Of the aspects of British West Florida attracting the attention of historians none surpasses the siege of Pensacola in 1781. All accounts rely on the reports of combatant participants, but no historian of West Florida has evidently used or perhaps been aware of the observations of one of the many civilian observers trapped by war in Pensacola. He was James Bruce, collector of customs at Pensacola. While enduring with his countrymen the final desperate days of British rule in the province, he wrote six letters to mercantile friends in London. They provide, apart from illuminating details of economic conditions during the siege, insights into the psychology of the besieged. They contain hopes, speculations, and denunciations which have no place in official reports. Nothing is known of Bruce’s origins, although his association with West Florida’s “Scotch” party and his name suggest that he was a Scot. He was a warrant officer in the Royal Navy in 1758, when British land and sea forces captured the French fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island after a siege of seven weeks. By the end of the Seven Years’ War when Bruce, along with the bulk of wartime servicemen, was demobilized or, to use the term then current, reduced, his naval position was “secretary to a flag officer and commander in chief.“ Association with extremely senior officers, which Bruce’s job would have entailed, may have made it possible for him to aspire to favors normally denied to noncommissioned personnel such as himself.
Fabel, Robin F. A.
"Ordeal by Siege: James Bruce in Pensacola, 1780-1781,"
Florida Historical Quarterly: Vol. 66:
3, Article 5.
Available at: https://stars.library.ucf.edu/fhq/vol66/iss3/5