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Great records win lose or draw

You have to feel sorry for Joaquin Caldez.

In June of 1828, he claimed that he’d settled 640 acres on the north side of the Oyster River some eight miles from Tampa Bay. He submitted the affidavits of two witnesses to support his claim. He was an actual settler in possession of the land, he said.

And he lost.

“Unconfirmed” is the official ruling.

As The Legal Genealogist prepares to head off to Florida for the Pinellas Genealogy Society’s 2018 Seminar in Largo, the usual routine of poking around in Florida’s legal records is well underway.

And it’s always fun… because Florida has such a long and rich legal history.

Originally settled by the Spanish, ceded to Britain in 1763, ceded back to Spain in 1783, and ceded to the United States in 1819, Florida has a legal system that was Spanish, then English, then Spanish, then American — and even then not fully American, because the law guaranteed certain rights that folks had had under Spanish law and said it would apply Spanish law in resolving disputes.1

And one of the biggest parts of Spanish law that came into play was Spanish land law: the treaty that ceded Florida to the United States — the Adams-Onis Treaty — had provided in Article VIII that: “All the grants of land made before the 24th of January, 1818, by (the King of Spain), or by his lawful authorities, in the territories ceded by his Majesty to the United States, shall be ratified and confirmed to the persons in possession of the lands” and that those prevented by circumstances from fulfilling the conditions of the grants “shall complete them within the terms limited.” Grants after January 24, 1818, were declared null and void.2

All of which didn’t help Joaquin Caldez one bit.

Because he wasn’t claiming under a grant by anybody — not the Spanish and not the British — but solely on the basis of having settled the land and worked it for years, he and his witnesses said.

But his proofs weren’t enough.

So… how do we know?

We know, first and foremost, because of a really neat set of records known as the Spanish Land Grants, now digitized and online at the Florida Memory project of the State Library and Archives of Florida.3 That’s where we find Caldez’s application and the affidavits of his witnesses Andrew Gomez and Antonia Frasia.4

I’ve written about these records before,5 and the best part is the fact that they’re freely available online. They’re amazing records:

The grants provide information on the settlement and cultivation of Florida during the Second Spanish Period (1783-1821) and the Territorial Period (1821-1845). Grantees had to provide the following information: description of land granted; date of grant; size of grant; property boundaries; and proof of residency and cultivation. Therefore the records contain surveys and plats, copies of royal grants, testimonials, correspondence, deeds, wills, and translations of Spanish documents.6

But we have to dig a little deeper for the rest of the story for Joaquin Caldez.

On the cover of the Caldez file is this note: “Rejected by the Reg. and Rec. Am. State Papers. Vol. 5, p 409, Report 6. No 14, 1828–”

What’s that? And where do we find it?

According to the Library of Congress, “The American State Papers, comprising a total of thirty-eight physical volumes, contain the legislative and executive documents of Congress during the period 1789 to 1838. The collection includes documents that cover the critical historical gap from 1789 to the printing of the first volume of the U.S. Serial Set in 1817. The books are arranged into ten topical classes or series”7 — one of which is Public Lands.

And every last one of these 38 volumes is online, free, at the Library of Congress, through its American Memory project in a collection called American State Papers, 1789-1838.

We click on the link for the set of eight volumes of the American State Papers on the subject of Public Lands, and scroll down to volume 5.

Choosing the page-turner option, we can enter 409 in the box at the top that says “Turn to Image” and it takes us to the start of the report by the Register and Receiver of East Florida in 1828.

And … ooops… there’s no reference to the Caldez claim there at all.

Hey, I didn’t say this was going to be easy, did I?

Turns out it’s actually over in volume 6: there’s a report on page 58 reflecting that a number of claims under the Donation Land Act of 1824 were rejected, and an alphabetical list starting at page 59 of all the claims reported on in 1828.

The Donation Land Act, by the way, provided that actual settlers of Florida lands before 1819 who were over age 21, heads of families and not claiming any lands under British or Spanish grants, could claim the lands they’d settled, inhabited and cultivated up to 640 acres.8

Most of those claims however weren’t accepted. It’s in that brief reference in the American State Papers that we find out that there were 70 applications — 12 were confirmed and four “recommended to Congress for confirmation,” which means that 54 were turned down.

Including the one filed Joaquin Caldez.

Cool records, for sure.

And win, lose or draw, well worth the effort to chase down.


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “Shedding light on Sunshine State legal history,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 29 Sep 2016 ( : accessed 21 Feb 2018).
  2. Article 8, Adams-Onis Treaty (1819); html version, Avalon Project, Yale Law School ( : accessed 22 Feb 2018).
  3. Spanish Land Grants,” Florida Memory, State Library and Archives of Florida ( : accessed 22 Feb 2018).
  4. Ibid., “Caldez, Joaquin — Unconfirmed,” Box 2, Folder 2. Note that I’m not sure of the spelling of the name of the second witness.
  5. See Judy G. Russell, “Spanish Florida land records,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 30 Sep 2016 ( : accessed 21 Feb 2018).
  6. Spanish Land Grants,” Florida Memory, State Library and Archives of Florida ( : accessed 22 Feb 2018).
  7. American State Papers,” “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory ( : accessed 21 Feb 2018).
  8. “An Act granting donations of land to certain actual settlers in the territory of Florida,” 4 Stat. 47 (26 May 1824).
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