West Florida: the 14th forgotten colony

When the 13 colonies rose up against Britain during the Revolutionary War, Florida was not part of this group. In fact, at the time, Florida was not even a single colony. Here’s a look at the history of West Florida, the Forgotten 14e colony.

“The name of the colony is West Florida,” said Mike Bunn, board member of the Alabama Historical Association and director of Historic Blakeley State Park in Spanish Fort, Alabama. “A lot of people get that geographic reference stuck in their heads and they think we’re talking about the Pensacola area specifically. But in truth, it was a wide swath of the Gulf Coast.

In his new book “Fourteenth Colony – The Forgotten History of the Southern Gulf during America’s Revolutionary Era,Bunn tells the story of the colony of West Florida, whose borders included parts of four present-day southern states.

“West Florida was bounded on the west by the Mississippi River, on the south by the Gulf of Mexico, on the east by the Apalachicola River, and on the north, originally 31st Parallel which is just north of Mobile. And then later they moved the border to the 32sd Parallel where the Yazoo River meets the Mississippi. So we’re talking about Vicksburg, Mississippi; Jackson, Mississippi; Montgomery, Alabama; Columbus, Georgia; this would be the northern limit that was established in 1764.

It was just a year after Britain received Florida from Spain at the end of the Seven Years’ War. The territory was a valuable piece of land due to its long coastline, but there were few permanent residents at the time and few large settlements.

“Pensacola was the capital of West Florida throughout the period,” Bunn said. “There were only two main communities in the colony for most of its existence, Mobile and Pensacola. And Pensacola was declared the capital, seat of government when it was founded and it has remained so, it has remained the the main port throughout the period. Mobile was a town with many commercial advantages and was roughly the same size or even larger than Pensacola at the time, but the seat of government remained in Pensacola.

Bunn says the colony’s form of government was unique for the time and region.

“West Florida had an appointed governor, who was advised by an appointed council,” he said. “This council served as the upper house of the legislature when (the governor) called the legislature into session. The lower house was elected by the districts. They therefore had representative government. But one small detail is that representative government only functioned as such when the governor summoned them to session, and they chose over the 20-year period of the colony’s existence. to summon her very few times. It was therefore most often governed by the governor and his council, but there was a lower house of elected officials. And it was the first real elected government, a representative government that emerged on the Gulf Coast. “

Credit Bob Barrett / WUWF News

Monument to Bernardo deGalvez unveiled in downtown Pensacola

During the American Revolutionary War, the colony of West Florida remained loyal to the British crown. Spain entered the war and, led by Bernardo de Gálvez, regained control of western Florida at the Battle of Pensacola. “And so British West Florida becomes Spanish West Florida right after the war, and will remain so until the very last portions are finally acquired by the United States until the 1800s. So the Spanish period has a history.” long and interesting, but this Spanish era on the Gulf Coast begins with the capture of Pensacola in May 1781 and continues until Florida becomes a territory.

During this period of history, Spain lost its status as a colonizing power in the world. Unlike Britain, the country simply did not have the resources. So little by little, the boundaries of West Florida were changing. In a section towards the end of his book, Mike Bunn states: “During a dramatic period of less than a decade, regional maps had to be redrawn at breakneck speed.

“Year after year, almost things were reformed and reconfigured,” Bunn said. “The borders were shifting. And this is a really complicated but really intriguing part of the shared heritage of the Gulf Coast. That time between the founding of British West Florida and the time when the last stretches of colonial control were abandoned and everything becomes American. ”

So a big question remains, given all the border changes up to when Florida became a state in 1845, why is that section of the Panhandle that is in the Central Time Zone still part of the ‘State ?

“It wasn’t for lack of trying to give it away,” Bunn said. “There was more than one effort to acquire it by Alabama. It was offered to them once or twice and they didn’t see it was going to be very productive at the time. It’s hard to believe because they didn’t think it was a very productive land and that it would be more of a problem to manage. And then there were some efforts later to go until the 1890s, when that (effort) was regained some ground, which is still a story in itself. But there have been negotiations going all the way back to the state of Alabama over whether that part of the Florida panhandle just south of the Alabama border could be included in the state of Alabama.

Again, the name of Mike Bunn’s new book is “Fourteenth Colony – The Southern Gulf’s Forgotten History During America’s Revolutionary Era.” It is published by New South Books.

Edward K. Thompson