In the twenty years between 1783 and 1803 William Augustus Bowles attempted to establish an independent Creek state in southeastern America and Spanish Florida. After the American Revolution the so-called director general of the Creeks hoped to influence England to accept his Indian nation as a British protectorate. Bowles’ personal ambitions as well as his sincere concern for the natives were both involved in what became a triple-nation conflict for north central Florida and southern Georgia. England, Spain, and the United States all ultimately entered the borderlands struggle. After two decades of international competition for control of the Creeks and the disputed Southeast, Bowles was eventually seized by Indian enemies in 1803, subsequently delivered to Spanish authorities, and imprisoned in the Morro until his death in December 1805.
The Bowles story becomes a fine study of the southern frontier in this well-written biography by J. Leitch Wright. Indeed, this work offers a very revealing view of a colonial adventurer in the age of international rivalry for Florida, the Gulf coast, and the Caribbean Sea. It is also a fascinating account of Indian life and affairs in the late colonial period. As frontier history, moreover, this book is first-rate since it methodically scrutinizes the significant forces, nations, personalities, and Indian tribes which determined the course of borderlands events in the late eighteenth century. Wright’s kind of chronicle really exposes everyday and local life in the era of colonial American empires. The biography of William A. Bowles therefore serves us as a representative case study of the unusual men who emerged in the borderlands to make imperial and colonial history.
Only a couple of petty complaints must be mentioned along with the well-deserved praise of this useful book. Surely some readers will wish that the author had included more maps to help them follow Bowles’ many activities and movements during his two decades of significance. The author should also have divided his chapters with some type of sub-heading or separation which would facilitate the study of lengthy sections. Except for these insignificant criticisms, scholarly readers will certainly recognize the importance of William Augustus Bowles to the historiography of the colonial borderlands.