Over the course of the past three centuries, the Gulf Coast of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana has served under a variety of flags: the French Fleur de Lis, the Golden Spanish Imperium, the Great Magnolia, the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy, the Star Spangled Banner of the United States, and briefly during the War of 1812, the British Union Jack. But perhaps most intriguing was its tenure under the Bonnie Blue of the Republic of West Florida.
Early in 1802, Napoleon concluded that it would be in his best interest to sell his American colonies to the United States. Negotiations took about two weeks, and the territories—extending from New Orleans to the Canadian border--were sold for $15 million in 1803. The transaction is known in history as the Louisiana Purchase.
But specifically exempt from the sale was the land east of the Mississippi. Over the course of the next several months, the settlers there formed an independent nation extending from the Mississippi in the west to Pensacola Bay in the east and stretching as far north as present-day Montgomery, Alabama. The founders of this Gulf Coast state called their nation the Republic of West Florida and established their capital at Baton Rouge. Thomas Jefferson’s near relative, Fulwar Skipwith was elected president shortly afterward--and it was Skipwith who encouraged the adoption of the Bonnie Blue Flag, the old Celtic symbol of covenantal freedom, as the nation’s official banner.
Independence brought both liberty and prosperity to the region--but it was to be short-lived. On this day in 1810, the sovereignty of West Florida was brought to an untimely and ignominious end when President James Madison ordered a detachment of American cavalrymen under the command of General William Claiborne to conquer the territory for the United States. Legislators were marched out of the capitol building at bayonet-point and forced to pledge allegiance to the federal United States and its governmental emissaries. The Bonnie Blue flag was torn down and replaced by the Stars and Stripes. The conquest was made in the name of American Manifest Destiny--but it remained a point of contention in the region and contributed to its quick acceptance of secession in the earliest days of the War between the States.
Even today in many of the Katrina-ravaged areas of the region, the Bonnie Blue Flag continues to fly as a badge of the Gulf Coast's distinctive identity, heritage, and culture.