Historic Pensacola by John Clune, Jr. & Margo Stringfield. University Press of Florida, 2016.
Pensacola, West Florida can claim to have been initially settled in 1559. More accurately, a Spanish ship captain, Tristán de Luna, led an expedition to Pensacola Bay and a settlement he established lasted for a few years. It is the basis for Pensacola’s claim to being the oldest European settlement in North America and a rival to St. Augustine on the Atlantic side of the Florida peninsula.
The area was largely vacant; its native population had been decimated years before by European diseases that had been spread by the native population’s “first encounters” with sick crews on the Spanish galleons.
Several surprises. While we learn of the exploration of Hernando DeSoto in our grade-school textbooks, there are other Spanish explorers that did not find a mention. Also the authors, John Clune, Jr. and Margo Springfield, call attention to the sophisticated and elaborate town planning that these Spanish explorers brought with them to the New World. Pensacola was laid out in a grid pattern with room set aside for a fortified presidio and a Church.
Other than the presidio, most of the structures were wooden – and subject to destruction by fire either from natural causes or from warfare.
The town of Pensacola moved around within its Bay area. Early it was located up stream of the estuary. But when that created difficulties for sailing ships, the town was moved to the barrier island at the mouth of the Bay, Santa Rosa Island. Better for maritime communications, it was, however, vulnerable to the hurricanes which plow through the area.
The Spaniards were serious about settling Pensacola Bay. One of Luna’s expeditions had eleven ships and over 1,500 settlers. Many of these settlers were recruited from interior Mexican towns and had no experience of living on a restless bay.
From the years of these early settlements, European rivalry created New-World competition. The colonies along the Atlantic Coast were British. The French had seized control of the Mississippi Valley and New Orleans, but it continued to trade with West Florida. The Spaniards claimed Santo Domingo, the wealthiest island in the Caribbean, and the vast lands of Texas, Southwestern U.S., and Florida.
All three European colonial regimes had allied themselves with various Native American tribes, where they still survived. This meant that colonists settling on Pensacola had also to worry about Indian raiders. West Florida, including Pensacola, was a British colony from 1763 to 1781. It then returned to Spain. In 1821 the Adams-Onís Treaty ceded West Florida and hence Pensacola to the young American Republic.
Pensacola avoided the issues over taxation that beleaguered Colonial-British relations. Hence it did not play an important role in the American Revolution.
The town continued to participate in the trade along the Gulf Coast between Mobile and Pensacola. This trade was a monopoly of a chartered company. It stocked the usual luxury goods for its Pensacola customers but made its money buying and reselling deer-skins. Spain recognized the importance of the eighteenth-century “global economy.” They intended to make sure that their administration encouraged that development.
Pensacola competed with Galveston with its Tivoli House. There were gambling rooms and an extensive bar for unruly Spanish soldiers and sailors on leave.
Historic Pensacola is a handsome book, published by the University of Florida Press. Each chapter has a recipe associated with its content. It is well-illustrated and has wonderful maps. The two authors, John Clune, Jr. and Margo Springfield, teach at the University of West Florida.