Visit The Museum To See Early Artifacts of Wakulla County
Drop by the Museum today for our Open House to see a fantastic exhibit. Read more about it…
By Sandra Vidak
We are pleased to officially open the Forbes Purchase-Hartfield Survey exhibit in the Betty Oaks Green Room at the Museum.
The story of the Forbes Purchase began in 1776 when three Tory sympathizers: William Panton, Thomas Forbes and John Leslie, arrived in St. Augustine. They had been prominent in the Indian trade in South Carolina and Georgia and sought similar opportunities in Florida. They did so as Panton Leslie & Company establishing headquarters in Pensacola. In 1792 Panton admitted John Forbes (the youngest brother of Thomas Forbes) to the firm as a junior partner and sent him to Alabama to handle the Chickasaw and Choctaw trade. By that time Panton Leslie & Company had a monopoly on Indian trade with the Upper and Lower Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Cherokee in the Southeast. The leather and fur trades were lucrative for the firm and in some years as many as two hundred fifty thousand deer hides and beaver pelts were traded and shipped to Europe. The firm’s success during Panton’s leadership, deteriorated after his death in 1801 as damage was inflicted on its commerce by William Augustus Bowles, the War of 1812, Andrew Jackson’s war on the Creek nation, and competition from American traders.
The firm reorganized in 1804 as John Forbes and Company and sought to collect on its claims of debt against the aboriginal Indians for the Spanish government. The only thing the Indians had to settle their debt was land and so in cessions of 1804 and 1811, more than 1.2 million acres of land was deeded to John Forbes and Company and became known as the “Forbes Purchase.” These land grants included all of Wakulla County, from the Saint Marks River and west to the Apalachicola River encompassing Franklin, Liberty, Gadsden and some of Leon counties.
In 1807 Forbes hired Asa Hartfield of Charleston, South Carolina to survey the vast tract of land so that it could be parceled for sale. Elizabeth Smith regarded Hartfield a “mystery” in 1963 and his name lives on, even today, as land is surveyed and deeds are transferred. Although John Forbes moved to Cuba in 1817, questions of rightful ownership and speculated boundaries of the Forbes Purchase were subjected to litigation, considered by Congress and the courts for 40 years after his death. Among other issues, cumulative records of the Spanish archived in Havana, Cuba had to be translated, settlers and squatters identified, and Indian chiefs recognized.
Features of the exhibit include survey field notes from 1825 depicting directional measurement in chains from trees and a privy, the 1808 plat, record of the first official land transaction in Wakulla County in April 1843, surveyor’s tools, Indian trade artifacts, costume replicas, and delightful storytelling by Judge Mike Carter, Judge James Joanos, Clerk of Court Brent Thurmond, and Librarian Scott Joyner. Special items are on loan and limited to exhibition at the Museum from Butch Calhoun, Mike Kinsey, Anna Lopez, P. G. Artifacts LLC, and SYP Publishing.