John Forbes, a Scotsman and Loyalist, went to work for Panton, Leslie & Company at Pensacola in 1785 and helped establish the trading company in Spanish West Florida. Panton, Leslie, & Company conducted most of their trading business with the Indians, who over the years accumulated large debts with the company. After the deaths of the older owners, the business became known as the John Forbes Company. Eventually, when the company faced financial crisis because of the debts, the Spanish government suggested to Forbes that the company recoup their losses through land cessions from the Indians.
In 1804, the Indians ceded to John Forbes 1,200,000 acres of land, known as the Forbes Tract, Forbes Purchase or Forbes Grant. The tract was bounded on the North by the Upper Sweetwater Creek, on the West by the Appalachicola River, and on the east by the St. Marks River. Forbes Tract did not include part of Wakulla County that was east of the St. Marks River, but did include a small part of Gulf County, west of the Appalachicola River.
When it appeared that the United States would gain the remainder of Florida from the Spanish, as a result of the War of 1812, John Forbes felt that, as a non-U.S. citizen, the land would either be confiscated or he would not receive a fair price from the U.S. government. So, in 1817, he decided to sell the land to Colin Mitchell.
The United States questioned the authenticity and legality of Mitchell's ownership of the land. Many years of litigation ensued over the Indian's right to sell this land and over Forbes' title. Finally, in 1835, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the favor of Colin Mitchell's ownership of the property. He formed the Appalachicola Land Company with its headquarters in New York and sold the land in parcels to the recently-arriving American settlers to the Florida frontier. The Appalachicola Land Company went out of business in 1858.
There was also a second large parcel of land claimed by John Forbes that lay on the western side of the Appalachicola River and contained about 1,275,000 acres. This land was granted to him by the Spanish government in 1818. The United States government refused to recognize this grant on the technicality that it was granted after January 24, 1818, which was the last date that Spanish land grants would be approved by the U.S.
To Return to Main Page