José Callava

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José Callava
Occupation Governor, Spanish West Florida
Spanish military officer

Colonel Don José María Callava was the final governor of Spanish West Florida, serving from February 1819 to the time of Spain's transfer of the territory to the United States in July 1821. Callava was an officer in the Spanish military who had been rapidly promoted due to his service in the Peninsular War — the Battle of Almonacid in particular, for which he was knighted into the Military Order of St. Hermenegildo in 1811.[1] He became a colonel and governor before the age of 40.[2]

James Parton's Life of Andrew Jackson describes Callava:

He was a Castilian, of a race akin to the Saxon, of light complexion, a handsome, well-grown man, of dignified presence and refined manners.[3]


After the transfer, Callava remained for a time in Pensacola. James Parton's Life of Andrew Jackson describes Callava's time after the transfer:

José Callava
After the surrender of his town to General Jackson, he still retained, as he supposed, the office of Spanish commissioner, and continued to reside in the place, to superintend the embarkation of artillery, and other unfinished business. With the officers of the fourth regiment, which formed the American garrison of Pensacola, he was a favorite, and was frequently invited by them to entertainments. Nor were the American ladies in the town averse to the society of the handsome Castilian; though most of them found it difficult to converse with a gentleman whose ignorance of the English language was as complete as their ignorance of Spanish.[4]
José Callava

Jackson jails Callava[edit]

Dispute over documents[edit]

In mid-August 1821, about a month after the transfer of power, a descendant of Nicholas Vidal appeared before Henry M. Brackenridge, whom Jackson had appointed alcalde (a sort of magistrate and administrator) regarding land bequeathed by Vidal to her family but occupied by Forbes & Company (the successor to Panton, Leslie and Company). She went on to say that Spanish governors had ruled that the land be returned to the Vidal family, but would not enforce the ruling. Pleading for Brackenridge's help, she stated that documents relevant to the situation were in the custody of Lieutenant Domingo Sousa, an aide to Colonel Callava, and that the documents were intended to be carried away to Havana. According to the woman, Sousa would allow the documents to be copied; however, the Vidal family was unable to afford the expense of having copied the several hundred pages. Under the Adams-Onís Treaty, such documents were to be surrendered to the United States; thus Brackenridge set out to retrieve them.[5]

Brackenridge involved Jackson, whom issued an order, dated August 21, to Brackenridge, as well as to George Walton, Secretary of the Florida Territory, and John Miller, Clerk of the County Court. The order read:

José Callava
Gentlemen, having been officially informed that there are a number of papers or documents in the possession of an individual of the name of Domingo Sousa, of a public nature, and which belong to the office of the Alcalde of this town, although not delivered with the other documents relating to private property, you are hereby authorized and instructed to proceed to the dwelling of the said Domingo Sousa, and to make a demand of all such papers or documents as may be in his possession. In case the said Sousa should refuse to exhibit and deliver the same, you will immediately report the fact to me in writing.[6]
José Callava

The three appeared at Sousa's home and relayed the order to him; however, Sousa claimed that the documents in his possession "belonged to the military tribunal and to the revenue department, and had no connection with private property." He did, however, permit the three men to examine the boxes of documents, and while most of the documents were of the character Sousa claimed, the documents relating to the Vidal estate were indeed found among them. However, Sousa refused to surrender the documents, stating that he could not do so without permission from Colonel Callava. At that point, Brackenridge, Walton, and Miller left Sousa's home, whereafter Sousa and a servant moved the documents to the home of Colonel Callava.

Brackenridge, Walton, and Miller reported back to Jackson, whom then issued another order:

José Callava
Colonel Robert Butler, of the army of the United States, and Colonel John Miller, clerk of the county of Escambia, are hereby commanded forthwith to proceed to seize the body of the said Domingo Sousa, together with the said papers, and bring him and them before me, at my office immediately, to the end that he then and there answer such interrogatories as may be put to him; and to comply with such order and decree touching the said documents and records, as the rights of the individuals may require and the justice of the case demand.[7]
José Callava

Sousa was brought in, and when he stated that he had moved the documents to Colonel Callava's home, Jackson ordered that Sousa be taken under military escort to Callava, to retrieve the documents, and that if he was unable to, that Sousa be imprisoned in the calaboose until such time the documents were produced. Sousa interrupted Callava at dinner with members of the American fourth regiment, and after explaining the situation to him, Callava sent Bernardo Prieto, another aide, to Jackson, with the message that Sousa, as his subordinate, had no authority to produce the documents, and suggesting that Jackson take up the matter in writing with Callava himself. Callava returned home, having taken ill with indigestion; at the same time, Sousa was taken by his military escort to the calaboose and imprisoned.[8]

All of this incensed Jackson, who ordered Colonel George Brooke of the fourth regiment to dispatch an officer and twenty men to Callava's home; the troops were accompanied by Mr. Brackenridge, Dr. Bronaugh, and Colonel Butler. At this point, the exact events are unclear, as the account of the Americans and Callava's account differ.[9]

Arrest of Callava[edit]

The official report[edit]

The official report, as signed by Dr. Bronaugh and Colonel Butler, reads:

José Callava
We proceeded to the house of Colonel Callava, who was absent, but again returning to his house shortly after we found him accompanied by a number of Spanish officers clothed with their side arms, and Mr. John Innerarity [local agent for Forbes &. Co.] in the porch. The demand was formally made of the documents enumerated in your order and peremptorily refused, when he was informed that his refusal would be considered as setting at defiance the authority exercised by you as Governor of the Floridas in the execution of the laws; and they were again demanded, and the consequences of refusal on his part enumerated, but in which refusal he still persisted, and we were about taking our leave to prepare for the final execution of your order when Colonel Callava declared that if we would furnish him with a copy of the memorandum setting forth the documents required he would deliver them to us, to which we assented. The alcalde, H. M. Brackenridge, accordingly waited on him with a copy of the memorandum herewith accompanied, and informed him that he would call in two hours for the reception of the documents as promised. We proceeded at the appointed time and found the gate and front part of the house closed. The former we opened by removing a bar, and on reaching the latter a considerable stir seemed to be made in the house. We knocked several times without receiving any answer, when admittance was demanded in the name of the Governor in three instances, still without reply. The guard was then ordered to advance and form in front of the house, and part detached to the rear, when it was discovered that the back door was open, and several Spanish officers, with Mr. Innerarity, were in the porch. We inquired for Colonel Callava, to which we were answered they did not know where he was. Lights were procured, and the rooms searched, when Colonel Callava was found on his bed, divested of his coat.

Demand was then made of the documents, agreeably to his promise, and to our astonishment they were still refused, and several attempts were made on his part to show that he was not amenable to the laws; to which he was answered that the Governor was, in the execution of the laws, bound to demand the papers, as they appertained to the rights and property of individuals resident in Pensacola, and that formal complaint had been made that they were improperly withheld, and that the Governor knew no distinction between Colonel Callava and any other man under his government. We then proposed that Colonel Callava should deliver the papers, and he should have our receipt for them, which was also refused. We then again demanded them, reiterating our sentiments, that his refusal would he viewed as an act of open mutiny to the civil authority exercised in the Floridas, and that he must expect the consequences. He persisted to refuse, and the officer of the guard was ordered to take him and his steward Fullarat into custody and bring them before your excellency, which is now done. We would add, in conclusion, that Colonel Callava repeatedly asserted that he would not be taken out of his house alive, but he seemed to act without much difficulty when the guard was ordered to prime and load. A corporal and three men were detached to remain and guard the house of Colonel Callava, and to prevent the removal of the boxes which had contained the documents, and which Mr. Brackenridge recognized in the bed-room.

José Callava

—James Parton's Life of Andrew Jackson, p. 622-624

Callava's account[edit]

Callava's account of the events differs:

José Callava
After these officers returned to me, now at my own house, the same three persons came with a determined and brief message that I must not make any pretensions to official situation or other considerations — the papers, or go with them. I was surrounded by my officers, and other persons of character, whose countenances I saw filled with pain and surprise to see me in the sad state of suffering and unable to remain tranquil. Till then I knew not of what papers they spoke, as I had not entered upon an inquiry, nor had they given me an opportunity of doing so; and I answered them that I was unable to go out of my house. I intreated that they would, at least, give me an abstract of what papers and of what class those were which they demanded, and I would inform Don Andrew Jackson that I was sick.

Without giving me any answer they went away, and I laid myself on the bed. An hour afterwards one of the three presented himself in my house, and gave me an abstract, witten on a half sheet of paper, in the English language, and signed Alcalde Brackenridge. I took it; I told him that I should have it translated, and should reply to it; he went away; I gave it to the interpreter at that hour, which was nine at night, and sought repose on the bed; but, a while after, and without further preliminaries, a party of troops, with the commissioners, assaulted the house, breaking the fence, (notwithstanding the door was open), and the commissioners entered my apartment; they surrounded my bed with soldiers with drawn bayonets in their hands, they removed the mosquito net, they made me sit up, and demanded the papers, or they would use the arms against my person.

It ought to be remarked that, of the three, only one spoke and understood a little of the Spanish language; he was the only interpreter, and I neither speak nor understood one word of English, and thus I neither knew what he said to his companions respecting what I answered, nor did they know what was asked me. I had to do with him alone, and he was one who had gone and returned with them in all their visits. Some officers and other persons who had accompanied me from the house of [Colonel] Brooke, and who had not yet retired, and were seated in the gallery of the house, leaving me to repose, entered the room, and I answered, in their presence, that the note had not yet been returned translated, but that this was of no consequence; that there were all the boxes containing papers, my trunks and all my house; that, since force had once openly been used in their demand, they there had every thing at their disposal without any resistance on my part; but that, before they should proceed to take what they thought fit, I represented to them that now, since my person was not secure as a free man, and in a free country, in the asylum of my house, and in the dead of the night, and that what ought to be preserved to my nation was not respected in my official situation and character, I laid these things before the government of the United States, and took refuge under their laws, and hoped that they would respect both.

They did not proceed to search for papers, nor did they move any further question about them when they now saw them at their disposal; but they ordered the troops to carry arms, leave me alone, and send from my house those who assisted and accompanied me. This they did, and to one who appeared desirous to interpret in English what I had said for their better understanding, they intimated, with threats, that he should be silent as soon as he had begun, and I continued alone sitting on the bed, and they in the apartment looking at each other.

In fine, a short while after one of the three went out, and returned accompanied with an officer, who, placing himself before me, told me I was a prisoner, and ordered me to dress myself. I answered that I was so, but that he would have the goodness to observe that I was so sick that I ought not to be taken out of my house at that hour. He made no answer to the interpreter, and remained silent; but one of the three deliberately ordered me to dress. I dressed in my uniform, was going to put on my sword, but, upon reflection, thought it better to deliver it to the officer. I did so, and one of the three took it from his hand and threw it upon the chimney, and in this manner I was conducted through the streets among the troops.

José Callava

—James Parton's Life of Andrew Jackson, p. 624-627

Callava appears before Jackson[edit]

Brackenridge's account[edit]

Mr. Brackenridge prepared an account of the events that transpired as Callava was brought to appear before Jackson:

José Callava
On entering the Governor's office, Colonel Callava was invited to take a seat, which he did at the table fronting the Governor, while I was seated at one end of it, in the capacity of interpreter. The Governor then requested me to say to Colonel Callava that he was brought before him to answer interrogatories touching certain papers which had been delivered at his house by Domingo Sousa in boxes, according to the confession of Sousa, and a list of the papers was read. This was fully and faithfully interpreted to him in the presence of Mr. Rutledge, of Mr. Cruzat, the secretary of Colonel Callava, both of whom understood the Spanish and English languages well. Colonel Callava on this rose, and, looking at his watch, said that it was then ten o'clock; that, at that hour, he had been violently taken from his house; that he protested against the proceeding; that he was commissioner of Spain, and was not answerable as a private individual.

When this was interpreted, the Governor declared that he would hear no protest against his authority while sitting in his judicial capacity; that he could not know him as commissioner, and then ordered me to propound the question (whether he had the papers) which he had just written.

Colonel Callava repeated in substance what he had said before, but with more prolixity and warmth. After some time passed in this way, he said he would yield to compulsion, but would answer only in his own language and in his own way. When this was granted, he began to write, and after writing a few lines complained that his eyes were weak, and requested that his secretary might write, which was granted. He then dictated to Mr. Cruzat something in the shape of a protest, as a preliminary, as I understood, to his answering the question. After writing five or six lines, it was observed by H. Bigelow, Esq., who happened to be standing near the Governor, that he was dictating a protest. The Governor, on this, with considerable warmth, striking on the table and addressing himself to me, said: "Why do you not tell him, sir, that I will not permit him to protest?"

Which was intended as a reprimand to me for suffering Colonel Callava to proceed in this way, when he was repeatedly told that such a course would not be allowed. Colonel Callava then stopped, and his secretary left off writing in the middle of a word. I was now called upon to put the interrogatory, and to say that none but a direct answer would be received. I called upon Mr. Cruzat to assist in interpreting, feeling great anxiety that there should be no misunderstanding, but he declined. The question was then repeated in the manner I have certified in the proceedings. (Had he, or had he not, the papers at his house?) It was fully and clearly explained to him. Much was said by way of enforcing the question on the one side, and of the objections on the other to answering, all of which I did not consider myself called on to explain; and, in fact, it was not possible: there was considerable warmth on both sides, and there was frequently not sufficient interval between what was said to enable me to convey more than the substance of what was thus spoken by way of arguments, while much of it consisted of repetitions. When, at last, Colonel Callava found that he would not be permitted to answer in the manner he thought proper, he declined answering at all.

The steward, Fullarat, was then called up, and Colonel Callava objected to his being examined, on the ground that he was not of sufficient age. Some time was also employed with this examination: he answered that the boxes spoken of by Sousa had been delivered to him, and were then in Colonel Callava's house. The Governor, after the close of Fullarat's testimony, said, in a very deliberate and impressive manner, 'that the papers had been seen in the possession of Sousa; that Sousa had acknowledged that they were delivered to the steward in the same boxes, and, by his declaration, were proved to be in Colonel Callava's house.' The proof was therefore complete that the papers were in Colonel Callava's possession, and he was there called upon to deliver them: he was told that an officer would be sent with some one he should name, and bring the boxes; that he might open them in the presence of the Governor, and the papers specified surrendered.

This was distinctly made known to Callava by me; and the Governor called upon Callava's friends, among whom was Mr. Innerarity, and who were acquainted with both languages, to explain it well. I was occasionally assisted by Mr. Rutledge, and every pains were taken that this part of the subject should be clearly explained. His answer proved that he did understand it. He repeated what he had said before, that he could not deliver the papers unless demanded of him as commissioner, or late Governor; that they could not be in his hands as a private individual; that he could not say whether they were in his possession or not; enforcing the same positions with a variety of other reasons, and of which I interpreted as much as I could; among them, he said, that he could only be tried by a tribunal de residencia, which, at first, I did not exactly comprehend, until explained by Mr. Innerarity, at my request, to mean a court specially appointed to try governors of provinces, etc., not amenable to the ordinary tribunals. The Governor, in the same manner, enforced his demand of the papers by a variety of reasons; he observed they were such papers as were contemplated by the second article of the treaty, which was read to him; that it was his duty to see, for the safety of the inhabitants and the protection of their rights, that all papers relating to the property of individuals should be left. The conversation, as is natural, was warm on both sides, and some expressions were softened by me in the interpretation, and others, intending only to irritate or provoke, were omitted altogether. These were principally the appeals of Colonel Callava to the bystanders, which were frequent, loud, and inflammatory. And, on the part of the Governor, strong expressions against what he considered a combination between him and others to withdraw the evidences of the right of property required by individuals, which combination I understood, and so expressed it, to be between Colonel Callava, Sousa, and the steward Fullarat, but which seemed to excite some indignation, as he said, "Sousa is my domestic, my servant, he is nothing in this business."

The Governor did at one point remind him of the fact that the testamentary paper of Vidal had been, by his own decree, ordered to be restored to the office, whence, as he expressed it, 'they had been stolen.' As this expression had no allusion to Colonel Callava, and, as I was not particularly called upon to interpret it, I supplied its place by a milder term. I considered the expression as dictated by a high sense of the injustice said to be done to the heirs of Vidal in withholding the papers, and as expressive of astonishment that Colonel Callava, who had compelled the restoration of those very papers to the office whence they had been taken, should think of carrying them out of the country after he had obtained possession of them. In the course of these remarks the Governor reminded Colonel Callava of his having promised to deliver the papers if found in the boxes. Here Colonel Callava exclaimed, "It is false!" meaning that he had never made any such promise, but which was mistaken by the bystanders. I stated that Colonel Callava denied the promise, and that it was possible that I might have misunderstood him, which drew from the Governor an expression of displeasure. In a strong tone of voice he asked, "Why then, sir, were you not more cautious?" Words which proceeded only from the irritation of the moment, while he was almost sinking with fatigue; it was then midnight, and he had been sitting, with scarcely any interval, from ten or eleven o'clock in the forenoon. After the lapse of two hours the Governor rose from his seat, and called upon me distinctly to state that Colonel Callava must deliver the papers, or abide by the consequences; he, at the same time, called up on the friends of Callava who understood English to explain to him his situation. It was fully explained to him. This was several times repeated, and at length a blank commitment, which had been prepared in case of necessity, was signed, and Colonel Callava committed to prison.

José Callava

—James Parton's Life of Andrew Jackson, p. 628-630

Spanish account[edit]

A Spanish officer present at the scene also recounted the events:

José Callava
The Governor, Don Andrew Jackson, with turbulent and violent actions, with disjointed reasonings, blows on the table, his mouth foaming, and possessed with the furies, told the Spanish commissary to deliver the papers as a private individual; and the Spanish commissary, with the most forcible expressions, answered him that he (the commissary) did not resist the delivery of papers, because he still did not know what papers were demanded of him; that, as soon as he could know it, if they were to be delivered, he would deliver them most cheerfully; and that, if papers were demanded of him which he ought not to deliver, he would resist it by the regular and prescribed means; that all these questions were not put to him in writing; that his answers were the same as he had given to every interrogatory which had been put to him, because he was not permitted to write in his own defense; and also, that he would answer for the future consistency of it, as well as what had been asked of him, and all that had been done to him; that he wished for this protection of the law to every man; and that he would never yield.

The Governor, Don Andrew Jackson, furious, did not permit the interpreter to translate what the Spanish commissary answered, that the bystanders, it appears, might not understand it; and the interpreter made such short translations that what the Spanish commissary took two minutes to explain he reduced to only two words; and that, when the Governor gave him time enough, (as has been since related by various persons who spoke both languages), of what the Spanish commissary said, not even half was interpreted, and that little not faithfully. Lastly, the Governor, Don Andrew Jackson, after having insulted the Spanish commissary with atrocious words, took out an order, already written, and made the interpreter read it, and it contained the order for his imprisonment.

The Spanish commissary said that he obeyed it, but asked if the Governor, Don Andrew Jackson, was not afraid to put in execution deeds so unjust against a man like him; and, rising to his feet, he addressed himself to the secretary, whom the Governor kept on his right hand, and said, in a loud voice, that he protested solemnly, before the government of the United States, against the author of the violations of justice against his person and public character. The Governor, Don Andrew Jackson, answered to the protest that for his actions he was responsible to no other than to his government, and that it was of little importance to him whatever might be the result, and that he might even protest before God himself.

José Callava

—James Parton's Life of Andrew Jackson, p. 630-632

Callava in the calaboose[edit]

James Parton, in his Life of Andrew Jackson, offers an account of Callava's night in the Spanish jail:

José Callava
An unenclosed place in Pensacola, with a narrow, low, small brick building in the midst thereof, similar in size and appearance to an old brick stable. This building was the calaboose. It had served, for some time, as a guard-house; giving shelter to twenty or thirty Spanish soldiers, whose occupation of it had not improved its appearance within or without. In short, the calaboose was as forlorn, dirty and uncomfortable an edifice as can be imagined. It contained two prisoners, Lieutenant Sousa and a young man from New Jersey, who had been arrested for shooting a snipe on the common, contrary to orders. Colonel Callava, his major domo, and all the Spanish officers in the town, escorted by Lieutenant Mountz and a file of American troops, arrive at the calaboose. All the Spaniards enter. Sentinels are posted outside. Upon getting within the calaboose, Colonel Callava, who was really a good fellow, was seized with a sense of the ludicrousness of his situation, and communicated the same to his officers. Peals of laughter were heard within the calaboose. Clothes, chairs, cots, beds, were sent for and brought in, also a superabundant supply of provisions, including cigars, claret and champaigne. There was a popping of corks and a gurgling of wine. There were songs, jokes, imitations of the fiery Governor [Jackson], and great merriment. In short, Colonel Callava and his officers made a night of it.[10]
José Callava

Meanwhile, Jackson sent individuals to Callava's home to seize the documents in question. Upon receipt of the documents, Jackson issued an order for the release of Callava, Sousa, and others.

Several days after his release, Callava left Pensacola for Washington to protest against his treatment by Jackson. Several Spanish officers, including Marcos de Villiers and Arnaldo Guillemard, stayed behind in Pensacola and published their account of the affair, after which publication Jackson promptly expelled them from Florida. Having been given four days to leave or be arrested, the Spanish officers sailed on fourth day.[11]


  1. Historical sketches of colonial Florida
  2. Parton, James. (1861). Life of Andrew Jackson. Mason Brothers. p. 615.
  3. Parton, p. 614-615.
  4. Parton, p. 615.
  5. Parton, p. 618.
  6. Parton, p. 619.
  7. Parton, p. 620.
  8. Parton, p. 621.
  9. Parton, p. 622.
  10. Parton, p. 632.
  11. Parton, p. 637-638.