Sherry Johnson


"On the 5th of October a violent hurricane hit this city, It caused terrible damage to the houses in town....The destruction is so great that these poor people are entirely ruined."1 So wrote Spanish East Florida's interim governor Juan Jose de Estrada on December 5, 1811. The hurricane could not have occurred at a more inopportune time. During the previous three years, Spain had suffered an unprecedented series of catastrophes. In 1808, Napoleon Bonaparte invaded the country, usurped the monarchy, and placed his brother Josef on the throne, thus creating a crisis of legitimacy throughout the Spanish empire. Political confusion led to economic uncertainty as revenues from Spanish America to the metropolis were halted. At the same time, aggressive American expansionism encouraged attacks along the border between the United States and the Spanish colonies. One such invasion was the attempted seizure of East Florida by General George Mathews and his followers in March 1812. Within the chaos of the Spanish empire and threatened with invasion from Georgia, the October hurricane had the potential to be the last straw in a series of misfortunes that swayed popular sentiment in favor of the invaders.