On October 16, 1779, a handful of British Settlers in West Florida signed an "Oath of Allegiance" document brought by American Captain William Pickles. The captain had defeated the British Sloop of War "West Florida" in a vicious battle with his ship the "Morris" a few weeks earlier on the lake.
This handful of settlers was the first in Louisiana to declare their loyalty to the new American Colonies by signing this document. This document was sent to the American Colonies and presented to the President of the Continental Congress by John Jay.
This is the story of this historic event in 1779 and the identity of the nineteen signers who signed this important document. The following material covering the years 1778-1779 was researched and edited by Donald J. Sharp in 2007, who wrote that many historical events occurring on the lakes and the area from the Mississippi River to the Gulf Coast have not been adequately covered in history books.
Here are the events leading up to that historic occasion and the curious puzzle of some of those who signed the Bayou Castine Oath of Allegiance.
A 1976 "re-enactment" of the Oath of Allegiance proclaimed in 1779
Information on West Florida
In the fall of 1764 Major Farmar authorized Captain James Campbell to attempt to clear the Iberville River and provide a water route between the Mississippi River and the Maurepas. This officer set to work with a squad of fifty Negroes and in December wrote Governor Johnstone that the task would be completed within a month.
He also mentioned the willingness of the inhabitants of Louisiana to West Florida and suggested the advisability of a military post at Manchac. Johnstone immediately wrote Campbell instructing him to reserve a place at Manchac for a fort, and authorizing him with, Charles Stuart, deputy Indian agent, to administer the oath of allegiance. He was also authorized to make temporary grants of land (which would be made permanent later).
See: British West Florida, 1763-1783 by Cecil Johnson pg. 34) Page 129
In 1775 Thomas Wescott sold a tract of three hundred acres on the Amite River, which had been granted to him in 1772, for three hundred and fifty Spanish milled dollars, and in each case the money was paid in cash.
(West Florida Conveyances of Land, April 2, 1774 - October 1, 1775 pp 457-461, manuscript in Library of Congress) Page 142
Moratorium on Grants - October 1774 to December 1775
In October of 1774 the Governor of West Florida (Peter Chester) received a circular of instruction of April 7, 1774, which stated that under the pain of the King's highest displeasure, to issue no more warrants nor to pass any additional grants, except under authority of a royal order or of the Proclamation of 1763. (C .W. Alvord, The Mississippi Valley in British Politics II p. 212-215)
This ban on issuing land grants lasted a little more than a year. Any settler at Bayou Castang or the Tchefuncte River had to wait until the ban was lifted. This is why so many grants are dated in 1776 or early 1777. In June, 1774, Adam Chrystie petitioned for a reservation of forty thousand acres, claiming that he could induce a hundred families to come over from Scotland. His reputation was necessarily postponed and it seems that he never again attempted to put his project into operation.
(Adam Chrystie and Richard Pearis raised a force to attack James Willing's men at Manchac in 1778. Chrystie's plantation with buildings, livestock, and crops were destroyed by Willing's men on the Tanghiphoa River in February of 1778)
The effect of lifting of the embargo on the granting of land was felt immediately. The news was received at Pensacola in early November, 1775. On November 13, the Council ordered that the town of Darthmouth be laid out at the junction of the Iberville and the Amite Rivers.
The lots there were to be sold for sixteen or thirty dollars each, according to the location and the proceeds were to be used to clear the streets and to build a levee. The quit-rent and terms of improvement were similar to those prescribed for lots in Pensacola and Mobile.
Apparently this town was never formally erected. In the following February Chester announced to the Council that he had ordered the surveyor to lay off a town at Natchez.
In the spring of 1768 Lt. Gov. Brown made a journey of three months and three days to inspect the new region which was within West Florida since the border had been moved farther to the north.
Traveling from Pensacola along the new road to Mobile,Gov. Browne passed through Pascagoula. "an old French settlement of some consequence" to board ship at Mobile and sail through Lake Pontchartrain to "Tanchipho."
There he administered the Oath of Allegiance to a good many French families of property. Thos families were said to be "much disgusted against the Spanish Government, (we) have brought over their families, Negroes, and cattle, and have established themselves on our side of the Bayou Lacombe, and on the Grand Coquille, so called from the mountains of shells."
There were many other French inclined to come over if allowed the liberty of their religion, which Gov. Brown promised them. The party then "sailed through the beautiful Lake Maripas (sic)", finding only Biloxi Indians who were "always remarkably attached to the French.
Reports of families planning to move into West Florida were continued and an instance is the memorandum dated Oct., 1769 where nine families and others who had "actually taken the oath of allegiance" and removed into the province. They had brought with them 1,100 head of cattle from their former homes to the Tangiphoa River which flows into Lake Pontchartrain. The circumstances surrounding this occurrence was outlined to Lord Hillsborough by Lt. Gov. Montfort Browne as an incident which occurred on his trip to the Natchez in the spring of 1769.
The former Lt. Gov. of West Florida, Montfort Browne, also fell victim to the Continentals. On May 6, 1776, Gov Chester informed the Council that he had been advised of the seizure of Browne by Continentals.
After returning to England Browne had become interested in the establishment of a Loyalist colony on the Mississippi. In 1774 he had been appointed governor of the Bahamas and in the spring of 1776, with his secretary had been seized by American privateers men. Acting upon orders from Congress Commodore Ezekiel Hopkins had gathered a fleet of seven small vessels for an attack on the Bahamas. Among the officers whose experience in naval warfare was confined to privateering was Lt. John Paul Jones in the Alfred.
On March 3, when the Americans appeared at Nassau at daybreak "Gov. Browne was awakened and came to the door of Government House in his night shirt. The Americans remained two weeks to dismantle the forts. Browne and the Inspector general of Customs for North America, who happened to be in Nassau, were carried off in the Alfred as hostages, but Browne next appears as Brigadier-General of the Prince of Wales and in Rhode Island. He returned to Nassau for a short time before being recalled. (Michael Crofton Collins, A History of the Bahamas, London 1962. CO. 5/592 Germain to Chester Jan.26, 1776.
Captain Harry Gordon, Chief Engineer of the Western Department in North America, was in the British Army, 60th Regiment. He was ordered by General Thomas Gage, Commander-in-Chief of the English forces in North America (had his headquarters in New York) to tour the western most area of British America and look over the matter of defense and propose means of securing to the English the Indian trade-in the territory from which the French had been expelled as a result of inter-colonial war.
He received his instructions on May 9, 1766, in New York and proceeded to Philadelphia four days later. On October 16, they were leaving Bayou St. John on their way to Mobile.In a report, he noted, "At dusk we passed the Blockhouse at the opening into Lake Pontchartrain, in which was a Sergeant and 12 men. French and Spaniards and some small cannon mounted. We continued rowing till 11 o'clock and rested. Next day by noon we were across the Lake and the Sea. It is two and a half leagues long and deep from 4 to 5 fathoms."
"In crossing the lake we saw several smokes on the East side, which we were told by our Pilot was as many tar kilns, part of the products we saw unloading at the bayou." Captain Gordon had seen the smoke from the tar kilns of Jean Claude Favre's Plantation on the Pearl River in 1766.
"On Oct. 26, we entered Mobile Bay and got to the Fort the 28th, which is 160 miles distance from New Orleans, The soil on the west side of the Bay is better than that on the Coast, it will fetch corn and cotton, garden stuff and excellent pasture. An inhabitant called Rochon, has by reports above 1,000 head of black cattle, he has a number of Negroes, who he chooses chiefly to employ on the tar and lumber way."
A Military Post at Tanghiphoa?
The following text is quoted from page 221 of Jacob Blackwell's "A Contemporize English View of the Trade and Prospects of New Orleans at the Close of the French Dominion," Observations on West Florida. L,H.Q. Vol. 6.
"The trade of New Orleans if in the hands of the Spaniards will become very valuable; as they will take our linens, which they will run into Vera Cruz in their own vessels, which vessels will come there with goods from thence also cash to pay the troops - where as the trade of New Orleans during the time the French have it, is a loosing trade to us for the following reasons.
"First, it chiefly consisted in running Wine, Brandy, Rum, Sugar, Coffee and French Frains into Mobile and not withstanding the great diligence of the Custom house officers, who made many seizures, it did not prevent great quantity's being run into the Province for which they had most part hard dollars in payment.
"Second, The deer skins which should be brought to Mobile and shipped to Great Britain were carried by our Indian traders on "pack horses to a town on Lake Pontchartrain called Tangiphoa, which town stands on our land but is inhabited by Frenchmen and Choctaws, who with the assistance of two British, smuggling Merchants, send over the skins in large canoes and small schooners belonging to New Orleans to that place where they sell for as much as they do in London, in payment of what skins the English traders takes liquors and bring them into our Province.
"The Choctaw Indian receives in return from the French, Rum, Powder, Ball and blankets and strouds~and what is worse, the French give them bad talks and poison their minds against the English—further this Town called Tangiphoa doth supply New Orleans with pitch, tar & lumber, contrary to Act of Parliament, also with charcoal and lime, some cattle, all I endeavor to prevent by sending an armed vessel in the Custom House service to lay off said town. Upon her arrival there two hundred Choctaws and all the French came down to the water side and threatened to burn the vessel. The vessel then hauled off from shore and whilst she lay there kept her great guns loaded and during that stay that trade was totally stopped.
"These Estates at Tangiphoa belonging to Great Britain should be granted to the British Subjects in case these Frenchmen do not take the oaths of allegiance under the laws of Great Britain. To prevent the continuance of this shameful trade it is necessary to have a small schooner with 6 swivels and 6 sailors with a Corporal and 6 soldiers to cruise the Lake and also to have a small stockade fort built at Tangipahoa with an Officer and 50 men therein which will give us actual possession of that fine country which we only have in imagination. Even supposing the Spanish are in possession of New Orleans it will be necessary to have such a Post at Tanghiphoa but no occasion for a Custom House Schooner as she may be of prejudice to as the Spanish trade which cannot be to much encouraged."
In research presented in "British West Florida and the Illinois Country" by Hazel C. Mathews, Page 25, it was noted that at that point in time, the Governor chose as Councilors Elias Dumford, surveyor general of the Province, James Bruce Collector of Customs at Pensacola, James Jones, merchant, John Stuart, Superintendent of Indian affairs in the Southern District, James Blackwell, postmaster at Pensacola, and two "Ancient Protestant Inhabitants". (C/O 5/574 Acts of West Florida 1766-67. Page 25)
James Bruce, Collector of his Majesty's Customs at the port of entry of Pensacola, was a Scot from the Aberdeen region. As a young man he had been Writer to the Signet, but not liking this situation had entered the navy as a captain's clerk. During the war Bruce was serving under Captain Fortescue when in command of a frigate at the taking of the French island of Gore off the coast of Africa.
At the peace he was appointed secretary to Admiral Adam Gordon who procured for him his present appointment. ( Memorandum written by Archibald Scott Bruce, son of James Bruce dated of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Sept 8, 1830. A copy of which is in the Shelburne Historical Collection, Shelburne, Nova Scotia. Page 62.)
There were, of course, unsuccessful ventures such as that as James Bruce, who, in his capacity as Customs Collector for Pensacola and senior council member, was granted 4,000 acres some of which were located on the Amite River. Bruce had entered into an agreement with Edward Meese, merchant in Pensacola, and others to erect a sawmill, and "Proper Persons" from South Carolina were engaged to erect the mill "but without the effect they had wished for", and shortly thereafter Bruce's associates left the Province. Bruce was allowed to exchange these lands for acreage on the Mississippi. (CO. 5/591 "State of all Grants" of Land" 1770-1783 Memorial of James Bruce. Oct. 22, 1773, Dartmouth to Chester, June 4, 1774). Page 62
Another unsuccessful attempt was that at settlement undertaken by the Chevalier de Muabec from Santo Domingo. He engaged to improve and place under cultivation a tract of some five hundred acres belonging to Brigadier General Haldimand situated on the Amite not far from Manchac. De Maubec brought with him fourteen indentured servants, white and black, with the intention of establishing a settlement.
Evidently he was the first of a group of planters wishing to remove from St. Domingo to West Florida. Upon his arrival a friend of Haldimands' advised him to dispose of his servants and buy a few slaves who would be of more service to him than double the number of the type of servants he had brought with him. Before leaving Manchac to travel inland all the servants left him to take asylum at New Orleans where the Spanish Governor refused to give them up.
There upon de Maubrec abandoned the project and bought a house on Deer Island where he remained (Haldimand manuscripts. B 13 p. 176 Chester to Haldimand Oct.8, 1773 B. 66 p. 51. Haldimand to Evan Jones. July 1, 1776 B. 70 p. 63 Stephenson to Haldimand Feb. 22, 1744). Page 131
After the Spanish conquest in 1781, Custom Collector James Bruce also remained behind, which was explained in years after by his son. "Being then Senior of his Majesty's Council," wrote Archibald Scott Bruce, the Spanish Governor O'Neil insisted on his taking on himself the management of the Government especially for the purpose of procuring the means of conveying away the poor Loyalists British Subjects to the nearest British Settlements which were St. Augustine in East Florida and Charlestown in South Carolina (Memorandum of Archibald Scott Bruce, Luenburg, Nova Scotia. Sept 8,1830).
However, after his work was done, how Bruce got to Halifax remains untold, but he was appointed the first Customs Collector of the town founded by Loyalists from New York. Shelburne, Nova Scotia where his descendents live today. (Ibid) Page 135.
Spain had allowed the British inhabitants 18 months in which to dispose of their property but, according to a statement signed by Elias Durnford, James Bruce, John McGilluvray, David Taitt and more than forty planters, merchants, and others, there were no purchasers. Their plantations and settlements, "late so valuable" had all been destroyed by Indians soon after the final reduction of the province, "Nor," they continued," will the Indians ever suffer them to be reposed by their Owners while the Country is under the Dominion of Spain." (CO. 5/595m Memorial of Properietors of Land, Planters, Merchants —undated)
On page 237 of "Tories, Dons and Rebels" By J. Burton Starr, it is noted that the evidence suggests that at least a majority and perhaps as many as two-thirds of the Loyalists remained in West Florida after the Spanish conquest.
"Thirty-eight as West Floridians had petitioned Lord North, asserting that they were "equally entitled to a compensation for their losses, as their other fellow sufferers on the same continent. Again, in 1787, the loyalists attempted to obtained compensation for their losses to Spanish arms. In that year they printed a sixteen-page pamphlet entitled "The Case and Petition of His Majesty's Loyal Subjects, Late of West Florida" but their effort was in vain.
"Within a year and a half after the Commission started meeting, it began considering claims from West Florida for losses caused by the Americans. In West Florida this meant compensation for losses occasioned by Wing's raid. Many West Floridians had already petitioned the Commission before this change in policy became public, and the decision of their claims simply read, "Does not come within the scope of this enquiry, "or "not admitted.
"There were at least ten West Florida loyalists who suffered losses to Spain and losses because of the American raid, and consequently the Commission disallowed their claims. Only two of these loyalists re-petitioned the Commission after making the necessary distinctions."
At the same time, many West Florida loyalists suffered almost total destruction of their personal fortunes and the failure of England to grant some kind of relief through direst compensation or annual pensions to eight West Floridians for property lost to the Americans during Willing's raid. The previous amounted to a total of ten pounds a year. The West Florida loyalists continued for over thirty years to seek compensation or confirmation by the United States of their British land grants in West Florida. The efforts of the West Florida loyalists were largely in vain. (See: R.S. Cotterwill, " The National Land System in the South, 1803-1812", pp. 495-99.) Index to Spanish Judicial Records Page 521
Settlers On Bayou Castine Who Signed the Oath
In Donald Sharp's comments on the settlers who signed the "Oath of Allegience" at Bayou Castine on October 16, 1779, he noted that there were some signers who did not live in the area and seemed "out of place"
"The names of Matthew McCullough and Alexander McCullough first caught my attention. True, Alexander McCullough had land acquisitions all over West Florida. It was said that he had over several thousand acres. Matthew McCullough was his brother and he had a son named Alexander who was the main heir of his Uncle in trying to claim his Uncle's British land grants after 1810 when West Florida came under American authority.
"Why were the two McCulloughs at Bayou Castang (Castine) when American Captain Pickles landed and required them to take the oath? Alexander was a high official in the British West Florida government at Pensacola. He was not one to live in the western part of the province. He was out of place.
"The next name was an eye opener. It was the name of William Stiel. Two years before appeared a Lt. Colonel William Stiel in the Province. He was the ranking militaty officer until General Campbell arrived early in 1779 to assume command. Other names that seemed out of place were Gerard Brandon and Frederick Spell.
"I assumed that when the fighting started with Gov. Galvez's troops attacking Manchac these two men were flushed out of Manchac and seeked asylum at Bayou Castang. But why Bayou Castang? Why not did these men continue their flight and go to Pensacola? It must have been very embarrassing for them to have to sign the "Oath". The answer to these questions seemed to be answered in "Tories. Dons. And Rebels" by J. Burton Starr.
"Why were these men at Bayou Castang and had to sign Pickles Oath of Allegience to the American cause: Lt. Colonel William Stiel, the Commanding officer in West Florida until the arrival of General Campbell with his troops arrived at Pensacola on January 25, 1779. Tories, Dons, and Rebels Page 113
On March 3, 1778, Gov. Peter Chester and Council met and requested Lieutenant Col. Stiel to detach an officer and twenty-five men to Lt. George Burdon and the armed sloop West Florida on Lake Pontchartrain to defend the lakes.
On April 27, 1779, the Council unanimously recommended the establishment of a military post at Manchac. Lt. Colonel William Stiel was present at the meeting and he agreed to send one Captain, one lieutenant, one ensign, three sergeants, on drummer and forty rank and file for the proposed garrison. Stiel, (Stiell), also ordered the twenty-five men who had gone to reinforce Lt. Burton on board the West Florida to take post at Manchac.
When the battle on Lake Pontchartrain was fought between the Morris and the West Florida, the Morris had 61 men on board. The West Florida had 30. The reason was that the 25 men Lt.Col. Stiel had assigned to the WestFlorida were at Manchac.
(More information on The Battle of Lake Pontchartrain to be offered in future post)