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Florida, Spanish West

Florida, Spanish West

Florida, Spanish West (1783–1821). From 1513 to 1763, Florida was merely La Florida and included both Saint Augustine and Pensacola. After acquiring La Florida in 1763, the British created East Florida and West Florida. West Florida extended from the Apalachicola and Chattahoochee rivers on the east to the Mississippi and from the Gulf of Mexico, Lakes Borgne, Pontchartrain, and Maurepas, and the Iberville River to 31 degrees north latitude. In 1764, the British moved the northern boundary to 32 degrees, 28 minutes north latitude. Except for Canada, West Florida was the largest British colony on the North American mainland.

By 1781, Bernardo de Gálvez's victories during the American Revolution had brought West Florida under Spanish control. This fact was formalized in the Treaty of Paris (1783). From 1783 until 1821 West Florida belonged to Spain. At its peak (1783–1798) West Florida included Pensacola (the capital) and Mobile, Baton Rouge, Natchez, Nogales (Vicksburg), and Chickasaw Bluffs (Memphis). Unfortunately for Spain, however, the United States gnawed at West Florida until by 1813 it was reduced to an area perhaps half its original size, if that. Of its major cities only Pensacola remained under Spanish control.

Spain appointed military officers to govern West Florida, including several Irishmen in the Spanish service, such as Col. Arturo O'Neill, who ruled from 1781 to 1793. Because of the need for English-speaking priests, another Irishman, Father James Coleman, served as Pensacola's parish priest from 1794, and then as vicar-general and ecclesiastical judge of West Florida (1806–1822). Economically, Spanish West Florida was not a glowing success. It depended upon lumber, naval stores, indigo, tobacco, and the fur trade, the latter largely controlled by Scotsmen, for its limited income. Thus it required the annual government subsidy, the situado, for its economic support.

Following the disasters of the Napoleonic era (1807–1815), Spain was unable effectively to control the Floridas and in 1819 negotiated their transfer to the United States by means of the Adams-Onís Treaty. In 1821, Andrew Jackson reached Pensacola and formally accepted what was left of Spanish West Florida from Col. José de Callava, the last Spanish governor.

See alsoAdams-Onís Treaty (1819); Florida, East; Gálvez, Bernardo de; Pensacola; Spanish Empire.


James A. Servies, A Bibliography of West Florida, 3 vols. (1982).

Jack D. L. Holmes, "West Florida, 1779–1821," in A Guide to the History of Florida, edited by Paul S. George (1989), pp. 63-76.

William S. Coker and Jerrell H. Shofner, Florida, 1492–1992 (1992).

Additional Bibliography

Kennedy, Roger. Mr. Jefferson's Lost Cause: Land, Farmers, Slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Mancall, Peter. American Encounters: Natives and Newcomers from European Contact to Indian Removal. New York: Routledge, 2000.

                                                  William S. Coker

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