For almost 20 years, David Hurst Thomas of the American Museum of Natural History has conducted archaeological investigations at the site of the mission of Santa Catalina on St. Catherine’s Island, Georgia. Determined to back up his excavations with historical documentation, he sought out an experienced historian of colonial Florida, Amy Turner Bushnell. Thomas posed to Bushnell a number of searching questions. Some were site-specific for his St. Catherine’s excavations, but many addressed larger concerns about the nature of the Spanish missions, the missionaries, the Native Americans, and the governance and economic life of Spanish Florida. Bushnell, moreover, went far beyond her charge. The resulting work is, as Thomas says in his foreword, “a rich mine of relevant detail and original assessment.” Firmly based on her previous Florida studies and pertinent archival sources, this remarkable monograph mirrors Amy Bushnell’s clarity of thought and ability to create valid and striking syntheses from her data.
The title of this work derives from two colonial Florida institutions: the situado, or royal garrison subsidy, and the sabana, the system of Indian agriculture in which specific fields were earmarked for the support of Spanish missionaries, local caciques, and other native officials, or as common fields for general use. But Bushnell’s description of those organisms occupies only a part of the study. In a larger sense, moreover, the monograph is dedicated to providing a deeper understanding of Spain’s support system for its establishment in the Americas. The text explores every significant aspect of daily life in the Florida colony: the true nature and impact of European interaction with Native Americans, the Christian doctrine taught in the outlying missions, the labor system practiced there, and the early expansion and later contraction of the Spanish colony itself.
Referring to Spanish Florida, the author says, “The most urgent need of all is for a simple narrative history of the colony that will give the provinces their due.” This writer agrees. Although this book is not yet that, its author has periodized and prefigured such a history. She is the best-prepared person to write it.
Situado and Sabana will richly repay any reader’s perusal. It not only renders more complete our detailed knowledge about one colony, Florida, but serves to describe an effective microcosm of the Spanish colonial Indies experience.