Spanish Louisiana in a sense has been a bastard field of historical research. It is geographically a part of the United States and hence an integral part of United States history, but it has generally been considered a part of the viceroyalty of New Spain, and hence its history has been looked on as a part of the history of Spanish America. It was first colonized by the French, and because it became a part of what Herbert E. Bolton called the Spanish Borderlands, it has never attracted the attention of historians of the United States, and only slightly of historians of Spanish-American colonial history.
However, interest seems to be growing, and this reviewer, having spent most of his academic life in the history of a part of Spanish Louisiana as the northern frontier of colonial New Spain and as a phase of the westward movement of the United States, is happy to welcome a colleague, Professor Jack D. L. Holmes, who, in the few years since acquiring his Ph.D. in 1958, has done an incredible amount of research and publication. Choosing Gayoso de Lemos as his particular topic of research, he had completed a doctoral dissertation on that great colonial character, and has spread from that study into the important ramifications suggested by Gayoso’s life.
Holmes, having worked assiduously in the archives of Spain, contacted José Porrúa Turanzas, who has been reprinting and publishing fundamental documents relating to the history of New Spain—and Volume XV of that important but limited and expensive series is the contribution of Professor Holmes—a well-chosen collection of documents to supplement J. A. Robertson’s and Manuel Serrano y Sanz’ collections of documents relating to Louisiana, published (and now out of print) in the United States and in Spain.
The documents in Volume XV consist of the well-known “Description of Louisiana” by Governor Miró in 1792; the diaries of Barnó y Ferrúsola of 1793-1794; Joseph Piernas’ project for a town on the Calcasieu in 1795; Gayoso de Lemos’ journey from Natchez to Illinois (including a diary), and his description of Illinois; Manuel de Lanzos’ diary of the revolution in Natchez, 1797; and the engineer De Finiel’s description of Louisiana in 1810. Each document is given in Spanish, preceded by a bibliographical note, and well annotated.
The documents are typical of the strenuous times of the 1790’s, during which time the Spaniards attempted to defend their empire against foreign intrigues, and also, interestingly enough, used naval vessels to patrol the Mississippi River for the first time.
To the specialist, most of the documents are well known, and they have been cited. These are all taken from the Spanish archives, although copies of most of them are also found in the United States.
This reviewer has translated and edited the diaries here published, and a running account of the correspondence paralleling them, and several more diaries as yet unpublished, but only one document here given has been published—and that was done by Professor Holmes in the Missouri Historical Review, where he omits one paragraph.
In Volume XV Professor Holmes has included a number of maps and a very useful index. However it would have been much more useful if this valuable collection had been published in English under the able editorship of Professor Holmes. In that way, it would have been given a wider use by scholars in the United States, for, after all, books that sell for 2,000 pesetas cannot be purchased by the regular run of scholars. This book is well printed but bound with a paper cover; it has been carefully proofread despite the fact that the author’s name on the title page of Document V has been misspelled.
We are looking forward with great interest to other publications by Jack Holmes.