New on Florida Memory: The Patriot Constitution of 1812

In March 1812, a group of Georgia settlers known as the Patriot Army, with de facto support from the United States government, invaded Spanish East Florida. The Patriots hoped to convince the inhabitants of the province to join their cause and proclaim independence from Spain. Once independence was achieved, the Patriots planned to transfer control of the territory to the United States.

The Patriots seized Fernandina without firing a shot, but could not convince the government at St. Augustine to surrender. By July 1812, the “invasion” had reached a stalemate, with the Patriots encamped at Fort Mose, and the Spanish government firmly in control of St. Augustine and Castillo de San Marcos. Over the ensuing several months, the Patriots fought a series of skirmishes against the Spanish and their Seminole and black allies. The most significant fighting took place when the Patriots attempted to penetrate the strongholds of the Seminoles and their African-American allies near the Alachua Prairie.

page one of the Patriot Constitution of 1812

The Patriots eventually lost their tenuous support from the U.S. government and abandoned the Florida project in early 1813. During their time in control of Fernandina, the Patriots formed a temporary government and drafted a constitution to govern their territory. That document is transcribed and available on the Florida Memory website, along with other miscellaneous items related to the short-lived Republic of East Florida.

The original Patriot Constitution and associated documents reside in the collections of the Florida Historical Society (FHS) in Cocoa. The FHS lent the original documents to the State Archives in 2013 for digitization.

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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