

Robinson’s death ended his service in Cuba, and the abrupt termination of his work may have had a direct connection to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Mitchell v. U.S., 9 Peters 711 (U.S. 1835). The Court ended up ruling in favor of Colin Mitchell, giving him title to land worth a great fortune.28 Robinson’s efforts in Cuba were summed up by one authority as follows:

One of Robinson’s first conclusions was that his investigations had uncovered uncontrovertible evidence that many of the Florida archives to which the United States Government was entitled were in Havana despite avowals to the contrary; that no effort to obtain them had been spared by commissioners from the United States; and that Spanish officials in Cuba had not obeyed instructions from the Spanish crown demanding delivery of the archives. Although he did not succeed in sending back to Washington a single original document, he exposed fraudulent claims, brought clearly to light the corrupt conditions surrounding his investigations, and sent to Washington various inventories of Florida papers, a copy of a report of two of the Spanish commissioners, including communications from the last Spanish governors, Callava and Coppinger, and several related statements. The meticulously detailed diaries, notes, and letters he left contain valuable lists of documents which he examined and selected for return to the United States. Robinson did not possess the forceful personality of Call and unfortunately quarreled with nearly everyone with whom he worked, bored his listeners by talking too much, and was not entirely consistent. But his intense loyalty, persistence, and almost fanatical devotion to duty enabled him to render services without which facts about the Florida archives in Havana might still be in the realm of the unknown.29

Finally, Robinson himself is reputed to have said that, as proof of fraud, some of the papers were

obviously antedated—altered—distinguished by erasures of dates, and filling up the spaces with others so as to make them conform to the Treaty of Washington, but above all the documents were written on paper of recent manufacture, made posterior by several years to the dates indicating the period of the transactions. . . . Yet all duly signed and authenticated. . . by the Spanish authorities.30

After Robinson’s death but before the Supreme Court ruled in Mitchell, the U.S. Consul in Havana, Nicholas Trist, and Edward Wyer, a special messenger sent down from the U.S., put together a group of some 45 documents from the archives and sent them back to the U.S. for use by the Supreme Court in its deliberations. The Court was not persuaded by this information to rule in favor of the government.31

Several issues have puzzled persons reviewing Robinson’s work in Cuba. One issue that stands out is the possibility of diplomatic dissembling by the Spanish government. Recall that, pursuant to a request from the U.S., Spain issued a royal order in 1832 requiring compliance with the treaty and delivery of the required Florida archives to the U.S. It would seem that an order of this type would have greatly facilitated Robinson’s work in Havana. Since this was obviously not the case, Robinson apparently developed certain misgivings about the terms of the royal order. Based on “hints” he received from Cuban officials, Robinson suspected that the order may have contained a “secret clause” not disclosed to the Americans, which actually instructed Spanish officials in Cuba not to follow the order’s directives. It appears that a ploy similar to this was used on another occasion to conceal certain Spanish real estate records sent to Cuba from Louisiana.32 It appears that, with the passage of time, the determination of the U.S. to obtain the Florida archives from Cuba slowly waned as the remaining cases in litigation concluded and real estate titles were settled.

Statehood and Thereafter

Florida’s territorial period came to a close in 1845 when statehood was achieved. that time the majority, but certainly not all, of the claims to Florida land arising from Spanish land grants had been resolved. Prodigious efforts had been made by persons on the federally appointed land commissions in Florida, the territorial courts, Congress, and the federal courts to decide these vexing problems.33 Fortunately Spain’s colonial officers in Florida had not sent all of the Florida archives to Havana, and the American officials tasked with resolving land claims in Florida did the best they could with the archive records they had.34

Yet, whatever became of the missing records that American diplomats tried so hard to retrieve from Cuba in the 1820s and 30s with so little success? Obviously, after the passage of over 170 years, some records may well have been lost, damaged, or destroyed. Indeed, one incident of this nature even involves alleged piracy on the high seas. In 1818 (prior to the treaty transferring Florida), a Spanish official left Pensacola on the schooner Peggy with 17 boxes of archive documents (probably including some real estate records) bound for Havana. Before arriving, the Peggy was “.. . attacked and captured by the corsair General Umber (Humbert)” sailing out of Buenos Aires.35 There are conflicting reports about whether some papers or even some boxes were destroyed by the pirates.36 There was also a reported fire at the house of the Spanish Treasurer at Pensacola in 1811. The papers belonging to his office in the house were destroyed.37

According to a researcher working in the early years of the 20th century, many of the Florida archives in Cuba were transferred from the island to Spain in 1888 and 1889.38 These, of course, have generally been available to researchers doing work in Spain in subsequent years. There is, however, good evidence that at least some archive documents relating to Florida real estate remained in Cuba and were never transferred to Spain.39

Having reason to believe that Florida real estate records still exist in the Cuban archives is one thing, but seeing them and perhaps photocopying them is another. Yet, just such an initiative is now possible. The University of Florida and the Cuban National Archives signed an agreement in March 2001, allowing certain researchers the opportunity to travel to Havana and begin copying a vast store of historical documents known as the Notary Protocols (about the equivalent of 40,000 books today).40


Florida possesses a long and fascinating history, including the state’s legal and real property heritage. As the preceding pages have demonstrated, real estate speculations and associated shenanigans are nothing new under the Florida sun. Even though the Spanish crown has not been sovereign in Florida for over 170 years, subtle reminders of the Spanish influence still remain, and that is as it should be. Florida lawyers who are conscious of their state’s legal history are likely to be better equipped to participate in shaping its legal future.

1 See, St. Augustine, Florida’s History, History and Culture, which states that Don Juan Ponce de Leon claimed Florida for Spain on March 27, 1513; and St. Augustine was founded in 1565.

2 See E.B. Potter and Chester W. Nimitz, Sea Power 30 (Prentice-Hall, 1960), which states, “Historians of later times recognized that the catastrophic failure of the Armada marked the beginning of Spain’s decline.”

3 Clifton Paisley, The Red Hills of Florida, 1528–1865 47 (1989).

4 U.S. v. Juan Perchman, 7 Peters 51, 32 U.S. 51 (1833) at 86–87.

5 George C. Whatley and Sylvia Cook, The East Florida Land Commission: A Study in Frustration, 50(1) Florida Historical Quarterly 39 (1971).

6 Id. at 40.

7 A.J. Hanna, Diplomatic Missions of the United States to Cuba to Secure the Spanish Archives of Florida, Hispanic American Essays 208–09 (A. Curtis Wilgus, ed.) (reprinted 1970).

8 Id. at 209.

9 Examination of U.S. Supreme Court records by the author.

10 See Hanna, supra note 7, at 211.

11 Id. at 210–11.

12 Id. at 211.

13 Id. at 212.

14 Id.

15 Id.

16 Id.

17 Id. at 214.

18 Id.

19 Id. at 215–16.

20 Id. at 217.

21 Id.

22 Id. at 217–18.

23 Id.

24 Id. at 228.

25 Mitchell v. U.S., 9 Peters 711 (U.S. 1835).

26 See Hanna, supra note 7, at 218.

27 Id. at 219–22.

28 See supra note 25.

29 See ­ supra note 7, at 228–29.

30 Id. at 230.

31 Id. at 232.

32 Id. at 233.

33 For further information about the land commissions, see Whatley and Cook, supra note 5.

34 Persons interested in following the historical trail of the archives which came into American possession might review an article by Irene A. Wright entitled, The Odyssey of the Spanish Archives of Florida, Hispanic American Essays 169 (A. Curtis Wilgus, ed.) (reprinted 1970).

35 Roscoe R. Hill, Descriptive Catalogue of the Documents Relating to the History of the United States in the Papeles Procedentes de Cuba, Carnegie Institution of Washington (1916), pp. xx-xxi.

36 Id.

37 Id. at xix.

38 L.M. Pérez, Guide to the Materials for American History in Cuban Archives 76–79, Washington, D.C. (1907).

39 Felipe Zapata Casanova, Catalogo Sumario de los Fondos Existentes en el Archivo Nacional, Imprenta del Archivo National, La Habana, Cuba (1958). The Research Library of the St. Augustine Historical Society holds this small book published in Havana in 1958 (the year before Fidel Castro came to power in 1959) which is a Summary Catalog of certain documents in the Cuban National Archives at that time. Under the heading of “Floridas” for the period 1737–1823, documents are listed under the sub-heading “Solicitudes de tierra” which can be translated as “requests for land.” Copies of these documents may be included within a microfilm collection called the “Cuban Papers (1762–1824)” at the Historic New Orleans Collection. Their Web site ( says the Cuban Papers, “contain official correspondence between governors and district commandants about Indians, commerce, census records, and Acadians; economic data from reports and account books and maritime information on the port of New Orleans; and correspondence touching all aspects of the colony’s economic life and development.” The Catalog in the St. Augustine library also confirms that most of the documents under the heading of “Floridas” were transported to Spain in 1888.

40 University of Florida Launches Plan to Preserve Historic Archive on Spain’s Role in the New World, It is very likely that additional Florida real estate records can be found among these papers which recorded the operations of a new world empire over the course of centuries. U.F. researchers are currently making plans for photocopying efforts, but clearly much more remains to be done. According to the U.F. Web site, private funding is needed for this project, so interested persons should be aware of that aspect of the research.

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 in 1976, 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 Florida State University where he teaches law-related classes to business students.