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Gen. Prevost’s Retreat from Charleston to Savannah, February – September, 1779

In 1779, General Augustine A. Prevost attacked a defenseless Charleston for the purpose of drawing a superior rebel army away from Lt. Colonel Archibald Campbell’s much smaller army retreating from Augusta to Savannah. With no real options available, General Benjamin Lincoln of the Continental Army brought the main body of his army away from Campbell and raced back to Charleston to defend the city against Prevost’s advances. Once Prevost had successfully “covered” Campbell’s retreat, he began a long and arduous retreat of his own from Charleston, down the sea islands of South Carolina and northern Georgia, until he reached Savannah. In the process, Prevost’s retreating British army gathered 3,000 slaves – some voluntarily; some not – along with other stolen goods and plunder. The British would turn-out most of these 3,000 people who slowed down their retreat, whether it was due to illness, injury, or simply the riggers of such a forced march. Many escaped into the swamps or onto the many sea islands. Many more perished. When Prevost finally arrived in Savannah, only 300 of these people – 10% – made it safely to the Georgia capital, but were then shipped out to other British colonies in the Caribbean and sold into slavery.

 British Americas

The British Americas involved much more than just the thirteen colonies in rebellion. King George III’s domain in the Americas stretched from Nova Scotia in the north down to Grenada, at the far southern extremities of the Caribbean Sea. When the distance between the capitals of Nova Scotia and Grenada is measured, the geographic center of the British colonies on this side of the “pond” approximately was two miles north of the St. Johns River in present-day Jacksonville, FL. With 60% of the British military stationed in the West Indies to protect the vastly-profitable production of sugar, and St. Augustine possessing the the only pair of stone fortresses south of the Chesapeake Bay, suddenly East and West Florida don’t seem so peripheral. Perhaps we can now understand why George Washington was so determined to remove the British from East Florida that he would authorize five invasions from 1776-1780. Washington wanted a British-free North America and he believed that prizes of the Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Matanzas made invasion of this region worth the effort. This map and additional information on this topic may be found in two of our books, The 14th Colony: George Washington’s Planned Invasions of East Florida, and Hope of Freedom: Southern Blacks and the American Revolution.

Carolina Land Grants

When the English founded the colony of Carolina in 1670, the Lords Proprietors who served to fund, organize, and operate the colony laid claim to lands as far south as present-day Flagler Beach, Florida. The Spanish were outraged, but they too believed that Florida’s borders ran as far north as Paris Island, just below the Carolina capital of Charleston. This disputed region would become a lightning rod of conflict and confrontation for several decades. More information on this topic may be found in our book, Hope of Freedom: Southern Blacks and the American Revolution.

East and West Florida

The significance of East and West Florida during the American Revolution has never truly been appreciated. For decades academics have cast the Floridas into the role of frontiers, hinterland territories, and shadow lands that were of no concern or relevance to the American War of Independence. Recent research now shows that nothing could be further from the truth. When viewed from a British perspective, the Floridas weren’t on the edge of the fringe of the British Americas, but literally at the geographic center. There were 33 British colonies, stretching from Nova Scotia, Canada, to the island of Grenada in the southernmost reaches of the Caribbean. At the virtual center of this vast region of the British Empire sat the capital of East Florida, St. Augustine, with the only two pair of stone fortresses south of the Chesapeake Bay. Details of the relevance of St. Augustine during the American Revolution may be found in our book, The 14th Colony: George Washington’s Planned Invasions of East Florida and Hope of Freedom: Southern Blacks and the American Revolution.

Gullah-Geechee Corridor

The Gullah-Geechee Corridor is an area in the coastal Southeast United States that is home to unique African and African-American culture and customs. This area embraces the sea islands and adjoining coastal tidewater lands roughly from Jacksonville, N.C. to Flagler Beach, FL., where Africans and African Americans lived and labored in conditions unlike those found elsewhere. Beginning in the early 1700s, the area’s population became overwhelmingly of African descent as the rice and sea island cotton plantations spread along the coast. Geography, as well as disease and climate factors, kept the region isolated from outside influences. In this unusual environment, Gullah and Geechee people preserved strong elements of their ancestors’ African heritage – such as religion, language, art, and food. Even after slavery and the plantation system ended, Gullah and Geechee people remained relatively isolated into the twentieth century. Despite increased contact with outsiders, Gullah and Geechee communities have worked to preserve their customs and culture, while they face the challenges of coastal development and tourism that have displaced many communities and threaten the existence of others. More on this topic may be found in our book, Hope of Freedom: Southern Blacks and the American Revolution. 

Georgia – 1733

After decades of fighting and land disputes with the Spanish over the contested lands between Charleston and St. Augustine, Great Britain created the colony of Georgia as a buffer between the Spanish and their most profitable southern port. Major James Oglethorpe was the colony’s founder and first governor. By establishing the capital, Savannah, away from the Atlantic coastal regions, Oglethorpe gained the defensive advantage of the bluffs located just up the Savannah River.In 1740, Oglethorpe would lead an incursion into Spanish Florida that would bring British troops within reach of St. Augustine, but the Castillo de San Marcos could not be taken. More on this topic may be found in our book, Hope of Freedom: Southern Blacks and the American Revolution. 

Stealing the Mississippi River

When Great Britain gained control of Spanish Florida as the result of the 1763 Treaty of Paris, it seemed odd that they would lay claim to the greater majority of the Mississippi Valley but not the prosperous trade center of New Orleans. With the House of Bourbon possessing the thrones of both Spain and France and threatening a new war if there terms were not me, it was negotiated that France would leave North America peacefully but only if Spain was awarded control of the Mississippi Delta and New Orleans – with Britain, of course, being allowed access to both for navigation purposes. But as early as 1764, then again in 1775 and 1779, schemes were devised, plans drawn, and surveys taken for the purpose of stealing the flow Mississippi River itself away from the city of New Orleans. Look closely to see if you can tell where a new route might have been planned by the British. More information on this fantastic scheme and many others may be heard in our third book, Spies, Schemes, and the Sons of Liberty: The Shadier Side of East and West Florida during the American Revolution. Until this book comes out later in 2015, you may hear about these crazy goings-on in Dr. Smith’s talk of the same title.

1776 Southern Expedition

On October 16, 1775, King George III authorized a full-scale invasion of the southern colonies to be led by Generals Clinton and Cornwallis, dubbing it the Southern Expedition. An understanding of this effort by the British military as it played out beginning in February 1776, forces us to come to terms with several misconceptions of Revolutionary War history: 1) that the southern colonies were of little importance until the siege of Charleston in 1780; 2) that East Florida and West Florida were of no importance at all; 3) that Britain’s first attempt to invade the American colonies was in 1777, when General Burgoyne brought a 5,000-man army into upper-New York from Canada; and 4) that the 1780 siege of Charleston was not ordered until after Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga (in fact, it was ordered six weeks prior). This map demonstrates what Britain’s intended movements were to be, and what actually took place. Details of the Southern Expedition may be found in our book, The 14th Colony: George Washington’s Planned Invasions of East Florida.

Invasion of 1776

On December 18, 1775, George Washington asked the Continental Congress to authorize the first of five invasions into East Florida. Even though Washington was personally involved with the siege of Boston and was also steering General Montgomery’s invasion of Canada from afar, he understood the significance of St. Augustine’s hold on the southern under-belly of the continent. With the only pair of stone fortresses south of the Chesapeake Bay, St. Augustine became a primary concern for Washington throughout the course of the war. This map demonstrates the movements of British and rebel troops. Details of the 1776 invasion of East Florida may be found in our book, The 14th Colony: George Washington’s Planned Invasions of East Florida.

Invasion of 1777

Months before British general John Burgoyne lost an entire army in up-state New York in October 1777, George Washington ordered the second invasion of East Florida. This map shows how rebel troops were not only pushed back by British regulars and the East Florida Rangers, but also by a flawed understanding of the terrain (and a hand-full of Loyalists guarding their homes on Amelia Island). Details of the 1777 invasion of East Florida may be found in our book, The 14th Colony: George Washington’s Planned Invasions of East Florida.

Invasion of 1778

By the spring of 1778, Washington had learned of a massive troop build-up on Long Island through his spy network, the Culper Ring (the story of which may be seen on the AMC television series, Turn). Washington authorized a third invasion of East Florida, and this map demonstrates the movements of both British and rebel troops. But once again, the British turned back the invasion, yet Washington remained determined. By the fall of 1778, Washington and his British counterparts were in a race against time to see if the Continental Army could capture East Florida before the British could launch a massive invasion of Georgia from  St. Augustine and New York. The British would beat Washington to the punch and French general Comte de Rochambeau would convince Washington to pull back on his plans for a fourth invasion of East Florida to focus on protecting Savannah. Details of the 1778 invasion of East Florida may be found in our book, The 14th Colony: George Washington’s Planned Invasions of East Florida.

Note: for information on the fourth and fifth invasion of East Florida ordered by George Washington, see our book, The 14th Colony: George Washington’s Planned Invasions of East Florida.

1740 Map of St. Augustine, FL

This map was re-sketched by Melanie Rose Whalen from an adaptation by Elsbeth Gordon in Florida’s Colonial Architectural Heritage (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002), p. 234, after a map engraved by N.H. Toms, London, 1742, British Library 1061.d21. The map is to demonstrate the strength of St. Augustine’s defenses, as they involved much more than just the immediate vicinity around the city.

The legend for this map is as follows: 1) The Castillo de San Marcos; 2) The reconstructed earthworks from the Castillo, across the western perimeter of St. Augustine, around to the military barracks on the bay front; 3) Fort Mose; 4) Additional northern outpost; 5) Fort Picclata on the eastern banks of the St. Johns River; 6) Fort San Francisco de Pupo on the western banks of the St. Johns River; 7) Military Barracks; 8) The newly constructed light station on Anastasia Island (1737). This map also shows the older wooden watchtower that preceded the light station; and 9) Northern outpost on the northern banks of the st. Johns River. What is not shown would be Fort Matanzas (1742) 14 miles downriver at the mouth of the Matanzas Inlet, and  Fort Tonyn on the southern banks of the St. Marys River (1774-1775). You may find more information on the difficulty of bringing an army into East Florida from the north in our book, The 14th Colony: George Washington’s Planned Invasions of East Florida.