The Refugee Plight of William Taylor, a Loyalist Refugee
William Taylor, a settler on the St. Marys River, was forced to flee to an estate on the St. Johns River when rebel raiders from Georgia invaded East Florida. In May 1776 Taylor wrote to his employer, absentee landholder William Chapman, from a site on the St. Johns River he rented from the heirs of Lord Egmont. The tract was located one mile below the Cowford Ferry, on Cecilton Plantation, a grant of 10,000 acres to Edward Wood that was conveyed in 1769 to the Second Earl of Egmont. After rebel raiders drove Egmont's agent, Stephen Egan, and more than 100 slaves from an Amelia Island Plantation, Cecilton Plantation was established on hitherto undeveloped land.
“[Your instructions to me were to] ship out to St. Marys [River] to lead fifty slaves, likewise that you expected a house in Liverpool would consign to us a cargo of slaves, but I hope both you and they have laid aside your plan of so doing. You are unacquainted with the present alarming situation of affairs in the province. About 60 [rebels] from Georgia under Capt. Mack Encamped on the north side of St. Mary's about a mile above our place in order to [claim] cattle being drove out of that province into this and likewise [intent] on driving a stock of 200 head out of this province into Georgia, in which they succeeded. Mr. Clark from Augustine came to our place and intended to stay with us all night, the rebel party having intelligence of his being there and that he was come out to drive off cattle, about midnight a party of them consisting of 12 men and a sergeant armed with rifles broke open our door and fetched Mr. Clark and carried him off. The night following thirty of them crossed the river and proceeded toward the lower settlement and returned the next day with Mr. [Martin] Jollie and two or three more prisoners. The same day a company of [British] soldiers consisting of 60 men commanded by Captain Graham arrived at our place sent out for the protection of our settlers; the instant they arrived a Negro brought us an account of his having seen the Rebels about a mile distant [at] the old Ferry. Capt. Graham shot across the river at them and they likewise shot back but did no damage, but it gave them opportunity to escape in confusion. So Captain Graham decided to take his men to the lower part of the river as they were not strong enough for [the rebels].
“As we were to be left to ourselves, the rest of the settlers being carried off and we in hourly expectation of sharing the same fate and in danger of losing our Negroes I resolved to quit the place which we did that night with all our Negroes and what effects we could carry in our boats and proceeded down towards Amelia Island where we arrived late. Two or three days after we got to Amelia, I engaged an old man to go to take care of our plantation and sent him with four of the worst of our Negroes to assist him in taking care of the crops. Three of these Negroes have since been carried off by the Rebels, the one they left being lame and not able to travel with them. They likewise plundered and destroyed all the buildings on the plantation. I stayed some time at Amelia expecting Graham's party would be reinforced with a sufficient number to protect us; that not being done and the Rebels making daily incursions into this Province. I thought it best to endeavor to get a piece of lumber land on the south side of the St. Johns River to employ our Negroes upon until we could venture to go back to our own place. I could not find any contiguous to rent but have purchased a tract of 400 acres for £60 Sterling pleasantly situated about a mile below the Cowford. Mr. Jollie, who some time ago made his escape from Savannah, has taken half of it and as he had the same number of hands as we have and his people having been in the lumber way at St. Marys, I thought it best to go into partnership with him in exporting lumber, to which he consented. We have been here about two months, have got half our houses built for ourselves and Negroes, [and] two large saw mills and about 12,000 feet of lumber.
“A few days after we left Amelia with our Negroes a party of the Rebels to the number of 100 came to St. Marys by water in a flat [along with] a schooner and the flat had one 18-pounder mounted on the hull and two or three swivels [guns]. An armed [British] schooner commanded by Lieutenant Grant was to protect the river, [but as he could see them coming it caused] him to weigh his anchor [and go] out to sea. Captain Graham being then at Amelia with his party being [threatened] followed his example and retreated....The Rebels plundered Lord Egmont's plantation and other plantations on St. Marys River and have since plundered all the plantations between St. Marys and St. Johns . A few days ago one of their scouting parties carried off 15 prisoners from the Cowford amongst which was a Sergeant and six men who included a Capt. and four seamen who belong to vessels in this river and some other gentlemen. We have had frequent alarms ...[seven lines not legible].
“We have now about 150 troops stationed on the south side of this river, seventy of [whom are] within half a mile of our place, an armed sloop that mounts ten carriage guns besides ... and we expect more vessels to join the same force every day....
“In your [letter] of 4 March you ordered me to locate more land. [I] have marked out a northwest branch of the St. Marys River which you expected to be navigable and would answer for a saw mill. You may depend upon it. There is not such a branch below the Indian boundary line at least I have never seen or heard tell of such a one. Staves will never be an article of commerce at St. Marys. I don't think there is as much white oak as would make 30,000 pipe staves on the whole river. In our trace we have very little oak of any kind only a few [large] trees here and there. The only cargo of staves transported from hence was that of Capt. Lofthouse last year, made by Mr. Mills to complete which he cut up all the timber he had suitable for that purpose. The pines at St. Marys is very good and would take very well to cut up into lumber for the West Indies for which there is always a demand there.
“If the present unhappy disputes were ended staves might be procured from the other province if wanted. I think it would answer very well for your brother Solomon to come out once a year to St. Marys and load lumber there for the West Indies and by your fixing a correspondence with some of the West Indies merchants in London, he might always have cargo from there to England. The surest way of getting lumber in these parts is proven is by hand. Several [parcels] have been made with sawmills both in this province and in Georgia ....
“I can give you no account of Captain Manson except what I had from a young gentleman from Georgia who was upon the back country in March last, who says that Manson and his family was then well but as he was going up met Shirley of Manson's people coming down to Savannah to enlist into the Province's service.
“I had the pleasure of seeing Capt. Stoddard at St. Marys. Should have been glad to have it in my power to have rendered him any service but just about the time he arrived the plantations on St. Marys were abandoned [so] that there was no possibility of his getting or loading. He sailed from St. Augustine some time ago in ballast.
“Dr. Thewshan has got three or four capital plantations to attend on this river for which he has offered to attend ours for £20 Sterling a year and find all medicines to which I have consented as we have no necessity for a doctor continually. Two days ago [we suffered] a very severe fit of sickness which still continues. One half of our Negroes are now sick as are likewise one half of the people in general upon this river.
“You have never mentioned the receipt of a copy of Mr. Knox's patent of the lands he sold you. I applied to the governor for it the first time I was at Augustine....”
[Signed by] William Taylor
T77/3/William Chapman folio.