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Hispanic American Historical Review 82.1 (2002) 145-146
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Juan Ponce de León and the Spanish Discovery of Puerto Rico and Florida
An Early Florida Adventure Story: The Fray Andrés de San Miguel Account
Juan Ponce de León and the Spanish Discovery of Puerto Rico and Florida. By ROBERT H. FUSON. Blacksburg, Va.: McDonald and Woodward, 2000 . Photographs. Illustrations. Maps. Tables. Figures. Appendixes. Notes. Bibliography. Index. xvi, 268 pp. Cloth, $29 .95 . Paper, $19 .95 .
An Early Florida Adventure Story: The Fray Andrés de San Miguel Account. By FRAY ANDRÉS DE SAN MIGUEL. Translated by JOHN H. HANN. Foreword by JAMES J. MILLER. Florida Heritage Publication. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001 . Map. Translator's Notes. Index. xiv, 109 pp. Cloth, $55 .00 .
These two tales of adventures in sixteenth-century La Florida make available in able English translations two early-seventeenth-century Spanish texts, but in other respects they are quite different. Fuson's work is a self-described (p. xi) demythologizing life-and-times biography of Juan Ponce de León, with emphasis on his early life as well as his two voyages to La Florida (1513 , 1521 ). Fuson's principal sources are Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas's account of the Florida voyages (1601 ), which is translated in full, and the biographic and documentary works of Vicente Murga Sanz (1959 ), Manuel Ballesteros Gaibrois (1960 ), Aurelio Tío (1961 ), and Anthony Q. Devereux (1993 ). Fuson did not undertake his own archival research.
Fray Andrés's book, in contrast, is a first person account of his voyage as a sailor to Mexico in 1593 , his shipwreck on the coast of Georgia when returning to Spain in 1595 , and the English capture of Cádiz in 1596 . The description of the Native Americans he met in La Florida and of life at St. Augustine occupy 27 of 71 pages. John H. Hann produced this translation after carefully comparing Genaro García's 1902 published transcription with the original manuscript, now held by the University of Texas. García's brief introduction to Fray Andrés's life and writings is included in translation. Notes clarify obscure points or identify especially problematic syntax in the original. The exact date that the work was composed is unknown but it clearly was written from memory many years after the fact.
To say that Fuson's work is primarily valuable for the translations of the Spanish sources (principally Herrera) is in some ways a disservice to a very able, enjoyable synthesis of the extant secondary literature. Also, the book is very well illustrated with photographs of places Ponce knew. The problem is that Fuson's account of Ponce de León is too heavily influenced by the Puerto Rican hagiographic tradition, which makes the man a kindly encomendero both before (on Hispaniola) and during the conquest of Puerto Rico. This hardly seems credible.
Hann's translation lets the author speak for himself, except to correct his errors of fact (in notes). A comparison of the texts shows that it is superior to the late Albert Manucy's translation of just the Florida portion of the account (in America's Ancient City, Spanish St. Augustine, 1565-1763, ed. Kathleen A. Deagan [End Page 145] [New York: Garland, 1991 ]). Still, there are places where Hann's rather literal translation, like the underlying Spanish syntax, is wooden and unclear. One wishes for a bit of Manucy's flair.
Neither Fuson nor Hann examine the literary genres of their early-seventeenth-century sources. That examination might help a reader to understand the silences as well as the inclusions in these accounts and help to guard against taking the ethnography too literally.
In sum, these works make available in English translation two very different Spanish encounters with coastal peoples of La Florida. But each offers more, a context that tells part of the larger story of the Spanish empire, from its early expansion in the Caribbean to the...