New Switzerland

New Switzerland Plantation was located east of the St. Johns River and south of properties granted to James Johnson and Dr. Henry Cunningham. A tract owned by Marmaduke Bell bounded on the south, as did a place called "DaPoppen Fort," or Popo Point. New Switzerland was surveyed in 1769 for partners Thomas Dunnage and John Francis Rivas, London merchants, and Francis Phillip Fatio. In 1771, Fatio moved his family from London to East Florida to become resident manager of planting interests for the partnership. Isaac Rivas, a brother of John Francis Rivas, came to East Florida as agent for Peter Taylor and other East Florida grantees. He was also a partner in the New Castle and New Switzerland investments.


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Looking north (downriver) from Smith Point and the Shands Bridge toward Popo Point and, beyond, to New Switerland.


Click to view larger image Popo Point and Hallowes Cove, located at the south of the New Switzerland Plantation occupied for decades by the Fatio family.


Fatio was a native of Switzerland, and at various times a citizen of France, Sardinia (his wife's homeland), and England. Enroute to his first East Florida residence, New Castle Plantation, Fatio's schooner ran aground on a sand bar at the entrance to the St. Johns River. Lt. Governor John Moultrie thought it noteworthy that the schooner was loaded with an ample supply of fine European wines and furniture and an extensive library, all destined for Fatio's personal use.

The acting surveyor general of East Florida, Frederick George Mulcaster, had the good fortune of sampling that wine in November 1771. Mulcaster sailed from St. Augustine to survey properties at Six-Mile Creek on the St. Johns River, and stopped at Fatio’s home enroute. Fatio treated him to “plenty of good burgundy and other liquors, good dinner and a hearty welcome.”

William Bartram’s experiences in 1774 were similar to Mulcaster’s. The "very civil gentleman" who led Bartram on a tour of his indigo improvements at New Castle Plantation in April 1774 was Fatio. He also showed Bartram a garden filled with "a greater variety than any other in the Colony."

Fatio moved to the 10,000-acre New Switzerland Plantation sometime in 1774, leaving David Courvoisier as resident manager at New Castle. New Switzerland extended south from near Cunningham Creek to Popo Point and Hallowes Cove. The partners expended £2,430 for eighteen enslaved Africans and put them to work clearing and constructing buildings. Between 1771 and 1776 expenditures on the estate totaled just under £5000 Sterling, but the estate produced steady income from 1772 to 1784. Two hundred thirty acres of high ground were cleared, fenced and planted, along with rice fields fed by a fresh water source, and a valuable orange grove. Cypress swamps and thousands of acres of pine land provided naval stores and timber supplies. Alexander Morrison leased land at four of the partners tracts in the 1780s. The partners also bought a 200-acre tract that adjoined New Switzerland granted in 1767 to Robert Hawks. A dwelling had been erected and eight acres cleared by the time Fatio purchased it. In 1778, Isaac Rivas purchased 5,000 acres that adjoined on the north of New Switzerland. With the addition of this tract, New Switzerland Plantation exceeded 15,000 acres.

In 1784 and 1785, when Great Britain ceded the province to Spain and evacuated most of its residents, Fatio purchased the real estate and buildings from his partners and held a public auction of personal property they held in common, including fifty slaves sold in family units for a net price of £1,686. Among the men sold were sawyers, squarers, field laborers, and a cooper (the latter sold for £71 Sterling). A cook, a young female house servant and several field hands were among the women sold. Indigo and provisions fields, rice fields with a supply of fresh water, orchards and citrus groves, naval stores equipment and improvements, and an elaborate network of buildings remained in place under Fatio's ownership after the British government evacuated.

Dunnage testified that all profits from sales of agricultural produce had been reinvested in the plantation and its buildings. Fatio's two-story dwelling house measured thirty-by-forty feet, with piazzas, balconies and festive rooms, and a large external kitchen with a brick chimney and oven. Built at a cost of £800, it was an elaborate and expensive house for the time. There was also a dwelling for overseers, a covered house for carriages, a warehouse, work shops for carpenters and blacksmiths, a hospital for the laborers, corn and fowl houses, and a turpentine shed with a tabby floor. Somewhere on the property the proprietor found beds of clay for production of blue and red bricks.

The recollections of one of Fatio's twenty-four grandchildren provide further detail about the dwelling house at New Switzerland. "The grounds were very extensive and they had avenues of oranges and limes of miles in length, arbors of myrtle and all sorts of sweet flowers growing spontaneously. The house was very large and one wing was devoted to the library and study. The library was very large containing all the most valuable works in French, English and Italian literature. The books were disposed in alcoves and the windows curtained with green silk fringed with gold. In each recess was placed a small table of white marble and some large porcelain vases were kept in the room for flowers which were every day renewed...."

New Switzerland became one of Florida's most prominent plantations and the Fatio family remains one of the enduring "old Florida" families. During the American Revolution Francis Philip became an officer in the British army and was stationed in Charleston. When East Florida was ceded to Spain under terms of the Treaty of Paris, Fatio and family stayed in Florida. The historian Susan R. Parker has concluded that Fatio became a wealthy and domineering "feudal baron" haughty enough to challenge even Spanish military and government officials.

Bibliographic Information

A Note On Sources

T77/4/13 the Memorial of Thomas Dunnage, Philpot Lane, with John Francis Rivas; T77/11/29 the Memorial of Philip Moore, documents Isaac Rivas's purchase of 5,000 acres. Mulcaster to Grant, Nov. 11, 1771 , JGP. Bartram, Report to Fothergill, 145. William Scott Willis, "A Swiss Settler in East Florida : A Letter of Francis Philip Fatio," Florida Historical Quarterly , LXIV, No. 2 (October 1985), 174-89. Susan R. Parker, "I am neither your subject nor your subordinate," in Jacqueline K. Fretwell and Susan R. Parker, editors, Clash Between Cultures (St. Augustine: The St. Augustine Historical Society, 1988), 45-60. Citing an 1801 Spanish inventory, Parker writes: "There were two houses of wood, two storehouses for provisions, five more storage buildings (including one for cotton), two stables with fourteen horses, and twenty-seven slave cabins [for eighty-six slaves]..." (p. 56). Parker, citing Spanish archival sources, says Rivas was living with Fatio at New Switzerland in March 1801.

Margaret Curson, April 18, 1817, Journal of Samuel and Margaret Curson for 1816-1818, Houghton Library, Harvard University . The quote continues: "--all this was destroyed by the insurgents--The house was burned to the ground. Some of the books were sold at auction in Georgia. The volumes of French Encyclopedia were used by the soldiers as seats. Happily for the master of this princely establishment he had gone to rest before these troubles commenced--he died at age 88 [1811], his wife with whom he had lived sixty years died just one year before him. They both retained their faculties till the last. They had lived in Florida forty years and had living with them or near them three children and twenty-four grandchildren, a most happy family, now all broken up, and dispersed."

In 1817, Margaret (Searle) Curson, aboard ship between Cuba and New Orleans, wrote down these memories of Louisa Fatio, the daughter of Lewis Fatio, the recently appointed Spanish consul to New Orleans. Louisa's reminiscing concerned New Switzerland Plantation before it was destroyed by Seminole Indians in 1812.