…wherever the voice of justice and humanity can be heard, our declaration, and our just rights will be respected. But the blood which flows in our veins, like the tributary streams which form and sustain the father of rivers, encircling our delightful country, will return if not impeded, to the heart of our parent country. The genius of Washington, the immortal founder of the liberties of America, stimulates that return, and would frown upon our cause, should we attempt to change its course.
— Fulwar Skipwith, 1st (and only) Governor of the Republic of West Florida,
Inaugural Address, 1810.
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On 23 September 1810, after meetings beginning in June, rebels overcame the Spanish garrison at Baton Rouge and unfurled the flag of the new republic: a single white star on a blue field. This flag was made by Melissa Johnson, wife of Major Isaac Johnson, the commander of the West Florida Dragoons. It would later become known as the “Bonnie Blue Flag.”
The boundaries of the Republic of West Florida included all territory south of the 31st parallel, west of the Perdido River, and east of the Mississippi River, but north of Lake Pontchartrain. The southern boundary was the Gulf of Mexico. It included Baldwin and Mobile counties in what is now Alabama; the Mississippi counties of Hancock, Pearl River, Harrison, Stone, Jackson, and George, as well as the southernmost portions of Lamar, Forrest, Perry, and Wayne counties; and the Louisiana parishes of East Baton Rouge, East and West Feliciana, Livingston, St. Helena, Tangipahoa, St. Tammany and Washington. Despite its name, none of present-day Florida lies within its borders. The capital of the Republic of West Florida was St. Francisville in present-day Louisiana, on a bluff along the Mississippi River.
On 27 October 1810, West Florida was annexed to the United States by proclamation of President James Madison, who claimed it as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Initially, Skipwith and the government of West Florida were opposed to the proclamation, preferring to negotiate terms to join the Federal Union as a separate state. However, William C. C. Claiborne, who was sent to take possession, refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the West Florida government. Skipwith and the legislature reluctantly agreed to accept Madison’s proclamation.
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Born in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, Fulwar Skipwith was a distant cousin of Thomas Jefferson. Skipwith studied at the College of William & Mary, but left at age 16 to enlist in the army during the American Revolution. He served at the Siege of Yorktown in 1781. After American Independence was achieved, he entered the tobacco trade.
Following the French Revolution of 1789, Skipwith was appointed US Consul to the French colony of Martinique in 1790. He experienced the turmoil of the revolution, and the aftermath of the abortive slave insurrection in Martinique before departing in 1793. In 1795, he was appointed Consul-General in Paris under Ambassador James Monroe.