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Black Society in Spanish Florida.

Black Society in Spanish Florida. By Jane Landers. Foreword by Peter H. Wood (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999. xiv 390pp. $50.00/cloth $19.95/paperback).

Between 1565 and 1821 (there was a short period of British rule between 1763 and 1783), Spain attempted to colonize Florida. The Spanish colonization of Florida suffered from chronic under-funding. Moreover, from the 1670s conflict with the English over dominance in the larger region escalated. Florida and Georgia became a contested borderland. Scholars have studied the settlement and society of St. Augustine, and thc mission program, and in this monograph author Jane Landers discusses the African-American population of the colony.

The English settlement of Carolina in the 1660s altered the development of Florida in numerous ways. The English contested Spanish control over what today is Georgia, and ultimately destroyed the Franciscan mission system in Guale, Timucua, and Apalache. But Florida offered a place of refuge for slaves trying to escape from the English colony and until the 1790s the Spanish encouraged slaves to come to Florida by offering freedom. Numbers of slaves made their way to Florida in the 1730s, and the Spanish settled many of them at a fortified village called Mose located just north of St. Augustine. Mose marked the beginning of the growing role of blacks in the defense of Spanish Florida, a role that would continue until Spain left Florida in 1821. The majority of blacks in Florida departed with the Spanish in 1763 when the British took control over the colony, and a number attempted to eke out a living in a planned community at Ceiba Mocha, Cuba.

The Spanish returned to Florida in 1783, and blacks played an even greater role in defense and the economy. British entrepreneurs had imported slaves in the 1760s and 1770s to develop plantations, and plantations continued to play an important role in the economy of the Spanish colony. However, instability persistently plagued the colony. There were problems with the indigenous population, particularly the Seminoles. Moreover, there continued to be problems to the north, from the newly established United States, especially in the first decades of the nineteenth century. There was, for example, an invasion of Florida in 1812 called the "Patriot War," and Florida was not exempt from the turmoil in the greater region during and following the Creek War/War of 1812. Spain dropped the sanctuary policy for slaves in the 1790s under pressure from the United States, and Florida plantation owners suffered their own losses of slaves during the periods of turmoil. With Spanish resources stretched to the limit, black mil itia soldiers continued to play an important role in the defense of the colony.

Landers makes extensive use of a variety of primary sources in telling the complex story of the black experience in Florida, including notarial records, parish registers, government accounts, and court records. The author provides an overview of the geopolitics of Spanish Florida, as well as the history of slavery in Spain prior to the settlement of Florida. Landers then examines a variety of topics, including religion and social life, blacks in the economic life of the colony along with the dynamic of the slave trade to Florida, the lives of black women, crime and punishment, and the role of black militias in the defense of the colony. Landers also examines in detail the history of the first black settlement in Florida, Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, inhabited primarily by runaway slaves from Carolina. Extensive appendices provide detailed information on a variety of specific topics, and maps and illustrations grace the book.

The nature of the available information forces Landers to cite examples, often only a handful of examples, used to extrapolate larger patterns. Landers does this skillfully, but at the same time there are limitations to her analysis. Although the title of the book is Spanish Florida, Landers really focuses only on St. Augustine and surrounding areas such as the St. Johns River. There is virtually nothing about Pensacola. Also, Landers does not make much use of recent studies of the Franciscan missions by authors such as John Harm, John Worth and Jerald Milanich. These scholars obviously focus on the indigenous population, but also make references to the black population of Florida. I was also disappointed that Landers did not do much in the area of demography, other than to list the number of baptisms, marriages, and deaths recorded in the extant St. Augustine parish registers and some census data. Granted, the surviving records are not always complete, but there is enough information to have done some in-de pth demographic analysis. On the other hand, Landers does well in other areas of analysis, particularly the geopolitics of Spanish Florida and the role of the blacks in geopolitical considerations.

On balance, and with the reservations discussed above, Landers has produced an important study based on solid scholarship that is well worth reading. I don't think that Landers' book will radically transform the way scholars think about slavery in the Caribbean and American southeast, but it is another important case study that will provide more insights to the history of slavery and the black experience in the Americas. I would recommend this book, but with the caveats outlined above.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Jackson, Robert H.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2000
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