British Period

British Period 1763-1783

The fully developed plantation system became an important part of Northeast Florida's economy during 20 years of British rule. James Grant, the new governor of Florida, had ambitions to develop Florida as "Britannia's New Eden." Massive land grants were soon distributed to influential British subjects to encourage its development. However, many land grantees were merely land speculators who hoped to profit from selling the land at inflated prices. To encourage serious plantation development, Governor Grant established his own plantations near St. Augustine to demonstrate the potential for profit. Grant recouped his investment within four years, clearly demonstrating financial success, despite his own inexperience in agriculture.

The first important cash crops were indigo, rice, timber, and naval stores. The British experimented with a variety of products including sugar, cotton, and even silk. They also produced a large variety of foods for their table: corn, carrots, watermelon, herbs, red beets, English peas, butter beans, cauliflower, broccoli, radish, parsnips, lettuce and spinach.

Other planters soon followed Grant's example as a number of influential Englishmen received large tracts of coastal lands to convert into plantations. Dr. Andrew Turnbull and the well-connected aristocrat, Richard Oswald, established vast plantation systems to profit from agriculture rather than land speculation.

Richard Oswald: A model of success

Indigo plants and fields of sugar cane blanketed the plantation fields of the aristocratic Richard Oswald. Oswald was a slave dealer and an adviser to the British ministry who helped to draft the terms of peace offered to the American colonies. He received a 1764 land grant of 20,000 acres along the Tomoka and Halifax Rivers, now within the borders of Tomoka State Park and the city boundaries of Ormond Beach.

His most important plantation settlement was Oswald Plantation, which boasted a complex of houses, barns and stables. Four miles to the South was the Ferry Settlement with a hundred acres cleared for corn and rice. The Adia settlement with an indigo house and slave quarters was on the Halifax River.

Between the Halifax and Tomoka Rivers Oswald established a sugar plantation, the Swamp Settlement, now known as Three Chimneys. He operated his plantations through overseers who supervised black slaves. He never visited the plantations himself. Governor Grant was a silent partner in the enterprises.

Oswald's plantation profits were made primarily in indigo. His efforts to produce sugar and rum were not successful because he chose a variety of cane that was not tolerant to cold weather. Oswald's Florida plantations were abandoned after the Revolutionary War. The ruins of his sugar mill still exist in the city of Ormond Beach.

Oswald Plantation Site - Tomoka State Park, North Beach Street. 4.2 miles north of the intersection of Granada and North Beach Street, Ormond Beach. Admission fee. Canoeing, fishing, picnicking. Please call (386) 676-4050.

John Moultrie:
His plantation experiment

John Moultrie, Lieutenant Governor of East Florida under Governor Grant, was a highly regarded planter from the Carolinas who brought many slaves to the new colony. Moultrie held a medical degree from Edinburgh University in Scotland and was known as a successful planter who produced the best indigo in Carolina. He was president of the Royal Society of East Florida. Moultrie brought many experienced slaves to Florida to clear his new lands. They grew indigo and rice as well as corn, beans and potatoes.

Moultrie disliked land speculators who used land grants merely to gain quick profits. He was sorry "to see so good a part of the colony run out in large tracts for grantees at home who likely do not mean to cultivate them, and have not left room for other settlers, for many miles on the rivers." His plantation in the Tomoka Basin was named "Rosetta" because of his interest in Egypt and the Near East, a common 18th century historical fascination.

Moultrie also placed his hopes on the raising of silkworms on mulberry trees for silk production in the colony. He raised grapes to make wine and experimented with the breeding of cochineal beetles, a leading source of red food dye in his day. Such horticultural experimentation was a natural extension of the Scientific Revolution.

Dr. Andrew Turnbull:
The high cost of ambition

After the failure of his New Smryna colony in 1777, Andrew Turnbull lived out his life in Charleston, S.C., as a respected physician in polite company. However, history has not forgotten the suffering and starvation endured by the colonists he brought to New Smyrna as colonists in 1768. Twentyone depositions made against him by his former workers contain charges of cruelty and abuse. Turnbull left the everyday working of the plantations to his overseers, and he provided inadequate provisions to support the colonists.

The vast majority of the colonists came from the British-controlled Mediterranean island of Minorca. The New Smryna Colony that Turnbull established was the largest British settlement effort of its day. Conditions in Minorca had been terrible. They had already experienced years of crop failure and starvation and many died on the long voyage from the Mediterranean. The colonists objected to their conditions. Their priest, Father Casasnovas, took their case to the Spanish authorities in St. Augustine after Turnbull refused to hear his petitions on their behalf.

Nearly a thousand Minorcan men, women and children died during nine years of misery; 450 perished in the first year alone. The workers lived in isolated cottages. The overseers did not respect their custom of living in clustered settlements and forced them to live apart from each other. This increased their loneliness and made it more difficult for them to adapt to the colony successfully.

The colonists were later released from their contracts of indenture by the British colonial court. They then walked 75 miles to refuge in St. Augustine, where many of their descendents still live. Although the early years of the colony were profitable, Turnbull's ambitions were doomed by drought and poor management. Turnbull intended the ill-fated New Smyrna Colony as a profit-making venture but it ended in a tremendous financial loss to his investors.

Old Fort Park
Turnbull Colony

An extensive network of canals is still visible in modern New Smryna Beach and other parts of Volusia County. These canals - built at an enormous cost of human effort and life - provided transportation, drained swamp lands, and probably provided irrigation water for the Turnbull colony.

In 1995, more remains of the colony were discovered, including coquina structures, tabby floors, and British artifacts. Archaeologists came to the conclusion that they had uncovered a colonist's house and outbuildings. A comprehensive survey of the area in 1998 led to the documentation of 40 colonial era archaeological sites in New Smryna Beach. These discoveries are leading to a better understanding of the colonial town that Turnbull developed in New Smyrna Beach.

The mystery of Old Fort Park

The imposing coquina stone foundations at Old Fort Park are a mystery. An early account, written in 1776, describes a very large stone building erected in the vicinity of New Smryna that was built as a "mansion house," but the true function of these ruins is unknown to historians and archaeologists. The ruins were restored by Works Progress Administration workers during the Great Depression. They added bastions thinking it to be an old fort. Some scholars have suggested that the masonry may have formed the foundation of a storehouse or a church.

The massive supports and thick coquina walls may indicate a commercial or industrial use. No one knows the true purpose of these mysterious walls.

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