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News from the Courthouse

Greetings from the Wakulla County Clerks Office. Things have been busy here in the Courthouse during the last month. A big thank you to the citizens of Wakulla, for allowing me to serve you as your Clerk of Court.

In the March article, I led into some of the early history of the Clerk of Court in newly established Wakulla County (1843). I mentioned that I would be doing some articles on a historical subject known as the Forbes Purchase. This story should be pretty interesting to you, so buckle your seat belts and take a journey with me. Many of you might be surprised to know some of the things that make Wakulla County unique. One such thing is the fact that most of the property in our county was part of an unusual purchase of land, that is known as the Forbes Purchase.

At this point, some of you may have rolled your eyes, thinking "Land has been bought and sold since the earliest of days, what could possibly make a small, rural County like Wakulla County and its neighbors home to one of the most unusual land purchase stories in American History?"

Well, this property purchase is like none other, because it was an unusual set of circumstances that led to the purchase of the property, and an even longer and interesting legal journey the owners had to traverse before they could have clear title on the lands of the Forbes Purchase.

This journey was part of what makes this land so unique, it made its way through Delegations to Havana and Washington, Indian Councils, International treaties, US Federal Land commissions, Territorial Courts of Florida, the US congress, and US Supreme Court proceedings. Translators for the Spanish and the Indians played a big role.

Please note that I am not a professional historian, and my research is limited to giving you some general information on this subject.

This purchase, the largest land grant in Florida history, had its roots in the American Revolutionary War, a successful chain of trading posts in a frontier colony, the Seminole and Creek Indians of our area, the crown of Spain, an very unusual property survey, General and later Florida Governor Andrew Jackson, not one, but two supreme court decisions, and the final piece of property included in the Forbes Purchase had to do with the distance a Spanish cannonball would travel at "point blank range"!

Let's go back in time, to the mid-1770's. As fires of patriotism burned all across the 13 British Colonies, many colonists remained loyal to the British crown and for those folks, the 13 colonies were an increasingly uncomfortable place to live. Such was the circumstances for men named William Panton, John Leslie, and Thomas Forbes.

Many of those loyal to the King of England, called tories, moved to British controlled areas. Although Florida had been a Spanish colony up until the end of the French and Indian War, in 1763 Florida was transferred to England. Panton, Leslie, and Forbes decided to come to British Florida to avoid the tensions and war itself.

Having already been in the trading business in Georgia and South Carolina, they likely sold these stores and came to Florida to a store they already had in the area of St. Augustine, in the year 1776. They went about setting up a new headquarters as their business began to grow.

Their company, known as the Panton, Leslie, and Co., quickly began to expand all across Florida with more trading posts from St. Augustine to Pensacola. The two closest ones were located in the area of St. Marks and along the eastern shore of the Apalachicola River.

One of the reasons their trading post business became successful was that they took as a partner a man named McGillivray. He was half Creek and half Scottish, and he was a leader among the Indians. He was able to direct all Indian trading to the stores of Panton, Leslie, and Co. Indian trade was a mainstay of their business, and plays a very large role in this story!

Once the Revolutionary War was over, the terms of the peace treaty with the new Nation, the United States, required England to divest itself of Florida. The debts the US had from the War would not allow a purchase of Florida, so the British worked out a deal with Spain to take back over Florida in 1783.

This change from British to Spanish control was no problem for Panton, Leslie and Co. One thing Spain did not want was Americans moving into Spanish Florida, but there was not much to stop them in the interior, so Spain made a deal with Panton, Leslie and Co., making them controlling agents for the Spanish government.

What this role likely involved was paying taxes and fees to the government, serving the Spanish official travelers, and giving reports (census type reports and the like) to the Spanish governor, with special emphasis on reporting American intrusion.

In exchange the Panton firm was given a monopoly in the trading post business throughout frontiers of colonial Spanish Florida. This made a lot of difference in their sales, and also played a significant role in the land purchase this article is about.

McGillivray and the Creek Nation had something in common with the Spanish, they too were concerned about the American expansion into Creek lands. The Panton firm furnished a LOT of the weapons and ammunition that Creeks and other Indian groups used, both for peaceful purposes and in some cases, to wreak havoc on the American frontier.

But, the Indians were purchasing mostly on credit, not with cash or goods. A business cannot succeed without converting their sales to cash, and so even with business booming challenges were on the horizon for Panton, Leslie, and Co.

Tune in next month as I continue this story, I promise it will be one of the most interesting stories about our area you will ever hear. Pray for our leaders, commit to participating in the election, and pray for our friends and neighbors that protect and serve us. God Bless America, and God Bless Wakulla County! Until next time, this is your news from the Courthouse.