From an independent Vermont to the 25-day California Republic, get the facts on six flash-in-the-pan nations from American history.
The Vermont Republic: 1777-1791
Before it became a U.S. state, Vermont spent 14 years as a de facto independent republic. The breakaway had its roots in a dispute with the neighboring state of New York, which claimed Vermont’s land as its own. By the 1770s, Vermont-based militias such as Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys had resorted to attacking government officials and rent collectors to prevent New York from exerting authority over their territory. In 1777, as the American Revolution raged, Vermonters declared independence both from Great Britain and from New York. They originally called their country “New Connecticut,” but changed the name to Vermont a few months later. The upstart nation soon adopted a constitution—the first in North America to ban adult slavery and abolish property restrictions on voting—and established its own postal service and currency.
Vermont had hoped that its declaration would be a catalyst for statehood, but the Continental Congress refused to recognize it as separate from New York. The tiny nation remained independent for the rest of the Revolution, at one point even toying with the idea of rejoining Britain as part of Canada. Finally, in 1791, Vermont negotiated its way into the union. As part of the deal, the newly minted 14th state agreed to pay New York $30,000 for its lost territory.
The State of Muskogee: 1799-1803
Few figures from early American history had a more colorful resume than William Augustus Bowles. The swashbuckling Marylander served in a British loyalist unit during the American Revolution, but left the army in 1779 and married into a tribe of Creek Indians in Spanish Florida. After becoming a Creek chief, Bowles hatched a scheme to unite the Indians of Florida into a sovereign nation that would drive the Spanish from the region. His efforts saw him captured and imprisoned abroad, but he later escaped from a ship off the coast of Africa and made his way back to Florida.
By 1799, Bowles had established himself as the “Director General and Commander-in-Chief of the Muskogee Nation,” a multicultural republic of Indians, escaped slaves and white settlers centered near Tallahassee. He declared war on Spanish Florida in 1800, and he and his Muskogeans later harassed Spanish forces on land and plundered their ships at sea. Bowles proved to be a major thorn in the side of the Spanish crown, but he was finally captured in 1803 and died just two years later in a Cuban prison. Having lost its charismatic leader, the State of Muskogee soon collapsed.
The Republic of West Florida: 1810
In the early 1800s, the United States and Spain were embroiled in a dispute over “West Florida,” a small slice of the Gulf Coast that encompassed parts of what are now Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Spain claimed the land as its own, while the United States argued it had bought it from the French as part of the Louisiana Purchase. The United States allowed Spain to continue administering the territory, but the issue later came to a head on September 23, 1810, when a small band of American settlers attacked a Spanish fort in Baton Rouge. After killing two Spaniards and taking possession of the fort, the settlers declared the formation of an Independent Republic of West Florida and raised a new flag: a white star on a blue background. They elected a president, wrote a constitution and established a capital city at St. Francisville, Louisiana, but their nation was short-lived. In October 1810, less than three months after the Baton Rouge skirmish, President James Madison forcibly annexed West Florida and incorporated it into the United States.
The Republic of Fredonia: 1826-1827
Nearly a decade before there was a Republic of Texas, there was the shorter-lived—and much less successful—Republic of Fredonia. The ill-fated state dates to the mid 1820s, when an American land speculator named Haden Edwards secured a grant from the Mexican government to settle 800 pioneer families around Nacogdoches, Texas. A series of local feuds and corruption charges later saw the contract revoked, but Edwards did not go quietly. On December 16, 1826, he and his brother Benjamin marched on Nacogdoches with 30 supporters and seized control of a small fort. They declared the area around Edwards’ land grant the “Republic of Fredonia” and raised a new flag that featured a red and white background emblazoned with words “Independence, Freedom and Justice.”
Edwards tried to foster international relations by signing a treaty with the members of a local Cherokee band, but large-scale support for his revolution never materialized. Stephen F. Austin, the leader of a nearby Texas colony, even wrote him a letter in which he warned, “you are deluding yourselves and this delusion will ruin you.” When Mexican troops and Austin militiamen later arrived in Nacogdoches in January 1827, Fredonia crumbled and Edwards was forced to flee across the border to the United States.
The Indian Stream Republic: 1832-1835
In 1832, the residents of the tiny New England community of Indian Stream declared independence—from whom, they weren’t entirely sure. Ever since the end of the American Revolution, Indian Stream had been at the center of a border dispute between the United States and British-controlled Canada. Both sides claimed that the prescribed borderline placed the land under their control, and both sent tax collectors into the region. This so annoyed the 300 residents of Indian Stream that they voted to establish their own independent republic. In their constitution, they mandated that home rule would remain in effect “till such time as we can ascertain to what government we properly belong.”
The U.S. and Canada didn’t take kindly to Indian Stream’s declaration of independence, and tensions later grew after both sides tried to serve warrants in the area. In response to several incidents of violence, the New Hampshire militia eventually occupied the disputed territory in late 1835. Only then did the Indian Streamers finally dissolve their government and allow New Hampshire to exercise jurisdiction in the region. The former micro-nation became the town of Pittsburg, New Hampshire, and it was later officially placed in the United States with signing of 1842’s Webster-Ashburton Treaty, which corrected several issues with the U.S.-Canada border.
The California Republic: 1846
One of history’s shortest revolutions began on June 14, 1846, when a small outfit of American settlers staged an uprising against the authorities of Mexican-controlled California. After seizing the town of Sonoma and arresting its Mexican commandant, the rebels raised a new flag—a picture of a grizzly bear and a lone red star—and declared the formation of the independent “California Republic.” The “Bear Flaggers” later occupied San Francisco, but they were soon upstaged by the American Navy, which captured Monterrey in early July following the start of the Mexican-American War. Upon hearing the news, the rebels gave up on the idea of an independent republic and threw their support behind the United States. Their hastily planned revolt had lasted just 25 days, but it was later honored on the California state flag, which still features a grizzly bear and the words “California Republic.”