Speculation in West Florida land offered a lucrative opportunity at the time of the advent of the Union Jack on Dauphin Island in 1763. Not only did Major Robert Farmar evict every French government official and French soldier from his new colony of West Florida but for over a year he was the head of the government and a willing customer for any emigrating Frenchman who might not be quite ready to pledge his allegiance to King George III and maybe have a little land to sell. Farmar claimed he never mixed public funds
When Major Robert Farmar arrived on Dauphin Island in the fall of 1763 he began to mix his private business with his military service as the military head of the new British colony of West Florida which at that time included all the land south of the 31st parallel (a part of which now serves as our Alabama-Florida line
Very soon after his arrival in West Florida, Major Farmar showed his interest in Dauphin Island when he immediately assigned a corporal and six men to a station on the island to assist the French pilot who was the only resident. He also succeeded in obtaining bills of sale for most of the island from Frenchmen living in Mobile and also bought all the livestock on the island which included seventy-six cattle and three pigs. He had this livestock exchanged for two male slaves named Peter and Prince. At about the same time, the newly appointed Lieutenant Governor of West Florida, Montfort Browne, had selected Dauphin Island as the location of the royal grant of acreage he'd received for
If you look at George Gauld's 1768 Dauphin Island map, you'll see a spot marked at about the
Lieutenant Governor Browne moved very quickly to occupy the island. He ordered a corporal's guard to the island and seized about 100 head of cattle grazing there.
Major Farmar never accepted Governor Johnstone's decision against his ownership of the island but he was too busy to do anything about it. He was tied up during most of 1766 leading a military expedition up the Mississippi River to the Illinois country. When he returned, he was facing the court martial related to his alleged financial malfeasance during his tenure as military governor of West Florida in 1763-64.
King George III removed Governor Johnstone from office in 1767 and even though Lieutenant Governor Browne took Johnstone's place at the West Florida capital of Pensacola, Farmar was finally able to direct more attention to his Dauphin Island interests after he was acquitted of all his court martial charges on April 20, 1768. Farmar was elected to represent Mobile in Pensacola's colonial assembly in January of 1769 and by the beginning of April of that year, West Florida had a new governor in John Eliot. Governor Eliot immediately ordered an investigation of Lieutenant Governor Browne's administration and that was all Farmar needed to justify his forced eviction of Browne's men from Dauphin Island. Little did Farmer know when he set sail for the island from Mobile on May 1, that his new ally, West Florida Governor John Eliot, would commit suicide the next day.
Auburn professor Robert Rea in his book, MAJOR ROBERT FARMAR OF MOBILE, includes an excellent, detailed description of the violent eviction Major Farmar led to get the "trespassers" off of "his" island.
"On Monday, May 1, 1769, having returned to Mobile from Pensacola, Farmar gathered several determined friends aboard two boats and sailed down to Dauphin Island. His own party consisted of Dougal Campbell, now a Mobile merchant but formerly commissary at Mobile and one of Farmar's witnesses in the late court martial; Henry Litto or Latto, formerly skipper of the sloop JAMES, and much indebted to Farmar for employment; William Harris; and a Negro servant. On Dauphin Island were Richard Hartley, Browne's resident manager; William Kimbe, a laborer; Hartley's servant Robert Love; and a female housekeeper. At about two o'clock these men were seated at dinner in Hartley's house when they heard distant musket fire. Hartley dispatched Love to see if the shots might indicate the presence of a band of Indians, but the servant returned to report the approach of a boat. Hartley and Kimbe went down to the shore to meet their visitors and invited them to the house. Campbell told Hartley that they had come for oysters, and both parties began to walk up the beach to Hartley's house, formerly the residence of the harbor pilot. Shortly after leaving the beach, Hartley and Kimbe saw a second party of armed men who had apparently landed elsewhere. These were James Waugh, George Martin, and Thomas Gronow, good Mobilians who were no friends of Lieutenant Governor Montfort Browne. Martin and Gronow reached the house ahead of the others, forcibly ejected Deborah Coughlin, the housekeeper, from the house and began to throw furniture out the door. Litto and Harris rushed to join their confederates and slammed the door against the confused pair of Browne's men.
"Turning to Farmar, Hartley asked if they had come to rob him, to which the major replied that the island was his. Together they entered the house, Hartley protesting and Farmar proclaiming his right to everything in sight. As kitchen furniture and utensils were rapidly disappearing out the window, Hartley ordered Kimbe to recover them, but Farmar and his friends seized Kimbe, and the major forcefully applied the end of his stout stick to the small of Kimbe's back (causing considerable pain, according to Kimbe's later account). Hartley grabbed at Farmar, but the others roughly seized him, tearing his jacket and cutting his cheek. Both of Browne's men were thrown bodily out of the house. George Martin then kept them at bay with his leveled musket. Hartley demanded to see Farmar's authority for such highhanded action, but the major refused him any satisfaction and threatened to lay Hartley by the heals and send him to jail. Nor would Farmar even allow Hartley to leave his bed and chest in the house, safe from rain, though the poor fellow was permitted to deposit them in an open shed. Hartley and Kimbe soon withdrew from the scene, though they did not leave the island until Sunday, May 28. Some of Farmar's party remained at the overseer's house throughout the month."
When Brown got the news of Farmar's actions, he contacted his attorney general and depositions were taken on June 12 with a grand jury being impaneled in Pensacola to inquire into the Dauphin Island affair on Friday, June 30. The jury heard witnesses and found "the Entry and Detainer to be forcible." On July 12, Chief Justice William Clifton ordered the restoration of Montfort Browne's property on Dauphin Island.
It appears that Major Farmar finally accepted the fact that Dauphin Island was not to be his but that did not stop his daughter from investigating the chances of recovering the island from the Spanish in 1800 and later "the heirs of Major Robert Farmar" to attempt on multiple occasions from 1813 until 1834 to attempt to secure private land claims for Dauphin Island from the land commissioners of the U.S. Congress. Finally on January 1, 1834, Commissioner William Crawford reported to Congress that the Farmar heirs had forfeited their claim to Dauphin Island and "do not appear to be entitled to confirmation under any law of the United States."