The Occupation Of The Floridas
The West Florida posts.—On August 6, 1763, Colonel Prévost took possession of Pensacola, which became the capital of West Florida. Shortly afterwards Mobile was occupied by Major Robert Farmar. The French troops there withdrew to New Orleans, as did some of the people, but most of the latter remained. Fort Tombecbé, renamed Fort York, was given a garrison of thirty men, for the express purpose of keeping the Choctaws hostile to the Chickasaws, but was abandoned in 1768. The French among the Choctaws moved across the Mississippi into Spanish territory, but continued to trade with the tribe.
The boundary and the river forts.—In 1764 the northern boundary of West Florida was moved north to 32° 28' to take in the Natchez settlements, and to make room for the land speculators who were seeking land grants on the lower Mississippi. A garrison was placed at Natchez (Fort Panmure). In connection with efforts to keep the Mississippi open and to establish navigation through the Iberville River, Fort Bute was bunt near the latter stream in 1766. These Mississippi posts were designed also to prevent French and Spanish smuggling among the Choctaws. But there was English smuggling likewise, and to stop it Spanish posts were later built on the other bank of the river. In 1769 the troops of most of the English posts were withdrawn to St. Augustine, but there was a protest at once. Pensacola drew up a memorial, and immigrants recently arrived at the Mississippi demanded protection. O'Reilly had just come to New Orleans, and it was feared that he might have designs on West Florida. In 1770, therefore, most of the troops were restored, and a new garrison was established at Manchac.
Indian agents and fur magnates.—The possession of West Florida proved an important asset to Great Britain in the control of the southwestern Indians, especially during the Revolution. John Stuart, Superintendent for the Southern Department, made his headquarters at Pensacola, but Mobile was the real center of control for the whole Southwest. Subagents convened at Mobile a great congress of all the tribes and effected an alliance with them, and soon afterward the Indian lands about Mobile were ceded to the English. The military authorities encouraged inter-tribal dissensions, and the Creeks and Choctaws were frequently at war, in which the Chickasaws sometimes joined. According to the general system, the fur trade of the Southwest was opened to all traders having a government license and a proper bond. The fur magnates at Mobile were the house of Swanson and McGillivray, who by 1777 had a branch house at Fort Bute, which conducted trade with the Illinois. At Pensacola Panton, Leslie, and Company, the largest business house, became an important factor in the trade and in the management of the tribes.
Politics and government.—West Florida was accorded a governor, council, and assembly. Governor George Johnstone arrived at Pensacola in October, 1764, but the first assembly was not elected until 1766. Mobile, Pensacola, and Campbell Town were electoral precincts at first, and after 1778 Natchez and Manchac were represented. The brief political experiences of the province were as interesting as those of the older colonies in early days. The governor and assembly frequently quarreled. In 1772 Governor Chester prorogued that body and for six years got along without it. More harmful than these quarrels were the factional disputes between the civil and military officials.
Development of West Florida.—When England took possession, Pensacola consisted of some forty thatched huts and small barracks, all enclosed within a palisade, but it was rebuilt, and practically dates from British rule. Mobile remained largely French, and was reduced in size by the emigration to New Orleans. British rule gave impetus to Mobile's commerce, and by 1776 the port was paying £4000 a year to the London custom house alone.
Immigration.—Efforts were made also to secure immigrants for West Florida. In 1763 the Board of Trade put an advertisement regarding land grants in the London Gazette, and in 1764 Governor Johnstone issued a circular to attract settlers. In 1765 or 1766 a colony from North Carolina went by sea and settled about Natchez and Baton Rouge. Speculators obtained large grants of land about Natchez as early as 1767, among them being Daniel Clark, later a great figure at New Orleans. Before the Revolution numerous settlers arrived from England, the West Indies, and most of the mainland colonies, including New England. Most of them settled on the Mississippi River between Manchac and Natchez. In 1772 three hundred persons from Virginia and the Carolinas are said to have been established on the lower Mississippi, and three or four hundred families were expected that summer. As a result, the Mississippi posts were repaired and civil government established. In 1775 a considerable immigration from New England was led by General Lyman. About the same time Colonel Putnam led a company from New England to the Yazoo district. In 1777, according to the botanist Bartram, more than half of the population of Mobile were people who had come from the northern colonies and Great Britain.
During the Revolution West Florida was a refuge for Loyalists. In November, 1776, Mathew Phelps led a colony of New Englanders to the lower Mississippi. Highland soldiers defeated in North Carolina that year took refuge in the province. Loyalists from Georgia and South Carolina settled on the Tombigbee River and Mobile Bay, and others from the same colonies settled on the Tensaws Bayou.
East Florida under British rule.—In East Florida, St. Augustine became the capital and the chief military post. St. Marks on the Gulf was occupied for military purposes and the posts of Matanzas, Picolata, and Mosquito were also maintained for a time. The military of both East and West Florida were under the general command at Pensacola. James Grant was made first governor. In East Florida there was no assembly till 1781. Difficulties between military and civil authorities prevailed as in West Florida.
At the time of the British occupation, St. Augustine was a small Spanish town with adobe houses and narrow streets. Under British rule East Florida prospered. Harbors were improved, and highways were constructed, one being built from St. Mary's River to St. Augustine. In 1766 some forty families went from the Bermudas to Mosquito Inlet to engage in ship-building. In the following year Dr. Turnbull brought fifteen hundred indentured colonists from the Mediterranean region and settled them at New Smyrna. In 1776 the indentures were cancelled and the settlers moved to St. Augustine, where their descendants still five. During the Revolution East Florida, like West Florida, became a Mecca for southern Loyalists.
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