Throwback Thursday: Free blacks help save Florida from Anglo-American domination

For the British in London, knocking Spain out of the war was strategic in a larger global conflict. For the Anglo-American colonists in Georgia and the Carolina’s invading Florida was more about crushing black freedom as well as Catholicism  while extending slavery. 

In July 1742, decisive battles between the Spanish and British took place in and around St Simons Island, Georgia. It was the culmination of a conflict which began when the British invaded Florida two years earlier. Much of the motivation for invasion came because of the number of runaway slaves that had come to the Spanish colonies and the desire of the American colonists to run Catholicism off the Atlantic Coast of North America. 

Castillo San Marcos was critical in St Augustine’s defense – By Shreeg88 at English Wikipedia, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10542884

In the late 1600’s Spain began offering asylum for runaway slaves from the English colonies to the north.  The condition of asylum was conversion to Catholicism and service to Spain. The Spanish were interested in destabilizing the English colonies to the north and scuttling the economy of those colonies The easiest and most logical way to do this would be to break the backs of the southern plantation economy by inviting slaves to flee to safer ground.

By 1700, Florida was a prosperous Spanish colony probably as economically well-off as any English one to the north. Florida’s economy was thriving and St Augustine in particular was the center of the bustling economic activity and a growing center of Spanish culture in the new world.  

In 1704, during Queen Anne’s War The British invaded Spanish Florida from the Carolina’s. Former Carolina Governor James Moore led the invasion on behalf of the English colonists. They were resisted by the Apalachee Indians who resided in the Big Bend region and were allies of the Spanish crown. Florida was left devastated by the war and according to some historians never really recovered until the 1770’s by which time the colony was under British rule and enjoying a renaissance due to the fleeing of loyalists from the Thirteen Colonies then in full revolution.

Wikipedia described the Florida front as follows:

Spanish Florida and the English Province of Carolina were each subjected to attacks from the other, and the English engaged the French based at Mobile in what was essentially a proxy war involving primarily allied Indians on both sides. The southern war, although it did not result in significant territorial changes, had the effect of nearly wiping out the Indian population of Spanish Florida, including parts of present-day southern Georgia, and destroying Spain’s network of missions in the area.

The most important battle of the conflict took place in 1704 at Ayubale. Wikipedia has a great write up on the battle which was a decisive victory for the English and its allied Indian tribes and .half the resisting Apalachee Indians were killed or captured. Last week we discussed the siege of Pensacola during this war

In 1733, the colony of Georgia was founded by James Oglethorpe.  Immediately settlers in Savannah began eyeing Florida. 

Fore Mose site today – By Ebyabe – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3981840

In 1738, Fort Mose was established two miles north of St Augustine – A village to defend St Augustine that also was operated by free blacks – by 1740, the town had a population of 100 within its walls and was governed by a European of African descent. Fort Mose was the first legally sanctioned free African settlement in what would become the US.

Word had reached Georgia and the Carolina’s about Fort Mose and the freedom offered in Spanish Florida. The promise of Fort Mose helped stimulate the Stono Rebellion in 1739. This rebellion in South Carolina was crushed but in the next two years, hearing of the freedoms offered to blacks in Florida, smaller rebellions popped up in the southern British colonies. This also stimulated the desire for the British to invade Florida and crush black freedom.

In 1739, the War of Jenkins Ear which was essentially the North American theater of the War of Austrian Succession broke out. By 1740, Britain (England and Scotland were formally united by the Act of Union in 1707) felt they could knock Spain out of the American part of the war by capturing St Augustine. So in 1740, Oglethorpe, by now Georgia’s Governor led an overland invasion force into Spanish Florida. The establishment of the Georgia Colony by Oglethorpe had given the British a better beachhead from which to invade Florida than the Carolina’s provided during Queen Anne’s War.  

For the British in London, knocking Spain out of the war was strategic in a larger global conflict. For the Anglo-American colonists in Georgia and the Carolina’s invading Florida was more about crushing black freedom and extending slavery.  Another clear motivation was the hostility of Anglican settles to Catholics, a theme that would repeat itself in the French and Indian War as well as the American Revolution. 

On his way to St Augustine, Oglethorpe captured Fort Mose. The residents had mostly been runaway slaves from the British colonies. When the British captured Fort Mose, the free black residents fled to St Augustine where they played a critical role in the city defense.

Oglethorpe and his British forces began the siege of St Augustine on June 13th, 1740. The Spanish decided while St Augustine was under siege to launch a counter-offensive aimed at Fort Mose where the British had left behind a garrison. The Spanish and free black forces liberated Fort Mose and within weeks a Spanish fleet from Havana had reached St Augustine prompting a British withdrawal back to Savannah.

In 1742, Spanish forces numbering about 5,000 invaded Georgia from Florida and marched toward Savannah.  In 1742, the Spanish were defeated at St Simons Island. In the subsequent peace treaty the Florida-Georgia border was fixed to St Mary’s River where it remains today.

More on the decisive battle here. 

2 comments

  1. […] persecution and also due to an ideological split in the Creek tribes. As we discussed yesterday in a piece on Fort Mose, Florida represented an escape route for African-American slaves and that continued in this period […]

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  2. […] persecution and also due to an ideological split in the Creek tribes. As we discussed yesterday in a piece on Fort Mose, Florida represented an escape route for African-American slaves and that continued in this period […]

    Like

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