Pierre de Charlevoix Visits St. Marks (May 21, 1722)

On May 21, 1722, Jesuit explorer and historian Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix visited Fuerte San Marcos de Apalache on Florida’s northern Gulf coast. Author of Histoire et description générale de la Nouvelle France avec le journal historique d’un voyage fait par ordre du roi dans l’Amérique septentrionnale (1744) and many other works, Charlevoix was among the first French historians of New France.

Excerpt from "Carte de la Floride et de la Georgie" (1806)

Excerpt from “Carte de la Floride et de la Georgie” (1806)

Charlevoix described his approach to the remote Spanish outpost: “About ten o’clock we perceived a small stone-fort, of a square form, with regular bastions; we immediately hung out the white-flag, and immediately after were told in French to proceed no farther.” After a few tense moments, the soldiers allowed Charlevoix and his captain to “speak with the governor: we went, and were very well received.” The defenders of Fuerte San Marcos de Apalache had reason to worry, as French pirates were known to frequent the region in the 17th and 18th centuries.

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British Intrigue and the Events at Prospect Bluff

Although not part of the United States during the War of 1812, Florida witnessed its share of fighting between Spanish, British, American, African and Native American belligerents involved in the protracted conflict.

Conventional histories of the War of 1812 end the conflict with Andrew Jackson’s campaign against Pensacola and New Orleans in 1814 and 1815. However, for African and Native American peoples in the southeast, the war continued after the fighting ceased between the British and the Americans.

In the summer of 1814, several British vessels arrived at St. George Island along Florida’s Gulf Coast. They carried supplies for the construction of a fort along the Apalachicola River. In the waning stages of the War of 1812, the British hoped to continue the conflict in Spanish Florida with the help of Native Americans and Africans hostile to the United States.

Map of the Forbes Purchase (ca. 1820). In the lower left portion of the map is St. George Island. The “Negro Fort” was located on the Apalachicola River near Prospect Bluff.

Map of the Forbes Purchase (ca. 1820). In the lower left portion of the map is St. George Island. The “Negro Fort” was located on the Apalachicola River near Prospect Bluff.

Prior to the War of 1812, several agents of the British Empire, most notably William Augustus Bowles, attempted similar schemes to enlist black and Indian allies in armed struggle against the Americans with the goal of wresting control of Florida away from the Spanish. Bowles seized the Panton, Leslie & Company trading post on the Wakulla River in 1792. Panton, Leslie & Company, a Scottish-owned firm, enjoyed a monopoly over the Indian trade in West Florida. The Spanish granted the firm these rights as they were unable to satisfy Creek and Seminole demands for trade goods themselves. The Spaniards apprehended Bowles and sent him to a prison in the Philippines.

William Augustus Bowles (ca. 1795)

William Augustus Bowles (ca. 1795)

The intrepid Bowles escaped incarceration and returned to Florida in 1800. This time he besieged Fuerte San Marcos de Apalache, forcing the Spanish to withdraw. Shortly thereafter, an expedition sailed from Pensacola and expelled Bowles. He was later captured by the Spanish, who imprisoned him in Havana, Cuba, until his death in 1805.

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