Appeared in the December 2012 issue of The Southern Genealogists Exchange Quarterly
WILLIAM BRADDOCK VERSUS THE U. S. GOVERNMENT
J. G. Braddock Sr.
Not many people can sue the U. S. government and win, especially a non-citizen residing outside the United States. Yet, my third great-grandfather, William Braddock, did. But it took 28 years from the time of his losses for him to collect his money. Then, he got only fifteen percent of the amount for which he sued.
William’s start on the path to becoming a citizen of another country began with the death of his father, Captain John Cutler Braddock, in 1794 in Glynn County, Georgia, leaving heavy unpaid debts. Some were for taxes on land grants he had received for commanding the Georgia galley Lee in the Revolutionary War. Unable to pay the debts, his widow, Lucy Cook Braddock, took her four children remaining at home, Ann, John David, William, and Hester and headed south. Mary, her oldest, had married and moved out. All of John’s grants were on navigable waterways. Old maps show he had houses on at least two of these grants, one on the Altamaha River at Reid’s Bluff, the other on the same river near its entrance at Little St. Simons. So it is almost a certainty that the family traveled by boat.
They arrived in early January 1795 on the Spanish East Florida side of the St. Marys River. William was 18 at the time. Widow Margaret O’Neill, who still had young children living with her, took them into her home on New Hope Plantation until Lucy could get a place of her own. New Hope overlooked Lanceford Creek. Margaret’s husband, a magistrate for the area, had been murdered in the line of duty seven years earlier.
Lucy immediately applied for a grant of land. Spanish law required her to sign an oath of allegiance to receive it. Signing made her a citizen of Spanish East Florida. One record in East Florida Papers (records of the second Spanish possession of Florida from 1783 until 1822) seems to indicate she received a grant on Amelia Island. By October 1798 she had married William Alexander Fitzgerald and had moved to Amelia Island. This turned out to be a good move for her family. Black Hammock neighbor Elizabeth Maxey Berrie Hull Tucker had a son, William Berrie. Daughter Ann married him. Spicer Christopher, with a family of five sons and three daughters, lived just across Sawpit Creek on Big Talbot Island. John David married Spicer’s daughter Martha. William married his daughter Charlotte. Hester married his son John. And Lucy’s granddaughters Ann and Elizabeth married his sons, Spicer Jr. and William.
In a move to become
eligible for land grants, brothers John David and William signed oaths
of allegiance, making them citizens of the Spanish province. Both
indicated in the oaths that they were farmers. John David applied for a
grant of 640 acres on or near the southeast side of Little St. Marys
River. As stated in records of the grant, its location was “on the
road from Roses Bluff leading from the main road from St. Johns River to
Georgia.” The “main
road” referred to what was the King’s Road built by the British
during their occupation of Florida from 1763 to 1783. It ran northward
from St. Augustine through what is now Jacksonville to Coleraine,
Georgia. From there, it continued on to Savannah. An 1864 map of Nassau
County shows a road going to Rose’s Bluff running from King’s Road
about midway through Nassau County. Records of the grant stated it as,
“being a few miles from Elijah and Joseph Higginbotham.” The
Higginbothams had grants on the St. Marys River northwest of the Little
St. Marys River. Although John David began occupying it in 1807, the
grant did not receive final approval from the Spanish before they ceded
Florida to the U. S. It was not until 1825, after Florida became a U. S.
Territory, that the Commissioners for Ascertaining Claims
to Lands in East Florida approved his grant.
While no grant records for William’s grants could be found, based on testimony of his brother John David, William had two plantations. In an affidavit John David made in conjunction with William’s claim against the U. S. government, he stated, “that he resided within six miles of the claimant’s Nassau place & about sixteen miles from his place in O’Neal’s Neck.” According to old property records, William’s property on Nassau River is now known as Pearson Island. It was known as Braddock’s Island when he owned it. His other grant, however, is shown on a chart titled “Carta del espacio entre La Georgia y La Ysla Amalia” as being on Lanceford Creek. The chart, which was furnished by James G. Cusick, curator of the P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History at the University of Florida Library, was made by Spanish government surveyor-general George J. F. Clarke in 1811.
The “Gui” in fornt of “Braddock” on the chart is the abbreviation of Guillermo, the Spanish translation of William.
By the middle of March 1812 William and his family, which now included five small children, were living contentedly on one of his plantations and farming both when a military force crossed the St. Marys and landed at Rose’s Bluff. The invaders consisted of U. S. troops and the army of a group who had named themselves the Patriots. The U. S. military was involved with the under-the-table sanction of President James Madison. He gave his blessings because Spain had become a close ally with Great Britain. Our relationship with the English had deteriorated, causing some to fear that Spain would allow them to use Florida as a base for attacking the United States. The Patriot army, consisting mostly of volunteers from Georgia, was involved mainly because the Georgians feared losing slaves running away to the freedom of the Spanish province.
Also involved were a number of East Florida citizens who were part of the Patriot conspiracy. In addition to helping orchestrate the invasion, they held a convention and adopted a constitution for the “Territory of East Florida,” the name they planned to call the province once control of it had been wrested from the Spanish. John Houstoun McIntosh was elected president. As stated in the constitution, they considered living under Spanish rule to be “a bondage almost unsupportable.” John David and William, along with their brother-in-law William Christopher, were among the signers.
After landing, the invaders began making their way eastward to capture Fernandina. Like a horde of frenzied army ants, they devastated every plantation along their route. At New Hope, now occupied by Eber O’Neill and his family, they ravaged the fields, took live stock, and burned down the house. Taking Fernandina without a shot being fired, they scoured plantations for boats for ferrying troops on their way south to siege St. Augustine. At Saw Pit bluff, they seized a boat belonging to the Smith family. In addition to confiscating the large vessel Lord Nelson from the Christopher plantation on Talbot Island, now maintained by two of Spicer’s sons, they took several thoroughbred horses and ran off 600 head of cattle.
President Madison withdrew American support when many national and international voices were raised against the U. S. invading a sovereign nation without provocation. The last of the invaders left Florida in May 1814. Congress made a treaty with Spain February 24, 1819 in which Spain agreed to cede Florida to the U. S. The treaty included a stipulation that the U. S. government would compensate Spanish subjects for losses resulting from the invasion. Additionally, Congress passed an act June 26, 1834 for the relief of those financially affected by the invasion. Approval of payment for losses finally cleared all hurdles in 1836.
The invaders had not discriminated between friend and foe in ravaging plantations. Neither plantation of William’s, a strong supporter of the invasion, escaped their unrestrained greed and destruction. He submitted a claim for $10,235.00 to the Superior Court of East Florida in Jacksonville. His claim included loss of three slaves, a mare, a house, and 75,000 board feet of timber. In addition, he itemized 1812 crop losses as follows: 6,600 pounds of cotton at fifty cent a pound; 450 bushels of corn at a dollar a bushel; 240 bushels of peas at a dollar a bushel; and 600 bushels of potatoes at fifty cent a bushel. Crop losses he claimed for 1813 were the same except he claimed loss of only 5610 pounds of cotton.
The Court questioned at length the two witnesses testifying on William’s behalf, Samuel Russell on August 1, 1838 and John David on August 5th. Their responses were almost identical. Among John David’s answers to twenty-one questions plus four cross examination questions, he testified “that he is more than sixty years of age.” As one of the signers of the constitution of the Patriots' planned Territory of East Florida, he had the audacity to declare in his testimony, “that he was with the Patriots by compulsion.”
After due consideration, the court awarded William $1,622.00 April 18, 1840.
Nassau County Courthouse records indicate that deceased Spicer Christopher’s estate also made a claim for losses incurred in the Patriot War. John Spicer Braddock, who was Spicer’s grandson and John David’s son, acted as administrator of Spicer’s estate. He was also Clerk of Court for Nassau County. On August 22, 1843 he disbursed proceeds from the claim to Spicer’s surviving children and to spouses of deceased children. Each signed a receipt that they had received seven hundred seven dollars and twenty cents. As her husband John David had died two years earlier, Martha Christopher signed for herself. William signed for his wife Charlotte Christopher. Lewis Christopher signed for himself. As Elizabeth Christopher had died, her husband John Houston signed for their children. Spicer’s sons John B., William G., Spicer S., and Thomas were deceased.
For the full story of the Patriot Army invasion, read The Other War of 1812 by James G. Cusick.