CHAPTER  5.  BRITISH FLORIDA BEFORE THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, 1763-1775

 

British Florida 1763-1783

In 1762 Spain ceded Florida to Great Britain in order to regain Havana, Cuba. The last remnant of the Timucua left the province with the Spanish.

governorship of East Florida

1763-1770 Governor James Grant

In 1763 Florida became British and, to encourage settlement, the King's Road was built.

The English finally achieved by diplomacy in 1763 what they had failed to gain by the efforts at conquest by Colonel James Moore and General James Edward Oglethorpe earlier in the same century.

The British reorganized their American possessions in a proclamation date October 7, 1776, that, among other things, created East Florida and West Florida.

The story of the New Smyrna enterprise. A group of well placed British officials, including Dr. Andrew Turnbull, a London physician as resident manager, acquired adjoining 20,000 acre grants on which to establish a colony in East Florida. They expected to invest up to 9,000 pounds and divide the property at the end of ten years. They hoped to produce Mediterranean products in the New World. With the aid of Gov. Grant and his administration they selected a site at Mosquito Inlet, to which they gave the name New Smyrna in honor of Turnbull's wife, a native of Smyrna in Greece.

The proprietors sought colonists in the Mediterranean already familiar with the production of the desired crops. Turnbull, who had spent some time in Greece, believed that some Greeks might migrate to escape Turkish rule, but he could get permission to bring away only 200 described as wild tribesmen still in revolt against their overlords. He received permission to recruit colonists in southern Italy but could bring away no silk manufacturers. He found 110 persons willing to accompany him. He was still short of the desired number of indentured servants when he learned of a three-year crop failure at British Minorca that had left many farmers destitute. He undertook to transport to America some 1,100 of these Spanish-speaking, Roman Catholic people, bringing along a priest and a monk to provide spiritual guidance for them. The introduction of Catholics into the colony was a breach of English law and had in it the seeds of trouble for the colony in America, but the Catholic Minorcans became a permanent part of the Florida population.

In June 1768 some 1,500 persons on board eight ships reached New Smyrna after a voyage of four months. Governor Grant had prepared for their arrival by placing provisions for four months at the site, erecting some large shelters for temporary living quarters, and by conditioning the Indians to receive them without protest. The colonists lived cooperatively until separate family homes could be erected. All did not go well with the oversized and unwieldy enterprise. The indentures resented the overseers, who were accustomed to working slaves. Foreign languages did not help. Greeks and Italians became mutinous but the Minorcans remained quiet.

By the spring of 1769 the colonists had cleared seven miles along present-day North Indian River and were growing -- in addition to vegetables for their own use -- corn, cotton, sugarcane, rice, and indigo. They could not immediately produce marketable products in sufficient quantity to satisfy the demands of the proprietors for returns on their investment, a story reminiscent of the beginnings of the Virginia Colony. Gov Grant was giving as much aid as his authority and resources permitted but it was not enough, and neither the proprietors nor the London government proved willing to invest any more. Bernard Romans, a hostile critic, blamed Turnbull's management for the difficulties. The authorities discovered in 1774 that the Minorcans had been secretly in communication with Havana for several years. They meted out harsh punishments for what was interpreted as treason. Actually it seems to have been no more than a desperate attempt to maintain a purely religious contact with the bishop of Cuba. When Turnbull became involved in political controversy after Governor Grant's departure and lost the support of the administration at Saint Augustine, the fate of the New Smyrna enterprise was sealed.

Edmund Gray

A Quaker planter and one of Georgia's most influential politicians in the 1750s.

In 1750 Gray and 20 families left Virginia to settle on the Little River in Augusta, Georgia.  

In 1752 the Georgia trustees gave up their 20 year old charter, and in 1754 George II reorganized the colony as a royal province, appointing John Reynolds its first royal governor. Edmund Gray opposed the unpopular Governor Reynolds.

Gray had drawn to himself adventurers and outlaws to the tune of 300.  Gray fled south with scores of supporters and their families to settle "on those Lands between Altamaha and Saint Juan's Streams." Gray created the settlement of New Hanover on the banks of the Satilla River, well south of the Altamaha, then Georgia's southern border (now called Burnt Fort, Georgia).

In 1756 the settlement was abandoned and moved to Cumberland Island.  The Spanish at St. Augustine took actions to evict the settlers, so they settled on the Satilla River, below the Altamaha, at a place they called New Hanover.  

The settlement's only supporter appeared to be Georgia's new governor, Henry Ellis, who had replaced Reynolds in February 1757. Ellis feared that Gray might turn traitor. The board ordered Ellis and Lyttleton to send commissioners to tell Gray to break up the settlement. New Hanover was abandoned and only a few persons were left on Cumberland Island.  

Gray and 100 followers remained on Cumberland island. Ellis, aware that Gray had never abandoned New Hanover and his regular southern haunts, assigned him to stir up the Lower Creeks against the Cherokees who had been molesting settlers in western Georgia and South Carolina.

Gray once again answered the call of a new frontier. He built his plantation and Indian trading post on Black Hammock Island, west of Fort George Island near the mouth of the St. Johns River (Sawpit Bluff). In the yard he built a sawmill and a rectangular sawpit for shaping lumber. 

The names Sawpit Bluff and Sawpit Creek, the waterway that flowed in front of the house, persist to this day. The outlines of the sawpit, though overgrown with trees and heavy brush, can still be traced. So can the fallen wall of his tabby house near the shoreline of the bluff, perhaps the oldest remains of a European dwelling in the St. Johns River valley.

By 1759 Gray with his Creek allies had so ingratiated himself with England for his attacks against the Cherokees that he was permitted to remain undisturbed on Cumberland Island.

John and William Bartram

In 1765 Royal botanist John Bartram of Philadelphia (his house is still standing in Fairmount Park) visited East Florida. A decade later his son, William Bartram, returned.

From Jacksonburgh the Bartrams made their way to Savannah, which they reached on 4 September. Paid their respects to Governor James Wright. Planed to go to Augusta.

First discovered the Franklinia tree (Franklinia altamaha), named for Benjamin Franklin, on October 1, 1765 on a sand- hill bog near the Altamaha River on the north side of the road, 1.7 miles n.w. of Cox.

They arrived at Fort Barrington. The 24 foot square wooden fort, with a gun on each wall, was built on a bank twenty feet above the 300-yard-wide Altamaha River. The fort was only 13 miles on a direct line from the coast, but it was thirty miles by the winding river.

Most of the land here was suitable for rice, but most of the country from the Altamaha to the Satilla was of poor, white, sandy soil over a "whitish clay mixt with sand." Under this was a clay stratum.

The following day, Bartram and several Carolina gentlemen dined with the Florida governor, James Grant (1720-1806). A career military man, Grant had fought in Flanders, Ireland, and North America. His house, with belvedere and portico, had piazzas on the two sides, overlooking the great parade ground with a church at one end and the guardhouse at the other.

They stayed in St. Augustine from October 11 until December 19. By Philadelphia's standards, the streets were extremely narrow, a bare fifteen feet wide.

Billy had become enchanted with Florida and determined to remain there. They finally found a place that Billy liked on the river near the mouth of Six-mile Creek. By the middle of March 1766 Bartram had completed his map and report for the governor and reserved passage on a ship for Carolina.

Most of the money Bartram was spending went for the purchase of slaves for Billy. It was impossible to raise rice without their help. Outfitting Billy as a plantation owner from scratch was a tiring undertaking.

1771-1774 John Moultrie (Lt. Gov.)

In April 1773 William Bartram embarks for Charleston, South Carolina.

After resting, and a little recreation for a few days in Savanna, ... I sat off early in the morning for Sunbury, a sea-port town, beautifully situated on the main, between Medway and Newport rivers, about 15 miles sough of great Ogeeche river. p. 32

time on my hands, before the treaty of Augusta came on, where I was to attend, about May or June, by desire of the Superintendent, J. Stewart, esq. who, when I was in Charleston, proposed in order to facilitate my travels in the Indian territories, that, if I would be present at the Congress, he would introduce my business to the chiefs of the Cherokees, Creeks, and other nations, and recommend me to their friendship and protection; which promise he fully performed, and it proved to great service to me.

Left Sunbury, in company with several of its polite inhabitants, who were going to Medway meeting, a very large and well-constructed place of worship, in St. John's parish, where I associated with them in religious exercise p. 36

proceeding down the high road towards Fort Barrington, on the Altamaha, passing through a level country, well watered by large streams, branches of Medway and Newport rivers, coursing from extensive swamps and marshes, their sources.

extensive plantations of rice and corn


WIREGRASS TRAIL

 

Wiregrass Trail to the Coast.  GA 57 to US 95 from Aline off US 16.  The highway parallels part of the Altamaha River.  Those who travel the Wiregrass Trail have un-parralled opportunity to retrace a significant portion of William Bartram's travels in coastal Georgia. The region he described closely parallels portions of today's Wiregrass Trail.  (Presley: 612)

The Altamaha River is the largest river in the southeast United States.  It is one of only a handful of undammed rivers in America.

In Reidsville, on GA 57, is the Gordonia Altamaha State Park.  Here there is picnicking, swimming, fishing, boating, paddle-boating, and camping.  It owes its name to the Lost Gordonia (Franklinia altamaha).  The Bartrams found this small tree along the Altamaha River and it has never been found since in the wild.  It only survives because of the seeds the Bartrams gathered from the plant they found in the wild.   Some quotes from the works of William Bartram:

sat off for the settlements on the Altamaha, still pursuing the high road for Fort Barrington, till towards noon, when I turned off to the left, following the road to Darian, a settlement on the river, twenty miles lower down, and near the coast.

The man's name was M'Intosh, a family of the first colony established in Georgia, under the conduct of general Oglethorpe. p. 38

I shall yet mention a remarkable instance of Mr. M'Intosh, as a companion in my travels. He was a sensible virtuous youth, and a very agreeable companion through a long and toilsome journey of near a thousand miles.

visited Okefenokee on a later trip

In March 1774 I sat off from Savanna to the Altamaha.


JESSUP AREA

 

There is a Visitor Center on Route 301 in a railroad caboose.  They provide a walking tour of the town.  Nearby is the Wayne County Heritage Center in a restored railroad section house.  The center covers the history and folklore of the Altamaha River Valley with artifacts and exhibits.  They have items found at Fort James on the Altamaha River, a military outpost in the late 1700s.

North of Jessup on US 301, as the road crosses the Altamaha River and reaches a high bluff on the southern side of the river, Wayne County has a picnic area and boat launch to the right of the bridge.  Nearby is a marker for the Skirmish of Doctortown.  The skirmish took place in an attempt to discourage Sherman's troops as they marched to the sea.  (Presley p. 605)



FERNANDINA

 

William Bartram visited Florida in 1773:

Decide to take the boat to Frederica. I arrived at Frederica, on the island of St. Simon, where I was well received and entertained by James Spalding, esq, who is president of the island. p. 70

Before the vessel was ready to sail again for St. John's, I had time to explore the island. In the cool of the morning early, I rode out of the town, directing my course to the south end of the island. Visited the property of Capt. Raimond Demere.

Hoped they would set me on Amelia Island, where was a large plantation, the property of Lord Egmont. This indigo plantation was in the n.e. part of the present Fernandina. We reached the fort in the evening.

After landing at the northern end of Amelia Island, Florida, Bartram crossed the present Clark's Creek or Egan's Creek.

The first night's camp was made probably at Ortega. The next day he went 5 miles south near Goodby's Creek. I reached Greenwood's Plantation, which was by then perhaps the Marshall Plantation.

The next plantation after Marshall's is at New Switzerland Point or vicinity. Was this owned by Francis Philip Fatio?  Fatio was a Swiss from Berne.  His firt grant of land was in 1772. He had the "New Switzerland" plantation on the St. Johns River.  

Zespedes in his first proclamation as governor created a board of arbitration, presided over by Francis Philip Fatio and John Leslie, to settle disputes involving property of British subjects. Most of these involved slave ownership. Frequently the judges knew the contending parties, but since they both planned to remain in Florida, Tonyn suspected them of favoring the Spaniards. Fatio owned three plantations on the Saint Johns, including New Switzerland, and a store and a home on the bayfront in Saint Augustine.

Places where I have seen markers in honor of William Bartram:

Fernandina, Amelia Island

Ravine State Gardens, Palatka

Kanapaha Botanical Garden, Gainesville, William Bartram Trail (1773-1777); June 1774 camped by Lake Kanapha, describing it as a "beautiful little lake, partly environed by meadows"



1774-1783 British Governor of  Florida, Patrick Tonyn

The political factionalism that broke out in Lt. Gov. John Moultrie's three-year administration had been brewing for some time. It took the form of a demand for an elected assembly which the popular Governor Grant had successfully resisted.

When Colonel Patrick Tonyn arrived in March 1774 to take over the governorship, the explosive situation required tact and judgment which he did not possess. Though the factionalism appears to have been limited pretty much to the political leadership, it served to confirm Tonyn's suspicion of disloyalty, for which he had been instructed to be alert. He feuded with Chief Justice William Drayton until that official was recalled and returned to England.

He placed Turnbull under arrest, accused him of plotting to defraud his partners at New Smyrna, and took up the cause of the Minorcans by releasing them from their indenture and inviting them to Saint Augustine. When the governor released him, Turnbull migrated to Charleston in 1781 to practice medicine. He received less than 1,000 pounds for his personal losses in Florida. He contributed services as manager rather than property to the New Smyrna project, and his partners received 12,144 pounds for the 28,900 pound estate of 101,400 acres they claimed.

During his visit in April 1774, Bartram was awed by the "Great Alachua Savannah" the name he gave to the basin.

Indian village, Cuscowilla, near edge of a lake just south of present day Micanopy. Bartram visited Cuscowilla in 1774 entertained by Cowkeeper, the chief. His son, King Payne succeeded him as chief. His village, Payne's town, located between Cuscowilla on eastern end of the basin. *

1812 Col. Daniel Newnan with Georgians; attack drove him off with heavy casualties. Payne wounded and died several months later.

15-20" of rain.

1871 -- large lake

William Bartram

1776 -- obtained a light cypress canoe, at Broughton Island (an island about 6 square miles in extent, in the mouth of the Altamaha River), a plantation, the property of the Hon. Henry Laurens, esq. resolved on a trip up the Altamaha. It has its source in the Cherokee mountains near the head of Tugilo, the great west branch of Savanna. p.64

governorship of West Florida

1763-1767 George Johnstone

1767-1769 Montforte Browne (Lt. Gov.)

1769-1769 John Eliot

1769-1770 Elias Durnford (Lt. Gov.)

1770-1781 Peter Chester

 

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