Demise and Absorption of Spanish Florida, 1750-1821
The end of Spanish Florida did not come quickly. The English, the principal rivals of the Spanish in North America, used the Indians of Spanish Florida to destroy its prosperity through periodic raids from South Carolina and Georgia. The English could never take the city of St. Augustine, but instead destroyed the mission system using the Indians. Before the English arrival, the Indians had no choice but to submit to the Spanish; they could either submit, or become rebels. The alliance with the English by the Indians eventually led to their own destruction.
The Spanish considered the missions a chain of military buffers, which imposed Catholicism, strict morals, and behaviors upon the Indians. The stern regime under the mission fathers was in great contrast to the freedom the Indians knew. The English instead catered to the material desires of the Indians, offering them cheap goods, firearms, liquor, and an easy life. The Spaniards were unable to simultaneously defend the missions and St. Augustine, and withdrew to St. Augustine along with loyal Indians. The English Governor of South Carolina, James Moore, along with his Creek allies pillaged and raided the missions in the early 1700s, disabling a key component of Spanish rule. The English governor then turned on his allies, enslaving and killing the Indian population of northern and central Florida, while driving the Spanish back to St. Augustine and the Florida Keys. Epidemics during the 1600s also saw a decline in the numbers of Floridian Indians. To fill the vacuum left by the deaths of these Floridian Indian tribes, the Creek allies of the British migrated into north and central Florida, and were soon called Seminoles. Only a handful of Indians eventually survived when the Spanish evacuated the colony in the later part of the century.
To help defend the rapidly-declining colony, the Spanish made a fortified town of former African slaves north of St. Augustine in 1736. This fort was called Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose. The policy of the Spaniards was to give freedom and to protect any escaped British slave that would accept Catholicism. This would be the first free black settlement in North America.
A glimmer of hope came from a new industry in St. Augustine, where colonists began to manufacture naval stores and lumber from Florida’s forests. By 1760, Spanish Floridians had a small industry started that might have helped the colony prosper. Yet it was cut short by the Treaty of Paris of 1763, which ended the Seven Years War and saw Florida exchanged for Havana.
Spain recovered Florida in 1783, but it was still left governing a poor, unpopulated province. Spain lacked the resources to develop the region due to the many years of war between Spain, France and England. Spain’s main reason for holding onto Florida was so that it could act as a shield to the Central and South American provinces. When Spain lost its provinces to independence movements in the early nineteenth century, Florida became less important to Spain. By 1821, the Spanish accepted that Florida was a loss, and ceded it to the newly formed United States.