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Index to the East Florida Papers    

The East Florida Papers and this Index Project

What was East Florida?

When Spain first established La Florida in 1565, the colony had nebulous and far-reaching borders, stretching northward into today's Virginia and Carolinas and westward towards the Mississippi River. By 1763, when Spain surrendered its Florida territory to Great Britain, the province's borders were much smaller. The colony consisted of the Florida peninsula south of Georgia and a long strip of land along the west coast that included about half of today's Alabama and Mississippi. The British decided this area was too large to govern as a single entity. They divided it at the Apalachicola River. The western portion became British West Florida with its capital at Pensacola. The peninsula became British East Florida with its capital at St. Augustine.

In 1783, Britain ceded both colonies back to Spain. Spain maintained the division of the Floridas, and Spanish East Florida thus comprised all of modern day Florida except for the Panhandle. Its principal settlements were St. Augustine, Fernandina, and Mosquitoes (or New Smyrna) on the Atlantic coast and St. Marks on the Gulf Coast. This colony existed from 1784 until 1821.

What are the East Florida Papers?

The East Florida Papers (178 microfilm reels) contain the complete local government archive of Spanish East Florida (1784 to 1821). In 1821, when the United States government assumed sovereignty of the Floridas under the provisions of the Adams-Onis Treaty, American authorities seized this archive to prevent its removal to Havana. The archive remained in Florida during the turbulent nineteenth century. In 1906 it was delivered to the Library of Congress for safekeeping. The Papers are stored according to the original system maintained by the colonial governors of Florida. They are therefore a remarkable example of how a small colonial government worked in the Spanish New World. A related archive, the Spanish Land Grants (pertaining to land ownership in Florida) also exists and is curated by the State of Florida at the State Archives.

What do the Papers cover?

The Papers record the social history of East Florida during the terminal Spanish colonial period. From them it is possible to reconstruct what Florida looked like and how people lived during the late eigtheenth and early nineteenth centuries. Archaeologists, architects, and historical preservation agencies frequently use information from the censuses, maps, and plans to pinpoint the locations of historic sites and to aid in reconstruction or restoration of buildings. For historians the Papers provide basic source material on colonial life. Genealogists have long applied themselves to the records in search of family history on early settlers.

What is the Index to the Papers?

The Calendar or Index to the East Florida Papers is a 60-drawer, 50,000 entry card file describing the contents of the Papers on a document by document basis. It was created at the University of Florida in the 1970s and 1980s as part of a National Endowment for the Humanities initiative. Translators and librarians worked from a microfilmed copy of the original collection and systematically read through the Papers, most of which are in hand-written Spanish. They summarized the content of documents in short English abstracts, trying as much as possible to also index them for proper names. The resulting arrangement of index cards, stored according to the 100 major sections of the Papers, became the major finding aid for researchers working on Spanish East Florida. By browsing the card files, researchers could locate individual documents or groups of documents pertinent to their studies. Abstracts gave a general summation of content, and researchers could then go to the microfilmed documents for more details. Over the past 30 years, hundreds of scholars have visited the P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History at the University of Florida to conduct research using the card index. Now the Index has been converted into an electronic index that can be browsed or searched online.

How do I access the Papers?

The originals of the East Florida Papers are at the Library of Congress under restricted access. Microfilmed copies of the Papers are generally available at libraries and colleges throughout the United States. There is currently no online access to the Papers (although we hope, now that the Index is online, to move ahead with digitizing images of the actual documents).

How do I use the Index?

The best way to use the online Index is to first acquaint yourself with the major sections of the East Florida Papers. There are 100 sections and each one is briefly described in the Browse section of the Index. You may find that some sections seem more relevant to your research than others. You can then do one of three things. You can Browse a particular section. You can conduct a Basic Search using just one or two words and search the entire Index. Or you can conduct an Advanced Search that allows you to refine or limit your search to certain dates, to certain sections, or to certain cominbations of words. A results table can be rearranged chronologically or by microfilm reel number. Click on these headings in the results table to sort the entries. Selecting an entry will call up a new window displaying the Index's abstract. Both the results table and the abstracts can be printed as necessary. These will be your guides to locating and examining documents on microfilm.

How do I find a microfilm copy of the Papers?

Copies can be obtained at major libraries or through InterLibrary Loan from various institutions. Reels can also be purchased from the Library of Congress.

Is the entire Index online?

Several sections of the Index are not online. We are still working on putting the censuses online. By the same token, we are working on putting up the escrituras, or miscellaneous notarial records, and the abstracts for wills and probates.

For further information, contact
James Cusick, curator, P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History
Department of Special & Area Studies Collections
George A. Smathers Libraries
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida 32611
(352) 392-9075, ext. 306 or

  Index to the East Florida Papers is a cooperative project of University of Florida and Flagler College, funded by the St. Augustine Foundation. HSARI



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