S1 E2: West Florida transcript
Updated: Oct 12, 2020
Welcome to countries that don’t exist anymore, the historical entertainment podcast about countries that…..don’t exist anymore. This week we look at the short-lived Republic of West Florida.
WHERE WAS THE REPUBLIC OF WEST FLORIDA?
Not in West Florida.
FX: Huh? (dog FX maybe)
The Republic of West Florida wasn’t in what is now modern west Florida. It was actually in what is now East Louisiana which is west of modern west Florida. But not west of the Republic of West Florida? All better now?
Wait. Where are we now?
Let’s go to the high-tech and exceedingly expensive Countries That Don’t Exist Anymore Mapatron 3000.
FX: Plinky robot noises….
Crappy robot voice:
Maptron 3000 scanning system active, initial phase initialised…. Opening Google Maps, sorry, the internet’s a bit slow… commencing zoom out click… zoom out click commenced… commencing drag left… drag left commenced… still in middle of Atlantic Ocean….commencing further drag left…
Just zoom out more
Still in middle of Atlantic Ocean, commencing drag left… malfunction… mouse cannot move anymore.
You’ve hit the keyboard, you -
Commencing drag left
(off microphone) Give it to me you stupid piece of -
SFX robot landing on floor
(off mike) Malfunction - horizontal on floor, unable to locate map of West Florida.
Malfunction, carpet appears vertical
(Ed starts hitting it with something)
Malfunction, being hit with chair
Just turn it off
SFX power down
On the north shore of the Gulf of Mexico, its western boundary was the Mississippi River and its Northern border was the 31st parallel, but after that it’s hard to get a comprehensive answer to where its exact boundaries were. If you form a republic that no one really recognises, it’s quite difficult to work out how much of the map you can actually colour in. However, its capital was St Francisville but its most famous settlement was probably Baton Rouge. If you’re still none the wiser and refuse to consult a map, (by the way, we’ve got a Maptron 3000 for sale, ten quid O N O) just imagine New Orleans and go a little north from there.
WHEN DID REPUBLIC OF WEST FLORIDA EXIST?
September 23rd, 1810 to December 10th...1810. So that’s 74 days or about 2 and a half months.
As West Florida’s marching song of the time went…
[with marching music underneath]
“West Floriday, that lovely nation,
Free from king and tyranny,
Thru’ the world shall be respected,
For her true love of Liberty!”
...for 74 days.
FX: Big Ben and classical music
I say Canning. Have you heard that the new Republic of West Florida has declared its independence from the Spanish Empyire?
Indeed Prime Minister. The Republic of West Florida must be respected for her true love of liberty.
Yes. Quite so.
SFX knock at door and opening envelop
Early nineteenth century equivalent of a telegram.
The Republic of West Florida has now been forcibly annexed by the United States and they’re not terrifically bothered about it. So it turns out that they’re not absolutely as keen on liberty as we just announced. Well, now I feel like a nincompoop.
Ah well, can’t be helped. What’s say we have a spot of port and invade India?
Bat-eared listeners may have spotted how West Florida was called West Florid-y in the marching song, but that wasn’t the official name or anything. The only reason that happened was so that the authors of the song could rhyme it with tyranny or liberty, because nothing suitable rhymes very well with Florida, except for…
“West Florida, that lovely nation,
Free from king and corridors…”
Things that last longer than the Republic of West Florida
GRAMS: Tony Hart gallery music
A fortnight on Pluto
The buildup to Sting’s orgasm
You know how long 74 days is in hours? 1776. Coincidence? Yes.
HOW WEST FLORIDA BECAME WEST FLORIDA
So, wait a minute. If it was called the Republic of West Florida, why isn’t it in modern day Florida?
Because when the British ruled that territory, the area was split into West Florida and East Florida. East Florida roughly aligns to modern Florida.
I see! So, West Florida used to be a British colony and then it became an independent state.
No, it was a Spanish colony and then it became an independent state.
But you just said it was British.
Ah. It was British, but before that it was French and Spanish and then it was British and then it was Spanish again and then it was independent and then it became part of the United States.
Ok. So now it’s part of the USA, but before that it was independent, before that it was Spanish, before that British and before that French and Spanish. And before that?
And before that?
Dinosaurs? But that’s for our future show Species That Don’t Exist Anymore
SFX: Tropical waves etc
Classical music and tropical island background
say Jenkins, that was a long voyage across the world to this strange island, what?
Certainly was sir! I say, sir, what are those strange, bird creatures thereover?
SFX: Montage of Homer Simpson saying “d’oh” over bird sounds
Well, I know what we should call them. D’oh… d’ohs. Though I must say, that’s thoroughly annoying. Kill them all Jenkins.
The land which became the Republic of West Florida was part of the Spanish Empire until the Seven Years War (1756-63) when Britain invaded and captured Havana, Cuba. In exchange for peace the Spanish ceded them East Florida and West Florida. The French Empire also had to hand over their lands in the area to the British.
British West Florida then existed from 1763 for 20 years until 1783.
In 1764, British West Florida got an assembly similar to the other American colonies and its economy began to boom as new settlers arrived.
For all the talk of a King’s tyranny, West Florida was actually invited to send delegates to the First Continental Congress (to express grievances to George III) but, along with East Florida, they were having no part in such treasonous behaviour. Once the war broke out, in fact, the colonists remained largely loyal to the Crown.
In 1778, some colonists even burned the likenesses of revolutionary founding fathers John Adams and John Hancock in effigy with the colony of West Florida proclaiming, "We hold in abhorrence the present unnatural and unparalleled rebellion raging in our neighboring colonies, with its leaders and abettors."
With the American colonies revolting against Britain, the Spanish took the opportunity to invade the area and capture Baton Rouge and Mobile, before seizing Pensicola in 1781.
This didn’t make Spain an ally of the USA. Spain fought against Britain in the revolutionary war BUT they didn’t fight with the USA. Spain was a conservative monarchy at this time. They wanted to hobble Britain but NOT seem to support devilish, swivel-eyed revolutionaries against civilised colonial empires - dangerous precedent, especially with all them Latin American colonies chafing under the ole imperial rule.
And because Britain lost the Revolutionary War, it had to cede the territories of West Florida and East Florida back to Spain at the 1783 Treaty of Paris.
Once West Florida came back into Spanish hands, more British and American settlers arrived to take over the land - many of them had been loyal to the Crown and so were happy to leave the new United States.
West Florida under Spanish rule was never stable. The USA wanted the land and argued that it should belong to them by rights.
In 1803 the United States purchased Louisiana from France. The USA thought this should also include West Florida, but to quote Lando Calrissian, SFX “that was never part of the deal.”
So why didn’t the USA get West Florida in the Louisiana Purchase? Well, because in 1800, Spain was forced to cede Louisiana to France in the Treaty of San Ildefonso, but this didn’t include West Florida.
*Shop door noise*
Excuse me. I was in here yesterday and purchased Louisiana. But when I got home, I couldn’t find West Florida in the box.
Non, monsieur. West Florida was not part of the purchase.
Well just hold on a gosh darn minute.
Let me consult my colleague. Spain, did you cede West Florida to me in 1800?
Voila. And if Spain didn’t cede it to me, it couldn’t have been mine to sell to you, yankee pooppants.
Now just hold on one cotton-picking, slave-owning minute...
Always check the small print, American. Or hor hor hor.
Je je je je.
Or hor hor.
Gentlemen, you haven’t heard the last of this!
Ah oui, what are you going to do? Foment rebellion against the Spanish and then annex the territory after it declares independence? I would like to see that!
I’m not sure I would.
In the early 19th century, there was an influx of American settlers into West Florida. They ranged from loyalist American Tories fleeing persecution to land speculators, hoping to make a quick buck; should West Florida join the USA.
The USA were keen to get their hands on the land as it separated the USA’s Orleans and *Mississippi territories. US settlers established a foothold in the area and resisted Spanish control. Some British settlers who had stayed after US Independence also resented Spanish domination.
In 1800, the Kemper Brothers moved to West Florida and that’s when the trouble started.
Adventurers Reuben, Nathan and Samuel Kemper were described by the Spanish authorities as “white indians” and “river pirates”. They are said to have been uncout h, alcoholic troublemakers. Fortunately, Florida no longer has to put up with such people.
FX: SPRIIING BREAK!
I’m Reuben, my name’s Nathan, and our other brother’s Sam.
We come to West Florida fr om ole Virginian lands
We got expelled by the Spanish over land title disputes
So we’re invading from Mississippi in our best marching boots.
We proclaim West Florida free and invade Baton Rouge
But the locals don’t support us cos they’re a Spanish stooge
In 1805 we’re captured and it looks like it’s the end
But the American army rescued us on a Mississippi bend.
In 1810 there was a revolt against Spanish rule
So Reuben tried to mobilise the Mobile men as well
But when he crossed to the USA, he was arrested once again
But this time by the American side, who feared war with Spain.
While the actual role of the Kemper Brothers in the successful revolt is disputed, they are a great example of what was possible at the time. The Americans had thrown off the mighty British Empire. With the Spanish Empire too weak to assert itself over huge swathes of territory, these were the heady days when the likes of Simon Bolivar could liberate an area of South American swamp from the Spanish with a few muskets and a particularly patriotic mule.
So how could a handful of agitators with muskets defeat an entire empire so easily? What had happened to the once powerful Spain Empire?
Well, at the time large parts of Spain were under occupation by Napoleonic France in the Peninsular War and Spanish resources were stretched thinly across vast Latin American territories that were all getting pretty itchy feet at this time.
WHAT CAUSED THE REVOLT OF 1810?
Although there was anti-Spanish sentiment amongst many of its American and British settlers, Spanish governor Don Carlos de Grand-Pre had kept its inhabitants happy with liberal land grants, low to no taxation, a laissez-faire attitude and its support of slavery. The Spanish tactic was to keep West Florida as a buffer state between the USA and more valuable Spanish territory.
In 1808, 2 things happened that upset the orange cart.
1) Napoleon Bonaparte put his brother Joseph on the throne and the West Floridians feared French intervention.
2) Carlos de Hault de Lassus was appointed as governor. The inefficiency and corruption of his administration stoked up resentment amongst landowners.
From June to September 1810 public and private meetings were held to prepare for action. Undoubtedly, the United States was involved in the intrigue, even sending an agent, William Wykoff to stir up a request for U.S. intervention in West Florida. In fact some historians contend that the Republic of West Florid a was just a sham government set up to mask US aggression.
FX: “I’d buy that for a dollar” quote from Robocop
In 1810, a convention of delegates from across West Florida was organised and De Lassus was presented with a list of demands for political reform. The West Floridians claimed to be only offering their help to Delassus to assist governing the territory in difficult times. With only 28 troops under his command, Delassus pretended to go along with the demands. Eventually, however, a letter of his requesting the raising of troops loyal to the Spanish was intercepted.
Learning of this double dealing, and afraid they’d be arrested for treason, the Americanos went on the offensive with 50 soldiers and 25 cavalry under the leadership of Philemon Thomas. The target was Fort San Carlos which, though boasting little more than earthen walls still was armed with artillery and would be difficult to take in a frontal assault. There was a gap in the walls, however, which the garrison used to access their dairy herd and, in the dead of night, Thomas sent men through the gap.
Fort San Carlos is heavily shielded. Its defences are designed around a large-scale assault. However, a one-manned dairy cow should be able to penetrate the outer defenses. The target area is only 2 metres wide.
That's impossible, even for a cow.
It's not impossible - I used to bull's eye bulls in my dairy cows back home - they're not much bigger than 2 metres.
GRAMS: Star Wars music.
VO: Meanwhile in Fort San Carlos.
El Generale, I worry that having a gap in the defences just so we can access milk is a dangerously frivolous idea.
You worry too much Filipe. Here, have another Banana Nesquik
In the struggle 2 Spanish soldiers were killed and 3 wounded, which was probably the death toll of your average bull fight or paella festival at the time.
Upon capturing Fort San Carlos, the rebels declared the Republic of West Florida, replacing the Spanish flag with their own banner.
The flag was made by Melissa Johnson, the wife of Major Isaac Johnson of the West Florida Dragoons. Consisting of a rectangular blue field with a single white star (representing the new republic), it first flew as the national flag of the Republic of West Florida.
Militias loyal to Spain generally dispersed, but the leader of such a force, one William Cooper who had been part of the convention but warned the Spanish of trouble, was even captured and killed by the rebels.
One newspaper editor in the US called this a “little mimick Revolution” spawning the instant hit:
“It was a little mimick revolution led to US evolution as an expansive continental power. Oh yeah. A little mimic Revolution for some local devolution, lasted for only 1000 plus hours.”
(Polka dot bikini parody)
After the success of their revolt, an offer was made to the governor of Mississippi and Orleans by the rebels to join the United States but the US Administration took so long over it, that the West Floridians assumed they’d been rejected, declared their own republic and wrote their own constitution while they waited. Which is a pretty impressive thing to do while you’re on hold. I usually spend the time doodling.
They then drew up plans to attack the Spanish garrisons of Mobile and Pensacola which was to be led by Reuben Kemper - but this offensive ultimately didn't get anywhere.
I say we storm the garrison at Mobile and teach them tapas eating sons of beach holidays what’s what.
But the garrison is strong. What force can you muster, Reuben?
I’ve got a...stick...sharp one. Got a bit of doggie doo on the end too.
It's said that American President James Madison was in a quandary. Congress were not to meet until December 1810 and any invasion would require their approval. Also, any invasion of Spanish territory might spark a war. On the other hand, he felt that if he didn’t intervene, West Florida could fall into British hands.
I face a real dilemma. I don't have constitutional or legislative authority to send troops into West Florida and I fear that if I do, I'll set a precedent of illegal US invasions that may last 200 years or more. On the other hand, I do like Florida oranges. Hmmm.
The first and only president of the Republic of West Florida was gentleman gadabout named Ful-war Skip-with, which are four syllables you never knew belonged in that order.
It’s probably pronounced Fuller Skipwith, but as Americans like to hit every possible syllable (i.e. Bir-ming-ham instead of Birmingham or Lie-cest-er instead of Leicester) I’ll try to keep it authentic.
Skipwith, a distant cousin of Tho-mas Jeffer-son...ok...Thomas Jefferson had had lots of diplomatic experience before becoming governor - having already served as U.S. Consul in Martinique and Consul-General in France.
Skipwith was born in 1765 in Virginia and attended William & Mary College but dropped out aged 16 to fight in the revolutionary war, serving at the Siege of Yorktown in 1781.
After the war Skipwith entered the tobacco trade. We next hear from him when he’s enlisted in the diplomatic service, which seems an odd career change for a tobacco seller, or is it?
President Washington, the French have revolted and it’s important we get on good terms with them.
Fine, fine. What do the French like best of all?
I would say smoking sir. In fact, they’re quite keen on sending us a 111 foot high cigarillo to display in New York harbour.
Couldn’t they give us a statue instead?
Well, I’ll mention it to them, sir.
Well, if it’s smoking they like...we’ll send them the smokiest guy we got. Fullstrength Skipbreath.
That’s Fulwar Skipwith.
Excuse me? What’s the one thing they say about George Washington?
You cannot tell a lie?
Exactly. I CANNOT TELL A LIE. Thank god we got rid of those mad monarchs with their claims of super human virtue and their fawning servants. Now, quit stalling and send for Skipbreath.
Yes, your most excellent magnificent truthfulness.
At the time of the Declaration of the Republic of West Florida’s independence, Fulwar Skipwith had claimed that:
“…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.”
But when President James Madison finally got someone to get down there and claim the republic, Skipwith seemed rather too keen on the new country he led and is said to have been willing to sacrifice himself against American incursions...but, like the republic itself, this heroic resolve didn’t last long.
I am ready to die in defense of the Lone Star flag.
Sir, the American soldiers are here.
God bless America!
GRAMS: Stars and stripes march
U.S. troops occupied the national capital at St. Francisville on December 6, 1810, and raised the Stars and Stripes over Baton Rouge four days later.
Meanwhile at Republic of West Florida Flag Printing Company.
SFX: Printing presses etc.
Phew. We finally did it. We finally printed 20,000 beautiful new flags.
Err….sir? You know that the USA just annexed us, right?
Oh come on!
WHAT KIND OF GOVERNMENT DID THE REPUBLIC OF WEST FLORIDA HAVE?
The answer’s in the question.
That’s right. The answer is obv, because it was a Republic. The government was a bicameral legislature - which means an assembly with two chambers based on the American model with its government divided into a legislative, executive and judiciary.
WHO WERE THE WEST FLORIDIANS?
The West Floridians set the definition for the term “a mixed bag.” True, they were multinational, with everything from British, French, American and Spanish included, not to mention a large African slave population who did all the actual work of course.
But West Florida also was a natural home for opportunists and troublemakers. The Gulf Coast is said to have served as a sanctuary for outlaws, buccaneers, military deserters, political refugees, fortune hunters and malcontents. So basically West Florida was like a sub-tropical Wetherspoons.
Writer Walker Percy who later resided in the area also mentioned “American tories who had no use for the Revolution, disgruntled Huguenots and Cavaliers from the Carolinas, [and] New Englanders fleeing from Puritanism.”
Another account describes the West Floridians as “landgrabbers, adventurers, or job-seekers.” William C. C. Claiborne, governor of the newly established Orleans Territory, said: “a more heterogeneous mass of good and evil was never before met in the same extent of territory” before entering a Mos Eisley Cantina and using his lightsabre to lop of an alien’s arm.
With this reading of the population, it’s perhaps not surprising that unrest was par for the course. Early twentieth century historian Isaac Cox wrote that the Spanish were “attempting to control a pioneer population, alien in spirit, custom, and political training, but land hungry and unscrupulous in appeasing their appetite. It was inevitable, then, that charge and countercharge, intrigue and evasion, should finally result in revolt.”
One of the reasons the Kempers’ revolt of 1804 failed is because of just how mixed the area was. The Kempers didn’t earn widespread support because they failed to take into account the strength of pro-French, pro-British, and pro-Spanish elements - a lot of whom felt threatened by the pro-American faction the Kempers represented. Others merely saw the Kempers as crafty troublemakers who used political slogans to justify their efforts to enrich themselves - a tradition that lives on to this day.
The Spanish saw American actions as both sneaky and ungrateful, given that the Spanish had helped the USA to gain their independence. Even then, the Americans acted further to remove the Spanish garrison from Mobile in 1813, which the Spanish weren’t best pleased about given that the Spanish and USA weren’t...at war...or anything.
In fact the 1795 Pinckney’s Treaty between Spain and the USA specifically was supposed to put the two nations on a respectful footing. The treaty's full title is Treaty of Friendship, Limits, and Navigation Between Spain and the United States.
In his State of the Union address in 1810, Madison devoted a whole paragraph to justifying his actions, claiming that “The Spanish authority was subverted, and a situation produced exposing the country to ulterior events which might essentially affect the rights and welfare of the Union.”
So basically...we had no choice but to intervene….but it was basically our land anyway...and you smell like bins. Do you live in a bin? I bet you do.
The Republic of West Florida was pretty much absorbed into the US territory of Orleans thereafter.
Skipwith went on to serve in the Louisana State Senate and later negotiated the help of pirates to defend New Orleans against a British invasion in 1814.
In 1827, Skipwith reached the peak of his powers setting up the Agricultural Society of Baton Rouge, which specilaised in “the improvement of agriculture, the amelioration of the breed of horses, of horned cattle, and others, and in all of the several branches relative to agriculture in a country."
The Council of the Agricultural Society of Baton Rouge will now vote on a motion to improve the conditions of cows at the expense of horses. All in favour?
The nays have it.
So what is his legacy? A statue in Washington DC? A national holiday where smoking is compulsory? Not quite.
There’s a Fulwar Skipwith Road in Baton Rouge which, when people are doing house clearances all at once, is probably “fuller with-skips.”
As discussed, one legacy of the Republic of West Florida and its seizure by the USA is that it set a bit of a precedent for similar future actions by an expansionist United States, despite the fact that James Madison didn’t come out of it without some level of scandal.
Is that the end of a notion of a separatist West Florida? Not quite. There are two modern concepts of West Florida that are worth mentioning.
The first is noteworthy for all the wrong reasons and we’re only mentioning it here in fact because it has adopted the Republic of West Florida flag. The modern Republic of Florida is a racist group in Florida which calls for the “return” to a “white ethno-state.”
Obviously stupid because:
Florida has no time in its history been a white ethno-state. It has been filled with slaves and people of all ethnicities for a long time AND there’s the little matter of the indigenous Native Americans who lived there for thousands of years beforehand. It’s impossible to live in the tropical Floridian climate and be strictly white. At best you can be oompa loompa.
The second one is much more fun: The Dominion of British West Florida. This is a small group of people who actively want to become a Commonwealth dominion on the same terms as countries like Canada, New Zealand, Australia and The Bahamas
The group was founded in 2006 by Robert VII, Duke of Florida - who happens to be a fan of Brexit. Duke Robert writes
“Her Majesty, Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the Dominion of British West Florida, and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, has not yet granted our Petition, nor authorized this web site.
GRAMS: Royal music.
Your majesty. The self-appointed Duke Robert has asked you to authorise his website.
One shall look at it now. Oh dear. Look at that. Hasn’t this guy ever heard of CSS? And look at this table within table bullshit. It’s not even responsive design! Err...Bootstrap anybody? When was this website built? In my father’s reign? I would send him a message, but I’m not on Myspace anymore.
Oooh burn, your majesty.
As a result of various treaty technicalities and the Napoleonic takeover of Spain which voided British agreements made with the Spanish crown, Duke Robert argues that a patch of West Florida is actually still British Crown Lands and so it’s only natural for the British Crown to claim the land back.
In fairness, his grace the Duke of Fruitloops does have a point in saying that the annexation of West Florida by the USA happened on pretty shaky legal ground so, while the venture is a bit crazy, it does link back rather neatly to the unstable times that created the Republic of West Florida.
If you’d like, you can visit The Dominion of British West Florida website, take an oath and become a citizen. You can send off for a Certificate of Citizenship for $10, which is an obvious swindle. It’s ridiculous that people should be exploiting fools online for money.
Coming soon: Countries That Don’t Exist Anymore merch.
It’s a wonderful website and I would advise you to take a look. It has things written like:
“15 March 2006, The House of Lords of West Florida grants Consent to a Coinage Treaty between the Reserve Bank of the Dominion of British West Florida and the Central Mint of the Grand Duchy of Westarctica. The treaty provides for production of the One Pound and One Farthing coins.”
“1 April 2006, The Letters Patent from His Majesty, Prince Christopher I of the Principality of Vikesland Proclaming his Government's Recognition of the Dominion of British West Florida arrives and is scanned and posted to the web at the Dominion's Foreign Affairs Page.”
According to the website, acting Governor-General, the Most Honourable Bo Register, Marquess of Mobile has appointed Guido Zambelis to the post of Solicitor-General, Viscount Chattahooche is the Surgeon-General, and John Houston was appointed Lord Marshall. The Governor-General has also appointed David John Drew as Poet Laureate for the Dominion of British West Florida.
We’ve tried our darndest to contact Bo Register, but we had the same luck getting a response as he has from Her Royal Highness queen Lizzie.
It’s beautifully bonkers stuff!
So, to recap, a country which probably didn’t legitimately exist was set up in an area of land where no one was quite sure what belonged to whom before being probably illegally annexed by a country who definitely claimed not to be into the illegal annexation game.
The Republic of West Florida may be a country whose revolution took hours and whose existence can be counted in days, but it’s a brilliant example of the confusing and contradictory business of what a nation is and how accidentally they can both be created and destroyed.
The 74-day old Republic of West Florida is testament to the fact that in the frenetic crucible of the New World of the 18th and 19th centuries, for a little while at least, almost anything was possible.
Next time on Countries That Don’t Exist Anymore, we head East and dive hundreds of years into the past to arrive at the Islamic Sultanate of Rum which, ironically, wasn’t really into drinking.
Until then, do exist… and also, make sure your friends also exist also….