1783-1821 - The Return of the Spanish

1783 - The Return of the Spanish

   At this time, Florida was still split into two colonies, East and West Florida. The two Florida colonies remained loyal to Great Britain throughout the Revolutionary War. However, Spain, who was an ally of France, captured Pensacola from the British in 1781.
   In 1783, the signing of The Peace of Paris ended the Revolutionary War and returned all of Florida back to Spanish control, but without specifying the boundaries.

Departure of the British

   When the Florida colonies returned to Spanish control, there occured a nearly complete exodus of the English colonists and the many Tories (British supporting American colonists), who had fled there from the revolted colonies. Together, these groups had made East Florida more populous and prosperous than it had ever been as a Spanish colony. Their departure left much of the Florida territory depopulated and unguarded.

Spanish Reoccupation

   Part of Spain's reoccupation attempt of Florida involved the arrival of officials and soldiers at St. Augustine and Pensacola but very few new settlers.

   The northern lands of Florida continued to be the home of the newly amalgamated Black–Native American Seminole culture.    It had also become a haven for people escaping slavery in the southern states and territories.    Settlers in the Georgia Territory demanded that Spain control the Seminole population and capture any runaway slaves.    Spain, not having the manpower nor likely the desire to handle such operations, responded that the slave owners were welcome to come recapture the runaways themselves.

   The Spanish wanted to retain the expanded northern boundary that Britain had made to West Florida, meanwhile the new United States demanded the lower old boundary at the 31st parallel.    This border dispute was finally resolved in the 1795 Treaty of San Lorenzo, when Spain agreed to the 31st parallel as the northern boundary.

   When the Spanish reclaimed Florida in 1783, their power had weakened considerably. Spain no longer had enough colonists to support a new colony. This forced them to put an end to their policy of requiring all settlers to convert to Catholicism. This allowed many of the English settlers to return to Florida in the early 1800s.

Americans Move Southward

   Around this time, Americans, from Georgia and South Carolina, began moving into the land of northern Florida. Even though it was not allowed by the Spanish authorities, the small Spanish military presence was never able to effectively police the border region.    This opened up the way for a mix of American settlers, escaped slaves, and Native Americans to continue illegally immigrate into Spanish Florida.    The American migrants, mixed with the settlers from Florida's British period. They would become the progenitors of the people known as Florida Crackers.

   In West Florida, these American and British settlers established a permanent foothold during the first decade of the 1800s.    In the summer of 1810, they began plans for a rebellion against the Spanish authority. By September of the same year, these plans turned into open revolt. The settlers overtook the Spanish garrison at Baton Rouge and proclaimed the area as the "Free and Independent Republic of West Florida" on September 23. (Ironically, the area was in what later became the state of Louisiana, not Florida.)    Their flag was the first known use of the "Bonnie Blue Flag", a single white five-pointed star on a blue field.

   On October 27, 1810, most of the area for the Republic of West Florida was annexed by proclamation of President James Madison He claimed that the region was included in the Louisiana Purchase and it was incorporated into the newly formed Territory of Orleans.    Some leaders of the newly declared republic objected to the takeover by the United States government. However, all of them deferred to the arriving American troops by mid-December of 1810.    The Florida Parishes in the modern state of Louisiana include most of the territory that was claimed by the short-lived Republic of West Florida.

   During the War of 1812, Spain allied with Great Britain and the U.S. annexed the Mobile District of West Florida into the Mississippi Territory in May 1812.    In April 1813, the surrender of Spanish forces at Mobile officially established American control over the area, which was later divided between the states of Alabama and Mississippi.

   Meanwhile, in East Florida:    General George Matthews, of the U.S. Army, had been authorized by the U.S. government to secretly negotiate with the Spanish governor for American acquisition of East Florida.    Instead, in March of 1812, General Matthews organized a group of frontiersmen from Georgia, who arrived at the Spanish town of Fernandina and demanded the surrender of all of Amelia Island.    They took control of Amelia Island on the Atlantic coast and declared themselves a republic free from Spanish rule.    After declaring the island a free republic, he led his rag tag group, along with a contingent of U.S. army troops, south towards the Spanish controlled city of St. Augustine.    Upon receiveing word of Matthews' actions, Congress became alarmed that he would provoke war with Spain.    Then Secretary of State James Monroe quickly ordered Matthews to return all captured territory to Spanish authorities.    After several months of negotiations on the withdrawal of the American forces and compensation for their foraging through the countryside, the countries finally came to an agreement and Amelia Island was returned to the Spanish in May 1813.

[Contributors: Jason Brown]

Next Article: 1812 - The War of 1812