The East Florida Papers are a collection of records created by the Spanish colonial government from about 1784 through 1821, in a period known as the “Second Spanish Period” in Florida history. This is a period of great change for Florida, as the British left, leaving behind their plantations, developed infrastructure, and even some of their people after the signing of the Treaty of Paris, which officially ended the Revolutionary War.
According to the Library of Congress, “The papers are also rich in detail about the lives of Floridians at every level of society. These people include the original Indian inhabitants, loyalists who escaped to British Florida during the American Revolution, enslaved people who fled plantations in Georgia and South Carolina for freedom in Spanish Florida, as well as many ordinary inhabitants of St. Augustine and other places in East Florida. These details can be found in the records of court cases and other legal records, census records, oaths of allegiance, mortgage records, marriage licenses, lists of goods distributed to Indians as presents, and lists of medicines purchased by the Hospital de San Augustin de la Florida. Details about the lives of people of color, both enslaved and free, can be found in the declarations of status they made after the Spanish takeover in 1784.”1
For years, the East Florida Papers (EFP) have only been available through visiting the Library of Congress (LOC) or select university libraries, like the University of Florida (UF), and viewing them on microfilm. Today, the LOC has made the entire collection available online! While this is very exciting for those researching Florida history or families during the Second Spanish Period, these images are not searchable online and the majority are in Spanish.
Below is a step-by-step guide on using the UF Index to find the corresponding images at the Library of Congress.
UF created an Index to the East Florida Papers, which is available online at https://www.uflib.ufl.edu/eastflorida/. This index was created during the 1970s and 80s by translators and librarians who summarized the content into English on to 50,000 index cards, which are stored according to the 100 major sections of the Papers.2 This is an invaluable finding aid for the LOC digitized collection! I suggest reading through the entire page to understand how and why this index was created as well as the EFP sections.
The basic and advanced search function of the Index at UF work like any other online search function. An advanced search of “Martin Hernandez” as an exact phrase brings 88 entries.
Clicking on the last entry of this page, I get a pop up of the information contained for this entry.
This information gives me the date, microfilm reel #, UF item #, section #, location, the title, and the information that was available on that index card.
The important part of this search is to reference Section 44, which contains “Memorials, 1784-1821.”
This section is comprised of instancias, or individual petitions, to the governor, usually one page in length. The governor wrote his response to the petition in the left-hand margin. If other officials were called upon, their comments followed the governor's notation in the margin and continued on subsequent pages. In some instances a petition might generate a considerable volume of correspondence. Petitions are sometimes out of chronological order and occasionally undated. The memorials provide useful information on the details of daily life in East Florida. Some of the common petitions included: store and pool table licenses; permission to conduct trade (importing and exporting); travel for various reasons; voyages to Cuba to treat illness; building or repairing houses; promotions or raises; release of allowance; purchase of ships; retirement; purchase of freedom by slaves; loyalty oaths; sale of property.
Searching the East Florida Papers Collection at the Library of Congress
The EFP Collection does include a finding aid, which will help pull the UF searchable index and the digitized unsearchable images together.
In the example above, we know section 44 relates to memorials and was located on reel 77. Scrolling through the finding aid looking for reel 77, I find three entries, split between two pages.
The year for the entry I’m looking for is 1791. Clicking on that link, I find 349 images for Memorials, 1784-1821; 1791.
By using both the UF Index and the LOC finding aid, I have narrowed down my search to 349 images. As there are more than 190 thousand images in the entire collection, this is a good start to finding the original entry for Martin Hernandez!
The information for Section 44 states that these are typically one page in length and while viewing this part of the collection in gallery mode, I see most are one page. According to the hand written title page, there are 194 documents. The LOC has scanned the front and back of each page, which explains the 349 images available. As I page through, I can see these documents are in order by date and they are very clearly dated in long form Spanish. Skipping ahead to entries for May, I find Martin Hernandez’s request to cut wood on image 118.
University of Florida Index + Library of Congress East Florida Papers = ❤️
I’d like to thank the people who created the original index cards so many years ago and Dr. Cusick’s team, who put the cards online in a searchable form! It is an invaluable tool for all who study early Florida history. Having a searchable index that is in English, to search Spanish documents is as unique as Florida itself. Happy searching and let me know what you find!
“East Florida Papers Digital Collection,” The Library of Congress, accessed November 23, 2021, https://www.loc.gov/collections/east-florida-papers/about-this-collection/. ↩
James Cusick, “Index to the East Florida Papers,” University of Florida George A Smathers Libraries, accessed November 23, 2021, https://www.uflib.ufl.edu/eastflorida/. ↩