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The Colony of East Florida

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Dan Hughes, former Sarasota County Archaeologist
Photo Credit: Sarasota County Historical Resources

Sarasota History - The Colony of East Florida photo

Florida played a significant role in our nation’s struggle for independence. In 1763, Spain transferred La Florida to England in exchange for the recently captured island of Cuba that was captured near the end of the Seven Years War, also known as The French and Indian War. Spain’s late entry on the French side placed it on the losing end of the terms in the Treaty of Paris in 1763.

With the acquisition of new lands to the south of the colony of Georgia, England established two new colonies in Florida. The new colonies of East and West Florida were established with the Apalachicola River as their border. Sarasota was a part of East Florida.

With our capitol in St. Augustine, the first British governor was Major Francis Ogilvie who acted as temporary governor until the first civil governor, General James Grant, arrived a year later from South Carolina. Grant attempted to establish a plantation-style economy in Florida similar to that of South Carolina. The idea was to create numerous rice plantations in the marsh areas in northeast Florida. In addition, Indigo plantations were also established. Grant supported the establishment of these plantations to the extent that he personally invested.

In 1774, Colonel Patrick Tonyn took over as the next Governor of East Florida and inherited what was still a backwater colony with a few scattered plantations in dire need of economic assistance. However, Tonyn was not able to focus on solving the economic woes of the colony. Instead he had to focus on the larger problems facing all of the British colonies along the east coast, the threat of war. Even before its outbreak, Tonyn faced such problems as the closing of the port of Charleston during the Stamp Act crisis. Without the needed supplies from the port, East Florida’s capitol almost ran out of foodstuffs.

In 1776, the Colony of East Florida remained loyal to the Crown and quickly became a target for Southern patriots in South Carolina and Georgia. In addition, the colony became a safe haven for loyalists from those colonies who transferred good and slaves there for safekeeping. This left Tonyn in charge of protecting the colony from invasion. With the assistance of Thomas Brown, he formed the East Florida Rangers as fast-moving mounted infantry.

Brown, who had been ousted from Georgia by the Augusta Liberty Boys whild given a new feather suit, was given the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and charged with recruiting and training the Rangers. The Rangers would, for the next two years, raid the Georgia border – stealing cattle and even sacking Ft. Barrington.
Eventually the Rangers would come under the control of Brigadier General Andrew Provost. Thereafter, they participated in the successful halting of the Revolutionary Force’s advance across the St. Mary’s River, and would eventually meet up with Lt. Col. Archibald Campbell’s forces where they assisted in the defense of the Franco-American siege of Savannah in 1779.

With the successful capture of Savannah by the British, the colony of East Florida now had a protective buffer and the East Florida Rangers were disbanded with Brown soon forming the King’s Georgia Rangers. The colony returned to relative calm until 1781 with the defeat of the British. This led to a flood of immigrant loyalists that would have a temporary reprieve in the colony until 1783 when they were informed that England was abandoning the East Florida Colony to the Spanish.

In 1784, Florida was returned to the Spanish. It was not until 1821 that Florida joined the former British colonies as part of the United States.