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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Story of the West Florida Rebellion

Stanley Clisby Arthur

The St. Francisville Democrat

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.


 p132  The Theatre of Action

[image ALT: A map of West Florida, showing mostly the rivers.]

A larger, fully readable scan (460 KB) is also available.

British West Florida, acquired from France 1763 by treaty. King George III named the new English territory when he designated the River Apalachicola as the dividing line between "East and West Florida." In 1767 the northern boundary of West Florida was fixed at the 32nd degree 38 minutes line, at the mouth of the Yazoo River, east to Apalachicola.

Spanish West Florida was acquired through Governor Bernardo de Galvez' conquest over the British when he captured Baton Rouge and Natchez, 1779; Mobile, 1780; and Pensacola, 1781. The treaty of peace between Spain and England gave both Floridas to Spain, while all territory north of the 31st degree parallel was awarded the new United States. This Spain protested, claiming the boundary north to the junction of the Yazoo and the Mississippi, and the controversy over the land it had taken from Great Britain at point of bayonet was not ended until 1795, when a treaty with the United States fixed the boundary at the 31st degree line. The Dons did not actually leave the territory "above the line" until January 1798.

Independent West Florida, won by revolt of September 23, 1810, included all the territory from the Mississippi to the Perdido river. Possession was taken only to a point west of Mobile by the Lone Star Flag.

United States West Florida, possession taken December 7, 1810 through presidential proclamation. Actual territory seized only to Bayou La Batrié, just west of Mobile. The United States did not take over Mobile until April 15, 1813. East Florida was purchased from Spain in 1819 for $1,000,000. The formal transfer of East Florida (the present State of Florida) was not made until July 17, 1821.

 p146  Spain's West Florida

[image ALT: A map of the western portion of the Spanish possession of West Florida in the early 19c, showing its borders to the north with the Mississippi Territory (USA), and to the west with the Territory of Orleans (USA); and divided into five districts, from west to east: Feliciana, Baton Rouge, Ste. Helena, Chifoncté (later St. Ferdinand), and Christianne.]

A larger, fully readable scan (748 KB) is also available.

That section of West Florida which became the theatre of stirring events in 1810, was known officially as Florida Occidental, jurisdicción de Baton Rouge. It consisted of four districts: Feliciana, which extended from the Mississippi to the Amite, being even a trifle larger than the present two parishes of the same name, (the stream that ran through its center was then called Rio Feliciana, but during the 16 years of British domination it was called "Thompson's Creek", before that the original French settlers knew the stream as Bayou des Ecores, or "Bayou of the Bluffs"); Baton Rouge, which extended east to the Tickfaw; Ste. Helena, which took in what is now that parish, Livingston, and Tangipahoa; Chifoncté, which lay between the Tchefuncta and Pearl rivers, had its name changed during the deliberations of the Convention and was rechristened Saint Ferdinand, a gesture, no doubt, of loyalty to Ferdinand VII, the Spanish king then languishing in one of Napoleon's prisons while the Little Corporal's brother sat on the throne in Madrid.

 p147  The County of Feliciana

[image ALT: A map of West Florida, showing mostly the rivers; it shows the 'County of Feliciana' established by the United States when West Florida was taken from Spain; the County is divided into six Parishes, from west to east: Feliciana, East Baton Rouge, Ste. Helena, St. Tammany, Violxy, and Pascagoula.]

A larger, fully readable scan (926 KB) is also available; among other things, it shows variants of the parish borders. My coloring of some of the offshore islands — those of the United States in blue, those of West Florida in green — should not be taken as authoritative, no indication of their owner­ship being given on the original map.

When West Florida went under the jurisdiction of the United States in December, 1810, Wm. C. C. Claiborne, governor of the Territory of Orleans, created the "County of Feliciana" which had six parishes and extended from the Mississippi river to the Perdido river, East Mobile. The county seat was Saint Francisville and the parishes were: Feliciana, which constituted the area now known as West Feliciana (because of the protests of the Feliciana citizens, the governor later designated the Amite as the eastern boundary); East Baton Rouge was originally designated as the territory lying between Amite and Thompson's Creek, from the Iberville and the Mississippi to the lower boundary of the Mississippi Territory; Ste. Helena occupied the territory between the Amite and the Tangipahoa; between the Tangipahoa and the Pearl was the parish Claiborne named Saint Tammany, in honor of an Indian chief; between the Pearl and the river falling into Biloxi Bay was the parish of "Viloxi," as the name was then spelled; Pascagoula, the sixth parish, had three eastern boundary lines, first Bayou La Batrié; second, Bayou Perro or "Dog River"; third, the Perdido river.

The Region Today


 p155  Proposed British Seat of Government in West Florida

[image ALT: An engraved relief map of a large swooping double bend in a wide river; a town has been sited at the second bend downstream. It is an early‑19c map of the proposed site of a capital city for the territory of West Florida.]

My arrow marks the proposed town. A larger scan (2.1 MB), in which the captions are readable, is also available.

When England secured possession of all the former French territory in North America east of the Mississippi, following the end of the seven year's war that proved so disastrous to the Bourbons, certain English officials proposed that a new and fortified town should be erected on the eastern bank of the Father of the Waters for they believed neither New Orleans nor Baton Rouge had been erected on natural defensive situations.

The several British army engineers who surveyed the river that drained the continent agreed that Les Ecores de Lait, or "The Milk White Cliffs," situated between Baton Rouge and Bayou Sarah, presented an ideal site for such a fortress and city.

Soon after the British had acquired the former French strip of territory along the Gulf of Mexico, Lieutenant-Governor Montfort Browne, while serving under the first British governor, George Johnstone, took up an extensive grant on the eastern bank of the Mississippi and, strangely enough, the acreage included the "White Cliffs" which soon afterwards became known as "Browne's Cliffs." Joined by Lord Eglinton, owner of a grant near Natchez; Colonel William Taylor, at one time in charge of the military forces of West Florida, and General Phineas Lyman, Montfort Browne, while acting governor of the province, urged the home war office to supplant Pensacola with this new seat of government on the Mississippi river.

Captain Montressor of the army was delegated to make the necessary surveys and he drew a plan which met the approval of those most interested. This map, which is reproduced as a frontispiece to this story of the West Florida Rebellion, was sent on to London and found its way into the library of Lord George Germaine, minister of state under George III, and the man who influenced the policy of Britain during the American Revolution.

When Lord Germaine's library was sold by heirs in 1933, Captain Montressor's plan, the original measuring 17½ × 27½ inches, first became public. The lettering proved it: "A Plan Shewing the Situation and Construction for a Seat of Government on the Mississippi," while an inset drawing, 2 × 5 inches, was lettered: "This shews the construction on the side of each gate."

The proposed British seat of government was to be triangular in shape, having a width of about 2½ miles facing the river, and depth at the center of a little more than 1½ miles. The town was to have regularly laid out streets, public squares, and three gates, one north, another south, and the third in the east. Its situation on cliffs rising 97 feet above the surface of the river would enable the guns of the fort to dominate river traffic. As the river made a sharp bend at this point,  p156 vessels sailing up or down the stream, no matter the direction of the wind, would have been forced to tack under the guns of the fort. The same situation would enable the artillery to enfilade the whole surface of the river — a marked military advantage offered by no other site.

Another advantage claimed for this site, in addition to the dominance of the river traffic, was the fact that a highland military road could be constructed over which troops could be moved to and from the colonies on the Atlantic seaboard, without being forced to march through swamps.

Captain Montressor's map shows the lower village of Pointe Coupée on the west bank of the river, while just above the proposed seat of government is to be seen the course of Thompson's Creek and the outlet of Alexander's Creek, now known as Alligator Bayou.

When Lieutenant-Governor Browne was transferred from West Florida to govern the Bahama Islands, the proposal appears to have lagged for in 1776 he sold the site of 17,400 acres to Daniel Hicky, father of Philip Hicky, so prominent in the West Florida Rebellion, and the place became known, in time, as "Hicky's Cliffs."

In 1779 the capture by Don Bernardo de Galvez of Baton Rouge and the other British strongholds in West Florida put an end to the scheme. But the plans were kept secret in the British War Office and when General Sir Edward M. Pakenham invaded Louisiana in 1814‑15 it is supposed this was the place he was to have considered as the new seat of government, after reducing and capturing New Orleans.

In 1860 this same site was known, as it is today, as Port Hudson.

The opinion of early British engineers that such a fortification would prove "a hard nut to crack" was proved correct in the War between the States when General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Frank Gardner and his Confederate force in 1863 success­fully defended Port Hudson against two determined assaults by the Union army under General Banks, not surrendering until after the fall of Vicksburg.

Thayer's Note:

a These maps are found as sidebars on various pages of the printed book; it seemed more convenient to collect them on a single page. As printed, they were in black & white: I've colorized them to more or less the same scheme that is standard thruout my website.

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Page updated: 26 Oct 18