Balancing the Consequences of Desertion in the Spanish Gulf South

Thursday, January 3, 2019: 4:10 PM
Wabash Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Christina Villarreal, University of Texas at Austin
After 1763, Cuba became a key player in securing the Gulf South of North America—from costal Texas to Florida—for Spain. Officials on the island became responsible for the maintenance and discipline of military troops in the Louisiana, and later Florida, territories. They had to coordinate with officers of the Interior Provinces, or the lands stretching west from Texas to California, to improve the standing army along the colonial borderland. However, priorities diverged along the Texas-Louisiana frontier. Texas remained under the jurisdiction of authorities in Mexico City. At this time, the viceroy and his frontier commanders were increasingly concerned with the security of the north central region, or modern-day New Mexico and west Texas. The zone was under constant Native American attack. Meanwhile, Louisiana was under the jurisdiction of the Captaincy General of Cuba. The island’s officials were to secure the new territory for Spain and ward off English and American encroachment. To complicate the situation, runaway soldiers from across the empire were being sent between New Orleans, Havana, Puerto Rico, and after 1784, Pensacola as punishment for prior desertions. Many of these disgruntled soldiers took advantage of this colonial disunity and moved across murky imperial divisions, towards Spanish and non-Spanish territories, in search of respite. This paper uses royal decrees, military correspondence, and muster rolls to trace the changes in desertion laws and practices following the incorporation of Louisiana in the New Spain’s northern frontier. The movement of these soldiers reveals how colonial officials thought about the northernmost American territory and its relationship to colonial Mexico and the Caribbean.
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