The Free and Independent Republic of West Florida

And speaking of short-lived, mostly forgotten nations, as I believe we were, allow me to go back into my notes from our road trip in 2015, and dig up a story that never got the blog post it deserved. *

The Free and Independent Republic of West Florida made the Free State of Fiume look like it had a long and venerable history.

West Florida, which at its height included much of what is now Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, became a diplomatic football between Britain, France, Spain, and eventually the United States at the end of the eighteen and beginning of the nineteenth century. Possession of the region was passed from France, to Spain, to Britain. In 1783 it was returned to Spain in the treaty that ended the American Revolution. Spain subsequently ceded Louisiana to Napoleon in 1800. ***

When the United States bought the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803, Spain insisted that the ceded territory did not include the area known as West Florida, which extended from the Perdido River in Alabama across Missisipi and Louisiana to the Mississippi River. Rather than confronting Spain over the issue, first President Jefferson and then president Madison let the matter slide.

Meanwhile, British and American colonists in West Florida became increasingly disgruntled with the Spanish colonial government. On September 23, 1810, a small group of settlers “attacked” Fort San Carlos in Baton Rouge by walking through the open gate and firing a single volley of shots at the Spanish soldiers who held it. They then raised a new flag—a single star on a blue ground—and declared the foundation of the Free and Independent Republic of West Florida. They quickly established a capital in St. Francisville, in modern Louisiana, adopted a constitution, and established a supreme court and a two-house legislature.

It was clear from the beginning that the founders of the new republic were hoping to become part of the United States. And seventy-four days later, on December 10, that is exactly what happened. The United States claimed possession by a simple proclamation. The Lone Star flag came down—though it would rise again when American colonists in Texas revolted against Mexican rule.

* I n 2015 we set out to spend three weeks on the Great River Road,** with the plan that we would drive south from Memphis and then head back north as far as we could go. We spent two days in Memphis, three days in New Orleans, and then drove north along the Mississippi without a schedule, stopping at anything that caught our imaginations. We didn’t last the full three weeks. And we only got as far north as Vicksburg because we made lots of stops–between us we are interested in just about everything. Since then we’ve been following the river in shorter stints, ten days to two weeks at a time. You can follow our adventures, and others, in the category “Road Trip Through History.”

** Which, like the Silk Road, is not a single road but a conglomeration of 3,000 miles of local and state roads that roughly follow the course of the Mississippi.

***If you are interested in knowing more about the colony of West Florida, as opposed to the republic, I strongly recommend reading Kathleen Duval’s Independence Lost.

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