By Martie Thompson
editor@floridanewsline.com

Almost 200 years ago, on July 10, 1821, Spain transferred its flags in St. Augustine to the United States of America. At this time, according to St. Johns County Clerk Historian, Dr. Susan Parker, officials with the United States attempted to seize as many important records and documents from the Spanish period as possible — instead of allowing the departing Spaniards to take the papers with them to Havana. The so-called “East Florida Papers,” which were the Spanish government’s documents, stayed at the Government House in St. Augustine until around 1870, when they were transferred to Tallahassee and then in 1905 to the Library of Congress. One particular set of papers, referred to as the “Breadbox Papers” because they were stored in a metal breadbox, was left behind.

“We don’t know why, but the Breadbox Papers didn’t go with the others,” Parker said. “As far as we know, the papers have always been in St. Augustine. They were apparently in private hands for approximately 40 years and then were brought to the City Clerk of Courts office in 1905, and then at some time turned over to the Clerk of Courts, where they remain today.”

Craig Funeral services, Funeral, Crematory, Memorial Park

The Breadbox Papers are of particular historical interest as they are the official records, dated from 1803 – 1804, during the Spanish period. There are about 350 sheets of paper containing handwritten records such as deeds, marriage contracts, affidavits and sales of slaves. Parker said it is unknown who actually put the papers in the breadbox.

“These records are well preserved due to the very good paper quality,” Parker said. “They were meant to last.”
According to Parker, the paper was most likely obtained through the Spanish government’s purchasing channels, meaning that it likely came from Spain or Havana rather than more locally, such as from Savannah, which was not Spanish-owned.

St. Johns County Clerk of Court Brandon Patty is particularly fascinated with these papers, due to their age and also timelessness.

“A lot of the records we found, we still do today,” Patty said. “These papers are unique because they are from the Spanish period, but it’s also worth noting that they represent the lineage of recording deeds and other transactions like we do today — and that 200 years from now we will probably still be doing, in some form. Our way of life is built on accurate records.”

The Clerk of Court, in addition to partnering with the court system and acting as the county comptroller, is responsible for being the repository for the county’s official records. Nikki May is the Supervisor of Records Management and said her department is responsible for the upkeep and retention of the documents. St. Johns County has a temperature and climate controlled warehouse, where all the important documents — court cases, Board of County Commission meetings, ordinances, financial and probate records — are kept, some bound in huge journals and some in boxes.

“Since St. Johns County is the state’s oldest county, our records go way back,” May said. “We have marriage licenses that date back to the 1820s.”

May said that a lot of the county’s records back to about 1960 are available online and that generally the only people who come to the clerk’s office for a physical records request tend to be historians researching genealogy.

Patty noted that through the years, fire has been a common threat to records, and so redundancy is crucial. Today, many records are stored digitally, but many years ago the clerk or his assistant spent a great deal of time painstakingly making manual copies in an early form of redundancy.

Going forward, Patty said his office is considering the proper preservation of the Breadbox Papers, which Parker agreed would likely not be in the breadbox.

“It’s good stewardship to continue to use state of the art preservation techniques,” Parker said. 

The end goal is to make the papers available for public display. Patty feels it is important for citizens to learn about the importance of historical records as well as the role of the clerk’s office in maintaining them.

“As a historian, I’m pleased about the focus on this history,” Parker said. “These records represent the history of the county. It’s important to realize that just because there are not a lot of historic buildings in the county outside of St. Augustine, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of history. These deeds and records reflect that.” 

Patty said that all of the official records help tell the story of St. Johns County.

“This is such a source of pride in our office,” Patty said. “We know that over the years, the personnel will change, but our activities will remain the same.” 

Photo by Martie Thompson
St. Johns County Clerk Historian Dr. Susan Parker measures the size of the pages of the Breadbox Papers. 

  • Ackerman Urology We specialize in Prostate health, sexual health, bladder health, and Kidney health
  • Smiles by Glenos & Hadfic Orthodontists
  • I.T. Promise Inc. Computer Services Professional Computer Services business and residential
  • Pavers concrete and more Free estimates
  • Snip's Tree and stump service over 25 years experience
  • The right cleaners, LLC House cleaning services
  • Premier Homes Realty Inc. Michael Taylor and Tari Taylor
  • Quality Eye care 25+ years of experience
  • Vote Rod Hardwick for st johns county sheriff Working together for the strength of our community during challenging times
  • Preddy law firm estate planning, wills, trusts, probate, guardianship
  • Starling Nocatee, 360 degree virtual tour
  • Advertise in our May Issue The Creek Line
  • Staverman Hearing Centers Hear loud and clear
  • Support Community Journalism The Creek Line
  • Tutoring club of st johns. Text tutoring to 484848 for a chance to win one month of free tutoring
  • Being Well Florida News line is excited to introduce Being Well magazine
  • Westminster Woods on Julington creek. Live well. Be Happy
  • Ackerman cancer center. We're here for your cancer treatment
  • Anytime Fitness! Summer is Here! We Are Open!
  • Have questions about your medicare benefits? Call a SHINE volunteer.
  • Forever Vets Animal Hospital coupon for free exam and discount on preventative care for dogs and cats!
  • Ellegant earth solutions complete lawn maintenance with 28 years experience, complete lawn maintenance
  • Prudential Financial Planning Services with Andrew Laino
  • Support Community Journalism in Ponta Vedra NewsLine
  • Vote for Dr. Erick Aguilar Republican candidate U.S. House Fl 4th district
  • Academy of Dance Open House & Registration August 19th and 20th 3pm to 6pm Classes start August 24th! Ballet, Pointem Jazz, Hip Hop Contemporary, Modern, Lyrical, Music Theatre, Vocal
  • Affordable Water
  • All About Ballroom
  • Do you only want cremation?
  • Craig Funeral services, Funeral, Crematory, Memorial Park
  • Cronin Ace Hardware
  • Vote for Christian Whitehurst! for St. Johns county commissioner, District 1
  • Doug Nunnery, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices,
  • Finding the right doctor just got easier, Dr. Levine Baptist primary care
  • DIscount up to 30% Jim Register state farm agent
  • Nemetz Dental Associates! Your new smile awaits!
  • Deerwood Academy register now for 2020-2021 VPK
  • Eye center of st augustine, The eye surgery Center of St Augustine
  • Famous Automotive and tire center
  • Fruit Cove Baptist Church
  • The Goddard School summer camp
  • Havana Printing and office supply Call us today for all your cutome printing needs
  • Ian MacDonald Mortgage loan originator with Regions Mortgage
  • Julington Creek Chiropractic & Wellness Center P.A. serving st. johns county for nearly 21 years
  • Future home loans. North Florida's Premier Mortgage Expert Ryan Proffitt
  • Let them know you are open for business! Advertise in our May Issue! Ponta Vedra NewsLine
  • Wild Birds Unlimited Nature shop. Have you watered your birds lately?
  • Creeks Air Conditioning & Heating. We service all makes and models for residential and commerical!
  • Crosswinds Veterinary Hospital. Preventative Medicine and wellness, Surgery, Dentistry, Labs and Imaging, Farm Animal Medicine, In-Patient and Emergency Care
  • Florida Waterways Inc. Your trusted Waterway Advisers
  • JJs Bistro $10 off lunch or dinner
  • Julington Creek Family Dentistry. Implant Cosmetic and Restoration Dentistry. We are following Advanced Safety protocols set forth by CDC, OSHA and ADA guidelines for dental practices
  • Alicia Washington for Circuit Judge
  • Re-elect Mike Orfinger for circuit judge
  • Concrete Works! Free Estimates, driveways, Patios, Walkways, Concrete removal, Driveway extension, Pavers
  • Family Remodeling Contractors! Bath, Kitchen &ADA Remodeling
  • River Garden Senior Services, However and whenever you need us we're here
  • Starlight Gymnastics! Our #1 priority is your children!
  • Chris Strickland for ST Johns county sheriff!
  • Sugar Bear Antique Mall Summer spectacular sale July 10th-12th
  • Baptist Health, Great tools for motherhood
  • A Green Cleaner, Free pickup and delivery to your home!
  • Let them know you are open for business! Advertise in our May Issue!
  • Tailored living Premier Garage solutions
  • Westminster St. Augustine. were here when you need us
  • HarborChase independent & assisted living Memory Care Mandarin. Your safety and peace of mind is always our Top Priority
  • Havana Printing 904-447-5021