AfriGeneas Books~Authors~Reviews Forum
Black Society in Spanish Florida
Recently Afrigeneas launched a new web page, "Free People of Color." An invaluable resource for history and genealogical research for FPOC of the Lower South is "Black Society in Spanish Florida". The book is by Jane Landers, published by the University of Illinois Press, 1999. Her book chronicles the lives of Afro-Americans from the Spanish Conquest through the second Spanish interlude. (1821) Much of the book is centered in the East Floridas and St. Augustine. Her book presents a much-needed historical dimension to the legacy of African-Americans. Spanish Florida was as much a part of their cultural fabric as people from the Caribbean. Landers describes the people who lived on both sides of the Gulf of Mexico as Afro-Caribbeans which compels the reader to push away the one-dimensional template of slavery of the northern Anglo South. Freed from the perspective of Jamestown and the Thirteen Colonies, the reader has a fresh new reference point to research the history of the US.
Peter Wood's foreword says it best: "Blacks under Spanish rule in Florida lived not in cotton rows or tobacco patches but in a more complex and international world that linked the Caribbean, Africa, Europe and a powerful and diverse hinterland...Multiple generations of Africans leveraged linguistic, military, diplomatic, and artisan skills into citizenship and property rights. In this remote Spanish outpost, where they could be come homesteaders, property owners and entrepreneurs, Blacks enjoyed more legal and social protection than they would again until almost two hundred years of Anglo history had passed."
Wood's description explains why Blacks chose to flee the Floridas with the Spanish after its first and then second interlude. After Florida became a state, and the harsh reality of life under Anglo rule took hold, another wave of black emigrants sailed to the Caribbean. They fled to Mantanzas and Havana, to Tampico and parts of Northern Mexico, to Santo Domingo, Jamaica. Their faces were black and brown, their names not Jones and Smith, but Suarez, Garcia, Jacobo, Soto, Vidal, Barrios, Hernandez, Pons, Dominguez, Durant.
Landers' vividly profiles black Floridians and gives the reader a true sense of the life and times of these early Americans. She writes of black pirates like Captain Diego Martin who sailed the "Spanish Lake", of multilingual traders who traveled to outposts throughout the Floridas, of Anna Magigne Jai Kingsley a Wolof who married her husband and ex-master in an African ceremony, of the legendary Juan Bautista (Prince Witten) of Guinea who led a band of black militiamen and Seminoles and stopped the United States Marines and Patriots in 1812 at Three Mile Swamp, St Augustine.
The book's appendix is a treasure of genealogical data: Slave ships, slave masters, slave names, baptismal and marriage records, free Blacks of Fernandina and Amelia Island.
Two years ago I gave myself a Christmas gift of "Black Society in Spanish Florida. " Perhaps you will too.
K Wyer Lane
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