[1771 Autograph Letter Signed by Francis Levett, Pioneer Florida Settler and Royal Councilor and Judge of the British East Florida Colony].
An appointee to a seat on the East Florida colony’s Royal Council
Letter written in St. Augustine by Francis Levett, Sr. (?–c.1775), a pioneer settler in the British colony of East Florida. Seeking the re-payment of a debt from his brother-in-law in England, Rev. Charles William Tonyn (1728–1805), Levett discusses his precarious financial situation and mentions a hoped-for visit by another brother-in-law, Colonel Patrick Tonyn (1725–1804), subsequently the last British royal governor of East Florida, from 1774 to 1784.
In discussing his financial affairs Levett mentions his two British patrons who enabled his settling in Florida: John Perceval, 2nd Earl of Egmont (1711–1770)—who had recently died and for whom Levett acted as a plantation agent in East Florida—and London merchant and diplomat Richard Oswald (1705–1784) who was later the sole British peace negotiator and signer of the 1783 Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolutionary War.
Through the influence of Richard Oswald, Francis Levett acquired a 10,000-acre estate in East Florida near St. John’s River, Julianton Plantation, named in honor of his wife, Juliana (sometimes seen as Julia) née Tonyn Levett. Francis was appointed to a seat on the East Florida colony’s Royal Council and, when he arrived in Florida, was named an assistant judge.
Despite an outward appearance of success, the costs of developing Julianton Plantation were great and, as seen in this letter, Levett’s cash-flow was interrupted. He was even later accused of mismanagement and embezzlement from absent land grantees. Here, just six months after the death of his patron, the Earl of Egmont, Levett writes about his plight:
“By the Death of the late Earl of Egmont in whose Service I was employ’d a Demure [legal objection] has been made in passing my Accounts, the arrears due to me amount to a sum that comparatively is very considerable and a stoppage of it proves most inconvenient to me, more especially happening at a time that we are preparing for the marriage of our Daughter, this has thrown me into the necessity of calling for the money so long due from you and the family, and when I assure you that I have avoided doing it as long as possible I am certain you cannot be offended. My bill is of this date, for £100, 6s., 2d. & payable 30 days after sight to the order of Rich[ar]d Oswald Esqr. for value receiv’d and forms of the Ballance of your Account. Should the money be already paid to Mr. Thomas Bell with whom I left your account current when we sett out from England[.] Mr. Oswald can in such case receive it of him in lieu of this Bill which will then be cancell’d. Your Sister Mrs. [Juliana] Levett, continues in a very weak state of Health, the young folks are well excepting my son Francis, as to my Self the cares for my Family leave no time to feel bodily complaints…I have wrote frequent Letters to the Colonel [Patrick Tonyn] but have never been favor’d with an answer from him, we were flatter’d with the hopes of his paying this Province a visit and much wish that he had kept that resolution.”
Levett spent his remaining years in East Florida under a cloud of scandal. Legal proceedings, a duel, a convalescent, an exile-like sojourn in Rhode Island, and his resignation from the Royal Council of the East Florida colony followed. The subsequent upheavals of the American Revolution forced Levett’s heirs after his death to abandon their Florida lands to the Spanish who succeeded as rulers of the colony.
Levett’s troubled, even foretellingly poignant, letter is quite emblematic of his experience in East Florida. Eighteenth century letters from colonial Florida are rare to commerce and we locate no extant letters written by Levett in either major research institutions or historical auction records.
Description: [1771 Autograph Letter Signed by Francis Levett, Pioneer Florida Settler and Royal Councilor and Judge of the British East Florida Colony].
[St. Augustine (East Florida Colony), May 6,1771]. [1½ ]pp. ALS. Sm. 4to. Bifolium. Contemporary docketing18th century laid paper with watermark depicting emblem and initials “LVG,” likely for Lubertus van Gerrevink, a major Dutch paper manufacturer in the eighteenth century who was associated with several English paper mill firms (Churchill 40-41). Folds; short tear at seal; near fine, written in a clear, legible hand.
Refs. English Plantations on the St. Johns River [Florida History Online, University of North Florida] and The Tonyn Brothers - Swanbourne Links to Africa and Florida both accessed online. Smith, “The Façade of Unity: British East Florida’s War for Dependence” (2008) [University of Florida Master’s Thesis] accessed online. See also English Plantations on the St. Johns River accessed online, which discusses Julianton Plantation at great length.