Matthew Saionz


On July 16, 1844, Robert Christie, a London businessman, wrote to his distant relative, Floridian James Ormond III. "You men of the West," he observed, "certainly surprise the folk of the East by your perseverance and intrepidity of character."1 Although the particular nature of his relationship with Ormond is unclear, Christie's commentary on the character of "men of the West" stands out in a letter that, on the whole, consists of rather mundane personal matters. In this instance, Christie posits an interesting dichotomy that casts the decidedly more enterprising Americans (men of the West) opposite the British, or, more generally, western Europeans (folk of the East). In many ways, Ormond was typical of the businessmen who established themselves in the Florida borderlands and at other sites of American expansion during the first half of the nineteenth century. By this point in his life, Ormond had fashioned a career as a prominent Floridian merchant with connections in both East and Middle Florida, as well as Savannah, Charleston, and even New York. He and his business partner, William McNaught, commanded large amounts of wealth in the form of land, goods, and slaves in Florida Territory. By the 1840s, much of their wealth found its way to American ports to be either circulated into the American economy or reinvested into peripheral markets. Clever businessmen like Ormond and McNaught facilitated the gradual incorporation of Florida into American economic circles and, by extension, into the United States. In this light, Christie aptly observed that entrepreneurs of a "strong character" were central to the ongoing expansion of the United States, as they increasingly tied their capital and commodities to U.S. markets through land purchases and commercial enterprise.