Remembering America’s First Florida Land Grab

America had plans for the Spanish territory on its southern border — La Florida. By the early 1800s, eager slaveowners in Georgia and the Carolinas long had wanted to stop runaway slaves trekking to the Spanish territory for a better life.

Others simply wanted to expand the American empire at a time when Spain lacked the resources to protect its territory because of a draining war with Napoleon Bonaparte. Sensing a chance to grab new territory, the U.S. government took it.

James Madison

On January 15, 1811, Congress secretly authorized then-President James Madison to seize all or any part of Florida if either “local authorities” agreed, or if a foreign government tried to occupy any portion of the region.

The move sparked a wave of American settlers who called themselves “The Patriots” to invade the Spanish territory, seizing Amelia Island and attacking Saint Augustine, then the capital of the East Florida province. The siege only lasted a year when the U.S. government pulled back from annexing Florida in the face of a pending war with England. The siege by the Patriots would continue until 1816, but America would ultimately get Florida in 1845 when it became a state.

Source: The Black Seminoles: History of a Freedom Seeking People by Kenneth W. Porter and revised by Alcione M. Amos and Thomas P. Senter University of Florida Press, 1996 pages 3-8

Photo Credit: The White House Historical Association




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