Significant studies on the Kingdom of Guatemala in the late colonial period have emerged from the research of Ralph Woodward, Robert S. Smith, and now Troy Floyd, who makes another important contribution to this body of literature. In this volume Floyd focuses on the military response of Spanish authorities to attacks and encroachments by British interlopers on the Caribbean coast of the Central American isthmus in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the process he reconstructs a convincing picture of political structures and functions in colonial Central America.
Opening with a sophisticated description of isthmian geography and pre-Spanish Indian patterns, he analyzes the administrative organization introduced by the Spanish in the sixteenth century. The British challenge did not appear until the 1630s in the sporadic activities of the Providence Company and the subsequent establishment of contacts and trading settlements on the Mosquito Shore among the fiercely independent Sambo and Mosquito Indians. Late in the seventeenth century, during the wave of buccaneering raids emanating from Jamaica and Tortuga, the Spanish retreated inland and almost abandoned the Caribbean coast. Having deserted Trujillo in 1643, the Spanish centered their military defenses in the north on Fort San Felipe at the entrance of the Golfo Dulce, and in the south on Fort Inmaculada on the upper San Juan River, gateway to Granada. Attempts to utilize a wave of evangelical fervor to convert and win over the hostile tribes of the coast from their British allies were unsuccessful.
Floyd then traces the long, involved efforts of the Spanish to launch a counteroffensive in the eighteenth century to drive the British from the Shore. The first half of the century was a period of “frustration and defeat,” but Spanish persistence, evident in the construction of Fort Omoa on the Honduran coast, was finally rewarded. After the Wars of the American Revolution, 1779-1783, the British evacuated the Shore settlements under the Anglo-Spanish Convention of 1787. Spanish efforts to colonize and hold the Shore did not materialize, however, and the situation at the close of the colonial era remained indecisive.
Floyd writes in a straightforward style that is clear and readable. He gives needed dimension to his study by relating the particulars of the Mosquito Shore controversy to Spain’s overall involvement in European events and imperial defense, thus providing a case study of Spanish policy formulation and execution during two centuries of colonial rule. The reader will appreciate the four maps, the chronology of events, and the lists of Mosquito kings, Spanish provincial governors in Central America, and Jamaican governors included in the appendix. The study is well researched and documented. The basic collections of two nineteenth-century Costa Ricans, León Fernández and Manuel M. de Peralta, were supplemented by the author’s own research in the Archivo General de Indias in Seville and in the Archivo Nacional in Guatemala. Recommended for the serious scholar.