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"Greatly expands our understanding of how the Patriot War of 1812-13, a truly forgotten conflict, was interwoven with the War of 1812, American expansion, and developing ideas about free armed blacks living in the Spanish-American borderlands of Florida. Ultimately, the acquisition of Florida--a process that began with the Patriot War--would be the only way to satisfy American territorial ambitions and racial fears."--Gene A. Smith, Texas Christian University
James Cusick tells the story of an early-19th-century American plot that went desperately wrong, plunging the United States into an undeclared war for possession of Spanish East Florida and provoking a conflict that would embarrass the president, destroy a colony, and reshape forever the nature of life in the American South.
When the administration of James Madison secretly decided to attempt to overthrow the Spanish colony, it set in motion an invasion that could not be halted--the Patriot War, one of the great but little-known conflicts of the early American republic. In March of 1812, on the eve of a major war with Great Britain, the United States became embroiled in a military invasion of the Florida peninsula that escalated into two years of increasing mayhem.
Instead of an easy conquest aided by local rebels, the president discovered that his agent, General George Mathews, a former governor of Georgia, had spearheaded a covert and unjustifiable military occupation of Spanish territory. The drastic action stunned national and international sensibilities, and within weeks a public debate was raging about the rightness of American actions. People in Georgia rose in protest over the Spaniards' willingness to use black troops and militia to defend Spanish rights. At the same time, settlers in East Florida, incensed at having a foreign military presence on their soil, began a propaganda campaign in the press to denounce President Madison's actions. The U.S. Army and Georgia militia, assisted by local volunteers known as Patriots, put St. Augustine under siege, seized towns and forts, and destroyed livestock and homesteads; by 1813 warfare had devolved into a vendetta with practically every plantation and farmstead between the Georgia border and Cape Canaveral looted or consigned to flames.
This new account of the Patriot War, drawing on Spanish and American sources, focuses on eyewitness accounts recovered from correspondence, military reports, newspaper articles, and claims for financial compensation. Written in a lively style, it places events in a broad context, tying the attempted conquest of Spanish territory into larger issues of American history.
James G. Cusick is curator of the P. K. Yonge Library of Florida History in the Department of Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Library, at the University of Florida. He is a research associate of the St. Augustine Historical Society and the editor of Studies in Culture Contact: Interaction, Culture Change, and Archaeology.
"A superb, highly readable history."-American Historical Review