West Florida

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Map of East and West Florida in the early 1800s.
Map of East and West Florida in the early 1800s.

West Florida was a region on the north shore of the Gulf of Mexico, which underwent several boundary and sovereignty changes during its history. Parts of the territory were held at various times by France, Spain, Britain, and the United States (as well as the short-lived Republic of West Florida and the Confederate States of America). Eventually the United States assumed control over the entire region, which now forms parts of the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.


A pawn of war

The expanded West Florida territory in 1767.
The expanded West Florida territory in 1767.

West Florida was from 1682 until 1763 a part of the French colony of Louisiana. At the end of the French and Indian War, Britain received the Spanish colony of Florida and a portion of the French colony of Louisiana lying between the Mississippi and Perdido rivers and north of Lake Pontchartrain. The British organized this territory into the provinces of East Florida, which consisted of most of the present U.S. state of Florida, and West Florida, bounded by the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain in the west, by the 31st parallel on the north and the Apalachicola River on the east. The British capital of West Florida was in Pensacola.

In 1767, the British moved the northern boundary to a line extending from the mouth of the Yazoo River east to the Chattahoochee River (32° 28′ north latitude), consisting of approximately the lower third of the present states of Mississippi and Alabama. In the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolutionary War, the British ceded both Florida provinces back to Spain (see Spanish Florida), but without specifying the boundaries. Spain wanted the expanded 1764 boundary, while the United States demanded the old boundary at the 31st parallel. In the Treaty of San Lorenzo of 1795, Spain recognized the 31st parallel as the boundary.

In the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso of 1800, Spain returned France's Louisiana colony, however the boundaries were not specified. After France sold the Louisiana Purchase to the United States in 1803, another boundary dispute erupted. The United States claimed the territory from the Perdido River to the Mississippi River, which had been a part of the old province of Louisiana when the French had ceded it in 1763. The Spanish insisted that they administered that portion as the province of West Florida and that it was not part of the territory returned to France in 1800.

A short-lived Republic

East and West Florida in 1810.
East and West Florida in 1810.

The United States and Spain held long, inconclusive negotiations on the status of West Florida. In the meantime, US settlers established a foothold in the area and resisted Spanish control. British settlers who had remained also resented Spanish rule, leading to a rebellion in 1810 and the establishment of the Free and Independent Republic of West Florida. On September 23, after meetings beginning in June, rebels overcame the Spanish garrison at Baton Rouge, and unfurled the flag of the new republic: a single white star on a blue field. This flag would later become known as the "Bonnie Blue Flag".

The boundaries of the Republic of West Florida included all territory south of the 31st parallel, west of the Perdido River, and east of the Mississippi River, but north of Lake Pontchartrain. The southern boundary was of course the Gulf of Mexico. It included the lower portions of what is now Alabama and Mississippi and the Louisiana parishes of East Baton Rouge, East and West Feliciana, Livingston, St. Helena, Tangipahoa, St. Tammany and Washington. The capital of the Republic of West Florida was St. Francisville.

The Constitution of West Florida was based largely on the US Constitution, and divided the government into three branches: executive, judicial and legislative. The legislature consisted of a Senate and House of Representatives. The Governor was chosen by the legislature. According to the constitution, the official name of the nation was the "State of Florida".

The first and only governor was Fulwar Skipwith, a former American diplomat who had helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. In his inaugural address, Skipwith mentioned the possibility of annexation with the United States:

"…wherever the voice of justice and humanity can be heard, our declaration, and our just rights will be respected. But the blood which flows in our veins, like the tributary streams which form and sustain the father of rivers, encircling our delightful country, will return if not impeded, to the heart of our parent country. The genius of Washington, the immortal founder of the liberties of America, stimulates that return, and would frown upon our cause, should we attempt to change its course."

Reuben Kemper led a small force in an attempt to capture Mobile from the Spanish, but the expedition ended in failure. The marching song of the West Floridian army included the lyrics:

West Floriday, that lovely nation,
Free from king and tyranny,
Thru’ the world shall be respected,
For her true love of Liberty.


The Republic of West Florida, today divided among three states.
The Republic of West Florida, today divided among three states.

On October 27, 1810, parts of West Florida were annexed by proclamation of U.S. President James Madison, who claimed the region as part of the Louisiana Purchase. At first, Skipwith and the West Florida government were opposed to the proclamation, preferring to negotiate terms to join the Union. However, William C.C. Claiborne, who was sent to take possession of the territory, refused to recognize the legitamacy of the West Florida government. Skipwith proclaimed that he was ready to "die in defense of the Lone Star flag." However, Skipwith and the legislature eventually backed down, and agreed to accept Madison's proclamation.

Possession was taken of St. Francisville on December 6, 1810, and of Baton Rouge on December 10, 1810. These portions were incorporated into the newly formed Orleans Territory. The U.S. annexed the Mobile District of West Florida to the Mississippi Territory in 1812. Spain continued to dispute the area, though the United States gradually increased the area it occupied until Spain ceded all of Florida to the United States in the Adams-Onís Treaty in 1819. The United States organized Florida Territory, consisting of most of East Florida and a small portion of West Florida, on March 30, 1822.

The portions of West Florida now located in Louisiana are today known as the Florida parishes. The Republic of West Florida Historical Museum is located in Jackson. In 1993, the Louisiana state legislature renamed Interstate 12 through the Florida Parishes as the "Republic of West Florida Parkway."

In 2002, Leila Lee Roberts, a great-granddaughter of Fulwar Skipwith, donated the original copy of the constitution of the West Florida Republic and supporting papers to the Louisiana State Archives.


  • Stanley Clisby Arthur, The Story of the West Florida Rebellion, St. Francisville Democrat, 1935, paperback, 164 pages (Several copies are available on ABE); Pioneer Publishing, paperback reprint, ISBN 1885480474 (probably not available)
  • David A. Bice, The Original Lone Star Republic: Scoundrels, Statesmen and Schemers of the 1810 West Florida Rebellion, Heritage Publishing Consultants, 2004.

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