GAINESVILLE, Fla – It may be difficult these days to imagine divorces taking place in Tallahassee’s state government buildings, but in early territorial Florida – before it became a state – public divorce proceedings before the legislature were commonplace.
This is one of many historical tidbits revealed on the new Florida Historical Legal Documents Web page, among the first of its kind in the country and put together by a team from the University of Florida Levin College of Law.
“If you’re interested in state laws and history, it’s fascinating,” says Mae Clark, assistant director of technical services for the law school’s Legal Information Center and coordinator of the online catalogue of 1822-1845 Florida laws and legislative proceedings included in the Florida Heritage Collection.
Putting the documents online was a project Clark and her colleagues at the law library launched in November 2000. They collected state documents from 1822 to 1845, had them transferred to CD-ROM, and put the information online this month.
“Many people want to know about early Florida law, establishment of the state, the court system and how selection of capitals and county seats was made,” Clark said. “Previously, they would have had to go to a library at one of the state’s universities to do this kind of research. Now they can do it online from anywhere.”
And although the early constitutions of some states are online, Florida may be the first state to have the full text of all of its territorial documents on the World Wide Web, Clark reports.
“Mae and other of our library personnel did an outstanding job on this very important program, which is another example of how our College of Law serves all of the peoples of this state,” said Betty Taylor, law library director and professor of law. “Future state funding would allow Mae and her colleagues to extend information available into the 1900s.”
According to Clark, the site is keyword-searchable, “making it easy to do such things as legal, historical and genealogical research. There are so many things to discover. For example, one can search for the name of the county in which he/she lives to see documents related to its history, and a University of Michigan professor already has used the site for his research into pre-Civil War laws.”
Visitors to the site can compare Florida laws and regulations with those of mid-19th century contemporaries in the established United States and Europe to develop a perspective about state history. Clark notes that contrary to what most might think about Spanish influence on early Florida, British common law is at the root of most territorial rule making.
Among facts to be found on the site:
- There was an East and a West Florida during the early territorial stage, which helps explain why Tallahassee was chosen as the state capital as the areas were merged.
- All divorces had to be approved by the Florida legislature, so details of early settlers’ lives are a matter of record.
- Current familiar names of many cities, counties and rivers evolved over time. For instance, Santa Fe was originally “Santafee.”
- In early territorial Florida, there was no separation of church and state: The legislature was responsible for appointing boards that incorporated churches. Thus site visitors can check on religious roots in the state.
- Establishment of roads, ferries and mail routes were recorded in legal documents, giving site visitors details on development of the state’s infrastructure.
- Slave laws give insight into the Florida population’s pre-Civil War feelings toward slavery.
The Florida Historical Legal Documents Page is at http://palmm.fcla.edu/law.
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