Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - June - 2006 Issue

Southern Americana from William Reese

Reese246

Southern Americana from the William Reese Company.


By Michael Stillman

The latest catalogue from Americana bookseller William Reese Company of New Haven is titled Southern Americana. This is a most significant catalogue, but perhaps not entirely what you might expect. "Southern" catalogues almost invariably seem to be filled with Civil War, antebellum, and Reconstruction-era materials. You will find some of these in Reese's catalogue as well, but the focus is much broader. In particular, you will find much from the South pertaining to colonial times, the Revolution, and some even earlier. There are also items relating to Spanish times. Not everyone remembers that the old Florida, which was much larger than the current state by that name, remained in Spanish hands until 1819, long after the British and French had effectively been removed from the land now part of the U.S.A. Those whose collections of the South cover more than rebellion and slavery, will find this catalogue an excellent source for some of the hard to find works about the American South.

Item 162 is a scarce but important recounting of the treaty which turned Florida over to the United States and effectively sealed the nation's boundaries east of the Mississippi. The title is Memoir upon the Negotiations between Spain and the United States of America, which led to the Treaty of 1819. The writer was Luis de Onis, who conducted negotiations on behalf of Spain. This is the 1821 Baltimore edition, and it details negotiations between de Onis and American Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. The negotiations were a major success for the Americans, although a weakened Spain would have been in no position to defend their territory. When the dust settled, America laid claim to all of Florida, Spain getting the U.S. to acknowledge its claim to Texas in return. Of course that land would be seized by America a few decades later, but this wouldn't matter to Spain as the Mexican people were about to throw them out of North America soon anyway. Priced at $2,500.

For those looking to go back even further, to the days when Spain first took control of Florida, there is Histoire Novvelle du Novveau Monde, by Girolamo Benzoni. This is a 1579 French translation of a work first published in Venice in 1565. It recounts the massacre of the French Huguenot settlement at Fort Caroline by the Spanish in 1565. The slaughter of all settlers unable to escape sent a clear message to other non-Spaniards who might have any thoughts of colonizing this land. Item 13. $17,500.

While the French never settled Florida, they did control the vast western area of North America known as Louisiana until virtually run from the continent in 1763 after the French and Indian War. And yet despite their absence, forty years later, America purchased that great expanse from France. How did that happen? The French and Indian War turned that territory over to Spain, but by the turn of the 19th century, Spain was being crushed under Napoleon's thumb. In 1801, Spain agreed to cede the land back to France. However, this was not announced until two years later, and the land was not transferred back to France until November 30, 1803.

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