British West Florida

British West Florida was a colony of the Kingdom of Great Britain from 1763 until 1783, when it was ceded to Spain as part of the Peace of Paris.

Colony of West Florida
Colony of Great Britain

British West Florida in 1767
Augustine Prévost
Peter Chester
10 February 1763
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Louisiana (New France)
Spanish Florida
Spanish West Florida

British West Florida comprised parts of the modern U.S. states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Effective British control ended in 1781 when Spain captured Pensacola. The territory subsequently became a colony of Spain, parts of which were gradually annexed piecemeal by the United States beginning in 1810.


In 1762, during the Seven Years' War, a British expedition attacked and occupied Havana, the capital of Cuba. To secure the return of this valuable city, Spain agreed to cede its territory of La Florida to the victorious Great Britain under the 1763 Treaty of Paris. France ceded a large segment of New France to Great Britain, including its territory east of the Mississippi River except for the city of New Orleans.

The British divided this southern region of the North American continent into two separate colonies: East Florida, with its capital in St. Augustine and West Florida, with Pensacola as its capital. Many of the Spanish inhabitants of Florida were evacuated to Cuba, and new British settlers arrived including some from the thirteen colonies.

By separate treaty France ceded its lands west of the Mississippi to Spain, which formed Spanish Louisiana with the capital at New Orleans.

British era

Britain formed West Florida from part of Spanish Florida, as well as territory received from French Louisiana.

In 1763 British troops arrived and took possession of Pensacola. George Johnstone was appointed as the first British Governor, and in 1764 a colonial assembly was established.[1][2] The structure of the colony was modeled after the existing British colonies in America, as opposed to Quebec, which was based on a different structure. In contrast to East Florida, where there was little development and population growth, West Florida began to boom in the years following the British takeover, and thousands of new arrivals came to take advantage of the favorable conditions there. Ministers appointed to the Floridas petitioned the London authorities to build churches, parsonages, supply bibles and prayer-books, and help pay their passage to the colonies.[3]

West Florida was invited to send delegates to the First Continental Congress which was convened to present colonial grievances against the British Parliament to George III, but along with several other colonies, including East Florida, they declined the invitation. Once the American War of Independence had broken out, the colonists remained overwhelmingly loyal to the Crown. In 1778 the Willing Expedition proceeded with a small force down the Mississippi, ransacking estates and plantations, until they were eventually defeated by a local militia. In the wake of this, the area received a small number of British reinforcements.[4]


The royal proclamation that established West Florida served a purpose similar to a constitution, describing how the colony was to function. Governance was similar to other British provinces located in North America, as the colony was to be administered locally by a governor, who was appointed. The governor was to be aided by a lieutenant governor and a twelve member advisory council, who were also appointed.[5]

The advisory council served as the upper house of its legislature (the General Assembly), while the House of Commons was the lower house, with fourteen elected members. The actual influence of the General Assembly was rather limited as it lacked much autonomy. The General Assembly could only meet when being summoned by the governor. Any bill enacted would have to be signed by the governor to become law, and laws could not be passed in areas in which the British monarch had sole authority. West Florida's chief justice, provincial secretary and attorney general were appointed by Parliament.[5]

Population and demographics

With the issuing of the 1763 Royal Proclamation, which set a border on western expansion, the British hoped that the creation of both Floridas and Quebec would take pressure off the line of settlement. During the evacuation of Florida, most of the Spanish left Pensacola and its surroundings, while most of the French who lived near Mobile decided to stay.[6]

Efforts were made by the British and provincial government to encourage non-British immigrants to live in West Florida. One of the largest instances was when a town named Campbelltown was founded by French Huguenots who were brought to the colony by Lieutenant Governor Montfort Browne and the colony's board of trade. Campbelltown required assistance by the council and governor several times before it was eventually abandoned. Acadians were encouraged to settle in the colony and a group of Germans settled on the coast west of Mobile and even at one point the British imperial government tried to encourage German Palatines to immigrate to the colony.[7]

Economics and slavery

Although slavery and the slave trade did exist in British West Florida, it never became dominated by it and slavery remained likely small. Instead, the provincial and imperial government tried to develop a class consisting of small farmers and artisans instead of one that was plantation based.[7]

Most of those who lived in Florida made a living from the land. Attempts were made to try and develop a reliable cash crop but this was not successful. Indigo production grew dramatically between the 1760s and 1770s with 15,000 pounds (6,800 kg) shipped out of Mobile and Pensacola in 1772 making it one of the most common and successful of agriculture efforts made in the colony.[8]

Pensacola handled five times more international trade than Mobile did. A sizable portion of West Florida's trade was illegal trade between West Florida and Spanish Louisiana. The exact numbers are hard to assess but authorities in both Florida and Louisiana were well aware of this issue but were not well equipped to monitor the situation. These high levels of trade led to silver Spanish coins becoming practically Florida's currency.[8]

Spanish conquest

Spanish troops storming Pensacola in 1781

Following an agreement signed at Aranjuez, Spain entered the American Revolutionary War on the side of France but not the Thirteen Colonies.[9] Spanish troops under Bernardo de Gálvez advanced and seized Baton Rouge and Mobile. In 1781 Spain captured Pensacola and its garrison. As part of the 1783 Peace of Paris, Great Britain ceded the territories of West Florida and East Florida back to Spain.

When Spain acquired West Florida in 1783, the eastern British boundary was the Apalachicola River, but Spain in 1785 moved it eastward to the Suwannee River.[10][11] The purpose was to transfer San Marcos and the district of Apalachee from East Florida to West Florida.[12]

See also


  1. John Richard Alden (1957). The South in the Revolution, 1763–1789. Louisiana State University Press. p. 121. ISBN 978-0-8071-0013-4.
  2. Coker, William S; Shofner, Jerrell H.; Morris, Joan Perry; Malone, Myrtle Davidson (1991). Florida from the Beginning to 1992 : a Columbus Jubilee Commemorative. Houston: Pioneer Publications. p. 4. Retrieved 28 June 2014.
  3. "Journal, June 1764: Volume 71." Journals of the Board of Trade and Plantations: Volume 12, January 1764 - December 1767. Ed. K H Ledward. London: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1936. 63-78. British History Online Retrieved 23 November 2022.
  4. Rose Meyers (1 March 1999). A History of Baton Rouge, 1699–1812. LSU Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-8071-2431-4.
  5. Bunn, Mike (2020). "The Government of West Florida". Fourteenth Colony: The Forgotten Story of the Gulf South During America's Revolutionary Era (Ebook). Montgomery, Alabama: NewSouth Books. ISBN 9781588384140. Retrieved 28 May 2022 via Google Books.
  6. Howard, Clinton (1945). "Early Settlers in British West Florida". The Florida Historical Quarterly. 24. Retrieved 28 May 2022.
  7. Howard, Clinton (1945). "Early Settlers in British West Florida". Florida Historical Quarterly. 24 (1) via Showcase of Text, Archives, Research & Scholarship (STARS) at UCF.
  8. Bunn, Mike (2020). "Earning a Living". Fourteenth Colony: The Forgotten Story of the Gulf South During America's Revolutionary Era. NewSouth Books. ISBN 9781588384140 via Google Books.
  9. Spencer Tucker; James R. Arnold; Roberta Wiener (30 September 2011). The Encyclopedia of North American Indian Wars, 1607–1890: A Political, Social, and Military History. ABC-CLIO. p. 751. ISBN 978-1-85109-697-8.
  10. Wright, J. Leitch (1972). "Research Opportunities in the Spanish Borderlands: West Florida, 1781-1821". Latin American Research Review. Latin American Studies Association. 7 (2): 24–34. JSTOR 2502623. Wright also notes, "It was some time after 1785 before it was clearly established that Suwannee was the new eastern boundary of the province of Apalachee."
  11. Weber, David J. (1992). The Spanish Frontier in North America. New Haven, Connecticut, USA: Yale University Press. p. 275. ISBN 0300059175. Spain never drew a clear line to separate the two Floridas, but West Florida extended easterly to include Apalachee Bay, which Spain shifted from the jurisdiction of St. Augustine to more accessible Pensacola.
  12. "The Evolution of a State, Map of Florida Counties - 1820". 10th Circuit Court of Florida. Archived from the original on 3 February 2016. Retrieved 26 January 2016. Under Spanish rule, Florida was divided by the natural separation of the Suwanee River into West Florida and East Florida.


  • Calloway, Colin Gordon. The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and the Transformation of North America. Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • Chavez, Thomas E. Spain and the Independence of the United States: An Intrinsic Gift. University of New Mexico Press, 2003.
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