The First Florida Expedition
Britain had gained control of Spanish
Florida in 1763 as a direct result
of the French and Indian War. Like southern Georgia, most of the
development was contained to the coastal areas at the northern end
of the peninsula, so Britain created East and West Florida as independent
royal governments. Since both were so new, neither had a political
infrastructure, only a royal governor and a few
officials. Patrick Tonyn, royal governor of East
Florida was generally viewed as a capable leader. The lack of political
infrastructure and sparse population meant neither colony was interested
in joining in the Revolution.
The capital of East Florida was St. Augustine.
It was not only the seat of British power in the colony, but the
home town of John Stuart, British agent to the
Creek Indians. Stuart's power was significantly more widespread
than Tonyn's, for the Creek Nation
that he had befriended spread across more than 10,000 square miles.
To the Savannah-area Georgians and the Whigs of South Carolina,
Stuart in St. Augustine was as much the target of the invasion as
was Tonyn's Florida Rangers. To the Whigs in South Georgia, it was
really the Rangers who were the target of the expedition.
British East Florida had been increasing in population
dramatically since the Whigs began to take power in Georgia in 1775.
Unhappy Tories from throughout the Southeastern United States crossed
the border, often seeking revenge on the Whigs who had taken their
land by joining the Florida Rangers. Among the men who joined this
group was Germyn Wright, brother of the former
royal governor of Georgia James Wright.
Although these Rangers could be considered "loose-knit,"
they did have a command structure in place, and based on Tonyn's
letters, took orders from the governor. Individual units, however,
seemed to be almost guerilla in style. Any organized battle against
such individualistic frontiersmen would be extremely difficult.
They never really had to worry about the force headed south from
Savannah. In addition to the Rangers there was
a garrison of British regulars at St. Augustine perhaps totaling
Preparations for the first of three Florida expeditions
began in mid-August, 1776. It was a study in poor planning, poor
preparation, and even worse execution, especially compared to the
successful raids of Captain William McIntosh earlier in August.
The expedition also highlighted in the often raucous behavior between
the Continental Army and the Georgia Militia.
|Major General Charles Lee, who would be court-martialed
for ordering a retreat at Monmouth for no apparent reason.
Continental Commander Major General Charles
Lee, the English-born son of an Irishman, had served in
the British Army. This gave his ideas merit, although he was generally
viewed as "eccentric" by Georgia's Council of
Safety. Lee viewed the Georgians with contempt, unable
to organize even the basic needs of an army, although he held individual
officers in high regard.
Heading south from Savannah, the troops made it
almost intact to Sunbury. From here, however, they began to run
into problems. First and foremost of the problems was transportation.
Lee had requested boats so the troops could plow the waters of coastal
Georgia down to Darien, but the Council
of Safety did not acquire enough of them for all the troops,
so many of the men marched south in September.
Two forts were built as protection during the march.
Fort Howe, built on the banks of the Altamaha River
on the site of Fort Barrington and Fort
McIntosh, built on the banks of the Satilla River.
Both protected the major north-south route of the day, The
Disease, combined with hot weather, increased the
number of desertions as the Continental Army and Georgia Militia
moved in force towards Florida. Once the troops moved south of the
Altamaha River food became scarce because many of the residents
had packed up and headed north to safety. Then word reached the
men that backcountry Georgia was under attack by the Chickamauga
Cherokee, and the Creek Indians were moving
to support the British garrison at St. Augustine. The attack by
the Cherokee was the work of John Stuart, who inspired
In spite of all these problems, a small group of
the combined armies did reach the Florida border, only to be betrayed
by Loyalists within their ranks. Captain John Baker,
who was in command of the detachment, was forced to retreat for
lack of supplies and transportation. All troops, Continental and
Militia, had returned to their respective bases of operations by
One of the legacies of the First Florida Expedition
were the forts built
by the troops. Included in these forts were Beard's Bluff,
McIntosh and Howe, a defensive perimeter for the settlers.
Next: A Leader Dies
Acts Of War
Georgia in 1763
Sugar Act; Stamp Act
The House dissolved
Radicals Gain Power
Georgia joins the Continental Congress
A Colony at War
A State and Union Formed
The First Florida Expedition
A Leader Dies
The Second Florida Expedition
The Third Florida Expedition
Britain Attacks Georgia
Georgia Fight Backs
The Siege and Battle of Savannah
There Comes a Reaper
The Liberation of Georgia