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History of English Florida
By Jerry Wilkinson
As time passed, the English and
the French threatened Spanish Florida. Before the Treaty of Paris with
the English in 1763, the French threatened Spanish Pensacola. The English
threatened St. Augustine to the east. In 1702, Carolina Governor Moire
(English) made a significant sea attack against St. Augustine, but had
to go back by land, as the Spanish fleet from Havana blocked his escape
Later, Georgia Governor James
Oglethorpe (English) sailed up the St. Johns River in 1740 and took two
small Florida forts. The Spanish retaliated with an offensive in 1741.
They captured English ships and plundered plantations on the Georgia and
Again, in September 1742, General Oglethorpe attacked St.
Augustine, but was repelled. Oglethorpe then moved down the coast for another
attack, but his fleet was scattered by a storm. Why so many naval attacks
were attempted in September after 200 years of being repeatedly aborted
by hurricanes at that time of year is not understood.
Back to the Treaty of Paris
in 1763. To set the stage for the year 1763, other comparison chronological
events were: the end of the Seven Year's War; Voltaire wrote his "Treatise
on Tolerance," Mozart at age seven was touring Europe and the first Chambers
of Commerce were established in New York and New Jersey.
The British armada had captured
Havana in the summer of 1762, but apparently had little use for it. She
had the 13 colonies to Florida's north. Spain had less use for Florida
than her center of New World commerce (Havana), so Florida was traded to
England for Havana. In about four months of negotiation in Paris, 250 years
of Spanish rule of Florida was ended. The English traded Havana for Florida.
At this time, Florida extended
as far north as the Yazoo River on the Mississippi River. Small settlements
at St. Marks, Mobile, New Orleans, Manchac and Natchez existed and Pensacola
and St. Augustine were still the largest. Florida was too large to govern
as one colony so England divided Florida into two colonies. East Florida
was under Governor James Grant and West Florida under George Firestone.
England's Major Ogilvie was in charge of East Florida affairs at St. Augustine
and Don Elixio de la Puente was the Spanish agent in charge of Spanish
goods and properties remaining in East Florida.
Spain's Don Elixio insisted that
the 1763 treaty only transferred the mainland of Florida, and not the Florida
Keys, to England. His argument was that the Keys ("Los Martires") were
"Norte Havana" and parts of Cuba, not Florida. Ogilvie, knowing of the
ambiguity of the treaty, said the Keys would be occupied anyway and defended
as part of English East Florida. When reading Spanish, Spain owned the
"Keys" continously from 1513 to 1821.
Neither country did much complaining,
neither made much use of the Keys, and neither really contested the other's
claim. Havana did issue licenses to its fishermen, which the English
called passports, to fish in the Keys. It appears that both countries principal
concern was that the other would build forts and attempt to control the
Bahama Channel shipping lane. Later (1822) the United States did not make
the same mistake as it dispatched the schooner Shark to plant the U.S.
flag at Key West to make it clear that the Keys were U.S. property. This
ambiguity may be the reason that there were no English land grants in the
On the mainland, the English
government gave generous land grants and the Floridians (except the Indians)
prospered as never before. New Smyrna Beach, founded by Dr. Turnbull and
named after his Greek wife, is probably the best known new settlement of
this English era (1767). Denys Rolles also formed an early English settlement
known today as Palatka.
The Keys were only affected indirectly. For example, the British
warship H.M.S. Carysfort in 1770 ran aground (She did not sink.) on the
reef now named Carysfort Reef. George Gault, surveying eastward from the
Mississippi River for the British, surveyed most of the Florida Keys in
1774. His charts and notes are an important part of Keys history. He did
not return the following year due to the Revolutionary War scare. No known
English land grants or settlements were made in the Keys.
It is significant to mention
that the two English Florida colonies did not join their 13 sister colonies
in the American Revolution of 1776. They were probably too small, too new
and undeveloped to shed their mother country's apron strings. In fact,
in 1776, when the news of the Declaration of Independence reached St. Augustine,
the townspeople burned Hancock and Adams in effigy. Three signers of the
Declaration of Independence, Arthur Middleton, Edward Rutledge and Thomas
Heyward, were later held captive in the English prison at St. Augustine.
As a trivia item, Florida celebrated its first 4th of July in 1822 after
it became a U.S. territory.
During and after the American
Revolution, many English Loyalists in the 13 Colonies wished to remain
under the English Crown. Some went directly to the Bahamas and others came
to Florida, which was still English.
The Florida native Indians
were being pushed out by everyone, including the invading Creek Indians
from the north. The white man was pushing the Creeks out of their native
lands to their north and east. The Creeks spread as far south as the Keys.
A band of 48 Uchise attacked a group of nine Spaniards in Key West on February
28, 1762. Eventually, all Creek and other Indians in Florida were called
The Spanish in Cuba made several
attempts to rescue the native Florida Indians. They were taken to Cuba
where many died of disease, or reportedly returned to Florida. The last
major exodus reportedly took place in 1763, when some at St. Augustine
and Key West departed by ship to Havana. Although it is credible that some
intermarried or were adopted by the Creek, this was the theoretical end
of the native Florida Indian. The whites and the newly named Seminoles
from the north had taken over.
In 1783, with the Revolutionary
War ended, England was forced to give up a large part of her American possessions.
The Treaty of Versailles returned Florida to Spain in exchange for the
Bahama Islands. (Nassau in the Bahamas had been captured by Havana's Governor
Don Cargigal in 1782.)
Many of the English Loyalists
(Tories), who had moved to Florida during and after the 1776 Revolutionary
War, now moved to the Bahamas to remain under England. Some of their descendants
become the "Conch" settlers in the Keys in later years.
In summary, Florida became
a Spanish territory with the arrival of Ponce de Leon in 1513. After 50
years of Spanish attempts to settle Florida, Spain decided not to send
more expeditions. Then the French made their move to settle in the Jacksonville
area, and Spain sent an expedition to annihilate them. The French shifted
their attention to the New Orleans area, and Spain developed St. Augustine,
our oldest city.
England began developing colonies
in the northeastern United States in the 1600s and Spain did relatively
little with Florida. In 1763, the Spanish had to trade Florida to England
in order to repossess Havana. England lost its 13 colonies to the United
States in the revolution, but the two Florida settlements did not participate.
During the American Revolution,
Spain declared war with England in 1779 and by 1780 Spain had captured
the English-owned Nassau. In the Treaty of Versailles (1783), England traded
Florida for Nassau with Spain. English ownership of Florida had lasted
only twenty years and the English were given until March 19, 1785 to settle
their ownership interests.
I repeat that considerable
maritime activity took place off the coasts of the Keys, but there was
little terrestrial activity other than the native Americans. The Keys had
provided many shipwrecks, lumbering, fishing and hiding areas, and fresh
drinking water for every nation. The deep-water anchoring facility at Cayo
Hueso (Key West) permitted anchoring for ships not wishing to stop in Havana
or Charleston. Most, if not all, of the Florida indigenous natives had
been killed or driven from their homeland by about1763.
Corresponding events in 1783
were: American author Washington Irving was born, Mozart wrote his "Mass
in C Minor" and the Society of Cincinnati was founded.
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