The Americas 58.3 (2002) 483-484
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This volume, containing a collection of nine essays written by scholars currently researching colonial East Florida, calls for an historiographical revision of that area's economic history for the period prior to 1819. In so doing, this work explicitly questions earlier scholarly views of colonial East Florida that contend it was a commercial failure and an economic disappointment, especially the interpretation presented by Bernard Bailyn in his prize-winning Voyagers to the West (1986). In that work, Bailyn calls the colony a "failure in Xanadu" and dismisses its economic viability as almost non-existent. The various contributors to the book under review disagree. It is that disagreement which provides the central theme to this volume. Skillfully edited by Jane G. Landers, all of the essays argue in one fashion or another that East Florida, during both its Spanish and British colonial periods, developed an enduring large plantation system and a viable regional trade economy. By those standards alone, the authors submit, colonial East Florida was not an economic failure, even if it never became a significant factor in the international Atlantic economy of the late eighteenth century (a point they do concede).
The essays thus provide a series of case studies that drive home the respective successes of various East Florida plantations and the trade networks of which they were a part from the 1750s to the 1820s. Daniel L. Schafer examines the viability of plantations [End Page 483] owned by Richard Oswald and Zephaniah Kingsley, while Patricia C. Griffin analyzes the enduring influences of the Minorcan settlement sponsored by Andrew Turnbull at New Smyrna. Susan R. Parker, in two essays, considers the cattle trade in East Florida and Philip Fatio's large holdings at the New Switzerland Plantation to have been economically meaningful. Jane G. Landers does the same for Francisco Xavier Sánchez, a colonial Florida planter and merchant whose career spanned various sovereignties. Landers also analyses the viability of free Black planters while Brent R. Weisman provides an overview of Native Americans as planters. Finally, James Gregory Cusick emphasizes that East Florida had a larger role in the regional trade system of the South Atlantic and Caribbean than previously noted by scholars. These essays also challenge the notion that Florida plantations had certain common characteristics, instead highlighting their great diversity across time and place.
The authors thus argue that East Florida played a larger role in the economic history of the region than previously realized and that much of its plantation character had been formed by the time it became part of the United States. In short, this volume seeks to encourage additional scholarship linking colonial East Florida to the wider development of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century plantation complex of the Atlantic trade economy. The enduring worth of this volume as an historiographical turning point will ultimately rest on that future scholarship, some of which will undoubtedly be conducted by the contributors.
Light Townsend Cummins