On July 25, 1768, Benjamin Franklin set his friend, Charles-Guillaume-Frédéric Dumas, straight. Dumas, a man of letters who would later serve as an American diplomat in Europe, was interested in settling British East Florida. Franklin informed Dumas that his home in Philadelphia “being near 1000 Miles from Florida” prevented his intimate acquaintance with that region. To better give Dumas an idea of that region, however, Franklin forwarded Dumas a copy of William Stork’s An Account of East-Florida. Stork’s account, one of many, circulated in London, prompting serious interest in the colony. Stork, and others like him, sought to draw attention to the newly-acquired British territory. Franklin cautioned Dumas, advising him to take the published accounts of East Florida with a grain of salt. Indeed, such accounts were apt to “expatiate on the Advantages . . . [and] pass over and conceal the Disadvantages, so that a just Idea of the New Country is rarely to be obtained by reading their Accounts.”
Because of his unfamiliarity with the area, Franklin advised Dumas against going to East Florida lest he encounter “hazardous” trouble there. What’s more, Franklin educated Dumas on the reality of colonizing “New Countries.” New settlers unaccustomed to the local climate regularly became ill and died. Such an adventure, Franklin pointed out, would not bode well for someone like Dumas who had a wife and children to care for. Instead of East Florida, he offered, why not purchase a working plantation in an already settled province like New York, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania? Such provinces already contained Europeans like Germans, Hollanders, and French. Dumas, Franklin advised, could employ his language skills and live in a well-settled country where he would enjoy the “Pleasures and Comforts of Neighbourhood and Society.” With his current financial condition, Franklin assured the European, he could purchase a good plantation in a province with agreeable climate, a mild and good government, and where “Competence and Happiness are within the Reach of every honest, prudent and industrious Man.” Franklin closed the letter, saying that should Dumas buy property in one of the aforementioned “good” colonies, New York, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania, Franklin and his contacts who lived in those regions would help him settle in.
Franklin’s advice was well founded. East Florida was a frontier province, devoid of almost all comforts and luxuries enjoyed by the more matured British provinces to the north. East Florida was not for the faint of heart. Indigenous people defending against encroachment were a frequent threat to some frontier colonies, and East Florida was no exception. British officers often did not have the power to control the men under their charge who sometimes ran rampant in St. Augustine, East Florida’s capital. The infant government boasted no lower house of assembly—the colony was effectively run as an aristocracy, particularly during the first half of the colony’s British tenure. Disease killed many newcomers unaccustomed to the tropical climate. Many East Florida plantations failed in their infancy. Those that succeeded tended their properties next to large swaths of uncultivated land owned by rich absentee owners in England, thereby hurting property values. Threat of Spanish invasion always loomed over the horizon. The sparsely inhabited province boasted little in the way of a social life. Men vastly outnumbered women, making an environment unattractive for a young up-and-coming man concerned with raising a family.
Of course, settling East Florida was not all bad. Some individuals made fortunes producing indigo. Then again, some lost everything after the American Revolution stunted East Florida’s development. To cut a long story short, East Florida was a gamble. Franklin, wisely, recommended Dumas stick with the safer option of settling in a more mature province. While certainly provinces like New York and Pennsylvania had their own frontiers, the older parts of those regions were nothing like the newly-formed East Florida colony whose inhabitants literally clung to the coast, occupying a narrow strip of land surrounded by unexplored wilderness.
Benjamin Franklin to Charles-Guillaume-Frédéric Dumas, July 25, 1768, founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-15-02-0097.
For other accounts of East Florida see William Roberts’ Account of the First Discovery, and Natural History of Florida; Bernard Romans’ Concise Natural History of East and West Florida; and William Bartrams’ Travels Through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida; Charles Loch Mowat, East Florida as a British Province, 1763-1784(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1943), 50-51. Despite such publicity, East Florida experienced slow development.