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West Florida
Territory of Great Britain (1763-83), Spain (1783-1800), and France (1800-1803) [Disputed 1803-1810]


1763 – 1810

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 was a region on the north shore of the Gulf of Mexico, which underwent several boundary and sovereignty changes during its history. Parts of the territory were held at various times by France, Spain, Britain, and the United States (as well as the short-lived "Republic of West Florida"). Eventually, the United States assumed control over the entire region, which now forms parts of the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.


A pawn of war

What would become West Florida was, from 1682 until 1763, divided between the Spanish, who held an outpost at Pensacola as part of their Florida colony, and the French, who garrisoned Mobile as part of the French colony of Louisiana (part of New France).


British era

In the treaty negotiations concluding the Seven Years' War (French and Indian War) in 1763, Britain received the Spanish colony of Florida and that portion of the French colony of Louisiana lying between the Mississippi and Perdido rivers and north of Lake Pontchartrain. (The French transferred the remainder of Louisiana to Spain by a separate treaty.) The British reorganized this territory into the provinces of East Florida, which consisted of most of the present U.S. state of Florida, and West Florida, bounded by the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain in the west, by the 31st parallel on the north and the Apalachicola River on the east. The British capital of West Florida was in Pensacola. The Governor of West Florida in November 1763 was George Johnstone. The British established an assembly, introducing democracy to the territory.

In 1764, the British moved the northern boundary to a line extending from the mouth of the Yazoo River east to the Chattahoochee River (32° 22′ north latitude), consisting of approximately the lower third of the present states of Mississippi and Alabama. Many fresh settlers arrived in the wake of the British garrison, swelling the population. In 1774 the 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 and then overrun in 1779-81 by Spanish forces under Bernado de Galvez culminating in the Siege of Pensacola.

Spanish era

In the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolutionary 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 (see Spanish Florida), but did not specify the boundaries, sparking the West Florida controversy. Spain wanted the expanded 1764 boundary, while the United States demanded that the boundary be 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 France's Louisiana colony; 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 claimed the territory from the Perdido River to the Mississippi River, which 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.

Short-lived Republic

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 exactly 90 days of the Republic of West Florida.

On September 23, 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".[1]

The boundaries of the Republic of West Florida included all territory south of the 31st parallel, west of the Perdido River, and east of the Mississippi River, but north of Lake Pontchartrain. The southern boundary was the Gulf of Mexico. It included Baldwin and Mobile counties in what is now Alabama; the Mississippi counties of Hancock, Pearl River, Harrison, Stone, Jackson, and George, as well as the southernmost portions of Lamar, Forrest, Perry, and Wayne counties; and the Louisiana parishes of East Baton Rouge, East and West Feliciana, Livingston, St. Helena, Tangipahoa, St. Tammany and Washington. Despite its name, none of present-day Florida lay within its borders. The capital of the Republic of West Florida was St. Francisville, on a bluff along the Mississippi River.

The Constitution of West Florida was based largely on the US Constitution, and divided the government into three branches: executive, judicial, and legislative. The legislature consisted of a Senate and House of Representatives. The Governor was chosen by the legislature. According to the constitution, the official name of the nation was the "State of Florida".

The first and only governor was Fulwar Skipwith, a former American diplomat who had helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. In his inaugural address, Skipwith mentioned the possibility of annexation to the United States:

…wherever the voice of justice and humanity can be heard, our declaration, and our just rights will be respected. But the blood which flows in our veins, like the tributary streams which form and sustain the father of rivers, encircling our delightful country, will return if not impeded, to the heart of our parent country. The genius of Washington, the immortal founder of the liberties of America, stimulates that return, and would frown upon our cause, should we attempt to change its course.

Reuben Kemper led a small force in an attempt to capture Mobile from the Spanish, but the expedition ended in failure. The marching song of the West Floridian army included the lyrics:

West Floriday, that lovely nation,
Free from king and tyranny,
Thru’ the world shall be respected,
For her true love of Liberty.


The Republic of West Florida, today divided among three states.

On October 27, 1810, parts of West Florida were annexed by proclamation of U.S. President James Madison, who claimed the region as part of the Louisiana Purchase. At first, Skipwith and the West Florida government were opposed to the proclamation, preferring to negotiate terms to join the Union. However, William C.C. Claiborne, who was sent to take possession of the territory, refused to recognize the legitimacy of the West Florida government. Skipwith proclaimed that he was ready to "die in defense of the Lone Star flag."[2] Skipwith, however, and the legislature eventually backed down and agreed to accept Madison's proclamation.

Possession was taken of St. Francisville on December 6, 1810, and of Baton Rouge on December 10, 1810. These portions were incorporated into the newly formed Territory of Orleans. The U.S. annexed the Mobile District of West Florida to the Mississippi Territory in 1812. Spain continued to dispute the area, though the United States gradually increased the area it occupied until Spain ceded all of Florida to the United States in the Adams-Onís Treaty in 1819. The United States organized Florida Territory, consisting of most of East Florida and a small portion of West Florida, on March 30, 1822.

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. 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 supporting papers to the Louisiana State Archives.

See also


  1. ^ Confederate National and Bonnie Blue Flags.
  2. ^ See inserted "Bonnie Blue Flag" image. The Republic of West Florida was also known as the Lone Star Republic.


External links


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