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News from the Courthouse

Greetings from the Wakulla County Courthouse. Fall is in the air, and we are approaching a time of National Thanksgiving. In spite of our challenges and our economic problems, we have much to be thankful for as Americans.

I left off last month almost finished with the story of the Forbes purchase. As this is the final installment (seriously folks, this installment really does finish up the story) If you have not read all of the previous articles, please review the historical tab to get caught up before reading this finale.

As of 1835, the Apalachicola Land Company was the owner of the property known as the Forbes Purchase and finally began to sell some of the property, but not anywhere near the prices they had hoped. Nearly 40 years of effort at realizing cash from what started out as large debts on the books of the trading posts was still mostly a hope.

Due to a number of circumstances, including the difficulty of incomplete surveys, two Seminole Wars fought in the area, a banking and credit crisis eerily similar to the one our nation is undergoing now, an abundance of land available in the expanding western portion of the US, and poor agricultural quality of much of the property, the company continued to have problems making money, and became insolvent in 1858.

A receiver was appointed to dispose of the remaining property at whatever prices could be obtained. Fifty seven years after the first land grant by the Indian Councils, the final parcel of property sold by the receiver of the Apalachicola Land Co was in early 1861 in, of all places, Apalachicola!

At this point, you might be saying...What? Is that the end of this saga?

This fascinating tale of a most unusual purchase of property is not one of a full recognition of the hopes of the purchasers of the property. There was no happy-owners-get-wealthy ending to the story of the Forbes Purchase. It is more a story of a piece of land very unique in its history and a most fascinating journey in its development than of renowned success.

From a historical perspective, what other massive land transaction can trace its start to the American Revolution? (After writing the first installment, I discovered that President George Washington played a small role in the story of the Forbes Purchase). What other land grant from the Native Americans to a non-governmental body has been recognized and affirmed?

From a business perspective, what other transaction in history came from an accumulation of twenty-eight+ years of trading debts with the Seminole and Creek Indians, and required the patience of owners as it traveled a legal journey of 37 more years through the War of 1812 and the 1st and 2nd Seminole Wars, international treaties, politics, court battles, deaths of owners and resulting pressure from heirs, and many other business challenges all along the way?

From a surveyor's perspective, what investors would purchase 1.4 million acres of property with a legal description of river channels on the east and west, and islands and seas to the south? If that is not unique enough, how about the legal description of the northern boundary…a long and confusing route which referenced 1 house and 1 road, 9 different Indian footpaths, ravines, hammocks, creeks, and numerous pine trees marked with special marks. What other surveying job took 40 years to complete? There are articles just on the problems, challenges, drama, etc. of the surveying efforts of many good men to accomplish this task.

From a legal perspective, what other land transaction had to go through delegations to Havana, Cuba and Washington DC, Indian Councils, Spanish Colonial government activities, International treaties in a transfer to US, Federal Land Commissions, Territorial Courts, the US Congress, and two trips to the US Supreme Court, with such a historic team of lawyers arguing the case!

Truthfully, after 3 decades of trading post activities in frontier America, and a 37 year journey of careful and creative business dealings, along with lots of sharp lawyering in the fight to obtain clear title, the final 20 years of selling/liquidating the land known as the Forbes purchase does seem rather anticlimactic.

Summarizing some of the things that make the Forbes Purchase so unique:

  • Largest land grant in Florida history
  • Many have called it the greatest real estate deal in American history
  • Went through executive, legislative, and judicial branches of US government to get clear title
  • Only land grant from Native Americans made to individuals approved by the US Supreme Court
  • The reason for one of the most unusual surveys in America, the Hartsfield Survey
  • One of the most litigated land issues in America, with related litigation in other countries as well
  • A transaction forming the basis for many lawsuits down through the years, one of the latest ones in the Florida Supreme court in 1923, over submerged lands in Apalachicola Bay
  • A case referenced by many other court cases, not just in our area of the country
  • Indirectly helped in the preservation of the old fort at St. Marks
  • One of the first efforts to develop and market Florida on a large scale, with special emphasis on marketing the land to folks in the Carolinas (I had wondered why so many of our pioneering families migrated from NC or SC)
  • And of some significance to me at least, the Forbes purchase story is one of the main reasons why so many pioneers to Wakulla and surrounding areas came from the Carolinas, as that is where the Forbes Purchase was marketed.

I am sure there are more unique aspects to this story, but that wraps my version of the story of the Forbes Purchase up. Although my sharing of this story is done, the story of the Forbes Purchase is not completed. Most everyone in Wakulla, as well as Franklin, Liberty, and many in Leon and Gadsden enjoy these historic lands every day and so that part of its story is still a work in progress!

I do hope you have a much deeper appreciation for our area and our County’s history after hearing this story, I know I do after writing it.

In conclusion, it is my opinion that we still live in the greatest country on the face of the earth. We must never take for granted the legacy and the responsibility we have as Americans. Among our responsibilities is to honor the sacrifice of those who founded our nation at great personal sacrifice, and to also honor and be thankful for those who have served it in our military.

Maybe it is no coincidence that we celebrate Veterans Day and Thanksgiving in the same month. Pray for our nation and leaders at all levels of government and until next time, this is news from the Courthouse.