The Tempestuous History of Florida

06/08/2022     Books & Autographs

NEW YORK, NY -- The Collection of Jay I. Kislak sold to benefit the Kislak Family Foundation offers a diverse selection of antiquities, art, maps and rare books in all fields. But despite his general collecting, the focus of Mr. Kislak’s attention was on the rich and complicated history of Florida, the state in which he lived for over fifty years, and the voyages and travel narratives of those who visited, colonized, and settled in the Caribbean, Georgia, and Mesoamerica. Endlessly generous, Mr. Kislak’s important gift of thousands of objects to the Library of Congress and other institutions is well documented but the assortment of books and maps offered in the June 15 auction and another in Fall 2022 are sure to delight collectors. For instance, offered are six items from the fabled collection of Thomas Winthrop Streeter, considered the greatest Americana collector of the 20th century, which were sold in the landmark auctions of his collection in 1967 with several purchased directly by Mr. Kislak at the sales.

Unlike other eventual states in North America, Florida changed hands between Spain and England twice before becoming a U.S. Territory in the 1820s. First sighted by Ponce de Leon in 1513, the conquistador bestowed the name La Florida on the land for its verdant and abundant coastline and because it was the Easter season La Pascua Florida. The earliest mention of Florida in the current auction dates from 1574, in Girolamo Ruscelli's map of the new world Tierra Nueva, which combines the discoveries from the voyages of Verrazano and Cartier to depict the east coast of North America (lot 242). By the time of Johannes de Laet's map Florida, et Regiones Vicinae was printed in 1630, the coastlines had been fully delineated, and while still somewhat inaccurate, the shape of mainland Florida is recognizable to us today (lot 204). Of note in this map is the naming of the main body of today's Florida as “Tegesta provinc” after a native tribe living on the southwest coast (the name Florida being applied to the larger region).

Through the entirety of the 16th century, Florida was a Spanish possession, part of their vast empire in Mesoamerica, and was of great interest to the world outside of Spain, evidenced by the inclusion of a portrait of Le Roy de Floride in a French book of 1680 that presented the kings of the known world (lot 166). Despite the lively portrait and text below the image, Le Roy de Floride depicts a fictional king, playing into the endless fascination European readers had for the new world.

As Part of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, Spain traded Florida to the British in exchange for Havana, Cuba, which had been captured during the French and Indian War. Given the enormity of the place, the British divided the land administratively into East and West Florida. An artifact of remarkable rarity is a document signed by John Eliot, a Royal Navy captain appointed Governor of West Florida in 1767 who arrived in Pensacola in 1769. The document retaining its original blue silk ribbon and a scarce example of the paper covered wax seal (Lot 159). Naturally, due to the ravages of time, weather and war early manuscript documents from Florida are scarce in commerce today.

The English held Florida and it became a loyalist stronghold during the American Revolution. The British undertook major surveys of the region in this period and produced several large format charts of noted elegance, including J.F.W. Des Barres’ 1780 The North East Shore of the Gulph of Mexico (lot 152) and Thomas Jeffery’s The Coast of West Florida and Louisiana/The Peninsula and Gulf of Florida or Channel of Bahama with the Bahama Islands (lot 200), the largest map of Florida in the era. Following the surrender of the British at Yorktown, the British began evacuating from the mainland. In this period, a five-page letter written on board the ship Cyrus off St. Mary's, Florida, recounts the end of the British colony and the difficulty of the evacuation (lot 237). With the 1783 Treaty of Versailles, Florida was regained by Spain and remained so until the Adams-Onis Treaty finally brought Florida into the possession of the United States in 1821. Several of the items in the auction from the Thomas W. Streeter collection emanate from this transitionary period from Spanish to American possession, when the first American towns were planned, and the U.S. dealt with the legal claims of the previous period. The rarest of these items is also the most beautiful, I.G. Searcy’s Map of Florida constructed principally from authentic documents in the Land office at Tallahassee by I. G. Searcy (lot 253), a very large colored folding map of the territory published in 1829 to encourage settlement. While there is little establishment in Florida at the time, within the mainland numerous and substantial land grants are recorded as are Indian boundary lines and the "Track of the Indians across the peninsula," a reference to the removal of the Seminole following the brutal wars that plagued the period.

Florida was finally admitted as a state, with legal slavery, in 1845, a union that would only last sixteen years as Florida became the third state to secede in 1861 after South Carolina and Mississippi. Of significant rarity is the 1862 Tallahassee printed Confederate Constitution or form of government for the people of Florida, preserved in its original wrappers (lot 140). While not too much fighting happened there in the American Civil War, Florida was an engine for the Confederacy, providing food and other support to their armies. The nation reunited after 1865, Florida continued to develop into the state we largely know today, a place that lures settlers with the promise of good weather, health and abundance, evidenced in a work like Samuel Upham’s Notes from Sunland, on the Manatee River, Gulf Coast of South Florida. Its Climate, Soil and Productions, published by the author in Braidentown, Florida in 1882 (lot 258).

All in all, the rich and complicated history of Florida is fully presented in The Collection of Jay I. Kislak sold to benefit the Kislak Family Foundation.


The Collection of Jay I. Kislak sold to benefit the Kislak Family Foundation

Auction Wednesday, June 15, 2022 at 10am
Exhibition June 11 - 13