- La Florida: Five Hundred Years of Hispanic Presence ed. by Viviana Díaz Balsera, Rachel A. May
Viviana Díaz Balsera and Rachel A. May’s book is a timely and valuable addition to the historical and cultural literature of Hispanic influence in Florida. Twelve brief, interdisciplinary chapters organized into two chronological parts—“La Florida: First and Second Spanish Periods” and “Post-colonial and Contemporary Florida”—address five hundred years of Florida’s Hispanic past from Juan Ponce de León’s contact with Calusa Indians to Cuban influence in recent presidential elections. Balsera and May provide not a comprehensive, chronological study of Florida’s Hispanic past but rather a meticulously researched, highly readable collection of essays. Authors include leading scholars of Florida history and culture who participated in conferences sponsored by the Florida Humanities Council to commemorate Florida’s quincentennial.
Setting the tone for the quality and breadth of the book is “Ponce’s Ghosts: Spain and Florida, 1513–2013,” Gary R. Mormino’s well-written and entertaining overview of five hundred years of Florida history. Jerald T. Milanich’s contribution, “Charting Juan Ponce de León’s 1513 Voyage to Florida: The Calusa Indians amid Latitudes of Controversy,” demonstrates how certain primary sources (Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas’s Historia general de los hechos de los Castillanos en las islas i tierra firme del Mar Oceano and a map by Count Otomanno Freducci) have fed the controversy surrounding Ponce’s landing site. Milanich suggests that Ponce’s 1513 voyage and his skirmishes with the Calusas “had little or no lasting effect” on native culture (p. 52). Paul E. Hoffman’s “‘Until the Land was Understood’: Spaniards Confront La Florida, 1500–1600” is an overview of the Spanish “discovery” of the physical and human resources of La Florida. Hoffman shows how “‘the secrets of the land,’” once revealed, restrained Spanish settlement on the peninsula and [End Page 131] limited Spanish recognition in the Anglo version of American history that emerged in the nineteenth century (p. 69). Raquel Chang-Rodríguez’s critical analysis of Garcilaso de la Vega’s La Florida del Inca (1605) and Luis Jerónimo de Oré’s Relación de los mártires de la Florida (circa 1619) highlights the “agency” afforded Native Americans in Vega’s work and the “nuanced view of life” painted by the Relación (p. 99). Amy Turner Bushnell’s contribution, “A Land Renowned for War: Florida as a Maritime Marchland,” explains why soldiers and the situado were the determining factors of early Spanish settlements rather than settlers and exports. As Bushnell explains, the early presidio was designed “not to support itself and grow into a colony of settlement, but to monitor a strategic seaway” (p. 104).
Jane Landers’s “‘Giving Liberty to All’: Spanish Florida as a Black Sanctuary, 1673–1790” paints Spanish Florida as a land of contact-era miscegenation that evolved into a haven for runaways from Anglo-American colonies to the north. Landers quotes Ira Berlin to explain the uniqueness of Florida as a “‘society with slaves’” where black militias were commonplace and slave manumission was possible (p. 122). Carmen de la Guardia Herrero’s “The Experience of Loss: Spain, Florida, and the United States (1783–1833)” looks at the political environment of the early-nineteenth-century Atlantic world and the Spanish missteps and misfortunes that led to the loss of the Floridas in the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819. As Herrero explains, the Floridas were pivotal to preserving Mexico, giving Spain “exclusive control of the Gulf of Mexico as the only means of keeping the United States and other powers away from the heart of the Spanish Empire, the viceroyalty of New Spain” (p. 143).
Opening Part 2 of the book, Karen Racine’s “Fireworks over Fernandina: The Atlantic Dimension of the Amelia Island Episode, 1817” explores the significance of that event, which involved the Scottish filibuster Gregor MacGregor. Racine...