Geographer David J. Robinson has performed a valuable service in making available a late eighteenth-century source previously unused by colonial historians, including specialists in the unique history of that much-studied Colombian province, Antioquia. This Relación, begun in 1786 when Francisco Silvestre ended his second term as governor and completed in Spain in 1792, goes far beyond his Relación of 1776 and his well-known Descripción del Nuevo Reino de Granada of 1789. While Silvestre describes the fundamental economic and administrative issues and provides unusual insight into the nature and functioning of Antioquia at the end of the eighteenth century, his experiences also enabled him both to analyze the problems and to recommend measures to improve the well-being of the population and the treasury. The evolution of his thought is of particular interest, as it reflects the nature of changes taking place in the colony.

Silvestre brings to his study a wealth of expertise in fiscal matters that results in a remarkable assessment of the workings of the royal treasury, which he regarded as the touchstone of growth. Having begun his bureaucratic career as an accountant, he held several positions in the treasury and even married a treasurer’s daughter. He also served as superintendent of mines, governor (twice), and viceregal secretary. Silvestre’s explanation of how the treasury actually worked is astute, and his assessment of how and why particular taxes and sources of revenue were circumvented is enlightening. One gains a comprehension not only of the mechanics but also of the sociology of authority through his emphasis on the competence of individual administrators. His analysis of the mentality of late colonial people may be as useful as his explanation of the details of mining, agriculture, and commerce.

While his recommendations are of interest because they provided a guide for the program of the Visitador Juan Antonio Mon y Velarde, they are even more valuable for their vision into the mind of a Bourbon reformer. Silvestre’s fundamental assumption was that the state must take an active role in educating and stimulating the population because fiscal problems could be solved by the creation of a large and prosperous revenue-paying population. In order to achieve this, he argued that taxes on production should be eliminated in favor of consumption and luxury taxes.

The Relación is not simply a regional study. Antioquia is placed in its macroregional and imperial context. According to Silvestre, for example, contraband could be ended if production were stimulated in Spain. Beyond its obvious contribution to geographers and historians specializing in Antioquia, Silvestre’s Relación is of value to all economic and administrative historians studying the Bourbon era.

Robinson’s 95-page introduction based on archival research provides a useful biography of Silvestre and his age, making it possible for the reader to assess the values of a man whose major enemy referred to him as “este gobernador comerciante” (p. 60).