Bicentennial Spotlight: How Florida Became American Territory

In a few weeks, the community of the Pensacola area will celebrate the U.S. Territorial Bicentennial of Florida and the 200e Escambia County Anniversary.

Florida officially became part of the United States in July 1821. But the transfer from Spain took decades.

“It looks really good in 1783. There are a lot of promises. The Spaniards are optimistic, ”says Dr Brian Rucker, describing the mood at the start of Pensacola’s second Spanish period, after General Bernardo de Galvez took over the city from the British.

A small cosmopolitan community is growing. But, the professor of history at Pensacola State College, who is also a member of the 200e Anniversary Commission says that Spain will soon start to lose its grip.

“As the decades unfold we start to see a series of unfortunate events, some sort of perfect storm that Spain was just powerless due to the circumstances to do anything to really do it. prevent it from unfolding. “

Looking at the big picture, Rucker points out that Spain had previously been weakened in the world by the Seven Years’ War, which included the French and Indian War in America. It was the Treaty of Paris of 1763 that ended the war and caused Spain to lose Florida and Pensacola to the British.

A map shows the land gains in Florida

“It really stung them for 20 years,” he said. “They got him back, however, and by the end of the 1700s they weren’t the best dog in Europe anymore and they were starting to face a lot of problems.”

One problematic event was the Louisiana Purchase, which involved the acquisition of the territory by the United States from France in 1803. In the process, Rucker says Spanish Florida found itself embroiled in a dispute over the matter. from the border.

“Because Florida went all the way to the Mississippi River at that time. So it kind of stayed vague and nebulous and Spain didn’t have very tight control over that. You have a group of Anglo-Americans in this region, who created the Republic of West Florida in 1810, and then gradually it moved towards Perdido, which became the last frontier.

The Louisiana Purchase also triggered the migration of Americans to New Orleans, crossing Indian Creek.

“And, you see all these Americans going to the Disturbing Creek lands, which is the Creek problem,” Rucker said. He noted that their deer herds were running out and they were no longer as isolated as they had been. There were a lot of changes going on. “The Creeks could see the handwriting on the wall.”

During this same period, Spain was caught up in the Napoleonic Wars in Europe between 1803 and 1815, and the country was temporarily captured by France. In an unusual alliance, England offers to help Spain. When the War of 1812 broke out between England and the United States, the British turned to Spain for help. According to Rucker, the Spaniards wanted to remain neutral, but they were powerless to say no.

To complicate matters, the Creek Civil War (1813-1814) broke out in the Southeast, between those who were loyal to the Americans and the rebellious faction of the Creeks known as the Red Sticks.

“The Red Sticks, who wanted to continue the war, fled to the supposed safety of neutral Spanish West Florida, and there are hundreds of them in the Pensacola area,” Rucker said.

“And, what they’re doing is crossing the border into Alabama and Georgia, raiding and attacking the Americans. And, the Spaniards said, “no, don’t do that.” But, they are powerless to stop it. They no longer have the military capability, they no longer have the budget to do anything in Florida. It’s very sad.”

Enter Andrew Jackson.

“No one had even heard of Andrew Jackson until the Creek War,” Rucker said. “Then suddenly he was able to take his volunteers from Tennessee to Alabama and Georgia. They began to defeat the Creeks, the hostile Creeks on the battlefield in 1814. “

With Jackson’s decisive victory at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, he gained national attention as a great Indian fighter. But instability in the region persists, with British agents in Spanish Florida inciting the Red Stick Warriors to violence on American soil.

“Jackson is looking at this and he doesn’t really have a lot of advice from Washington,” Rucker said, pointing to the fact that British troops had just burned down Washington, DC, including the US Capitol and the White House.


Panton, Leslie and Company, founded in 1783 and based in Pensacola from 1785 to 1830, which dominated Indian commerce during the years of Spanish rule in Florida.

“And, in a military situation, what do you do,” Rucker said of the position Jackson was in.

“Jackson, how should I say that diplomatically, didn’t always follow the letter of the law and thought international borders were just suggestions. He believed in the chase theory.

Finally, after trying to cope with these incursions, Rucker stated that Jackson was finally fed up and that in November 1814, without permission, he took the American troops and they came down and captured Pensacola.

While in Pensacola, Jackson learned of a British plan to attack New Orleans. In no time at all he assembled a group of rag tag volunteers of Regulars, Friendly Indians, Free Blacks and others who defeated the British in the Battle of New Orleans in early 1815. .

Over the next several years, Jackson would continue to march his troops across West Florida in search of and crushing hostile Indian rebellions and British forces.

“In May 1818, he was again in Pensacola. There is a small skirmish, symbolic resistance from the Spaniards, and again the Spaniards return Pensacola to Jackson, ”Rucker said.

At this point, in western and eastern Florida, the Spaniards lost control. There is no money to support or defend the territory and the writing was on the wall.

“All these things, at the end of the ’18 teenagers’, convinced Spain: ‘Okay, we have to get rid of this’, and we finally have an international treaty.

The Adams-Onis Treaty was signed in 1819, but due to a revolution in Spain it was delayed for two years.

“So, finally, this long and interminable process of several decades, finally saw its fruits in the summer of 1821, when Florida was officially transferred from Spain to the United States”, concludes the professor of history of the PSC Rucker, that’s how Florida became the US Territory. Escambia then joined St. John’s as one of its original two counties.

For more details on the history of the transfer from Florida to the United States and the bicentennial celebration, visit the Visit Pensacola website.

Edward K. Thompson