Forbes vs. Apalachicola Land Company
About This Case
This case, Forbes v. Apalachicola Land Company, is one component of a larger, prolonged series of legal disputes over what is known as the Forbes Purchase.
Between 1804 and 1811, representatives of the Creeks and Seminoles ceded approximately 1.2 million acres of land to the firm of John Forbes & Company. The land cession, located between the Apalachicola and St. Marks Rivers, atoned for long-standing debts incurred by the Creeks and Seminoles with Panton, Leslie & Company and its successor Forbes & Company.
By virtue of an agreement with the Spanish government, Panton, Leslie (and then Forbes) & Company exercised a monopoly over the Indian trade in Florida during the second Spanish period. The Indian trade in Florida consisted primarily of the Creeks and Seminoles exchanging animal hides and other commodities for guns, ammunition, cloth, metal tools, and other items they could not produce themselves. The nature of this business tended to enrich Euro-American merchants at the expense of Native American communities, who quickly became indebted to and dependent upon firms such as Forbes & Company.
In 1817, Colin Mitchel acquired the Forbes Purchase. Mitchel and others then formed the Apalachicola Land Company to survey, subdivide, and sell the land to settlers. The legality of the Forbes Purchase and subsequent transfer to Mitchel became the subject of intense scrutiny when Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1821.
By 1835, the U.S. Congress had determined the Forbes Purchase to be legal. However, this did not settle the many questions surrounding the boundaries of the land, the contesting claims filed before the Florida and United States land commissions, and the practice of squatters taking up residence on the vast, undeveloped tract.
The documents included here deal primarily with claims made by descendants of Thomas Forbes. The heirs of Forbes, particularly John G. Forbes, felt defrauded by their uncle (John Forbes the elder) following the sale to Mitchel and others. The case file includes rich detail about the state of the Forbes family a few decades removed from their prominent position in Florida’s Indian trade as well as information about Spanish settlers on the Forbes tract and various brief accounts on the circumstances of the purchase.
Due to the Seminole Wars, the Civil War, and other extenuating circumstances, aspects of the Forbes Purchase controversy remained unresolved into the early 20th century. As with many other aspects of the lengthy legal battles over the Forbes Purchase, more research is needed to determine how these documents fit into the story and broaden our understanding of Native American land cessions along the southern frontier.