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Sale of Enslaved People in St. Augustine, Florida

An interesting manuscript letter written from St. Augustine, Florida, relating to the sale of enslaved African American people stemming from a foreclosure judgement against the firm of Anderson & Russell. The letter also mentions another, perhaps similar case involving two parties, Gates vs. Taylor.

John M. Fontane was a member of the Florida Rangers - the first militia muster in Florida after formal transfer by Spain to the United States - organized in August 1826, under Capt. Joseph Woodruff.  By the 1840s Fontane was active in the settlement of estates in Florida, evidenced by his name surfacing as executor for estate settlements in and around St. Augustine in the 1840s. Intriguingly, also during ths time, Fontane was occasionally involved in facilitating the emancipation of enslaved people in St. Augustine (see Daniel L. Schafer, "A Class of People Neither Freemen nor Slaves": From Spanish to American Race Relations in Florida, 1821-1861 [in:] Journal of Social History, Spring (1993), page 596).

Gregory Yale (1816-1871), the recipient of the present letter, was at the time a young lawyer in Jacksonville, Florida. In 1850 he went to California and eventually specialized in mining law. He authored Legal titles to mining claims and water rights in California (1867). He was associated with the lawyers Halleck, Peachy & Billings as well as Frank Turk, and other San Francisco lawyers. 

The letter, dated at St. Augustine on Dec. 27, 1847, reads as follows:

Dear Sir,

Your letter of 26th Inst. has just been handed to me by Capt. Willey. The sale of the Negroes under judgement of Foreclosure in the Anderson & Russell case has been postponed to the first Monday in February next as the Deputy Marshall will not be here on the first Monday of Janry. I have not rec'd the order you speak of respecting the Gates and Taylor case.

In Haste, Yrs. Very Respectfully,

John M. Fontane.


G. Yale Esqr.



Such original documents relating to the historically interesting legal issues concerning the ownership of enslaved people in Florida in the 1840s are quite rare in the market.

Condition Description
Folded lettersheet. Circular St. Augustine, Fla. postal stamp on address panel. Docketed on verso: "John M. Fontane / Dec. 27, 47 / rec'd Jany. 5, 48 / enclosing [Brusa's?] letter of / 17 Dec. 1847 & the order / made on same day at / Tallahassee in case of Govts / vs. Taylor."
T. Frederick Davis, "Pioneer Florida" [in:] The Florida Historical Quarterly. Vol. 24, No. 4 (April, 1946), page 290.