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History is Alive and Well Beneath the Courthouse....

  • Written by 

The Basement Archives of the 1963 Courthouse is home to almost 2000 volumes of Jackson County history and records.

Often researchers/genealogists come into the basement Archives of our Jackson County Courthouse. They tell of visits to other Courthouses where the old and treasured books are found in basements or attics, lying in disarray on the floor or piled on top of discarded filing cabinets; in some instances the basement flooring may be partially cemented with portions still a dirt floor. Our Jackson County researchers then speak with pride about the condition of our old records and the respect with which they are treated. Visitors praise the commitment and the ease with which they can access their family history (or infamy). Many days the old oak table saved from the 1906 Courthouse is strewn with old books and laptops as genealogists search for family history.

As the latest in a long line of Clerks of Court, Dale Rabon Guthrie has accepted her responsibilities as steward of the records for Jackson County with a true commitment. Modern steel shelving lines the 12’ thick concrete walls. Many of the older volumes have been preserved using acid-free sheathing and new bindings. The musty old carpet is gone and has been replaced with refinished flooring; the walls are lined with photographs of bygone days of Jackson County and with old maps of the county and the surrounding area.

As you step off the elevator and enter the basement area, you will immediately notice long shelves – floor to ceiling – filled with Jackson County history and records. Old Docket books, Estate books, mortgage records, tax books, etc. line the walls. Within the large vault are hundreds of estate files, insanity files, deed books, and marriage licenses. Our oldest book dates back to 1831 and was the primary book used by County government until Statehood in 1845. This wonderful old book details county government and enlightens the reader as to how this County grew. Of particular interest is the process by which the Territory of Florida set about to achieve statehood. An index of books by year, location, and subject is available.

A large portion of the 1831 book details administrative actions and another large portion contains estate/probate records. It is interesting to note that there were only five entries of a criminal nature; one of them was a bill for food and another was an authorization to hold an inquest into the death of Lewis Pitts. Until 1888, the Sheriff was appointed by the Governor but the Constables were appointed by the County. Because the County was large and the outlying towns were inaccessible, in 1834 the County was divided into eight Magistrate Districts and each district had a Constable who kept law and order. Many of the old case files show an allowance for travel for the Sheriff and towns such as Campbellton were an overnight trip.

Have you ever wondered when the first Jail was built in Jackson County; where was it located; what materials were used; who was the Sheriff? If we were a U.S. Territory, who paid for it? Did we even have a Sheriff? Who decided to build a Jail? Did we really have a need? These answers are easily found in the Minutes of the Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) which exists from 1831 to the present. The only exception is during Reconstruction when county government was suspended. (Included in the 1960 BoCC Minutes is a list of Civil War Widows still residing in Jackson County!)

At one time medical doctors, dentists, nurses, and x-ray technicians filed copies of their medical licenses with the courthouse. Lawyers were required to pass an oral board exam composed of local practicing attorneys before practicing in the County. Their oath was then included in the Circuit Court Minutes. Naturalization of Aliens cases were filed in Circuit Court until June 1930.

The Florida State Supreme Court met in Jackson County periodically in the mid 1850s and Dr. Samuel C. Bellamy served as the Clerk of Court for that illustrious body. Several years later, William H. Milton also served as the Clerk for the Supreme Court. Their appointments are found in the Circuit Court Minutes.

An effort is underway to identify any cases etc. directly involving Governor John Milton. Most of these are prior to his election as Governor and will only include cases in which he was a party. These will be preserved in separate files for those who are interested. Cases where he served as an attorney will not be included. A wonderful old book of great interest is the Tract Book which includes the old Land Grants & Patents. Another is the Brand & Marks book which was used to record brands/marks used on livestock during the Open Range law. Many of the brands were recorded prior to 1849 and are identified. An index is available.

Regretfully, the Basement Archives has no School Board records. These were mostly destroyed in the School Board fire in March 1968. At one time, some school board files were stored in the old Federal Courtroom on the 2nd floor of the Post Office. The Historical Society may have additional information relative to their existence.

Clemency files/requests are not found in the Courthouse. The request to the governor seeking clemency, the response and the denial or the granting of clemency is not through Circuit Court. There are no notations included in the original case file. Clemency requests are filed directly with the Governor of the State of Florida. Clemency files can be located in the State Archives but are closed. A request to see the file must be granted by the Governor.

Specifically:

Marriage records (actual license) date from December 1, 1848

Estate files from December 1 1848; estate files 1831 through November 30 1848 are only found in the estate books

Court case files - civil and criminal back to 1849

Tax Books – beginning 1868 these books listed legal descriptions unlike the earlier books which only listed the number of acres

Board of County Commissioner Minutes

Real estate mortgage books, chattel mortgage, and satisfaction of liens (with Direct and Indirect Indexes)

Mineral Rights

Transportation maps

Deed books

1715 Map of the southeast

1783 map of West Florida

Whiskey Docket from Prohibition with a copy of a bonafide prescription for alcohol (instructions say ‘Take as Directed’)

Court Docket Books

Sheriff Docket books

Jail Docket books

Coroner’s Docket (only 1)

. . and many more

Visitors are welcome from 8:30 AM until 4:15 PM, Monday through Friday and everyone is welcome. Laptops are acceptable as are old-fashioned pencils and paper

By Sue Tindel

 

 

 

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