Gregor McGregor (Part Two)

McGregor settled in on Amelia Island after capturing the Spanish town and blockhouse at Fernandina.

After Gregor McGregor captured the small fort and block houses at Fernandina on Amelia Island in June of 1817, he sent the Spanish prisoners to St. Augustine. McGregor planned to continue his invasion of North Florida, but delayed at Amelia Island to set up a government of his own. He established a postal delivery system, acquired a printing press for a local newspaper, issued his own currency and flew his own flag, a green cross on a white background.

Gregor McGregor's flag

Read more »

Gregor McGregor (Part One)

In July 1817, McGregor devised a plan to capture part of Florida and sell it to the United States.

Gregor McGregor was born in Scotland in 1786. After serving in the British Army for eight years he sold out of the army in 1810, having attained the rank of major. In 1812, McGregor sailed to South America to join the colonial revolution against the Spanish. He married a relative of Simón Bolivar and campaigned against the Spanish in South America and the Caribbean for several years.

In 1817, he left South America for North America to campaign against the Spanish in Florida. McGregor devised a plan to capture part of Florida and sell it to the United States. He obtained financial backing from an American mercantile company from Charleston, South Carolina, recruited veterans of the War of 1812, and invaded Amelia Island in North Florida.

Map from the Unconfirmed Spanish Land Grant of John McClure on Amelia Island, showing the location of Fuerte San Carlos (upper left) overtaken by McGregor on July 9, 1817

Map from the Unconfirmed Spanish Land Grant of John McClure on Amelia Island, showing the location of Fuerte San Carlos (upper left) overtaken by McGregor on July 9, 1817

Quotation below from Narrative of a Voyage to the Spanish Main in the Ship Two Friends (J. Miller: London, 1819), 87-88.

“On the 9th of July (1817), the little band of McGregor, attended by two schooners and a few row boats, passing the shores of Cumberland island, at the entrance of the river St. Mary’s, anchored in the Spanish waters of Amelia, disembarking in all about 60 muskets, under the very guns of the fort of Fernandina, and two block houses intended as a defense for the rear of the town. McGregor, assisted by Colonel Posen of the United States Army as second in command, led his little band over a swamp, which divided the point of debarkation from the town, plunged up to their knees in mud, exposed to the means possessed by the Spaniards of totally annihilating them… The garrison… did not offer a single coup de canon of resistance from the fort, and only one gun was fired from the Block house and that without the orders of the commandant.”

The British Invasion (Part Two)

The War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739-1748) was but a single episode in the prolonged series of imperial conflicts between England and Spain in the 18th century. In the summer of 1740, the conflict came to Florida.

James Oglethorpe, English military commander and founder of the Georgia colony, led the expedition against St. Augustine. In January 1740, Oglethorpe presented his plan for a swift victory before the South Carolina General Assembly. He envisioned a decisive surprise attack led by English soldiers and militia, aided by Creek and Cherokee warriors.

"A New and Accurate Plan of the Town of St. Augustine," by John de Solis, 1764

“A New and Accurate Plan of the Town of St. Augustine,” by John de Solis, 1764

Surprise proved nearly impossible for the English invaders. Leading up to the advance of the main force, England’s Native American allies–principally Creek and Euchee (also Yuchi) warriors–periodically raided Spanish settlements north of St. Augustine. An incident on Amelia Island in late 1739 also alerted the Spaniards to the likelihood of an attack.

By the time Oglethorpe’s army reached the south bank of the St. Johns River on May 9, 1740, the Spanish were certainly aware of their intentions. On May 12, Oglethorpe took Fort Diego, located 20 miles north of St. Augustine near the head of the Tolomato River. Four days later he advanced on St. Augustine, but pulled back to Fort Diego on May 18. At this point, several commanders expressed dissatisfaction with Oglethorpe’s tactics. Some questioned why he did not immediately besiege the town as Colonel James Moore had done with great success four decades earlier.

During the ensuing month, Oglethorpe repeatedly marched his troops within sight of the city without launching a full assault. Regular soldiers, militia, and Indian auxiliaries again lodged complaints about the incessant and seemingly pointless marching. A group of Creeks even threatened to abandon the field, and apparently some did. Oglethorpe also divided his force, weakening their ability to defend any particular position. He left some men at Fort Diego, sent a group across the bay to Anastasia Island, and encamped another on Point Quartell (modern-day Vilano Beach).

After much maneuvering on the English side, the most significant battle of the campaign took place in the early morning hours of June 15 (modern calendar June 26). A company of Scottish Highlanders and a number of Creeks had occupied the abandoned Fort Mose north of St. Augustine. Fort Mose was established in 1739 to defend the northern approach to the city; its defenders were free-blacks and escaped slaves organized into a militia unit. The African defenders of Fort Mose had left the four-square wooden and earthen structure in anticipation of Oglethorpe’s advance on the city, which never fully materialized aside from sporadic artillery fire.

"Plano de la Ciudad y Puerto de San Agustin de la Florida," by Tomas Lopez de Vargas Machura, 1783. The location of Fort Mose is noted on this map as "Fuerte Negro."

“Plano de la Ciudad y Puerto de San Agustin de la Florida,” by Tomas Lopez de Vargas Machura, 1783. The location of Fort Mose is noted on this map as “Fuerte Negro.”

Colonel Palmer, commanding the troops at Mose, warned the men to be on alert the evening of the 14th. He reportedly had heard “Spanish Indians dancing the War Dance.” Apparently the soldiers did not heed his call for vigilance and when the combined force of Spanish soldiers, African militia under the command of free-black Francisco Menendez, and Indian warriors attacked the fort, they easily routed the Highlanders and Creeks inside.

Conflicting reports surfaced on English causalities suffered at the Battle of Bloody Mose, as the event became known. Oglethorpe reported 20 Highlanders killed, plus “several Indians and some Others” as well as 27 taken prisoner. Thomas Jones, a Creek interpreter, counted “about fifty Whites and Indians” killed in the action. Jones also added gruesome details about the aftermath of the battle. “[A]fter their Victory at Moosa,” he explained, the victors “cut off the Heads and private Parts of the Slain, and carried them into Augustine in Triumph.”

The Battle of Bloody Mose proved to be a turning point in the siege. In the weeks that followed, Oglethorpe proved incapable of rallying his troops to the cause. By early July he had also lost the support of vessels patrolling the entrance to the Matanzas River. Citing possible hurricanes ships left the area, which allowed the Spanish to easily resupply the besieged settlement. By mid-July the English retreated and St. Augustine survived another British invasion.

Castillo de San Marcos, ca. 1950

Castillo de San Marcos, ca. 1950

The subsequent investigation by the General Assembly of South Carolina enumerated at length the failures of Oglethorpe’s expedition. First, unrestrained attacks by England’s Indian allies as well as preemptive raids near Amelia Island spoiled the element of surprise, long before the army marched into Florida. Second, the repeated marching and dividing of the troops without attacking weakened both morale and the potential for success. Third, several incidents alienated Oglethorpe’s Indian allies, without whom victory was unlikely. Fourth, the Assembly did not feel as if they had been properly advised on critical decisions during the campaign; Oglethorpe had acted without their advice and paid for it in defeat. Finally, the departure of the blockading vessels in early July dealt the final blow to an ill-conceived and poorly executed mission.

Ironically, Great Britain did gain control of St. Augustine 23 years later in 1763, following the end of the French and Indian War (1754-1763), also known as the Seven Years War. This time, a bloodless transfer took place and the British finally breached the city walls and entered the Castillo de San Marcos as victors.

To learn more about the investigation of Oglethorpe’s failed expedition, see John Tate Lanning, ed. The St. Augustine Expedition of 1740: A Report to the South Carolina General Assembly (Columbia: South Carolina Archives Department, 1954); on Fort Mose see Jane Landers, Black Society in Spanish Florida (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999); on Creek – English relations, see Steven C. Hahn, The Invention of the Creek Nation, 1670-1763 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004).

The British Invasion (Part One)

The War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739-1748) was but a single episode in the prolonged series of imperial conflicts between England and Spain in the 18th century. In the summer of 1740, the conflict came to Florida.

In 1731, Spanish coast guardsmen boarded an English merchant ship captained by Robert Jenkins. The Spaniards accused the Englishmen of smuggling, and as punishment cut off Jenkins’ ear. According to some accounts, Jenkins later exhibited the severed ear in front of the British Parliament during his testimony on Spanish depredations. This incident, along with numerous petitions and lengthy testimony, convinced the British government to take action against Spain.

War erupted across the Caribbean soon after the hearings before Parliament. The most significant action in Florida resulted from an expedition led by General James Oglethorpe against the city of St. Augustine in the summer of 1740. By all accounts, Oglethorpe’s campaign constituted an epic failure. The General Assembly of South Carolina launched a full investigation into the failed siege. Ultimately, they concluded that a series of tactical mistakes doomed the English effort to weaken the Spanish outpost.

English cartographer Thomas Silver created the map below to illustrate the siege against St. Augustine. It bears a striking resemblance to a map depicting an earlier British attempt to level St. Augustine, undertaken by Sir Francis Drake in 1586. The transcription of the long key included with the map has, as much as possible, preserved spellings used in the original.

"A View of the Town and Castle of St. Augustine, and the English Camp before it June 20, 1740," by Thomas Silver

An early, hand-colored engraving of Silver’s map resides in the Florida Map Collection at the State Library of Florida.

Transcription of Silver’s Map:

“A View of the Town and Castle of St. Augustine, and the English Camp before it June 20, 1740. By Thos. Silver.

A. The English South Trench [?] 3 18 Pounders & 2 small Morters
B. A Marsh from whence we played with 20 Cohorns
C. Eustatia Island, which is chiefly Sand & Bushes
D. Sailors hawling Cannon in reach of the Castle
E. A North Trench 3 18 prs & a Mortar of 24:1:10
F. Genl. Oglethrop’s Soliders, Indians & Sailors Tents
G. A Lookout taken the 12th of June
H. Soldiers and Sailors landing June the 11th
I. A Sand Battery quited at our Approach
K. Capt. Warren Commander over the Sailors hoisting the Union Flag on board a Schooner
L. The Sailors wells to Water the Shiping

Ships 1. Flamborough 2. Hector 3. Squirrel
4. Tartar 5. Phoenix
6. Woolf 7. Spence

Employ’d in this Expedition about 200 Seamen 400 Sailors and 300 Indians

Forces of the Spaniards 1000 besides a Strong Castle and 4 Fortified Barks and a Shallow River hindring our Shippings Playing on them.

An Account of the Siege of St. Augustine in the letter on Board ye Hector. May 30 we arrived near St. Augustine, June 1st we were join’d by the Flamborough. Capt. Pearse, the Phoenix Capt. Fanshaw, the Tartar Capt. Towshend and the Squirrel Capt. Warren of 20 Guns each besides the Spense Sloop Capt Laws, and the Wolf Capt. Dandrige.

On the 2d Col Vander Dufen with 300 Carolina Soldiers appear’d on the North of the Town. On the 9th Genl. Oglethorpe came by Sea with 300 Soldiers and 300 Indians from Georgia. On the 10th they were carried a Shore in the Men of Wars boats under the cover of the small Ships Guns. They Landed on the Island Eustatia without Opposition and took the Look-out at G.

The 13th Capt. Warren in a Schooner and other Armed Sloops and Pettyaugers anchored in their Harbor just out of Cannon shot till the 26th when the Sailors were employed in landing Ordnance and other Stores within Reach of the Enemys Cannon. On which Occasion they discover’d a surprising Spirit and Intrepidity. The same night two Batteries were rais’d, but too far off.

The 27th the General Summon’d the Governor to Surrender, who sent word he should be glad to shake hands with him in his Castle. This haughty answer was occasioned by a dear bought Victory, which 500 Spaniards had obtained over 80 Highlanders 50 of whom were slain, but died like Heroes killing thrice their number.

The 29th bad Weather obliged the men of War to put to sea out of [?] but one man had be kill’d. Hereupon the Siege was raised.”

Stay tuned for “The British Invasion (Part Two),” which recounts the Spanish-African-Native American victory over Oglethorpe’s troops at the Battle of Bloody Mose.

To learn more about the British siege of St. Augustine in 1740, see Edward Kimber, A Relation, Or Journal, Of a Late Expedition &c (Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1976); John Tate Lanning, ed. The St. Augustine Expedition of 1740: A Report to the South Carolina General Assembly (Columbia: South Carolina Archives Department, 1954); Aileen Moore Topping, ed. An Impartial Account of the Late Expedition Against St. Augustine under General Oglethorpe (Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1978).

Drake In Detail

On May 28 and 29, 1586, Sir Francis Drake attacked St. Augustine.

Drake’s raid was part of a larger expedition led by the English privateer against Spanish settlements in the Caribbean. An Italian cartographer named Baptista Boazio created this map in order to illustrate Drake’s successful campaign. Boazio’s hand-colored map is the earliest known depiction of a European settlement in what is now the United States; it is also the oldest item in the collections of the State Archives of Florida.

Map of Drake's raid on St. Augustine, by Baptista Boazio, published in 1589

Map of Drake’s raid on St. Augustine, by Baptista Boazio, published in 1589

Boazio, who never visited St. Augustine, included fine details in his map derived from first-hand accounts of English exploits. Join us as we take a look at Drake in detail.

Detail of a galleon, the largest of the 43 vessels portrayed by Boazio

Detail of a galleon, the largest of the 43 vessels portrayed by Boazio

Read more »

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.

Read more »

Jean Ribault Explores the St. Johns River (April 30, 1562)

On April 30, 1562, French explorer Jean Ribault led an expedition ashore near the mouth of the St. Johns River. They continued north to what is now South Carolina before returning to Europe. Ribault returned to the Americas in 1564 and was among those killed during the Spanish – French struggle for control over La Florida.

"The French Sail to the River of May," from an engraving by Theodor de Bry

“The French Sail to the River of May,” from an engraving by Theodor de Bry

Between the time he returned to Europe and before the second French expedition sailed in 1564, Ribault published an account of his journey titled The Whole & True Discouerye of Terra Florida. His brief account provides insight into his perception of the land and people he encountered. The below spellings retain those that appear in an early English-language printing of Ribault’s account.
Read more »

Moore’s Letter on the Destruction of Apalachee (April 16, 1704)

Between 1702 and 1709, English colonists from Carolina and their Creek Indian allies destroyed numerous Spanish and Native American settlements in La Florida.

Excerpt from “Carte de la Floride et de la Georgie,” by P.F. Tardieu (ca. 1785)

Excerpt from “Carte de la Floride et de la Georgie,” by P.F. Tardieu (ca. 1785)

In early 1704, Colonel James Moore led raids deep into the heart of the Apalachee province. A letter from Moore to the Lord Proprietors, dated April 16, 1704, described the outcome:

“…I raised 50 whites, all the Government thought fit to spare out of the settlement at that time; with them 1000 Indians, which by my own interest I raised to follow me, I went to Apalatchee. The first place I came to was the strongest Fort in Apalatchee, which after nine hours I took…In this expedition I brought away 300 men, and 1000 women and children, have killed, and taken as slaves 325 men, and have taken slaves 4000 women and children…All which I have done with the loss of 4 whites and 15 Indians, and without one penny charge to the publick.”

Transcription of the original by Dr. Mark F. Boyd; a copy of Dr. Boyd’s transcription and associated documents are available at the State Archives of Florida in M86-40, Papers of Mark Frederick Boyd, 1912-1968, box 3, folder “San Luis.”

Ethnohistorian John Hann analyzed several inconsistencies in the remaining versions of Moore’s account and concluded that we cannot be certain about which settlements were razed, the number captives taken, or the causalities suffered by the Apalachee. Regardless of the exact facts and figures, historians agree that Moore’s raids had disastrous consequences for the Apalachee. As a result of the English and Creek expeditions, the vast majority of the Apalachee were expelled from their homeland. Many were sold into slavery, or absorbed by the Creeks. Some refugees fled to Louisiana, where their descendants remain today. A small number reached St. Augustine and accompanied the Spanish to Cuba in 1763, never to return to Florida again.

For further reading, see Mark F. Boyd and Hale G. Smith, Here They Once Stood: The Tragic End of the Apalachee Missions (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1951); Allan Gallay, The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003); John H. Hann, Apalachee: The Land between the Rivers (Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1988).

Pánfilo de Narváez

On April 14 or 15, 1528, Spanish explorer Pánfilo de Narváez landed near Tampa Bay.

Occidentalis Americ Partis, published by Theodor de Bry, ca. 1591

Occidentalis Americ Partis, published by Theodor de Bry, ca. 1591

His expedition split into two groups. One stayed with the ships and hugged the coast, the other traveled inland towards modern-day Tallahassee. The men at sea failed to reestablish contact with those inland and were presumed lost.

Pánfilo de Narváez

Pánfilo de Narváez

Battered by hurricanes and attacked by local Timucua and Apalachee Indians, Narváez’s men built boats, possibly near the St. Marks River, and attempted to flee Florida. After eight years, only four survivors made in back to Mexico. One of the survivors, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, wrote an account of his experience titled Naufragios y Comentarios.

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca

Viva Florida Week

Join in the VIVA Florida 500 commemoration, April 4-6, 2013, at the R.A. Gray Building in downtown Tallahassee.

Map of Saint Augustine by Baptista Boazio, 1589

Go behind the scenes at the Bureau of Archaeological Research Conservation Lab, view three rarely displayed documents from the State Archives, and take a guided tour of the Museum of Florida History’s new permanent exhibit Forever Changed: La Florida, 1513-1821.

Conservation Lab
10 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m.

Museum of Florida History
11 a.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m.

The R. A. Gray Building is located two blocks west of the Capitol Building on Bronough Street, between the Civic Center and the Supreme Court of Florida: 500 South Bronough Street, Tallahassee, Florida 32399, 850.245.4400.