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News from the Courthouse

Greetings from the Courthouse and your Clerk of Court. Since my last article was submitted, we have had scorching heat, record rainfall and awful flooding, swarms of mosquitoes. I know that the funding for Florida mosquito control research was vetoed in Tallahassee the last two years, I only hope that cut does not come back to bite us!

Now you know why I am not a comedian! But I am honored to serve the public as Clerk, and am grateful for the opportunity to write this article each month. Those faithful readers know that I have been writing a series of articles on the Forbes Purchase, a land deal that encompassed most of Wakulla County, as well as Liberty and Franklin Counties with portions of Gadsden and Leon. This is pretty interesting history and impacts 99% of the population living here now because the property you live on was a part of this land grant.

click the photo above for a larger image

I left off last month around the year 1816-17, when the owners of the 1.4 million acres of property known as the Forbes Purchase was very worried about the United States taking possession of Florida from Spain. General Andrew Jackson had just led a US "invasion" of Florida with great military force, and had caused an international incident right here in St. Marks.

So, the Forbes and Company had to come up with an idea to avoid the risks of losing some or all the value of their land with this likely transition to US control.

One idea they apparently considered was for one of the partners (Forbes and Company partners were all British citizens) to become a US citizen. The plan would then be to place the property in the name of that person, in hopes that they might be treated better by the US in either recognizing the ownership or compensating them justly.

They also looked into putting the property into the name of an unrelated US citizen, not a partner , for the same reasons as above but further, to avoid the appearance of this being a scheme. This would have necessitated some type of actual sale, and they felt like this was a large risk.

Forbes decided to sell the property to an outsider, and in 1817 they got permission from the Spanish government to sell it to a man named Colin Mitchel, who lived in Cuba. Althoug Colin Mitchel was the purchaser, the purchase was for the firm named Carnochan and Mitchel, which was owned by four Mitchel brothers and three Carnochan brothers.

This sale of the Forbes purchase property was approved by Spain, and the sale was consummated in Pensacola, for $111,676. in May of 1819.

At this point, Mr. Forbes retired, but his Forbes purchase was still years from fulfilling the hopes and dreams its owners had over the years. John Forbes would die in 1823, worth about $150,000.

Regarding the new owners, sometimes a bargain is not all it appears to be. It would be a while before the title to the property was clear. Back then, they did not have title insurance!

The US took possession of Florida from Spain in 1821, and the next year the US government set up a Federal Land Commission to sort out which property within the Florida territory rightfully belonged to private parties. As you might guess, all the remaining property would then belong to the US government!

This was no small task, at the time of the transfer from the Indians, there was no Clerk of Court office where all of the original deeds were recorded so as to establish ownership. Many of the records were in Spanish, and also there was a widespread belief that many of the transfers of property in colonial Spanish Florida were fraudulent.

The Mitchel firm filed their land claim on the Forbes purchase property with the US Land Commission, which began considering it in 1822. After two years without a ruling or even a hint, the Commission ended its work with a refusal to rule on the validity of the claim of ownership in the land.

This was in large part because of the size of the parcel. This decision had legal concerns, and possibly political ones. So, the Land Commission sent a report to Congress and left it to that body to decide if the US or Mitchel owned this land.

Back to the boots on the ground, the firm of Carnochan and Mitchel ran into financial problems soon after they bought the Forbes land. Their creditors were clamoring for the payments due them. One in particular, a William Christie, published a legal notice in the newspaper in Pensacola, March of 1823.

This was called a Notice and Caution and told the public that the Mitchel firm had a mortgage on much of their property, including a parcel known as the Forbes Purchase. He greatly dampened the enthusiasm toward purchasing land in the Purchase, and word spread of this far and wide.

There were many other creditors, and there were many doubts about the Panton/Forbes/Mitchel ownership being upheld. There were quite a few "squatters" on the Forbes Purchase, many of which were in Wakulla County. Some of the names of them were Harvey, Green, Crane, Brinson, Miller, Wikoff, and Ash. Only a few of these had paid in full for their property and many had not paid anything, they had just moved onto the property.

The rationale of these Wakulla squatters was that either the courts would invalidate the claim of ownership on the property, or the heirs of the owners would never unite to settle in court the estate including evicting these squatters.

They held out hope that they might gain an ownership interest in the property themselves by possessory right, meaning they had lived on the land long enough to file a claim with the US government (or to successfully challenge an attempt to have the court remove them) based on this period of time they had lived and worked that land.

Congress sat around doing nothing (what is new there?) for four years and finally, in 1828, the US Congress passed a law allowing entities in Florida territory that had unresolved land claims to bring them to the territorial court. At that time the court in the Florida territory was called the Superior Court, but now we know this as the Circuit Court.

So now the buck had been passed from US Land Commission to Congress and on to the territorial courts. Another way of saying this is the Forbes Purchase land claim had visited all three branches of government since the US acquired Florida from Spain.

Please hang in there, there is still some very interesting parts of this story to share next month. That should be the last article in this series, if I can keep all the good stuff in one more!

On a more contemporary note, it is time for us to be informed voters! Early voting is at Supervisor of Elections Buddy Wells office for 8 straight days (August 4-August 11), open from 8 am til 6 pm (except Sunday 8/05/12 when the hours are 1-7 pm). Election day is August 14th and the polls are open 7-7. Please see the advertisement in this publication or contact the Supervisor of Elections via phone 926-7575 or go to their web site www.wakullaelection.com for more information.

Until next time, this is news from the Courthouse!