Atlantic Loyalties: Americans in Spanish West Florida, 1785-1810

Atlantic Loyalties: Americans in Spanish West Florida, 1785-1810

Atlantic Loyalties: Americans in Spanish West Florida, 1785-1810

Atlantic Loyalties: Americans in Spanish West Florida, 1785-1810


Integrating social, cultural, economic, and political history, this is a study of the factors that grounded--or swayed--the loyalties of non-Spaniards living under Spanish rule on the southern frontier. In particular, Andrew McMichael looks at the colonial Spanish administration's attitude toward resident Americans. The Spanish borderlands systems of slavery and land ownership, McMichael shows, used an efficient system of land distribution and government patronage that engendered loyalty and withstood a series of conflicts that tested, but did not shatter, residents' allegiance. McMichael focuses on the Baton Rouge district of Spanish West Florida from 1785 through 1810, analyzing why resident Anglo-Americans, who had maintained a high degree of loyalty to the Spanish Crown through 1809, rebelled in 1810.

The book contextualizes the 1810 rebellion, and by extension the southern frontier, within the broader Atlantic World, showing how both local factors as well as events in Europe affected lives in the Spanish borderlands. Breaking with traditional scholarship, McMichael examines contests over land and slaves as a determinant of loyalty. He draws on Spanish, French, and Anglo records to challenge scholarship that asserts a particularly "American" loyalty on the frontier whereby Anglo-American residents in West Florida, as disaffected subjects of the Spanish Crown, patiently abided until they could overthrow an alien system. Rather, it was political, social, and cultural conflicts--not nationalist ideology--that disrupted networks by which economic prosperity was gained and thus loyalty retained.


In August 1804, a gang of men led by three brothers named Kemper rode from the United States territory of Mississippi into Spanish-held West Florida. They carried a blue and white striped flag and a proclamation of independence demanding that the people of Spanish West Florida rise up against Spain and declare independence. No other West Floridians rallied to the Kemper-led gang, and many actively worked to track down and prosecute the invaders. Yet by November 1810—after Napoleon had kidnapped and deposed the Spanish king—a group of men in the territory of Spanish West Florida gathered to create a caretaker government, as occurred elsewhere in Spain’s New World possessions. Similarly, West Floridians lamented the loss of their sovereign and vowed that their actions did not constitute a revolution—in fact, they argued in their declaration of independence that a number of events had necessitated their reluctant revolution. The convention repeatedly stressed its loyalty to the deposed king, insisting that it was merely taking control of the functions of government abdicated by its peninsular overseers.

West Floridians nonetheless constituted a unique element among Spain’s New World revolutionaries in that they were overwhelmingly Anglo-American. Some had been in the territory for only a few years, while others had experienced the transitions from French to British to Spanish rule. If the residents and convention delegates were mostly Anglos, why, then, did they profess loyalty to Spain’s deposed king? What was it about Spanish rule that engendered loyalty to the point that when presented with the opportunity to rise up under the Kempers, residents declined to rebel, only to do so within a few short years? Was it simply a matter of timing, or were there deeper issues of loyalty and economic self-interest? What engendered political fealty through 1804 and then caused its breakdown by 1810? These questions constitute the central theme of this book.

At its heart this book is about the immigration into, and the development of, the Baton Rouge district of Spanish West Florida from the 1780s to the revolution of 1810, focusing on the application of Spanish rule to the development of a frontier community, and the impact of Spanish institutions on whites and blacks living within the Spanish system. More importantly, though, it seeks to answer the question of how that development contributed to Spanish construction of national loyalty among Anglo-American borderland residents, how that loyalty held when tested, and then why it ultimately dissolved. This study also places the local into an international context by exploring the local effects of . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.