The English Period

During the British Period Florida went through significant change, not only in settlement but also in ownership, that would have a profound effect on its future.

France and Spain had been involved in the Seven Years War with Britain, which we called the French and Indian War. They all signed the Treaty of Paris in 1763 to end the war. Spain lost Florida to the English in exchange for Havana and Manila, which had been occupied by the British. France ceded Canada and the portion of Louisiana east of the Mississippi River to Britain. The western portion of Louisiana extending to the Rocky Mountains had been secretly granted to Spain in 1762 by France. However, it reverted back to France in 1800.

The following maps will show how the area of Florida was designated. Some were based on maps that predated the 1763 Treaty of Paris but most were made during the 1763-1783 British Period that ended with the Second Treaty of Paris in 1783. At that time, Florida was returned to Spain for a period of time, called the Second Spanish Period, ending in 1819.

During the U.S. Revolutionary War, Florida was the only province South of Canada to remain loyal to England and St. Augustine became crowded with Tory refugees from northern colonies. When Florida was ceded back to Spain in 1783, more than fifteen thousand English planters left Florida.

Arva Moore Parks describes the British Period in her book, Where the River Meets the Bay:

It is hard to believe that a place that was once home to thousands of people for thousands of years could suddenly become deserted. It appears, however, that after 1763 this was true in South Florida. After the British gained possession of Florida, the Spanish and their Indian allies emigrated en masse to other Spanish colonies in the New World. In southeast Florida, this emigration seemed to be total.

The first order of business for the British was to attempt to repopulate their new possession. With this thought in mind, King George III ordered a general survey to be made of the Florida coasts with the idea of granting large tracts of land to individuals who would then encourage settlement. To receive a grant, the prospective grantee, after completing his own survey, was required to provide settlers, much like the proprietors had done in Pennsylvania, Maryland and other colonies to the north.

The best description of South Florida during the British Period comes from the pen of the surveyors. The first to arrive was William Gerald DeBrahm, who was appointed Surveyor General of East Florida in 1764. In early 1765, DeBrahm began a six-year survey of the eastern coast of the United States, including the area around Biscayne Bay and the Miami River. In DeBrahm's 1770 map, based on his 1765 survey, he named the Miami River the Garbrand River and Biscayne Bay, Sandwich Gulf. Nowhere in any of DeBrahm's writings is there any mention of a settlement on Biscayne Bay.

A short time after DeBrahm's visit to South Florida, another surveyor, Bernard Romans, also explored the area. In 1775, Romans published a book to accompany his map of Florida called A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida. Romans named Miami River the "River Rattones."