- The Other War of 1812: The Patriot War and the American Invasion of Spanish East Florida
The so-called "Patriot War" fought in the Spanish province of East Florida from 1812 to 1814 constitutes a little known and often overlooked chapter in the history of early nineteenth-century United States expansionism. Indeed, those historians who do make note of it in their larger studies of the era cannot agree exactly how to consider it; with some viewing it as part of the filibustering impulse while others cast it as a component upheaval related to the War of 1812 and national diplomatic concerns. Others view it as a localized manifestation of Georgia's desire to expand southward in order gain more land for agricultural pursuits. This episode has thus long needed modern historical analysis that considers it within its full context, especially [End Page 721] since the only scholarly study of it was written a half-century ago when Rembert Patrick published his Florida Fiasco (1954). Many new sources and relevant secondary studies that have a direct bearing on the Patriot War have become available since Patrick wrote his now classic study, especially regarding Native Americans and the racial ramifications related to the conflict.
Cusick's study admirably meets that need in the historical literature by providing a full, elaborate analysis of the Patriot War while considering it as an event variously related to the filibustering endemic to the era, the complexities of the War of 1812, United States diplomatic relations of the time, and the expansionism of the growing southern slave society found in Georgia. In so doing, he also pays welcome historical attention to the impact that the conflict had on Native Americans in the region and the part they played in it.
The factual outline of this "little war" is well known to students of early nineteenth-century Floridian and Southeastern history. In early 1811, the Madison administration helped set in motion a secret attempt to take control of Spanish East Florida in the wake of the successful West Florida Revolt of the previous year. An armed force of over one hundred and fifty Georgians invaded East Florida, calling themselves "Patriots." They took a small Spanish post north of St. Augustine. Implying that they were Floridians, they offered the area of their conquest to the United States as new territory. President Madison had sent an accredited representative, General George Matthews from Georgia, who accepted the conquest on behalf of the United States. As this force moved to take control of St. Augustine, some English-speaking residents of the province manifested support for the American Patriots, including the wealthy planter Zephaniah Kingsley. Others did not and the Patriots found that their invasion did not motivate a successful uprising of the province's populace against the Spanish authorities. The Patriots eventually failed to take St. Augustine successfully and, once the War of 1812 began, the Madison administration withdrew its tacit support of the Patriots; Madison did not want Spain to ally with Great Britain in the larger conflict because of events in East Florida.
The Patriot War failed, and Cusick convincingly contends that this failure had long-lasting consequences on Florida. He argues that the conflict was indeed part of the larger context of the War of 1812, especially in the southern states. Cusick also highlights the role that Americans' fear of Native Americans and escaped slaves living as freedmen in the province played as motivations for the incursion. The Patriot War was thus related to expansionism, pure and simple. The failure of the Patriot War gave renewed viability to the Spanish government in the minds of some Floridians. This study is elegantly written and soundly researched. Cusick has made highly successful efforts to integrate his analysis into the larger context of the historical literature dealing with the United States and the southeastern Spanish borderlands. It will long remain the standard work on the topic.