The first Venezuelans in Florida went to found a republic

Pedro Gual was among the elected representatives of the people when the republic was formed

On June 29, 1817, General Gregor Mc Gregor, at the head of a naval expedition made up of Venezuelans and Spanish-American revolutionaries, took Amelia Island, located by then in Spanish territory on the Florida peninsula. In Fort San Carlos, in Fernandina, once the Spanish garrison has been surrendered and subdued under the command of Brigadier Francisco Morales, the tricolor Venezuelan flag is raised, yellow, blue and red, according to a witness, but a white flag is also raised with the Green Cross of Florida, which identifies the new independent nation, called the Republic of Las Floridas, announced by Mc Gregor and his people.

The taking of Amelia Island and the proclamation of the Republic of Las Floridas, although a short-lived episode, had repercussions within the framework of the war that the Venezuelan patriots waged against Spain.

In the presentation of the book '' The Republic of Las Floridas 1817-1819 '', written by Tulio Arends, edited by the Library of the National Academy of History, the author states that '' It is a fact hardly mentioned by some Venezuelan historians, but instead it has been the subject of special studies in other countries and caused a sensation in the press of the time. Even though it was a short-lived event, it caused international problems and had a powerful influence in demonstrating the vulnerability of the Spanish empire in the Caribbean and that corsair activity could corner Spain as a maritime and commercial power. ''

Arends points out in the following paragraph that "for Venezuela it was especially important because it distracted the Spanish authorities, while Bolívar and his group of patriots began to organize the Republic in Angostura. This explains why the Correo del Orinoco supports "the liberators of Florida" and speaks of "the path that General Mac Gregor opened for their freedom." And even for the United States it represented a stimulus to insist on the negotiation of Florida with Spain and to reaffirm its expansionist policy according to which if Spain could not monitor and put order in its colonies bordering the United States, they would have to intervene. ''

Arends points out in his book that Amelia is a small elongated island that does not reach 100 square kilometers, attached to the northeastern part of the Florida peninsula, whose northern end is near the mouth of the Santa María River and in front of Cumberland Island. , of the state of Georgia. It is separated from the mainland by the Amelia and Nassau rivers.

Strategic square

Regarding the Spanish possession of Florida, it is affirmed that it represented a strategic point for the final victory over the royalist army, at least within the independence mentality of the Venezuelan patriot army that carried out the contest against the monarchy. Its location in the Caribbean and its proximity to Cuba allowed the transit of ammunition and supplies to the king's flags in South America.

The United States, for its part, wanted to annex the entire territory of Florida, a Spanish colony that was part of the Captaincy General of Cuba. Faced with this scenario, other versions suggest, Bolívar planned the creation of the republic as a strategy to cut off the passage of ships that from the ports of Boston and Havana carried weapons and ammunition to the royalists in the south of the continent, and to free them in a future near Cuba that was also in the power of Spain. Thus, Florida was considered one more target of the American expansionism promoted by President James Monroe and a strategic place for the Spanish-American war of independence for Simón Bolívar.

In the Polar Dictionary, of the Polar Foundation, they refer to the episode of the taking of the island as an `` Attempt by General Gregor MacGregor, supported by a group of Hispano-American revolutionaries (among them the Venezuelans Pedro Gual and Lino de Clemente) to to make Florida independent from Spain (1817). At the end of 1816, when General MacGregor was on Margarita Island, he considered, together with General Juan Bautista Arismendi, the possibility of a naval-military operation destined to liberate the Florida peninsula, possession of the Spanish monarchy, which the United States aspired to. to buy or conquer to incorporate it into their territory. At the beginning of 1817 MacGregor moved to the latter nation and in Baltimore and Philadelphia he met with groups of exiled Hispanic Americans. On March 31, 1817, in Philadelphia, Lino de Clemente, Pedro Gual, F. Zárate, and Martín Thompson declared themselves "Agents of Free [Hispanic] America" ​​in the United States and representatives, respectively, of Venezuela, New Granada ( today Colombia), Mexico and the Río de la Plata, and they conferred on MacGregor, as a brigadier general in the service of New Granada and Venezuela, the mission of seizing the Eastern and Western Floridas in order to establish free institutions there. MacGregor's expedition, leaving New York with stops in Charleston, Savannah and other places, seized Amelia Island on June 29, after having neutralized the Spanish garrison that was defending the town of Fernandina, its capital. MacGregor's forces flew the Venezuelan flag, described by one witness as "a yellow, blue, and red tricolor." Pedro Gual, who arrived shortly after the military action, assumed the task of organizing the Republic of Floridas on the island, the only territory in that region that the patriots managed to occupy ... ''.

Gregor Mac Gregor

Tulio Arends in his biography of the Scotsman Gregor Mac Gregor describes him as an ambitious young man who, upon learning of the separatist events that occurred in Venezuela, embarked for Jamaica, went to Trinidad and arrived in Caracas at the end of 1811.

"The Caracas salons," says the historian, "dispute the handsome figure of the second Scotsman who arrived in Venezuela (the first had been Robert Semple, who published a book about his trip). The newcomer introduced himself as Sir George Mac Gregor, sporting his colonel title and a diamond cross decoration. He had fine social manners and a strong culture. He boasted of knowledge acquired at the University of Edinburgh and had brought a library of fifteen hundred volumes. He arrived in Caracas with his secretary, his musician (to play the pipeScottish r) and four servants. He brought hard cash, he proposed to build his residence in Caracas and perhaps he was the first to bring whiskey to Venezuela. ''

Gregor Mac Gregor

With the earthquake of 1812 Mac Gregor lost all his belongings. That same year he became Francisco de Miranda's assistant and his rank of colonel was recognized. At the service of the patriot cause, he participates in the armed conflicts of La Cabrera and Tapa Tapa. After the fall of the first republic, he escaped to Curaçao accompanied by his wife Josefa Antonia Lovera, Bolívar's cousin. Then, together with the Liberator, it goes to Nueva Granada.

In New Granada, Mc Gregor joins the independence struggle. Take Pamplona and Cúcuta. In 1815 after the siege of Pablo Morillo de Cartagena, Mc Gregor was entrusted with the evacuation of the square. He passed to Haiti and joined Bolívar on the Expedition of the Keys in 1816. In Carúpano, with Santiago Mariño and Manuel Piar, he put the Spanish to flight. Bolívar appoints him president of the Council of War.

A fact that reflects the military and organizational talent of Mac Gregor occurs in July 1816 when they arrive in Ocumare de la Costa, and before the failure of the Republicans in the battle of Los Aguacates, he takes command of the remains of the expedition and from Choroní, Aragua state, embarks on a brilliant journey that takes him from victory to victory to eastern Venezuela.

"Mc Gregor", Tulio Arends narrates, "goes up the mountain range that separates Choroní from the Valles de Aragua, and on July 18, 1816 going down towards Maracay, he runs into Colonel Juan Nepomuceno Quero, until yesterday Military Governor of Caracas, named for Miranda. He defeats him and continues towards Cagua, increasing his people with voluntary incorporations. He continues to Turmero and La Victoria, and from then on he applies a fast-walking plan, forgetting about fatigue and deprivation. Enemy troops, outnumbered and equipped, are in close pursuit. It passes through the Pao de Zárate and through San Sebastián de los Reyes, and here it is attacked by Quero and Morales, being rejected. It passes through San Francisco de Cara, crosses the Orituco river and attacks Chaguaramas, where the royalists had concentrated. Not being able to surrender them, he continues on his way to Valle de la Pascua, stops at El Socorro and then continues to Quebrada Honda where he defeats the enemy, with the help of General Pedro Zaraza. Then they win the battles of Los Alacranes and El Juncal, arriving in Barcelona, ​​where Major General Manuel Piar assumes the leadership. Then Mc Gregor retired to the Antilles. ''

Tulio Arends points out that Mac Gregor's withdrawal was possibly due to annoyances with Manuel Piar.

After the episode of the Republic of Las Floridas, Mac Gregor goes back and forth between adventures and the ups and downs of destiny, with incursions in Portobelo, Panama, where with six ships and 500 men he puts the Spaniards to flight, although after a realistic counterattack it He pushes towards Río Hacha, which he takes, but another massive attack by Spaniards and Indians forces him to flee to Santo Domingo. By 1820 it was on the island of Margarita. From there he leaves for Nicaragua where he negotiates a large plot of land with George Frederick, the king of the Mosquito Indians, with which he negotiates a loan of 200 thousand pounds sterling in Europe. He organizes an expedition with four ships and settlers, but the initiative fails. In Paris he was imprisoned for several months.

'' In 1839, at the age of 53, fleeing misfortune and creditors, he took refuge in Venezuela. He is naturalized and the government reinstates him in the Venezuelan army and pays him the lost wages. His wife dies, he publishes a semi-autobiographical pamphlet entitled Documented Exhibition, he is dedicated to the cultivation of the silkworm and he dies blind (in Caracas) in 1845 ''.

US takes Amelia Island

Once Amelia Island was taken and the republic proclaimed, McGregor, with the support of Pedro Gual, dedicated himself to organizing the institutions; The inhabitants were guaranteed the ownership of their goods and the possibility of leaving the territory if they so wished.

Among the measures undertaken by Mc Gregor and the island government, on August 21, 1817, the blockade of all ports, rivers, bays and inlets on the coasts of both Floridas was decreed. The neutral nations and the friendly governments of South America, Mexico and the Dos Floridas are notified that the blockade is necessary for the success of the expedition entrusted to him.

As part of the initiatives, marque certificates, naturalization letters and private instructions are given for trips to the Caribbean islands. Finances are organized, a post office is organized, a printing press was set up, and tickets were printed.

In September, an attempt by the Spanish authorities to reconquer the island failed.

The island was part of the Spanish colony

According to the historian Arends, Mc Gregor considered that in a favorable future Florida could join the United States if its government and its inhabitants so desired.

Meanwhile, on the island the situation was beginning to get complicated and gradually worsen. When news of the capture broke, a mass of humans rushed to land at Fernandina, creating problems of all kinds. Mc Gregor faced problems for the payment of the troops, unhappy with the refusal of looting. There were desertions, and deaths from disease. Several officials were against the Scotsman.

Shortly before McGregor left Amelia Island, General Luis Aury appeared with his ship full of Negroes (probably Haitians). He had a long private list with Mc Gregor, his people landed and took possession of the island on behalf of the Mexican government, respecting the organization and insignia left by McGregor, '' Arends indicates.

Currency of the new republic.

Aury was a French privateer living in Santo Domingo, described as having brilliant directing skills and a keen intelligence. Amelia arrives at the head of two privateer ships and a loot worth sixty thousand dollars. It is accompanied by sailors and adventurers from all seas. He was the civil and military governor of the province of Texas, then Mexican territory. In Amelia, after an agreement with Sheriff Ruggles Hubbard, appointed civil governor of Amelia, Aury remains as head of the military and naval forces. Aury pays back wages.

However, the situation on the island continued to deteriorate. In Fernandina there was an atmosphere of rochela and relaxation; there was no individual and collective security. Corsair ships were arriving in the roadstead trying to trade their loot, Arends asserts.

Aury intends to weather the storm by appointing a supreme board or council of state. Hubbard's death in October 1817 leaves him as absolute head of government. Elections are held in November, the Assembly of Representatives meets in December, and a committee is created to draft the constitution of the Republic of Las Floridas. A newspaper called El Telégrafo de las Floridas is ordered to be published in Spanish.

Meanwhile, in the United States, since the taking of Amelia, they watched with concern the events on the island. They considered that it was an obstacle to their claims to annex the possession by negotiating with Spain

'' The government of President James Monroe alerted to the events on the island of Amelia, described them as an affront to their aspirations to annex Florida, denouncing the nascent republic on the grounds of crushing international naval piracy and submitting the Seminole Indians who they harassed settlers from the neighboring state of Georgia. To expedite the authorization of Congress, President Monroe used incidents that led to the end of its existence, such as the fire of the Venezuelan ship Attempt for having invaded American waters, '' it is noted on the Wikipedia web portal.

The Spanish-American military operations began on December 22 when Commodore JD Henley and Major J. Bankhead informed Aury of their intention to take Amelia Island. The next day, Andrew Jackson, commanding troops from Galveston, (Texas), took over the entire island, expelling the expeditionary force from Fort San Carlos de Fernandina, '' says the portal.

President Monroe, says historian Arends, addresses Congress on January 13, 1818, stating that "I have the satisfaction of informing Congress that the establishment on Amelia Island has been abolished, and without bloodshed ..."

The United States, once Florida had been taken, agreed with Spain for the cession of the territory through the Adams-Onís Treaty, signed in February 1819. Later, Florida became the 27th state of the United States in March 1845.

Rabies in Angostura

The expulsion of the patriots from Amelia produced an angry reaction in Angostura through the pages of the Correo del Orinoco in its edition of March 27, 1818. All the accusations made by the United States government are refuted there. The newspaper in its editorial speaks of atrocious accusations and marks President Monroe's message to Congress as offensive to the cause of the independence of South America and to some men who have served with dignity.

`` The President erred when he threw Commodore Aury and the other Patriots from Amelia, without having received any insult from them, without prior declaration of war, and without making any request, either for the evacuation of the island, or for them to be abstain from the disorders he imputes to them. The President erred in all the conduct that he carried out against the possessors of Amelia, violated the rights of the nations, and stripped the oppressed Floridians of the path that General McGregor opened for their freedom; all the President's steps against the measures of the liberators of the Floridas were absurd; and instead of confessing his error, and seeking the amendment, he is ashamed to make this confession, he tends to correct his mistakes, and he deceives himself in concocting his apology, or in making everyone believe that he acted with justice and success, and that he could not err in the undertaking of taking from the Patriots what they had taken from their enemies, '' says the Bolivarian newspaper.

Another incident that caused an altercation with the US government was the seizure of the North American schooners. Tiger y Liberty, which served as support for the transport of war material to the Spanish, thus violating the naval blockade imposed by Bolívar and seizing the merchandise they carried on board.

President Monroe sent his delegate, John Baptiste Irvine, in July 1818 to speak at Angostura on the schooner issue. Between this delegate and Bolívar there is a strong exchange of correspondence. Bolívar argues that the United States violated its neutrality by supporting the Spanish and demands that they abandon their ideals of freedom for which they had fought.

After participating in the Angostura Congress, Irvine returned to the United States where he described Bolívar as "Charlatan general and rogue politician." Immediately afterwards, President Monroe sent a fleet of three warships under the command of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry (hero of the Battle of Lake Erie in order to demand that the government of the Republic of Colombia return the ships. Tiger y Liberty. His demands were finally satisfied by the then vice president Francisco Antonio Zea, a capitulation that was described by Simón Bolívar in Santa Fe de Bogotá, where he had entered triumphantly after the battle of Boyacá as "An act of humiliating weakness."

However, Commodore Perry would never return with his news to Washington because on August 23, 1819 he died of malaria aboard the USS Adams while sailing in the Gulf of Paria towards Trinidad.

The Venezuelan historian Vicente Lecuna characterizes the North American mission as "The first act of force of the many that our countries have been victims, and the first act of weakness of our regrettable diplomacy."

Amelia Island today


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