Writers note: This weekend TFS will run three straight days of material on Florida and the American Revolution. As I continue research for my forthcoming book, Albion Florida, I am uncovering more interesting history of Florida in the Revolutionary War- a history that has been largely under-told through the years.
Role of Catholicism in Florida staying loyal to the crown – Both East and West Florida had a far larger percentage of Catholics in 1775 than any of the Thirteen Colonies. British policy from the 1760’s on while not promising Catholic emancipation did seek a reconciliation with Catholics. It’s worth noting many non-Anglican protestant denominations had sympathy for the Revolution.
British policy of Divide and Conquer – pitting groups against one another was a British colonial specialty. Before being perfected in India and Ireland it was tried in the North American colonies. Florida was very much on the front lines of this policy. The British would seek to divide those in the colonies by religion, ethnicity, race or any other means. British officials who at one time were anti-Catholic and violently racist, suddenly became agnostic when it came to these issues, and were during the Revolutionary period cultivating Catholic, African-American and Native American allies.
Role of Trade for Florida with Britain and West Indies – Florida was the link between the Caribbean and North America in British eyes. This was especially true of East Florida which depended on subsidies from the crown.
This led to a strategy which made Florida a beachhead to protect British possessions in both North America and the Caribbean. It is often forgotten that in this era of history, Britain’s West Indian possessions were as if not more critical to the crown than North America was.
Lack of Florida’s experience with democracy in 1775 – unlike the 13 colonies, Florida had never had the sort of experience with town halls and local councils that the British colonies to the north had. Most recent migrants to Florida had come from places such as Minorca or the Ottoman Empire where democracy did not exist.
1775 Whig Takeover of Georgia – threatened Florida loyalists with the type of government they feared. The reported atrocious toward loyalists by Whigs and Patriots spread quickly to East Florida. Three invasions of Florida by the Continental Army or Patriot militia were repulsed.
Growth of the Carolina Backcountry– While the Proclamation of 1763 angered colonial populations because it protected the Native American lands from the Appalachians westward, the areas just east of the proclamation line were filled up effectively with new settlers between 1760 and 1775. Many of these new settlers were rough-hewn, militia types. They were patriots and the antithesis of the types of colonists residing in Florida.
Freed Slaves impact on keeping Florida loyal– Florida’s history as a haven for runaway slaves and a locale on the North American continent where African-Americans would be armed did not, as it turns out end in 1763. The acquisition of Florida by the British Crown temporarily relieved the pressure on the Carolina’s and Georgia in terms of runaway slaves, but the American Revolution meant all bets were off.
British authorities much like their Spanish predecessors a hundred years earlier now were actively encouraging runaway slaves to seek refuge. The option for runaways was to defect behind British lines or to head south to East Florida.