Duval county was created on August 12, 1822, by an act of the Legislative Council of the Territory of Florida dividing Florida into four counties, Escambia and Jackson in West Florida, St. Johns and Duval in East Florida. The county was named in honor of General William P. Duval, first civil governor of the Territory of Florida. It was decided that the settlement called Cowford, which had been laid out the previous year and named Jacksonville, should be the county seat.
The history of the county begins with the first attempt at settlement by Europeans within its confines. In 1862, an expedition of French Huguenots, with Admiral Jean Ribault as their leader, entered the mouth of the St. Johns River, called by them the Riviere de le Mai, and set up a marker on the present site of Mayport, claiming this territory for the King of France. This was the first Protestant colony to land in America. The history of early attempts to settle this territory is a long account of war with the Indians and of struggle for supremacy between the Spanish, French and English colonists. It is evident that Duval county has a background of several races. However, very few of the descendants of those early colonists are to be found in the county today, due to the fact that Florida was three times emptied of most of its settlers beause of change of rule from one nationality to another.
England claimed this territory as a part of Carolina by virtue of the discoveries of Cabot and the expedition of Sir Francis Drake in 1586. The Spanish claimed that their northern boundary, by the right of settlement by Menendez, was near Port Royal, South Carolina. From 1702 to 1763 the English from South Carolina and Georgia and the Spaniards from St. Augustine fought in this territory, destroying the Indian villages. In 1763, Fort St. Nicholas on the site of South Jacksonville, Diego on Diego Plains, and an outpost on the present site of Mayport, Spanish settlements, were the only settlements within the present limits of Duval county. On Fort George Island near the mouth of the St. Johns River stands an old house built of "tabby", or oyster shells and lime extracted from the shell, which was erected as barracks for Oglethorpe's soldiers. Oglethorpe, the Englishman who established a colony in Georgia, was a leader in numerous battles against the Spaniards in St. Augustine. Under the Treaty of Paris, November 3, 1762, ratified February 10, 1763, Spain ceded Florida to Great Britain in return for Cuba. After one hundred and ninety-eight years the territory passed from Spanish rule.
In 1763, James Grant, first English governor of Florida, issued a proclamation inviting settlers to come into the new English territory. In 1764, Parliament offered extensive land grants and bounties for the production of indigo, silk and cotton. Dennys Rolle, father of Lord Rolle, obtained a grant of 40,000 acres on the St. Johns River and in 1765, with a hundred families, established a colony at Charlotia or Rollestown, near Dunn's Lake, to the south of Duval county. In 1767, Thomas Philpot, merchant, was granted 10,000 acres on the St. Johns River near Jacksonville. He had a ferry house, a store and a large indigo plantation. Francies Rolfe was granted 8,000 acres farther up the river; Francis Levett was granted 10,000 acres on the east of the river near its junction with Julington Creek; J. Tucker, Esq., had 10,000 acres near the mouth of the river; to the west of Tucker, on the river, J. Cross had 800 acres; J. Beaumier, Esq., had 10,000 acres near Trout Creek; Francis P. Fatio had 800 acres on McGirt's Creek. These were some of the early settlers of Duval county.
In 1783, Great Britain ceded Florida to Spain by the Treaty of Versailles. Again Florida was under Spanish rule, and remained so until 1821 when Spain ceded Florida to the United States. Under Spanish rule Florida was divided into two territories, East Florida and West Florida. The exchange of flags with the United States for East Florida took place at St. Augustine, July 10, 1821; for West Florida at Pensacola, July 17, 1821. Major General Andrew Jackson was appointed military governor and Florida remained under military rule until March 30, 1822, when, by act of Congress, East and West Florida were united and civil government established.
The first governing body of Duval county was a board of four justices, one of whom was the presiding justice. This was called the superior court of Duval county. Its first meeting was in Jacksonville on December 18, 1822, with Thomas Reynolds presidig, William G. Dawson, Rigdon Brown and Britton Knight as associate justices, and George Gibbs as clerk. The court laid off the county into road districts, appointed road supervisors and transacted other business. James Dell was appointed sheriff but was soon superceded by Daniel G. Hart, a brother of Isaiah D. Hart, who laid out Jacksonville. This was the first official transaction of business in Duval county. The first Session of the court was held under the trees in the open air on the corner of Market and Forsyth Streets in Jacksonville, Monday, December 1, 1823, with Judge Joseph L. Smith presiding. Over 200 people were present to witness this public occasion. Judge Smith was the father of General Edmund Kirby-Smith who became famous during the War between the States. The first grand jury was drawn and impanelled December 2, 1823. In 1823, the Legislative Council of the Territory of Florida made certain changes in the law, but it was not until 1824 that hte law vested the justices with powers similar to those of the present justices of the peace. They had jurisdiction over probate matters, over the police of the county, and performed the duties of county supervisors (similar to the presenty county commissioners). The first appointments under this new law were made December 20, 1824, as follows: John L. Dogett, presiding, F. Bethune and John Houston, associates. Minutes of this early court are still preserved. The superior court held two or three terms over John Warren's store at the corner of Bay and Newman Streets in Jacksonville. The upper floor consisted of one room which was very unsuitable as there were no sash windows to keep out the wind and rain.
In 1823, John L. Doggett contracted with the county to build a courhouse. John Brady gave a lot for the purpoe, located where the present courthouse stands, on the corner of Forsyth and Market Streets. The building, facing south, was erected in the summer of 1825, and was a two-story structure forty feet square, with a basement ten feet deep. Seymour Pickett framed the building. When he had finished the laying out and framing of the courthouse, the inhabitants of the county voluntarily fathered, and under his direction, reaised it in two days. The building, however, was not completed for several years. in 1826 the basement was roofed over and court was held here when the weather was good; or else in the hall over John Warren's place. About 1828-9, the framing was boarded in and the roof added. The temporary hewn timbers supporting the construction were removed and brick pillars of great size and strength were built and the building leveled. In front was a long broad porico supported by brick pillars and board steps led up to it from the ground. It was known far and wide as the best constructed building in this part of the country. County authorities had considerable difficulty in raising funds for the completion of the courthouse. It was finally completed in the early 1840's, with funds derived from a scrip issue. This building was burned by the Federal troops on the evacuation of Jacksonville, March 29, 1863. Many court records were burned and destroyed during the War between the States. According to Davis' History of Jacksonville, Florida and Vicinity, Jacksonville was occupied by Federal forces continuously from February 7, 1864, until the spring of 1869. Duval county was in no condition financially to erect any public buildings, and every public office was housed the best way it could be by the individual holder thereof. Exactly where court convened and records were kept cannot be determined because of the destruction of the records covering this period. Prior to the War between the States, the United States courts and officials used the facilities of the state and county government for the transaction of their public business, and ity is quite possible that during this later period the practice was reversed. Old citizens state that county officials were scattered in various locations, either on Pine, now Main Street or on Bay Street between Hogan and Market Streets. Most of the county administration was carried on wherever the office of the county clerk was located. Sometime between 1870 and 1880, the offices of the county clerk and the county judge were permanently located in a small brick building on the corner of Market and Forsyth Streets. The records of county clerk and of the criminal court of record remained in this old building until its destruction in the Jacksonville fire of 1901. Duval county completed its next ourthouse in 1886, on the site of the former structure. This building had the tall tower and clock so characteristic of courthouse buildings of this period. The walls were exceptionally thick, of native brick faced with Philadelphia pressed brick. After destruction of the courthouse in the first of 1901, court was held temporarily in the Mason building on the present site of the Mayflower Hotel. In 1902, the present courthouse was completed from the proceeds of a bond issue. A three-story annex was added in 1916.
The boundaries of Duval county have not been changed since February 15, 1875, when a slight chane was made between Duval and St. Johns counties. The original boundaries of Duvl county were: "that part of East Florida lying north of the river St. Johns, and north of a line commencing at a place called the Cowford, on said river, and terminating at the mouth of the Suwaney river" (Acts of the Legislative Council, 1822, pp. 3-6). In 1824, Nassau county was created from the northern part of Duval county, and Alachua county was created from the western part. In 1861, another slight change was made. The present boundaries are "a line beginning at the mouth of the Nassau River; thence up the main stream of said river of the run of Thomas Swamp; thence up the run of said swamp to where it would intersect the prolongation of a line drawn from the southwest corner of Township One, north of Range twenty-five East, to the southwest corner of Township Two, south of Range twenty-three East; thence along said last mentioned line in a southwest course to where the extension would intersect the boundary line of Baker County; thence along said line to the dividing line between Townships Three and Four; thence east along said line to the St. Johns River; thence along said river and boundary line of Clay County to the boundary line of St. Johns County; thence along sad boundary line to the Atlantic Ocean; thence along the Atlantic Ocean to the point beginning" (sec. 23, R. G. S., Fla., 1920).
Today, Duval county may be described as bounded on the north by the Nassau River and Nassau county; on the west by Baker county; on the south by Clay and St. Johns counties; and on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and Jacksonville Beach. It is one of Florida's most thickly populated counties, having by the state census of 1935 a pupulation of 175,204.
Davis, T. Frederick. History of Jacksonville, Florida and Vicinity, 513 pp. Maps and Illus trations. Jacksonville, Fla. 1926. The Florida Historical Society.
Fairbanks, G. R. History of Florida. 350 pp. Philadelphia, Pa. 1871. J. B. Lippincott and Company.
Gold, Pleasant Daniel. History of Duval County, Florida. 693 pp. Maps and illustrations, biographies of men and women who have done their part in making Duval county. St. Augustine, Fla. 1928. The Record Company.
Webb, Wanton S. Historical, Industrial and Biographical Florida. part I. 206 pp. Illustrated. New York, N. Y. 1885. W. A. Webb and Company.
Acts of the Legislative Council, 1822
Revised General Statutes of Florida, 1920.
Masters, Catherine. "History of Duval County". 6 pp. 1937.
Bigelow, Lee Eugene. "Research Report on Duval County". 4 pp. 1937.
Inventory of the County Archives of Florida, prepared by Historical Records Survey, State Archives Survey, Division of Women's and Professional Projects, Works Progress Administration, No. 16 DUVAL COUNTY (Jacksonville), Jacksonville, Florida, Historical Record Survey, State Archives Survey, February 1938, 185 pp., pp. 4-7.