ExploreSouthernHistory.com - The Republic of West Florida, 1810
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - The Republic of West Florida, 1810
|The Bonnie Blue Flag
A well-known banner of Southern independence,
the "Bonnie Blue" first flew in 1810 as the
national flag of the Republic of West Florida.
Cannon at Fort Conde
The old French fort at Mobile,
then called Fort Carlotta, was
help by Spanish forces who
refused to surrender to either
the Republic of the U.S. Army.
Oakley Plantation, Louisiana
The main house at Oakley
Plantation was still new when
the Republic of West Florida
declared its independence.
Remembering the Republic
A billboard in East Feliciana
Parish, Louisiana, notes the
bicentennial of the 1810
Republic of West Florida.
The Republic of West Florida - Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama
Republic in the Deep South,1810
Fort San Carlos Site
The Pentagon Barracks in
Baton Rouge stand adjacent
to the site of Fort San Carlos,
which was taken by Republic
forces in 1810. The fort was in
the area to the left of the
|Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
While many know that Texas was a republic
unto itself before coming into the United
States, few realize that parts of Louisiana,
Mississippi and Alabama were as well.
Following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, a
diplomatic dispute grew over ownership of
the vast region delineated by the Mississippi
River on the west, the 31st Parallel to the
north, the Perdido River to the east and Lake
Pontchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico to the
South. Spain possessed the area and had
controlled it since it was returned to Spanish
control at the end of the American Revolution.
The United States, however, claimed that the
territory was part of the Louisiana Purchase,
even though France did not possess it at the
time of the great acquisition.
The region had originally been claimed by
the French, who planted settlements from the
Mississippi east to Mobile Bay during the
1700s. Great Britain gained control of the
district - along with all of Spanish Florida - in
1763 under the terms of the treaty that ended
the Seven Years or French and Indian War.
England then combined the former French
territory in what is now Louisiana, Alabama
and Mississippi with the section of Florida
west of the Apalachicola River to create its
new colony of West Florida. Spain, which
allied with the fledgling United States in the
American Revolution, in turn gained control of
the entire region in 1783 by the treaty that
ended the revolution.
When the Louisiana Purchase was finalized
in 1803, France had no control or legal title to
West Florida. Spain still occupied the region
and Spanish troops held posts at Mobile,
Baton Rouge and elsewhere. The growing
United States coveted the region, but had no
legitimate claim to it.
Many of the citizens of West Florida in 1803
were former Americans who had migrated
down into the area to gain rich farmland in
the Florida Parishes. Disappointed at finding
themselves still under Spanish rule, they
staged an unsuccessful revolution in 1804
but were put down by the Spanish military.
In June of 1810, many of these people began
a series of secret meetings (and three public
ones) to plan another revolt. They quietly
armed themselves, organized a military and
prepared for action.
The long-awaited revolution began on
September 23, 1810, when an armed force
led by Philemon Thomas attacked and
captured the Spanish fort at Baton Rouge.
Two Spanish soldiers were killed and three
wounded in the attack, but when the smoke
cleared the flag of the new Republic of West
Florida was raised over the fort.
Best known today as the "Bonnie Blue Flag"
of Southern Independence, the flag was
made by Melissa Johnson, the wife of Major
Isaac Johnson of the West Florida Dragoons.
Consisting of a rectangular blue field with a
single blue star (representing the new
republic), it first flew as the national flag of
the Republic of West Florida.
On September 26, 1810, the people of the
new republic declared their independence
from Spain. An offer was immediately made
to Governor David Holmes of the Mississippi
Territory and Governor W.C.C. Claiborne of
the Orleans Territory (Louisiana) to take
possession of the territory on behalf of the
United States. Understandably unsure of
their authority, the two governors waffled and
the issue made its way up to President
James Madison in Washington, D.C.
Assuming they had been rebuffed in their
offer, the leaders of the Republic of West
Florida moved forward in establishing a
permanent government. St. Francisville, in
present-day Louisiana, was named the
national capital and on October 24, 1810, a
constitution was adopted. Similar to the U.S.
Constitution, the document established a
supreme court and two houses of the
legislature. Fulworth Skipwith was named
the first (and only) leader of the Republic.
Three days after West Florida completed the
formation of its national government, the
United States suddenly acted. On October 27,
1810, President James Madison issued a
proclamation claiming the territory for the
United States. This was done without the
approval of Congress or through negotiation
with either the Republic or Spain and its
legality was the subject of serious question.
Governor Claiborne was ordered to take
possession of the territory and, with
assistance from Governor Holmes, moved to
do so. U.S. troops occupied the national
capital at St. Francisville on December 6,
1810, and raised the Stars and Stripes over
Baton Rouge four days later.
Reaction to the U.S. seizure was mixed.
Although many of the West Florida leaders
had originally supported turning the territory
over to the United States, they had ultimately
gone forward with the development of an
independent nation. Skipwith, it is said,
pledged to shed his blood for the Republic.
The Spanish garrison at Fort Carlotta in
Mobile refused to give up the post and would
not do so until faced with attack by a large
American force in 1813.
The Republic of West Florida passed into
history and the territory it once claimed
became parts of the states of Louisiana,
Mississippi and Alabama. The legality of the
U.S. takeover remains questionable, but the
results were permanent.
The Bonnie Blue Flag of the Republic was
not forgotten and flew again when Southern
states declared their independence from the
Union in 1861 at the beginning of the Civil
War (or War Between the States).
Forgotten, however, was the marching song
of West Florida's army, which included this
West Floriday, that lovely nation,
Free from king and tyranny,
Thru' the world shall be respected,
For her true love of Liberty.
St. Francisville, the capital of the Republic, is
today a charming small town known for its
rich history and the beauty of the magnificent
old plantation homes that surround it. One of
these, Oakley Plantation, stood at the time of
the revolution and can be seen today at
Audubon State Historic Site. Details on the
history of the Republic of West Florida can
also be obtained at the West Feliciana
Historical Society museum.
Interstate 12 through the Florida Parishes of
Louisiana has been designed and marked
as the Republic of West Florida Highway.
Old Spanish Fort
The historic Old Spanish Fort,
also known as the La Point -
Krebs House, in Pascagoula,
Mississippi, was already
nearly a century old when it
became part of the Republic
of West Florida.