Thursday, January 8, 2015

#53 The Spanish claim to Blue Springs (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Blue Springs from the air
Shortly after Florida became part of the United States, land commissioners in Pensacola stripped a Spanish citizen's heirs of their title to more than 8,000 acres of prime land surrounding Blue Springs in Jackson County.

The story of the Blue Springs Spanish Grant is #53 on my list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

The United States took possession of Florida from Spain in 1821. Among the first issues that officials of the new territory encountered were the claims of residents that they had been granted land in the former colony by Spanish authorities. The Spanish governors and surveyors involved in these transaction had beeen reassigned to other countries and in many cases U.S. commissioners relied on their abilities as hand-writing experts to determine whether or not alleged Spanish grants were legitimate.

1825 survey map showing Blue Springs
There were American settlers living in the area when Florida became part of the United States. Federal land office records show that 52 Americans claimed to have settled land in modern Jackson County when Florida was a Spanish colony. None of them, however, had secured land grants from Spanish authorities.

The only person to enter a formal claim for land in Jackson County under a Spanish grant was Margarita Goquet, the mother of a deceased grantee named Jose Poll. According to her claim, Poll had settled at Blue Springs (also called Jackson Blue Springs) in November 1817. Goquet said that her son had been granted 10,000 arpents there by Governor Jose Masot.

Blue Springs
An arpent is an old European unit for measuring land. In this case the 10,000 arpents claimed by Mrs. Goquet as an inheritance from her son equaled about 8,448 acres. She produced documents signed by the Spanish governor in 1817 and also found eyewitnesses willing to support her claim:

Joseph Moura, being sworn, saith that, in the year 1817, he assisted in transporting hands and provisions to the tract of ten thousand arpents of land at the Big Spring, on Chipola, granted originally to Joseph Poll, in order to commence improvements and cultivation thereon; that five or six months afterwards he visited the same place, at which time they had built a house and cleared and enclosed a large piece of ground; that Joseph Poll was the son of Margarita Goquet, who inherited the said tract of land at his death; and further saith not. - Claim statement included in report of U.S. Land Commissioners to Treasury Secretary William H. Crawford, November 12, 1824, American State Papers.

It would have been nothing short of suicide for an American settler to build a house and clear land at Blue Springs in 1817. The First Seminole War erupted that fall and continued until the fall of 1818. The alliance of Seminoles and Red Stick Creeks at war with the United States had no real issues with the Spanish citizens of Florida, however, and generally allowed them to live in peace. 

Blue Springs from the water
The war did cost Jose Poll the African laborers he had brought with him to Blue Spring, which as noted in the reference above was then usually called the Big Spring of the Chipola. Whether they were slaves or free men of color is not known, as the available documents do not provide additional detail. A second eyewitness produced by Poll's mother mentioned that the laborers all left the farm. Like many other African-Americans living on the Southern frontier, they probably joined the American Indian forces then fighting against the United States:

Manuel Moura, being sworn, saith that he attended Joseph Moura when he visited the said tract of land at the aforementioned periods, and is acquainted with the facts stated by him; and further saith that the negroes employed by said Poll in the improvements and cultivation aforesaid absconded, and of which was never recovered; and further saith not. - Claim statement included in report of U.S. Land Commissioners to Treasury Secretary William H. Crawford, November 12, 1824, American State Papers.

The decision of whether to grant Mrs. Goquet title to more than 8,000 acres of prime agricultural land in newly formed Jackson County was placed in the hands of three American land commissioners - Samuel Overton, Joseph White and Craven P. Luckett. The first of these men, Overton, was a close friend of Andrew Jackson.

Merritt's Mill Pond just below Blue Springs
The three ruled against Mrs. Goquet, probably much to the relief of William Robinson who was in the process of establishing a plantation on the property in question. The deliberations were subjective, as the commissioners agreed that the documents presented by the lady had actually been signed by former Governor Jose Masot.

In fact, the three U.S. commissioners almost without exception rejected any claims filed by Spanish citizens asserting ownership of large parcels of land in Florida. The three Americans did not believe that the King of Spain had given his governors the authority to make grants of large parcels of land, so they either denied such claims or sent them to the U.S. Congress for final disposition.

Did the commissioners improperly deprive a Spanish lady of 8,000 acres of land at Blue Springs that had been settled by and granted to her deceased son? The possibility that they did is very real. Whatever the truth, the land became the home and farm of William Robinson and after his death formed the core of Sylvania, the plantation of Governor John Milton.

The intriguing Spanish Land Grant at Blue Springs is #53 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County. To see other items on the list, please visit:

To learn more about the history of Blue Springs, please visit: /

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