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Joseph Kaminski

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May 21, 2018

Colonial Florida & The Complicated Web of Interaction Regarding the Trans-Atlantic World


This post is an article review of “Shipwrecked in the Atlantic World: Reevaluating Jonathan Dickinson’s Interactions with Native Peoples Along Florida’s Southeastern Coast” by Jason Daniels, which was published in the Spring 2013 (Vol. 91, No. 4) edition of the Florida Historical Quarterly. You can click here for a direct link to the article on JSTOR.

Seventeenth-century Florida is often perceived as a colonial outpost that never evolved past skewed missionary practices, and there remains a misinterpretation that the native peoples that lived and prospered in the southeastern and central portions of the state were completely isolated from the growing trans-Atlantic world. In writing this piece, Jason Daniels offers a comprehensive look at Jonathan Dickinson’s trek through the so-called “savage wilderness” of non-settled Florida, offering evidence as to how these native tribes were intelligent and adaptive enough to understand the cultural, political, and economic motivations of the different variants of Europeans and how they were able to use these societal concepts to their own advantages.

Jason Daniels visits old ideas through primary sources and argues that historians don’t often perceive seventeenth-century Florida as part of the Atlantic world because people don’t immediately think of inland populations in such a coastal period. His article suggests there was an “othering”, one deriving from past interactions, prejudices, and attitudes, between natives and the different variants of European peoples. The information presented throughout Dickinson’s recollection of the events following the wreckage of the Reformation offers a foundation for the claim that native groups not only understood the differences of European style, but developed their own opinions around them as well. When all the evidence is compiled, it becomes clear that natives incorporated their ideologies and their defense mechanisms around the expanding and increasingly globalized Atlantic world.

Perhaps the main piece of evidence presented in Daniels’ piece revolves around a crucial factor relating to the period: the recognition of slavery. Daniels provides evidence from external documents to explain the interactions between that the Jobé, Santaluces, and the Ais tribes had when it came to the Europeanized concept of slavery. It becomes clear that these tribes not only understood the concept but understood what it meant to the Europeans as well, showing just how entangled the natives in Florida were in the emerging trans-Atlantic society. As the Spanish had arrived in Florida long before the crash of the Anglo-Jamaican Reformation, these native tribes had become well accustomed to the structure presented by their colonizers.

The Spanish expeditions to Florida eventually brought along black Africans, light-skinned Spaniards, and brown-skinned Central Americans. This new racial diversity created a social ecosystem of cultures that the three major tribes had incorporated into their system prior to the arrival of Dickinson and Company. The article refers to Florida as a “complicated web of interaction”, one that proves to be dynamic and multicultural, the true definition of an Atlantic world lifestyle. Daniels does an excellent job at supporting his claim with evidence, showing how slaves intermarried and integrated into the Ais society and how these autonomous tribes would offer refuge to enslaved Africans from St. Augustine.

Daniels describes how the Job  used Dickinson’s enslaved Africans, which leads to the concept that natives understand the relationship between blacks and Europeans and incorporated similar stratifications into their social structure. Previous connections with different variants of white castaways and visitors must have established such an understanding, one that interconnected them with the Atlantic world. The Jobé’s views on slavery are extended upon as Dickinson’s crew departed for St. Augustine. In exchange for the “useful things” the natives had given to the English, the Jobé announced their desire to keep one of the slaves brought by the Reformation. Daniels uses this as further evidence as to how the natives had to have understood trans-Atlantic concepts and used them to advance their own “local circumstances”.

The strengths in this article relate strongly to the sheer amount of evidence provided. There are more than enough lengthy footnotes that provide an extreme amount of detail about natives in Florida not being isolated, as myths tend to perpetuate. The main source of evidence comes from “God’s Protecting Providence”, a recollection of the events written by Jonathan Dickinson himself. It is analyzed and ‘revised’ alongside more modernized evidence from peer-reviewed secondary resources throughout the article. Daniels provides an abundant amount of varied resources to support his thesis, one that portrayed Florida as a world that was “very much a part of an emerging Atlantic community.” Thus, he covers his subject in full and manages to answer his thesis through what scarce available resources exist.

The most disappointing aspect of this article would have to be the one-sidedness of its initial primary source, although I am certain there is no real way to work around such a religiously-motivated recollection of Dickinson’s journey through the interconnected Floridian tribes. The main piece of evidence serves as a way for Daniels to argue against biases left behind in the past, and the rest of the article is patched with secondary sources. Although Daniels revises old ideas through a more modernized perspective, his article leaves much more to desire. Perhaps anthropological and archaeological studies could have been used to bolster the native perspective, and since the Spaniards were clearly living in St. Augustine at the time the Reformation crashed in 1696, there was ample room for Daniels to incorporate more Spanish primary resources into the research.

Read more: Social Consciousness: The Ocala Demands and a ‘Bottom Up’ Economy

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