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East Florida Papers: Now Available Online

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This guest post is by Manuscript Division reference librarian Lara Szypszak. 

After much anticipation, the Manuscript Division is delighted to announce that the East Florida Papers are online. Researchers have been eagerly awaiting the digitization of this extensive collection for use in genealogical and local history inquiries as well as in studies of the military, economic, and political history of the Spanish colony of East Florida. The collection, largely in Spanish with some material in English, consists of nearly 191,000 digital images created from 175 reels of previously produced microfilm.

This rich collection consists primarily of the records of the Spanish colonial government of East Florida from 1784, when Spain regained the colony from Great Britain, until 1821, shortly after Spain ceded Florida to the United States under the Adams-Onis Treaty.

Researchers will find correspondence between Spanish officials in East Florida and officials in Spain, Havana, West Florida, Louisiana, and Mexico, as well as with British and American officials. The papers are also teeming with details about indigenous communities and enslaved people who fled plantations in Georgia and South Carolina for freedom in Spanish Florida. Records that may be of particular interest to genealogists and local historians include census records, hospital records, records of court cases and other legal files, oaths of allegiance, mortgage records, marriage licenses, lists of goods distributed to Indians as presents, and declarations of status made by those formerly enslaved.

There is also an abundance of material related to military affairs, including correspondence to and from commanders and other officers, and accounts of various battalions, vessels, and military departments and offices. A few noteworthy events documented in the papers include the Florida Rebellion of 1795 and the East Florida Revolution of March 1812, when American forces invaded Fernandina on Amelia Island and declared the short-lived Republic of East Florida.

Also included are beautifully drawn sketches, plans, and records of public buildings, fortifications, and defenses, and correspondence to and from surveyors.

The story of how the collection came to the Library of Congress is nearly as interesting as the history of Florida itself. In 1819, the Adams-Onis treaty stipulated that along with Florida’s territory would come the “archives and documents” that “relate directly to the property and sovereignty” of the Floridas. The United States and Spain agreed to allow the records to remain in Florida after the transfer of power, since they remained essential to the people who lived there. Floridian Antonio Alvarez, former secretary to the last Spanish governor of East Florida, was appointed their keeper. He safeguarded the collection until 1849, when the United States transferred the East Florida Papers to the office of the U.S. Surveyor-General in St. Augustine.

On February 25, 1903, the United States Congress passed an appropriations bill that empowered heads of federal departments to transfer historical records to the Library of Congress, allowing Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam to acquire the records of East Florida in 1905. Correspondence to Librarian Putnam reveals the collection made its way by train in wooden cases, nailed and locked for greater security. The Library was then able to provide needed care and attention to the material, which was encased in leather portfolios. It was arranged, classified, and catalogued after it arrived at the Library of Congress.

In 1964, in cooperation with the St. Augustine Foundation, the Library’s Photoduplication Service microfilmed the entire collection. Clergy members from the Nombre de Dios Library in St. Augustine visited the Library at the start of the project in preparation for the quadricentennial of the founding of the city of St. Augustine (1565). An agreement enabling the St. Augustine Foundation to purchase a microfilmed copy of the collection was concluded around the same time.

For additional information about the history of the collection and related resources, visit the “About This Collection” page.

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