Wednesday, January 04, 2012

East and West Florida: The Two Colonies Which Rejected Independence

Early on in school American students learn about how the Thirteen Colonies united against cruel English rule to become the independent United States of America.  Later on in schooling students learn about Loyalists, those Americans who stayed loyal to the British crown and even fought against independence.  Some students are even lucky enough to learn about how Canada was different from the Thirteen Colonies and how Georgia did not send delegates to the First Continental Congress because of Georgia's status with ex-convicts populating the colony (this soon changed and Georgia was allowed in for more famous the Second Continental Congress).  But through all this the thirteen, unified colonies are shown as an example in schools of all real Americans (not pro-British elites) and all of America uniting together to make the United States of America.

This idea of American Revolutionary history is captured with maps showing the Thirteen Colonies.

The way Americans like to think of colonial America: thirteen colonies destined to be thirteen states.
The myth of the thirteen American colonies ignores a historical geographic reality: there were Fifteen Colonies.  The Spanish colony of Florida was ceded over to the United Kingdom at the end of the French and Indian War in 1763 in exchange for Spain receiving all French North America lands west of the Mississippi River and New Orleans.  The British in turn broke the Florida up into two colonies: East Florida, capital St. Augustine, and West Florida, capital Pensacola.  The native Spanish population willingly left the Floridas and settled primarily in Cuba. They were replaced by a small population of British merchants and settlers.  Both colonies had active, productive, and life sustaining ties with British colony companies based in London. 

Because of these factors the Floridas were very Loyalist.  West Florida even rejected an offer to participate in the First Continental Congress (remember, Georgia was not even invited).  Effigies of John Adams and John Hancock were burned in St. Augustine when news of the Declaration of Independence reached the colony.

One of the reason Americans know little about the two extra colonies is that these colonies were not added to the United States after the Revolutionary War.  Spain reconquered both Floridas with the Gulf Coast Campaign from 1779 to 1781.  After Spain reestablished control most Loyalist Americans left for Canada or the Bahamas and they in turn were replaced with Spaniards (who do not fit the mold of an "American colonist").  Spanish control of Florida was not done away with until America claimed West Florida as part of the Lousiana Purchase in 1810 and East Florida with Andrew Jackson's 1818 and the Adams-Onis Treaty in 1819.

Today Loyalist Florida is ignored in most history books and maps of the Revolutionary War.  Florida is either ignored or even shown as belonging to Spain during the war.  However, its existence was real and it is a reminder that not all of America choose to side for independence during the Revolutionary War.  It also sadly reflects American thoughts on who was an American back then.


Matt said...

Interesting -- how many British people actually lived in the Floridas at that time?

Catholicgauze said...

I will see if I can get any numbers. There were two waves of White settlement. The first wave was mostly from other American colonies and some from Britain. The second wave was right before the Revolution with Loyalist frontiersmen moving away from the more rebellious frontiersmen.