Review of War on the Gulf Coast: The Spanish Fight against William Augustus Bowles

I recently published a review of War on the Gulf Coast: The Spanish Fight against William Augustus Bowles on H-Borderlands.  I thought my review of Gilbert C. Din’s book might be interesting to some of our readers here.

During his presidential address to the 2011 Louisiana Historical Association meeting, Gilbert C. Din described a long series of chance encounters and events that led to the “accidental Louisiana historian” he is today. Din’s unintended journey started as a student at the University of California, Berkeley, where he began his training in Latin American historiography, but was uninterested in historian Herbert E. Bolton’s borderlands. While doing research at the Archivo Histórico Nacional in Madrid and the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Din “accidental[ly]” chose the wonderful collection of documents on colonial Louisiana. In these archives, Din found a passion for the study of Spanish colonial policy in the Lower Mississippi Valley. After completing a dissertation entitled “Colonizacion en la Luisiana Espaniola” at the University of Madrid, Din set his sights on examining Spanish immigration policy under Governor Esteban Miró. Following his training, Din produced well over ten monographs, twenty essays, and a textbook on Latin American history.[1] Perhaps Din’s path was inadvertent, but because of his “accidental” journey, he has achieved a command of Spanish colonial documents that outweighs many scholars of the colonial Gulf South.

In his latest work, War on the Gulf Coast, Din takes on William Augustus Bowles, a late eighteenth-century historical figure of the Gulf South. Bowles, who is largely celebrated for his status as “director general of the Creek nation” and to a lesser degree, as an “artist, actor, diplomat, navigator, soldier, musician, baker, linguist, hunter, chemist, [and] lawyer,” played an interesting role in the Gulf South trading economy.[2] In spite of the region’s large influence on the Atlantic economy through the circum-Caribbean trading network, eighteenth-century Gulf South illuminates unique “social and cultural change[s],” which occurred due to intense imperial rivalry.[3] Din’s major focus in this text is the extent of Bowles’s influence on Apalache regional Native American groups, and he questions whether or not Bowles’s power was significant enough to disrupt Spanish presence in the area. Din raises these questions because he is interested in challenging historian J. Leitch Wright Jr.’s depiction of Bowles’s “larger-than-life persona” (in William Augustus Bowles, Director General of the Creek Nation [1967]), which Din believes “fostered the mistaken notion that he was the genuine director general of the Creeks” (p. xi). Din claims that Wright’s depiction is inaccurate because Wright failed to examine Spanish colonial documents thoroughly. Din concludes, “only when they [Bowles and his allies] combined with other factors did he become the formidable opponent” in the region. Of the first factors, Din believes the post-American Revolution social, economic, and political environment was most unstable for Native Americans, and during this most tenuous period indigenous peoples, Caribbean merchants, and British officials saw Bowles as a “possible territory savior” to the area (p. 226). Secondly, Din argues that with the decline in demand for deerskins, the struggle to hold onto the warrior-hunter way of life, and the strengthening of mestizo leadership, Creek and Seminole peoples found themselves dependent on English goods. Lastly, Din found that Bowles was able to achieve an advantage in the region because of the intense imperial rivalry between Spain . . . read the full review at H-Net.

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Categories: Book and Journal Reviews | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Review of War on the Gulf Coast: The Spanish Fight against William Augustus Bowles

  1. Congrats on the review, Jess, and thanks for the heads up!

  2. Pingback: Borderlands History Blog Turns 1 « Borderlands History

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