West Florida

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West Florida
Territory of Great Britain (1763–83), Spain (1783–1821). Areas disputed between Spain and the United States from 1783–1821.







Flag of West Florida


Location of West Florida
British West Florida in 1767.
Capital Pensacola (1763)
 •  1763 George Johnstone
 •  Treaty of Paris February 10, 1763
 •  Transferred to Spain 1783
 •  Treaty of San Lorenzo 1795
 •  Treaty of San Ildefonso 1800
 •  Republic of West Florida 1810
 •  Annexation by U.S. October 27, 1810


West Florida (Spanish: Florida Occidental) was a region on the north shore of the Gulf of Mexico, which underwent several boundary and sovereignty changes during its history. The province was established by the British in 1763 out of lands ceded from the Spanish and French. As its name suggests, it was formed out of the Western part of formerly Spanish Florida (East Florida formed the eastern part), along with lands taken from French Louisiana; West Florida's capital was Pensacola. The colony included most of what is now the Florida Panhandle, plus parts of the modern U.S. states of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

Great Britain established West and East Florida out of land taken from France and Spain after the French and Indian War. As the newly acquired territory was too large to govern from one administrative center, the British divided it into two new colonies separated by the Apalachicola River. British West Florida's government was based in Pensacola; and the colony included the part of formerly Spanish Florida which lay west of the Apalachicola, plus parts of formerly French Louisiana. It thus comprised all territory between the Mississippi and Apalachicola Rivers, with a northern boundary which shifted several times over the subsequent years.

Both West and East Florida remained loyal to the British crown during the American Revolution, and served as havens for Tories fleeing from the Thirteen Colonies. Spain invaded West Florida and captured Pensacola in 1781, and after the war Britain ceded both Floridas to Spain. However, the lack of defined boundaries led to a series of border disputes between Spanish West Florida and the fledgling United States known as the West Florida Controversy. Disagreements with the Spanish government led American and English settlers between the Mississippi and Perdido Rivers to declare that area the independent Republic of West Florida in 1810. This was soon annexed by the United States, which claimed the region as part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. In 1819 the United States negotiated the purchase of the remainder of West Florida and all of East Florida in the Adams–Onís Treaty, and in 1822 both were merged into the Florida Territory.


The area known as West Florida was originally claimed by Spain as part of La Florida, which included most of what is now the southeastern United States. Spain made several attempts to conquer and colonize the area, notably including Tristán de Luna's short-lived settlement in 1559, but permanent settlement did not occur until the 17th century, with the establishment of missions to the Apalachee. In 1698 the settlement of Pensacola was established in order to check French expansion into the area.

Beginning in the late 17th century the French established settlements in the region as part of colonial Louisiana, notably including Mobile (1702) and Fort Toulouse (1717) in present-day Alabama.[1] After years of contention the Perdido River (the modern border between Florida and Alabama) was agreed upon as the boundary between French Louisiana and Spanish Florida.[2]

In the treaty negotiations concluding the French and Indian War (Seven Years' War), France ceded to Britain the part of Louisiana east of the Mississippi River, notably excluding the Île d'Orléans, which included New Orleans. This transfer was in exchange for Cuba, which the British had captured during the war. As a result, for the next two decades, the British controlled nearly all of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico east of the Mississippi River.[1] Most of the Spanish population left Florida at that time, and its colonial government records were relocated to Havana, Cuba.

A separate treaty transferred the rest of French Louisiana to Spain.

Colonial period

A 1903 map showing the territorial changes of "West Florida"

British era

Finding this new territory too large to govern as one unit, the British divided it into two new colonies, West Florida and East Florida, separated by the Apalachicola River, as set forth in the Royal Proclamation of 1763. East Florida consisted of most of the formerly Spanish Florida, and retained the old Spanish capital of St. Augustine. West Florida comprised the land between the Mississippi and Apalachicola Rivers, with Pensacola designated as its capital. The northern boundary was arbitrarily set at the 31st parallel north.[1]

Many English Americans and Scotch-Irish Americans moved to the territory at this time. The Governor of West Florida in November 1763 was George Johnstone; his lieutenant governor, Montfort Browne, was a major landowner in the province who heavily promoted its development. Seven General Assemblies were convoked between 1766 and 1778.[3][4]

In 1764, the British moved the northern boundary to the 32° 22′ north latitude, extending from the Yazoo to the Chattahoochee River, which included the Natchez District and the Tombigbee District.[5] The appended area included approximately the lower half of the present states of Mississippi and Alabama. Many new settlers arrived in the wake of the British garrison, swelling the population. In 1774 the First Continental Congress sent letters inviting West Florida to send delegates, but this proposal was declined as the inhabitants were overwhelmingly Loyalist. During the American War of Independence the Governor of West Florida was Peter Chester. The commander of British forces during the war was John Campbell. The colony was attacked in 1778 by the Willing Expedition.

Spanish era

Spain entered the American Revolutionary War on the side of France and the United States. Bernardo de Gálvez, governor of Spanish Louisiana, led a military campaign along the Gulf Coast, capturing Baton Rouge and Natchez from the British in 1779, Mobile in 1780, and Pensacola in 1781.

In the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the war, the British agreed to a boundary between the United States and West Florida at 31° north latitude between the Mississippi and Apalachicola Rivers. Britain also ceded both Florida provinces back to Spain, which continued to maintain them as separate colonies. However, the treaty did not specify the boundaries, sparking the West Florida Controversy. Spain claimed the expanded 1764 boundary, while the United States claimed that the boundary was at the 31st parallel. Negotiations in 1785–1786 between John Jay and Don Diego de Gardoqui failed to reach a satisfactory conclusion. The border was finally resolved in 1795 by the Treaty of San Lorenzo, in which Spain recognized the 31st parallel as the boundary.

In the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso of 1800, Spain returned Louisiana to France; however, the boundaries were not specified. After France sold the Louisiana Purchase to the United States in 1803, another boundary dispute erupted. The United States laid claim to the territory from the Perdido River to the Mississippi River, which the Americans believed had been a part of the old province of Louisiana when the French had ceded it in 1763. The Spanish insisted that they had administered that portion as the province of West Florida and that it was not part of the territory returned to France in 1800.[6]

Republic of West Florida

The Bonnie Blue Flag of the Republic of West Florida.

The United States and Spain held long, inconclusive negotiations on the status of West Florida. In the meantime, American settlers established a foothold in the area and resisted Spanish control. British settlers, who had remained, also resented Spanish rule, leading to a rebellion in 1810 and the establishment for 74 days of the Republic of West Florida.

On September 23, 1810, after meetings beginning in June, rebels overcame the Spanish garrison at Baton Rouge and unfurled the flag of the new republic: a single white star on a blue field. This flag was made by Melissa Johnson, wife of Major Isaac Johnson, the commander of the West Florida Dragoons. It would later become known as the "Bonnie Blue Flag".[7]

The boundaries of the Republic of West Florida included all territory south of the 31st parallel, west of the Pearl River, and east of the Mississippi River, but north of Lake Pontchartrain. The southern boundary was the Gulf of Mexico.

American annexation of the territory

West Florida circa 1810, today divided among three states.

On October 27, 1810, U.S. President James Madison proclaimed the annexation of the Republic of West Florida, based on a tenuous claim that it was part of the Louisiana Purchase.[8] (See The U.S. claim, below.) The West Florida government opposed annexation, preferring to negotiate terms to join the Union. President Fulwar Skipwith proclaimed that he was ready to "die in defense of the Lone Star flag."[9] William C. C. Claiborne was sent to take possession of the territory, entering the capital of St. Francisville with his forces on December 6, 1810, and Baton Rouge on December 10, 1810. Claiborne refused to recognize the legitimacy of the West Florida government, however, and Skipwith and the legislature eventually agreed to accept Madison's proclamation. The portion of the territory west of the Pearl River was incorporated into the newly formed Territory of Orleans on April 14, 1812.[10]

On February 12, 1812, Congress secretly authorized President James Madison to take possession of the portion of West Florida located west of the Perdido River that was not already in the possession of the United States with authorization to use military and naval force as deemed necessary.[11] The U.S. annexed the Mobile District of West Florida to the Mississippi Territory on May 14, 1812,[12][13] although this decision was not effected with military force until nearly a year later. (See Major Gen. James Wilkinson's role). According to one historian, "The incorporation of West Florida into the Orleans district represents the emergence of infant American imperialism by the newly constructed union. Using force, not negotiations, Claiborne and his army, with Madison's proclamation, forced Skipwith and his sympathizers to accept foreign rule."[14]

The U.S. claim

By the secret treaty of October 1, 1800, between France and Spain, known as the St. Ildefonso treaty,[15] Spain returned to France the province of Louisiana as at that time possessed by Spain, and such as it was when France last possessed it in 1769.[16]p 48

It is important that in the transfer of Louisiana to the United States, the identical language in Article 3 of the 1800 St. Ildefonso treaty was used. The ambiguity in this third article lent itself to the purpose of U.S. envoy James Monroe, although he had to adopt an interpretation that France had not asserted nor Spain allowed.[17]p 83 Monroe examined each clause of the third article and interpreted the first clause as if Spain since 1783 had considered West Florida as part of Louisiana. The second clause only served to render the first clause clearer. The third clause referred to the treaties of 1783 and 1795, and was designed to safeguard the rights of the United States. This clause then simply gave effect to the others.[17]p 84-85

According to Monroe, France never dismembered Louisiana while it was in her possession. (He regarded November 3, 1762, as the termination date of French possession, rather than 1769, when France formally delivered Louisiana to Spain). After 1783 Spain reunited West Florida to Louisiana, Monroe held, thus completing the province as France possessed it, with the exception of those portions controlled by the United States. By a strict interpretation of the treaty, therefore, Spain might be required to cede to the United States such territory west of the Perdido as once belonged to France.[17]p 84-85

Counters to the U.S. claim

  1. As part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase treaty, France repeated verbatim Article 3 of its 1800 treaty with Spain, thus expressly subrogating the United States to the rights of France and Spain.[18]p 288-291
  2. In 1800, denominated Louisiana did not include West Florida.[18]p 288-291
  3. Spain in all negotiations with France refused to cede any part of Florida.[18]p 288-291
  4. In 1801 Spain informed the Spanish governors in North America that the territory ceded to France did not include West Florida.[17]p 87-88
  5. In Spanish government ordinances and treaties, the Floridas were always specified as distinct from all other Spanish possessions.[16]p 49-50
  6. France’s 1801 Treaty of Aranjuez with Spain stipulated the cession of Louisiana to be a "restoration," not a retrocession.[16]p 50-52
  7. France never gave any part of Florida to Spain, so Spain could not give it back.[16]p 50-52
  8. In the time Spain held the Floridas, they were always called the Floridas and never referred to as a portion of Louisiana. Treaties between United States and Spain also called them the Floridas.[16]p 50-52
  9. In 1803 France began negotiating with Spain to acquire West and East Florida, confirming that France did not consider West Florida to have already been acquired.[16]p 50-52
  10. During his negotiations with France, U.S. envoy Robert Livingston wrote nine reports to Madison in which he stated that West Florida was not in the possession of France.[16]p 43-44
  11. President Jefferson asked U.S. officials in the border area for advice on the limits of Louisiana, the best informed of whom did not believe it included West Florida.[17]p 87-88
  12. When Louisiana was formally delivered to the United States, the U.S. did not demand possession of West Florida.[17]p 97-100
  13. In the summer of 1804, when the United States and Spain appealed to France to influence the treaty interpretation, Napoleon strongly sided with Spain.[17]p 109-110
  14. In November 1804, in response to Livingston, France declared the American claim to West Florida absolutely unfounded.[17]p 113-116
  15. In January 1805, the French and Spanish ambassadors jointly informed Madison that the American claim to West Florida was untenable. Madison pointed to pre-1763 maps that showed West Florida as part of the former French Louisiana territory. The French ambassador pointed out to Madison’s dismay that the same applied to Tennessee and Kentucky.[17]p 116-117
  16. Upon the failure of Monroe’s 1804-1805 special mission, Madison was ready to abandon the American claim to West Florida altogether.[17]p 118
  17. In 1805, Monroe’s last proposition to Spain to obtain West Florida was absolutely rejected.[18]p 293
  18. In an 1809 letter, Jefferson virtually admitted that West Florida was not a possession of the United States.[16]p 46-47
  19. The U.S. title to the Louisiana territory was itself a vitiated title by virtue of the 1800 France-Spain treaty.[16]p 46
  20. General Andrew Jackson personally accepted the delivery of West Florida from its Spanish governor on July 17, 1821.[19]

Later history and legacy

The Spanish continued to dispute the annexation of the western parts of its West Florida colony, but their power in the region was too weak to do anything about it. They continued administering the remainder of the colony (between the Perdido and Apalachicola Rivers) from the capital at Pensacola.

On February 22, 1819, Spain and the United States signed the Adams-Onís Treaty. In this treaty Spain ceded both West and East Florida to the United States in exchange for compensation and the renunciation of American claims to Texas.[20] Following ratification by Spain on October 24, 1820 and the United States on February 19, 1821, the treaty took effect, thereby establishing the current boundaries.

President James Monroe was authorized on March 3, 1821 to take possession of East Florida and West Florida for the United States and provide for initial governance.[21] As a result, the U.S. military took over and governed both Floridas with Andrew Jackson serving as governor. The United States soon organized the Florida Territory on March 30, 1822, by combining East Florida and the rump West Florida east of the Perdido River and establishing a territorial government;[22] it was admitted to the Union as a state on March 3, 1845.[23]

West Florida had an effect on choosing the location of Florida's current capital. At first, the Florida Territorial Legislative Council determined to rotate between the historical capitals of Pensacola and St. Augustine. The first legislative session was held at Pensacola on July 22, 1822; this required delegates from St. Augustine to travel 59 days by sea to attend. To get to the second session in St. Augustine, Pensacola members traveled 28 days over land. During this session, the council decided future meetings should be held at a half-way point to reduce the distance; eventually Tallahassee, site of an Apalachee settlement in the early 18th century, was selected as a half-way point between the former capitals of East and West Florida.[24]

The portions of West Florida now located in Louisiana are known as the Florida Parishes. The Republic of West Florida Historical Museum is located in Jackson, Louisiana, run by the Republic of West Florida Historical Association.[25] In 1991 a lineage society, The Sons & Daughters of the Province & Republic of West Florida 1763-1810, was founded for the descendants of settlers of the period. Its objective included "collect and preserve records, documents and relics pertaining to the history and genealogy of West Florida prior to December 7, 1810".[26] In 1993, the Louisiana State Legislature renamed Interstate 12, the full length of which is contained in the Florida Parishes, as the "Republic of West Florida Parkway." In 2002, Leila Lee Roberts, a great-granddaughter of Fulwar Skipwith, donated the original copy of the constitution of the West Florida Republic and the supporting papers to the Louisiana State Archives.[citation needed]


Governors under British rule:

Governors under Spanish rule:

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Gannon, p. 134.
  2. Gannon, p. 122.
  3. The South in the Revolution, 1763-1789 - John Richard Alden - Google Books
  4. Florida
  5. The National Archives (British), Discussion of the Privy Council. PC 1/59/5/1
  6. Text of the Adams-Onis Treaty, 1819, at The Avalon Project. Accessed October 27, 2011. See footnote 1.
  7. Confederate National and Bonnie Blue Flags.
  8. "Proclamation 16 - Taking Possession of Part of Louisiana (Annexation of West Florida)"
  9. See inserted "Bonnie Blue Flag" image. The Republic of West Florida was also known as the Lone Star Republic.[citation needed]
  10. "An Act to enlarge the limits of the state of Louisiana"
  11. "An Act authorizing the President of the United States to take possession of a tract of country lying south of the Mississippi territory and west of the river Perdido"
  12. Tucker, Spencer C. (1993). The Jeffersonian Gunboat Navy. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 0-87249-849-2. p. 101
  13. "An Act to enlarge the boundaries of the Mississippi territory"
  14. Scallions, Cody (Fall 2011). "The Rise and Fall of the Original Lone Star State: Infant American Imperialism Ascendant in West Florida". The Florida Historical Quarterly. 90 (2): 193–220.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Treaty of San Ildefonso : October 1, 1800". The Avalon Project. Yale Law School. Retrieved November 16, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 16.5 16.6 16.7 16.8 Chambers, Henry E. (May 1898). "West Florida and its relation to the historical cartography of the United States" (PDF). Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 17.5 17.6 17.7 17.8 17.9 Cox, Isaac Joslin (1918). The West Florida Controversy, 1798-1813 – a Study in American Diplomacy. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 Curry, J. L. M. (April 1888). "The Acquisition of Florida". Magazine of American History. XIX: 286–301.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Ireland, Gordon (1941). Boundaries, possessions, and conflicts in Central and North America and the Caribbean. New York: Octagon Books. p. 298.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Britannica Online entry "Transcontinental Treaty
  21. "An Act for carrying into execution the treaty between the United States and Spain, concluded at Washington on the twenty-second day of February, one thousand eight hundred and nineteen"
  22. "An Act for the establishment of a territorial government in Florida"
  23. "An Act for the admission of the States of Iowa and Florida into the Union"
  24. Gannon, Michael V. (1993). Florida: A Short History. University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1167-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. The Republic of West Florida Historical Museum
  26. Objectives and Purpose


  • Arthur, Stanley Clisby (1935). The Story of the West Florida Rebellion. St. Francisville, LA: St. Francisville Democrat. ISBN 1885480474.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Bice, David (2004). The Original Lone Star Republic: Scoundrels, Statesmen and Schemers of the 1810 West Florida Rebellion. Jacksonville: Heritage Publishing Consultants. ISBN 1-891647-81-4. OCLC 56994640.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Cox, Isaac Joslin (1918). The West Florida Controversy, 1798-1813: A Study in American Diplomacy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. OCLC 479174.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Gannon, Michael (1996). The New History of Florida. University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1415-8.
  • McMichael, Andrew (Spring 2002). "The Kemper 'Rebellion': Filibustering and Resident Anglo-American Loyalty in Spanish West Florida". Louisiana History. 43 (2): 140.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • McMichael, Andrew (2008). Atlantic Loyalties: Americans in Spanish West Florida, 1785–1810. University of Georgia Press. ISBN 978-0-8203-3004-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Scallions, Cody (2011). "The Rise and Fall of the Original Lone Star State: Infant American Imperialism Ascendant in West Florida". Florida Historical Quarterly. 90 (2).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • West Florida Collection, Center for Southeast Louisiana Studies, Linus A. Sims Memorial Library, Southeastern Louisiana University, Hammond. For a summary of the holdings see http://www.selu.edu/acad_research/programs/csls/historical_collections/archival_collections/t_z/wfla_coll.html.

External links

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