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Published: March 7th 2013
THE BONNIE BLUE FLAG
Chorus: Hurrah! Hurrah!
For Southern Rights, Hurrah.
Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag,
That bears the single star.
One of the most intriguing aspects of American history is the cultural clash that arose over the struggle for political and economic sovereignty between Spain, France, Great Britain, Mexico and America along the gulf coast of the United States. The struggle began in 1559 with the Spanish settlement at St Augustine in Florida and culminated in the American triumph of arms over Mexico in 1848. Spanish influence dominated the gulf coast until 1821 when they were driven out of Mexico. The French held claim to the mouth of the Mississippi River and controlled commerce up and down the river to settlements in Canada. Great Britain controlled commerce through Canada with the Hudson Bay Company and had established colonization along the Atlantic Seaboard. Americans and Mexicans were struggling to establish footholds in their own countries. All of that changed in 1763 at the end of the Seven Years War in Europe, or the French and Indian War, as it is known in America. Great Britain acquired Spanish Florida and Spain acquired New Orleans. France retained possession of much of the interior lands in North America but little commerce or settlement had been developed. For administrative purposes Great Britain split Spanish Florida into two separate British colonies. East Florida retained its capitol at St Augustine, and the capitol of West Florida was established at Pensacola. Boundary disputes inevitably developed in West Florida between Great Britain, Spain, and America over who owned what portion of the new colony. It extended between the Mississippi River and the Apalachicola River below the 31st
parallel but the squabble was not acceptably resolved to the countries involved or people living there. When talk of American Independence began in earnest a delegation from the West Florida Colony was invited to attend the Continental Congress but declined to do so because they were fiercely loyal to Great Britain. West Florida would remain a hotbed of Tory sympathy throughout the Revolutionary War. Under provisions of the Treaty of Versailles in 1793 Great Britain lost all of their American possessions, but Spain was an American ally during our War for Independence and retained New Orleans and such portions of West Florida that were still under contention. Spain still held the entire gulf coast west of New Orleans without contention. Spain lost New Orleans through the Louisiana Purchase but stubbornly held on to their claim in West Florida which was clearly not part of the purchase. Citizens living in West Florida along with allies among the Red Stick Creek Nation rose to rebellion in 1810 and finally drove the Spanish out carrying the Bonnie Blue Flag as their battle standard. They established the Independent Territory of West Florida, and set up a tentative government with a capitol at St Francisville, LA. The new territory only existed for 90 days. Its independence was never recognized and was simply annexed. Folks who lived there and fought the war thought that their rights as citizens had been usurped by federal authority that they had never supported in the first place. They were a solidly Tory faction that continued to hold dear their Bonnie Blue Flag. In 1821 the Spanish were kicked out of Mexico too, and Mexico allowed settlement in Texas by Americans who would agree to join the Catholic Church and become citizens of Mexico. Enough of those settlers came to Texas from West Florida that when Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836 the Bonnie Blue Flag was added as part of the flag of Texas. In 1861 when the State of Mississippi announced its secession from the union the Bonnie Blue Flag was raised over the state capitol in Jackson. A fellow named Henry McCarthy was so moved by the flag that wrote a verse about it that became a very popular Confederate marching song. The Yankee soldiers liked the song too and wrote their own version of it. Both armies marched to the same tune. In 1959 the Dallas Cowboys were looking for a team logo and settled upon a blue star as a symbol of the Lone Star State. The beloved Cowboys logo goes back to the Bonnie Blue Flag.
Aside from the flag there is another intriguing aspect to the story of West Florida. The little town of Nachitoches, on the Red River in northwest Louisiana survived as a backwater outpost of France for many years after the Louisiana Purchase. Few people spoke English or Spanish there until after Texas was admitted to statehood. Across the river a few miles into Texas a Mexican community sprang forth called Nacogdoches. Spanish was the language spoken there. Commerce outside of Mexico was officially prohibited in Nacogdoches, however both communities, as they continued to prosper and go forth, came to the realization that they were both interdependent on the other. The Frenchmen needed cattle and horses from Mexico, and the Mexicans needed access to a port facility. Trade flourished but it was all contraband and punishable in Mexican Texas by imprisonment and sometimes death. Into this strange cultural mix marched the occasional American who could speak neither French nor Spanish. He must have thought he had suddenly entered the Twilight Zone.
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