Posted: Sep 22, 2010 8:11 PM by Alison Haynes
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - While Texans are fiercely proud their
state was once its own republic, and California celebrates the same
former status on its flag, relatively few Louisianans know that a
group of their forebears overthrew Spanish rule to carve out a
tiny, independent nation 200 years ago. With the bicentennial
coming up Thursday, historians and descendants of the rebels are
hoping to change that.
"It is the most dramatic event in Louisiana history that has
been so little recognized," said Sam Hyde, director of the Center
for Southeast Louisiana Studies at Southeastern Louisiana
University. "We have been lost to all the Cajuns and the
debauchery of New Orleans, but it is a unique event that had a
lasting effect on this area and others."
In the early morning hours of Sept. 23, 1810, 75 armed rebels
slipped into the Spanish fort at Baton Rouge, and in what was
described as a "sharp and bloody firefight," subdued the
garrison. They lowered the Spanish flag and raised the Bonnie Blue
Flag - a single white star on a blue field - that had been adopted
for the new nation they called West Florida.
Three days later the rebels signed a declaration of independence
and set up a government for the new nation that historians say
included about 4,000 people.
The republic was one of three nations that joined with the
United States as it expanded west during the 19th century. The
others were the republics of Texas and California.
West Florida achieved its goal - annexation by the United States
- 74 days after independence, said archivist Betty Tucker of
Historians generally agree the republic included 8 Louisiana
parishes still known as the Florida Parishes, and those completed
what became the state of Louisiana in 1812.
"They were English speaking people, several were Tories, and
they were sick of Spain," Tucker said of the rebels. "You had to
be Catholic (under the Spanish), they had no rights, no vote. They
were planning to join the United States from when they started
their secret meetings in 1805," she said.
The rebels had also originally claimed all Spanish territory
extending east through Mississippi to the Perdido River, which
separates Alabama and Florida. But their ambitious attempt to seize
Mobile, Ala., failed, and Hyde said people living in those areas
outside of Louisiana never actively rebelled.
On Thursday, ceremonies marking the 200th anniversary of the
revolt will be held at Old Fort San Carlos in Baton Rouge and a
flag-raising is set at the St. Tammany Parish Courthouse in
Covington. On Jan. 10, 2011, the bicentennial of the annexation of
West Florida will be celebrated at State Capitol Park in Baton
Rouge. Neither Mississippi nor Alabama are planning West Florida
West Florida's residents were mostly farmers and tradesmen of
Scottish and English descent. Its leaders dealt harshly with
opponents to either independence or U.S. annexation.
"It was pretty violent," Hyde said. "In one case a man was
Tucker said the revolution quickly faded from the state's
"Most people think this was all part of the Louisiana
Purchase," Hyde said.
Hyde recalled a confrontational phone call from former Louisiana
Gov. Mike Foster during the anniversary of the purchase from France
in 2003. Foster scolded him for pointing out that the annexation of
West Florida was separate.
"He said, the coins are minted, the posters are printed, and
from now on the entire state was part of the Louisiana Purchase!"
But the facts say otherwise. When the United States made the
purchase in 1803, it was for French Louisiana and the Isle of
Orleans. Areas north of Lake Pontchartrain and east of the
Mississippi River - which include West Florida - had been Spanish.
Descendants of West Florida's founders are hoping the
bicentennial will give the republic its proper place in history.
In 2002, Leila Roberts, great-granddaughter of Fulworth
Skipwith, leader of the republic, donated the original copy of the
West Florida Constitution to the Louisiana State Archives, said
state archivist Ellen Brown. It's been on display at the Capitol
David Norwood is a descendant of Bennett Hilliard Barrow, one of
the rebellion leaders. He proudly displays in his home a small
table marked by rings from wet glasses, which family lore holds
were left by rebels who gathered to plot their rebellion. Next door
is the family home, Highland Plantation, built in 1805, where the
The year 1810 was a bad one for Spain. Not only did West Florida
rebel, but the turmoil of the Napoleonic Wars sparked revolt in
Spanish possessions throughout the Western Hemisphere.
"This is unknown history that is important to the rest of the
nation," said David Norwood's wife, Cammie. "It started a rash of
rebellions against Spain that stretched from Texas to South