The Americas 59.3 (2003) 423-424
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Paul E. Hoffman's latest book presents an authoritative, prodigiously researched and sometimes awkwardly written history of Florida from the sixteenth century to 1860. It is part of Indiana University Press's series on American frontiers, and Latin Americanists should applaud the choice of an eminent specialist on colonial Spanish America to write it. Hoffman makes full use of his vast knowledge and exhaustive research, including that associated with his earlier prize-winning book, A New Andalucia and a Way to the Orient: The American Southeast During the Sixteenth Century (Baton Rouge, 1990). He acknowledges that the material for the period after 1700 is based on a wide range of secondary literature rather than archival research. Ironically, perhaps, the later chapters are the more lucid and pleasing to read. Particularly in the early chapters, the author bombards the reader with Indian tribal and place names without providing a clear sense of locale. The book's numerous maps are fascinating, but often are too small or poorly reproduced to be of much use. The litany of people and places, and the copious data on rainfall, land types, raids and counter-raids, provisions and property, meant to convey thoroughness, threaten instead to overwhelm. The author insists on using the phrase "La Florida" throughout for no clear purpose but for the most part neglects West Florida. The prose is sometimes marred by lengthy lists and frequent parenthetical statements, many with unexplained question marks, and bizarre exclamations. Human details that flesh out at least some of the protagonists would be welcome as would a concluding epilogue or summary. Nevertheless, the book's comprehensive coverage, 110 pages of notes, and extraordinary bibliography make it an essential starting point for subsequent study.
Hoffman has taken on a daunting task and generally succeeds. In his view, Florida experienced several frontiers: a Spanish tidewater frontier, a Spanish inland [End Page 423] frontier, a Euro-American military frontier from 1702 to 1763, a British frontier from 1763 to 1783, and an American frontier from 1790 on that enveloped and eventually overtook the late Spanish colony. One gains a distinct sense of the difficulties faced by early explorers and settlers, the dilemmas posed to the Native Americans, and the general crisis that bedeviled the Spanish colony from its founding in the 1560s to its cession to Great Britain in 1763. Hoffman expertly chronicles Spain's halting efforts to resolve what he terms the four problems of establishing a successful colony: friendship with and authority over the Native Americans, a stable food supply, clear prospects for economic development that would yield a steady income and attract immigrants, and a self-perpetuating population. Spain, he observes, "normally stood on the defensive in La Florida" (p. 115), frequently failing to protect and respect friendly Indians, to resolve friction between settlers and priests, or to regularize royal support through subsidies (situados) directed from Mexico and later Cuba. Spanish Florida was ill-prepared to face the challenge raised by the founding of Charleston in 1670 and the relentless expansion of Anglo-American settlers into Carolina and Georgia thereafter. St. Augustine and its hinterland quickly became dependent on the neighboring Anglo-Americans, and Florida was a nearly helpless pawn in the wars and revolutions of the eighteenth century. The brief British period initiated Anglo-American settlement that continued into the second Spanish period and became a flood after 1821. American settlers, with their slaves, cattle and cotton, removed Florida's Indians first to south Florida and then to Oklahoma, and began to fill in Florida's interior in relatively short order. "The speed and scale of [American] actions," Hoffman concludes, "was unlike anything that had happened before. By 1860 the American frontier had engulfed almost the entire peninsula" (p. 282).
Richmond F. Brown
University of South Alabama