When thirteen North American colonies rebelled against the British crown, the future state of Florida was not part of that movement. In fact, the settled part of the future 27th state of the United States was partitioned into East and West Florida. Both colonies also declined an invitation to send delegates to the Continental Congress.
West Florida, spanned from slightly east of Pensacola, which was the capital, across to Louisiana and included parts of modern Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, and Mississippi. East Florida, spanned the rest of northern Florida from the Apalachicola River to the Atlantic seaboard and down the peninsula. The capital was located at St. Augustine, founded in 1565 by the Spanish.
During the American Revolution, both East and West Florida would play a role as the rebellion spread into a world conflict, bringing into the fighting the European nations of France and Spain. In East Florida, St. Augustine would send north British soldiers to assist in operations in Georgia and South Carolina and also house American prisoners, including three Signers of the Declaration of Independence; Arthur Middleton, Edward Rutledge, and Thomas Heyward, Jr. Other prisoners, both Americans and French were also confined to the town too.
With the advent of hostilities, Thomas Brown, who had been run out of Georgia do to his refusal to take up arms against the crown. This action caused a brawl in which Brown suffered a fractured skull and saw him further ridiculed, abused, and embarrassed. This firmly put Brown in the Loyalist camp and he was active in garnering Loyalist and Creek Native American recruits for service against the rebels. He was rewarded for his efforts by being named Superintendent of Creek and Cherokee tribes.
Although this appointment usually meant a position behind the front lines of action, that was not Brown, who stayed active in the field. The same year as his appointment as superintendent he became the leader of the East Florida Rangers (also known as Brown’s Raiders).
The reason for the name was that the authorization came from East Florida governor Patrick Tonyn. Later that same year the East Florida Ranger grew into an entire infantry regiment fighting for the British.
However, the original East Florida Rangers military unit dated back to 1774 when Tonyn officially organized it. The men who made their mark or signed their name to join the provincial corps was engaged to serve a three-year enlistment and received one shilling a day along with clothing and provisions. Their objectives was to provide security to the East Florida colony and were initially a mounted organization to provide better mobility.
The East Florida Rangers were active in repelling advances toward Florida from Georgia and also fighting in two battles in East Florida. The first was at Thomas Creek on May 17, 1777 when they helped turn back an attempt by Georgia militia intent on taking St. Augustine.
At a place called Alligator Bridge, the East Florida Rangers were assisted and protected by British regulars after being chased by Georgia militia and the patriots were once again unsuccessful in invading deeper into East Florida. Florida, like Canada, would remain an elusive prize for the burgeoning American country.
When peace was established with the Treaty of Paris in 1783, Florida was returned to Spanish control which had lost it after the conclusion of the French and Indian War, exactly twenty years earlier. Yet, unlike West Florida which was captured by the Spanish when Pensacola fell in 1781, East Florida remained solidly in British hands until the end of hostilities.
For the inhabitants that remained loyal to the British, they could join the exodus that their fellow Loyalists were undertaking with the American victory. In the treaty terms, British citizens of the colony had eighteen months to vacate the territory.
For the former leader of the East Florida Rangers, he had firmly established his home in East Florida by 1782 but was shocked by the terms of the treaty and with the compensation provided by the British government relocated to the Bahamas settling on Abaco Island. He later moved to St. Vincent’s Island after successfully applying for a land grant in 1799 which allowed him to live as a gentleman planter until his death on August 3, 1825 at the age of 75.
Today you can see the East Florida Rangers in action, via the living history group, East Florida Rangers, Inc. For more information about the group, click here. The author would like to thank Bob Samson, the adjutant for the East Florida Rangers who provided assistance and permission to use the information from their website.