Under the leadership of Royal Governor Patrick Tonyn, East Florida remained in the hands of the British Crown during the Imperial Crisis, not an easy feat to achieve considering the political climate of the colonies in the 1760s and 1770s. This impressive achievement was accomplished through Tonyn’s effective use of Tory refugees, mostly from Georgia and the Carolinas, and their formation into Loyalist military units which would aid in the defense of the colony. One of these units, the East Florida Rangers, raised in 1776 and under the leadership of Thomas Brown, would partake in many actions against the rebels for King and Country. Unlike many of the Loyalist regiments formed during the conflict, this corps was raised by authority of Tonyn himself as governor of the colony, rather than by authority of the British government.
The Rangers’ contributions to the colony were many and included scouting the woods, assisting refugees in reaching the safety of East Florida, defending frontier settlements, gathering provisions, working with Native Americans, plundering farms, and stealing cattle which then fed the growing population of refugees dependent on government support. This military body was so effective, they struck fear in the state government of Georgia and made them wary of a possible invasion from Florida. The East Florida Rangers were mounted on horseback, but were not a cavalry unit per se, using their horses not for fighting but for transportation over the great distances in the region.
Among the officers commissioned by Tonyn to serve under Brown was a man by the name of James Moore. Moore’s commission, a document discovered in the Special Collections & Archives section of the Florida State University Libraries, sheds light on this regiment and James Moore. It reads:
Commission James Moore, Lieutenant in a Troop of Rangers— East Florida. By his Excellency,
Patrick Tonyn Esq. Captain General Governor and Commander in Chief in and over the said Province.
To James Moore,
Whereas in the present Situation of Affairs it is thought necessary to raise Troops of Rangers for the immediate protection of the several Inhabitants of this province. And Preposing a special Trust and Confidence in the Loyalty, courage, and good Conduct of you the said James Moore have Commission’d, Constituted and appointed, and do by these presents Commission, Constitute and appoint you the said James Moore to be Lieutenant of a Troop under the Command of [this part was left blank] which said Troop you are to lead, Train, Muster and Exercise according to Military Discipline and you are to follow and observe all such Orders and Instructions as you Shall from time to time receive from me on the Commander in chief for the time being or any other of your Superior Officers according to the Rules and Discipline of War, and in pursuance of the Trust hereby reposed in You. And all inferior Officer and Soldiers belonging to the said Troop are hereby strictly required and Commanded to obey you as Lieutenant of the same.
This Commission to continue during Pleasure.
By his Excellency’s Command. Given under my Hand and Seal at St. Augustine this Twenty first day of August __ Anno Domini 1776 and in the Sixteenth Year of his Majesty’s Reign.
The commission refers to “troops” rather than “companies,” because the East Florida Rangers was a mounted unit. Moore’s commission gives his date of rank as August 21, 1776, soon after the regiment was formed.
At the issuance of this official commission, Moore had roughly two years of life left to live before he met his fatal end. In June 1778, an American invasion force crossed the St. Mary’s River, led by Gen.Robert Howe in charge of the Continentals, Gov. John Houstoun leading the Georgia militia, and Col. Charles Pinckney heading the South Carolina militia. This force was a serious threat to the residents of East Florida. Knowing he must act quickly for the safety of the province, Thomas Brown ordered James Moore, accompanied by seventy-six Rangers and some Native Americans, to meet up with a group of Loyalist backcountry militia. Moore would lead the combined force in flanking the American army and attacking them from the rear. Unfortunately for Moore, deserters among his ranks fled to the American encampment where they disclosed Moore’s plans and location. Moore was “ambushed, wounded, and captured, then shot to death.”
The East Florida Rangers remained active into 1779. During that year, the corps was reorganized into an infantry regiment under the new name of the King’s (Carolina) Rangers. Some men were discharged, while others continued on in the new corps. When, in 1783, East Florida was ceded to Spain, a large number of Loyalists emigrated to various other British-held colonies; the Rangers disbanded, and some of the remaining men resettled in Nova Scotia where they were granted land in exchange for their military service.
James Moore’s Commission is just one more piece of East Florida history only recently found and brought to the public’s attention. This unique document illuminates Loyalist history and contributes to our documentation of their experiences in the war.
“East Florida Rangers Incorporated,” Florida History, eastfloridarangers.org/ef-ranger-history/.
James Moore’s Commission as a Lieutenant in a Troop of Rangers, August 21, 1776, Documents of the British possessions of East and West Florida, 1762-1801, Florida State University Libraries, Special Collections & Archives.
Randy Golden, “The Third Florida Expedition,” www.ourgeorgiahistory.com/wars/Revolution/revolution12.html.