James G. Cusick


As Andrew McMichael points out in Atlantic Loyalties, the eastern Spanish borderlands of Louisiana and the Floridas suffered constant upheaval in the 40 years between 1778 and 1818. During those years, some fourteen different episodes of conspiracy, revolt, or invasion shook colonial society, beginning with the raids of James Willing in 1778 and carrying on through the First Seminole War of 1817-1818 (see Table 1).1 Although several of these upheavals stemmed from general warfare in the region, many were instigated by fairly small groups of men who played upon the discontent of fellow settlers or who drew on a base of support that lay across an international boundary line and beyond the reach of Spanish law. Often these upheavals took on the character of personal feuds against Spanish functionaries and their friends rather than of genuine political revolt. In 1804, for example, the Kemper brothers of the New Feliciana district, West Florida, led a series of raids to disrupt Spanish control of the area. McMichael, in his analysis of their actions, concluded that "[their] raids were less about protorevolutionary sentiments among West Floridians than about the nature of the people attracted to the borderlands."2 What was that nature? In part, it consisted of clan loyalty, contempt for authority, and a willingness to use violence to settle disputes. William Davis, in his recent book on the West Florida revolt of 1810, rendered a similar opinion of the Kempers. They were like many American settlers, he noted, who entered the Spanish borderlands out of self-interest and were inclined to show little patience toward any regulations that blocked it. "A king's failure to treat an American citizen the way that American expected to be treated in his own United States could be the catalyst for rebellion," Davis observed, "especially if the king's action resulted in the frustration of an individual's ambitions to prosper."4