12/23/2014 10:43 AM
BATON ROUGE – Bound together by social, demographic and economic commonalities, the
Gulf South territory extending from East Texas to West Florida occupies a unique space
in early American history. A masterful synthesis of two decades of scholarly work,
F. Todd Smith’s “Louisiana and the Gulf South Frontier, 1500–1821,” published by LSU Press, examines the region’s history from the eve of European
colonization to the final imposition of American hegemony.
The agricultural richness of the Gulf Coast gave rise to an extraordinarily diverse
society: development of food crops rendered local indigenous groups wealthier and
more powerful than their counterparts in New England and the West, and white demand
for plantation slave labor produced a disproportionately large black population compared
to other parts of the country. European settlers were a heterogeneous mix as well,
creating a multinational blend of cultures and religions that did not exist on the
largely Anglo-Protestant Atlantic Coast.
Because of this diversity, which allowed no single group to gain primacy over the
rest, Smith’s study characterizes the Gulf South as a frontier from the 16th century
to the early years of the 19th. Only in the 20 years following the Louisiana Purchase
did Americans manage to remove most of the Indian tribes, overwhelm Louisiana’s French
Creoles numerically and politically, and impose a racial system in accordance with
the rest of the Deep South.
Moving fluently across the boundaries of colonial possessions and state lines, “Louisiana
and the Gulf South Frontier, 1500–1821” is a comprehensive and highly readable overview
of the Gulf Coast’s distinctive and enthralling history.
Smith is professor of history at the University of North Texas and the author or coauthor
of five books, including “Colonial Natchitoches: A Creole Community on the Louisiana-Texas
Frontier” and From Dominance to Disappearance: The Indians of Texas and the Near Southwest,
Posted on Tuesday, December 23, 2014