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News from the Courthouse

Greetings from the Wakulla County Clerks Office. As I write this column, we are about to celebrate Memorial Day. I hope by the time you read this that you have taken time and shown gratitude to those serving our country and to the families and memories of those who paid the ultimate price. It is really humbling to be able to serve as your Clerk of Court.

I will continue the series of articles started last month on the subject of the Forbes purchase. Please read last months column if you have not done so already, otherwise this part of the story will not make much sense.

As I closed out the article last month, I noted that the trading company, Panton, Leslie and Company, was doing a booming business but their growing sales with their primary customers, the local Indians, was mostly on credit.

The firm was beginning to feel a real cash crunch, for a business must have assets it can spend, that are liquid. This comes down to cash.

One way the firm addressed the need for cash as they expanded was to admit some new partners. In came some new investors, but they were familiar faces. Thomas Forbes brother, John Forbes was a new partner, as were James and John Innerarity, who were nephews of Panton, most of which had already been working in the business anyway.

The new partners kept things in an expansion mode, but the challenges for Panton's firm escalated with a renegade Indian leader, William Augustus Bowles. He had grand designs on becoming a leader over all southern Indian groups, he was supported by a rival trading company wanting the trade monopoly Panton had, and he was able to incite many Indian sympathizers because the trading firm was overcharging the Indians.

In 1792, he led an attack and looted the Panton store at St. Marks! The actual location of the store was on the southwest side of the Wakulla River, just above where the lower bridge crosses. Anyway, the resulting losses of inventory, cash, records, etc. would all take a toll.

Just a year later, another blow came in the form the death of McGillivray. He played an instrumental role as a leader of the Creeks and as a partner in the firm, having delivered the trading business of the southern Indians.

The next challenge to the Panton firm was to learn that the US had decided to establish trading posts above the Florida line, among many of the Southern Indian tribes in hopes of cutting into the success of Panton trading, and offsetting the flow of weapons coming through the Panton firm.

Then, in 1800, Bowles sacked the store in St. Marks a second time (a double whammy, with losses from Bowles placed at $60,000- in today's dollars this would be just over $1,000,000)! The following year Panton died, with Leslie passing away in 1802. Soon their heirs began to pressure the firm for cash so the estates could settle.

It was becoming more evident that the Panton firm had to convert some of their receivables into cash. First, they stepped up their attempts to get payment from the Indians in goods or cash, but this was not feasible.

The Panton firm then went to the government of Spain, and asked them to indemnify the firm and make good on the Indian debts. After all, as controlling agents for the Spanish they felt like this was appropriate to ask (see, businesses have been asking the government for assistance for centuries)

Spain was not going to come up with funds, but they suggested Panton approach the Indian leaders with the idea of trading lands to the firm to satisfy the debt. The Spanish suggestion was to obtain land north of the Florida border (US lands) from the Indians, so the Panton firm began this discussion with Indian leaders.

This lead to discussions with the US leaders on the idea, including a trip to Washington by John Forbes, but the United States leadership squashed the idea of Indians transferring property within US territorial lands.

Panton's firm then began discussing the idea of obtaining a transfer of Indian lands within Spanish Florida, and when this seemed agreeable, sought approval of the Spanish government.

The Spanish government approved this but with some strings attached. First the Spanish government said they would have to approve of any subsequent sale of the property. They opposed subsequent sales to Americans, preferring Spanish or Carribean persons to purchase. So the first deed restrictions on property in what is now Wakulla County would be a prohibition against Americans purchasing.

The decade long quest of finding some way of getting the accounts of the Indians paid was finalized in May of 1804, when the Indians traded lands to the house of Panton, Leslie, and Co. to clear off their debts.

This agreement was formalized as 22 Seminole and Lower Creek Chiefs met at a village of Cheskatalafa, where the Indians agreed to "cede, concede, give, transfer, and sell to the house of Panton, Leslie and Co….the aforesaid district of land…."

A few months after the 1804 land grant was made from the Seminoles, the firm changed the name to John Forbes and Co. This firm was now the proud owner of a parcel of property that went from the Apalachicola River east all the way to the Wakulla River, and to the gulf including all islands to the south. The line across the north that was a bit more undefined.

» Forbes Map

» Hartsfield Survey in Forbes Purchase 1808

Thus the "purchase" was consumated, and it is still one of the most large and unusual land purchases in American History. Although the Forbes Co. had obtained a large tract of land that immediately became known as the Forbes Purchase, the story is far from over. For you see, Forbes and Co. was land rich and cash poor, so they had not solved their problem, but felt they were making progress!

There is a lot of interesting information ahead yet, so much so that so tune in next month as I continue this story. Back to my mention of Memorial Day, make it a point to ask yourselves all throughout the year, "What did those soldiers sacrifice their lives for?" Live in a way that would honor them, and make your gratefulness more than a once a year holiday.

Our government at all levels is as successful as it can be when people are informed, give feedback to their elected officials, and get out to vote. Pray for our leaders. God Bless America, and God Bless Wakulla County! Until next time, this is your news from the Courthouse.