The ten months that José de Ezpeleta spent as governor of Mobile (May 1780 to March 1781) were critical, in Father Borja Medina’s view, not only to his rise in government service, but also to the success of Bernardo de Gálvez’s campaign against Pensacola. Further, they illustrate the problem of the hero in history, a theme that justifies the stunning detail in which these months are covered.
The book begins with a long prolog that summarizes each chapter. This is followed by a thirty-page chronicle of Ezpeleta’s life; by discussions of Indian affairs and policy in three chapters (2, 3, 6) and almost 200 pages; by Ezpeleta’s policy in the face of the disloyalty of his British subjects (chapter 4 and elsewhere; about 75 pages); by the defense of Mobile (chapters 5, 9; about 200 pages); and by the second and third expeditions against Pensacola (chapters 7, 8, 10-12; 292 pages). Fifty maps and drawings, together with a color reproduction of Ezpeleta’s portrait, complete the presentation.
The bibliography and notes reveal a thorough, exhaustive study of all available Spanish, English, and even French sources, including the box of personal papers Ezpeleta was able to save from the 1797 wreck of the ship carrying him to Spain after his term as viceroy of New Granada. For the subjects covered, this study is as close to being definitive as details can make it.
Impressive as it is, the book fails to convince this reviewer that the decisions Ezpeleta made while in command at Mobile were as critical to the success of Gálvez’s campaign as the author would have us believe. Further, Ezpeleta’s subsequent rise in royal service, while it might have been hampered had he failed at Mobile, seems to have been assured by abilities previously demonstrated, by his patronage relationship with Alejandro O’Reilly, and by his membership in the first class of the Zaragoza Military Academy. Among the cadets of that stellar class was Bernardo de Gálvez, whose liking for Ezpeleta accounts for the latter’s appointment to govern Mobile (p. 30). As to the larger philosophical question that underlies this book, each reader will have to judge for himself how much Ezpeleta shaped his times or was shaped by them.