Tuesday, February 3, 2015

New World Colonial Economies, Revolution, and Smuggling

One of the challenges of writing a book like Accidental City is that one must make difficult choices about the amount of information to be included within its binding. Antonio de Ulloa (pronounced oo-YO-a) had a truly remarkable career, both as a naval officer, but more fully as a naturalist. Here is a great biographical piece from the University of Chicago's "Penelope" project (an early web-based text database). Among other things, Ulloa is credited with discovering platinum.  Here is the KnowLa entry on Ulloa. We only get a comparative glimpse of Ulloa in the book.

Likewise, Alejandro O'Reilly, or "Bloody O'Reilly," made a huge impact upon the trajectory of Colonial New Orleans, but the episode was only one of many enormous accomplishments in his life. His place in American memory (i.e., Wikipedia) centers around his quelling of the Rebellion of 1768, but if you compare this with his deeds in Havana and Puerto Rico as outlined in the Online Encyclopedia of Puerto Rico, you will find that his deeds in New Orleans merit only one sentence! Our friends at History Ireland offer you a longer view.

I like this map because it helps us see the Louisiana coast how a mariner in the mid 18th century would have seen it. (Note also a significant difference in the map of 1768 and 1780 in terms of navigation. Any guesses what it is?): Think longitude.

1768 map depicting the Gulf Coast (Library of Congress)
1780 map of Gulf of Mexico
The above map considers the trade routes in the Gulf of Mexico in the age of sail.

As Powell's book emphasizes, the Seven Year's War placed into motion changes that shook the entire globe. Not only did New Orleans go to Spain, the war forever destroyed the "French Arc," which would have significant cultural import for New Orleans in the long run.

Today's chapters in Powell take us through the Spanish Period in New Orleans, and trade dominates the discussion. We'll consider what shifting definitions of "nationalism" meant for the Crescent City, and in the context of global trade. It should prove a worthy exercise in transporting our mind from the current day to a time removed.

The ubiquitous Spanish Dollar, the most widely appreciated trade medium in the 18th Century
Once again, the middle ground between power centers, whether on land or sea, is a place where liminality reigns. You could think about this also for the American backcountry where two very violent men (Simon Girty and Lewis Wetzel) lived.

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