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Samuel Ashe Swann Papers

Identifier: Ms 098

Scope and Content

The Swann Papers contain ledgers, letter books, tax certificates, deeds, and account books that document the state's growth through six decades. His business enterprises, which were varied, extensive, and long-term, provide researchers with an in-depth look at a cross-section of business activity, particularly in the areas of railroad speculation, the opening of public lands, encouragement of immigration, and extraction of natural resources. They also cover the disruption of the Civil War and Florida's rapid development during the Gilded Age. In chronological sequence, the Swann papers can be divided into four major sections: Swann's early dealings and investment in the Florida Railroad; his struggle to save his investments during the Civil War and his efforts to overcome the Federal blockade of Florida; his activities in post-war Florida; and his latter activities as Florida left the Gilded Age and embarked on its Progressive era.

Swann's papers contain an extensive file of business records - correspondence, invoices, indentures for labor, arrangements for carrying lumber, naval stores, and agricultural products - that document the progress of the Florida Railroad company between 1855 and 1860. Correspondence between Swann and Yulee, which was to last until Yulee's death, traces the ordeals of the two families as they tried to maintain their investments and engaged in various enterprises on behalf of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Swann's account books and correspondence take on a new character as a result of the Federal blockade against southern shipping. He played a crucial role in attempts to elude the blockade, traveling to Cuba to arrange for shipments of provisions to Florida and working on methods for exporting cargos of cotton. His incoming correspondence during this time period contains countless certificates of the sale of property for taxes as Northern investors pulled out of Florida and Southerners lost their homes. The letter books of the late 1860's reflect the despair and confusion of Southerners as the war came ended in their defeat. Money was scarce during that time, and the establishment of a system of currency was a major topic of discussion in his letters.

The letter books in this collection are sorted by major activity or business and are then arranged chronologically. Loose papers are arranged chronologically.


  • 1838-1925



The collection is open for research. The entire collection has been filmed and researchers are asked to use the microfilm version, as the condition of the originals, particularly the letterbooks, is very poor.

Biographical/Historical Note

Samuel Ashe Swann was born May 20, 1832 in Pittsboro, Moore County, North Carolina. The Swann family spent each spring and summer in Moore County running their cotton plantation and the fall and winter in Wilmington, North Carolina, on their rice plantation. One of nine children, Swann sought his fortune in Florida when he moved to Fernandina in November 1855 at age 23. He came to North Florida to be the accountant for Finegan and Company, the firm contracted to build the Florida Railroad. In 1859, he married Martha R. Travere of St. Augustine in a ceremony at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Fernandina, a church in which he was a founding member. The Swanns resided in Fernandina until 1862 when the town was captured by Union troops. As an avowed supporter of the Confederacy, Swann evacuated to Gainesville, remaining there until the close of the war, and then returning to Fernandina in 1867. Fernandina continued to be Swann's home until his death on August 26, 1909.

Swann was instrumental in initiating and furthering the growth of commerce and business in Florida. When Swann first reached Florida in 1855, he found a wilderness with population centers restricted to the coastal settlements. (The population in 1850, five years after statehood, was 87,445.) The state's Internal Improvement Act was less than a year old and investors and promoters were busily engaged in establishing rights of way for a system of railroads through available federal land. Within this context, the Florida Railroad, incorporated in 1853, initiated plans for a cross-peninsula rail service to connect the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Just as the new rail route neared completion, however, the Civil War, however, intervened to halt commercial activity. Only a few months after the bed for the railroad was finished, Florida seceded from the Union. In 1862, when Union forces occupied Fernandina, Swann moved the headquarters of the Florida Railroad Company to Gainesville. David Levy Yulee, president of the company, and Florida's first U.S. Senator, also left Fernandina for Gainesville, where he bought and managed a plantation 60 miles outside the town. Swann remained in Gainesville as an agent for a lumber firm until 1867.

Following the war, Swann returned to Fernandina and pursued further business interests. The years 1870 to 1881 saw a period of great growth as immigration inflated the need for land transactions in Florida. Swann became a private land agent, working for firms such as the Florida Land and Immigration Company and the Florida Town Improvement Company to negotiate land deals; but probably his most important role during this time period was as a special agent for Florida's Internal Improvement Trust Fund. He was appointed in 1877 to negotiate the sale of three million acres of state lands. The sale was necessary because of the bankrupt condition of the State's railroads, especially the Florida Railroad Company. Although the final sale was to American investors, the correspondence documents extensive negotiations with British investors. These negotiations include proposals for a cross Florida ship canal, a project that would bedevil Florida politics and emerge again and again, in one form or another, well into the state's twentieth century history.


28 Linear feet (127 microfilm reels; 24 boxes and 144 volumes)

Language of Materials



Samuel Ashe Swann's ledgers, letter books, tax certificates, deeds, and account books document Florida's growth in the 19th century. Swann was a real estate speculator, developer, and railroad business man.

Physical Location

University of Florida Smathers Library Building

Acquisition Information

Gift of Elizabeth Swann Carroll.

Alternate Form of Material

Digital reproductions of items in the Swann collection are available online via the University of Florida Digital Collections (UFDC). Please read the Permissions for Use statement for information on copyright, fair use, and use of UFDC digital objects.

The entire collection has been filmed and researchers are encouraged to use the microfilm version, as the condition of the originals, particularly the letter books, is very poor.

Related Material

The University of Florida also holds the papers of David Levy Yulee and the records of the Fernandina Dock and Realty Company.

A Guide to the Samuel Ashe Swann Papers
Finding aid created by Dept. Staff
September 2010
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared Using Dacs
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida Repository

George A. Smathers Libraries
PO Box 117005
Gainesville Florida 32611-7005 United States of America