Today, 1819: US Purchases Florida from Spain

Christopher Columbus set foot on the Bahama Islands in 1492. Twenty-one years later in 1513, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León set foot in what would become America. He landed in the area of what is now Cape Canaveral, naming the land ‘La Florida’ meaning ‘flowery’ due to the many flowers he saw. He continued to explore the coast of La Florida, visiting Biscayne Bay and then returned to Puerto Rico where he was based.

In 1564, a small colony was established along the St. Johns River around the area where Jacksonville is today. The settlers were French Huguenots, Protestants that had fled the religious persecution taking place in their homeland. A year later, the French were forced to leave by the Spanish and officially claiming the entire peninsula as belonging to Spain.

Spanish troops, settlers and missionaries began to arrive. Since Spain was officially a Catholic nation, they intended their newly acquired territories to also be Catholic. They began building a number of missions with the goal of converting all of the local Indians to Catholicism. One of the first missions established was at St. Augustine and another at Apalachee which today we know as Tallahassee.

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Florida remained a Spanish colony until 1763 when Spain and Great Britain made a trade. The British gave Havana (Cuba) to the Spanish in return for Florida. In 1783 Spain re-acquired Florida from the British as part of the second Treaty of Paris which brought the end to the American Revolution.

For the next 30 plus years, Spain held a tight grip on Florida and tensions between them and the newly independent United States of America over the exact location of border separating Florida from America.

Those tensions heated up in 1818 when President James Monroe sent General Andrew Jackson into Spanish controlled Florida to quell an uprising by the Seminole Indians who were raiding some American settlements. Jackson may or may not have been a little over ambitious in his Florida campaign as not only did he take action against the Seminoles, but he also captured several Spanish forts.

The United States tried a number of times to negotiate with the Spanish, but it wasn’t until February 22, 1819 that then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams managed to arrive at an agreement and signed a treaty with Louis de Onis of Spain.

The Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 procured Florida for the United States, but it came at a high cost. The lands west of the Louisiana Purchase were seceded to Spain. Article 3 of the treaty spelled out the boundary between the United States and Spain:

“The Boundary Line between the two Countries, West of the Mississippi, shall begin on the Gulf of Mexico, at the mouth of the River Sabine in the Sea, continuing North, along the Western Bank of that River, to the 32d degree of Latitude; thence by a Line due North to the degree of Latitude, where it strikes the Rio Roxo of Nachitoches, or Red-River, then following the course of the Rio-Roxo Westward to the degree of Longitude, 100 West from London and 23 from Washington, then crossing the said Red-River, and running thence by a Line due North to the River Arkansas, thence, following the Course of the Southern bank of the Arkansas to its source in Latitude, 42. North and thence by that parallel of Latitude to the South-Sea. The whole being as laid down in Melishe’s Map of the United States, published at Philadelphia, improved to the first of January 1818. But if the Source of the Arkansas River shall be found to fall North or South of Latitude 42, then the Line shall run from the said Source due South or North, as the case may be, till it meets the said Parallel of Latitude 42, and thence along the said Parallel to the South Sea: all the Islands in the Sabine and the Said Red and Arkansas Rivers, throughout the Course thus described, to belong to the United States; but the use of the Waters and the navigation of the Sabine to the Sea, and of the said Rivers, Roxo and Arkansas, throughout the extent of the said Boundary, on their respective Banks, shall be common to the respective inhabitants of both Nations. The Two High Contracting Parties agree to cede and renounce all their rights, claims and pretensions to the Territories described by the said Line: that is to say.—The United States hereby cede to His Catholic Majesty, and renounce forever, all their rights, claims, and pretensions to the Territories lying West and South of the above described Line; and, in like manner, His Catholic Majesty cedes to the said United States, all his rights, claims, and pretensions to any Territories, East and North of the said Line, and, for himself, his heirs and successors, renounces all claim to the said Territories forever.”

To translate, the treaty gave Spain Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Utah, Nevada and most of Colorado. Over the next 70 years, the United States would pay an ever higher cost, the blood of thousands Americans, to regain control of the lands they gave away to acquire Florida.

The Adams – Onis Treaty of 1819, also referred to as the Transcontinental Treaty was finally ratified by Congress in 1821. In addition to the very lopsided land swap, the US also agreed to assume $5 million in claims that Americans had filed against Spain.

I’ve been to Florida and lived most of my life in the southwest and personally, I think the Adams – Onis Treaty of 1819 was one of the worst deals this country has ever made. We should have kept control of the American southwest and left Florida to Spain.

The above post is a compilation from the following sources: The U.S. acquires Spanish Florida; Acquisition of Florida: Treaty of Adams-Onis (1819) and Transcontinental Treaty (1821); Spain Officially Cedes Florida to the United States/ Ratification of the Adams-Onis Treaty; Transcontinental Treaty; Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819; Today in History: Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819; Colonization of Florida; The Spanish Colonization of Florida.


Dave Jolly

R.L. David Jolly holds a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Biology – Population Genetics. He has worked in a number of fields, giving him a broad perspective on life, business, economics and politics. He is a very conservative Christian, husband, father and grandfather who cares deeply for his Savior, family and the future of our troubled nation.

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