Friday, July 3, 2015

In 1763, at the end of the French and Indian War, Britain had defeated France and that country lost everything they had in North America which was, basically, most of the continent. The French ceded Dauphin Island to the British along with all of the province of Louisiana east of the Mississippi except New Orleans. France's ally, Spain got New Orleans and also French Louisiana west of the Mississippi but had to forfeit Florida to the Brits in order to get back Havana which they had lost to the British during the war.

The task of evicting the French from Dauphin Island and Mobile Bay fell to British Major Robert Farmar, the namesake for Dauphin Island's Major Farmar Street which connects Bienville to Cadillac.(Unfortunately, some well-meaning person has defaced the "Major Farmar Street" sign on Bienville Boulevard,  "correcting" the spelling by placing an "E" over the second "A" in Farmar)

When Major Farmar dropped anchor off Dauphin Island on October 9, 1763, the mouth of Mobile Bay was probably the last place on Earth he wanted to be. Nearly three months earlier, Farmar had embarked from Cuba and dreamed of happily sailing back to England with the troops he had commanded during Great Britain's campaign to capture Havana but after over a week  at sea, his fleet was overtaken by a schooner carrying orders authorizing Major Farmer to form a convoy of six troop transports and a warship to carry three regiments to occupy French Louisiana east of the Mississippi River as well as Spanish Pensacola. Farmar also received an official French authorization for the commander of Fort Conde' to surrender the fort.

For over a week after arriving at Mobile Bay, Farmar had his men sounding the channel and setting out buoys to guide three of the smaller troop transports over the bar. The 32 gun frigate, H.M.S. Stag, and a larger troop transport sailed over to Ship Island to find safe anchorage. Earlier in October, while Farmar had been in Pensacola, two French pilots from the mouth of Mobile Bay had arrived and warned him that they doubted whether the large British ships could clear the bar at Mobile.

At the same time that his men were marking the channel between Dauphin Island and Mobile Point,  Farmar's frustration turned to anger when he received letters from both the French commander of Ft. Conde' and the French Governor in New Orleans requesting that he delay the disembarkation of his troops at Mobile. Farmar ignored these French delays because his men had been at sea for over three months and probably hadn't slept in a bed in over a year and a half. On October 18, the three small troop transports successfully crossed the bar south of Dauphin Island but ran aground in the bay about six miles out from Mobile. Major Farmar rowed ashore at Mobile and agreed to allow the French commander 48 hours to evacuate Fort Conde'. On October 20, 1763, the Union Jack was raised over the Mobile fort, now named Fort Charlotte after the King's wife. The military occupation of this newly ceded British colony named West Florida had begun.

The problems Major Farmar encountered entering Mobile Bay emphasized his dependency upon the French pilots who resided on Dauphin Island and who were needed to navigate any large vessel intending to enter Mobile Bay. Only one month after taking possession of Mobile Bay, Farmar wrote ".....A corporal and six men I have sent to the Island Dauphin to be assisting the Pilot in going off to ships, as the bar is very dangerous, and there are no inhabitants upon the island."

For the next six years, Farmar continued to keep his eyes on Dauphin Island, a vital post for the navigation of Mobile Bay but also the first of an entire chain of islands stretching to Cat Island which formed the western limit of the Mississippi Sound. Not only did these islands offer safe anchorage for ocean-going vessels but they also supported grazing for large herds of cattle that supplied beef to New Orleans and Mobile. Over his years in West Florida, Farmar showed that his main motivation was personal gain and he began to acquire thousands of acres of property including the deeds to at least four large tracts on Dauphin Island. Farmar's desire for Dauphin Island would lead to the island's ninth armed amphibious invasion and this would not result in a change of flags but in the violent and forceful eviction of the employees of the man who contested Farmar's claim to Dauphin, West Florida Lieutenant Governor Montfort Browne.

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