The Spanish Frontier in North America

David Weber

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In 1513, when Ponce de Leon stepped ashore on a beach of what is now Florida, Spain gained its first foothold in North America. For the next three hundred years, Spaniards ranged through the continent building forts to defend strategic places, missions to proselytize Indians, and farms, ranches, and towns to reconstruct a familiar Iberian world. This engagingly written and well- illustrated book presents an up-to-date overview of the Spanish colonial period in North America. It provides a sweeping account not only of the Spaniards' impact on the lives, institutions, and environments of the native peoples but also of the effect of native North Americans on the societies and cultures of the Spanish settlers.

With apt quotations and colorful detail, David J. Weber evokes the dramatic era of the first Spanish-Indian contact in North America, describes the establishment, expansion, and retraction of the Spanish frontier, and recounts the forging of a Hispanic empire that ranged from Florida to California. Weber refutes the common assumption that while the English and French came to the New World to settle or engage in honest trade, the Spaniards came simply to plunder. The Spanish missionaries, soldiers, and traders who lived in America were influenced by diverse motives, and Weber shows that their behavior must be viewed in the context of their own time and within their own frame of reference. Throughout his book, Weber deals with many other interesting issues, including the difference between English, French, and Spanish treatment of Indians, the social and economic integration of Indian women into Hispanic society, and the reasons why Spanish communities in North America failed to develop at the rate that the English settlements did. His magisterial work broadens our understanding of the American past by illuminating a neglected but integral part of the nation's heritage.

David J. Weber is Robert and Nancy Dedman Professor of History at Southern Methodist University. A past president of the Western History Association, he has written many books, including the award-winning The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846.

"This splendid new volume marks the beginning of a new era of scholarship about Spain in North America. For readers seeking to understand the larger meaning of the Spanish heritage in North America, Weber's vivid narrative is a must. This is social and cultural history at its best."—Howard R. Lamar, Yale University

"A tour de force of ambitious scope, modern vision, solid mastery of the secondary literature, and excellent prose."—Paul E. Hoffman, Louisiana State University

"Weber has given us the best one-volume synthesis of Spanish borderlands history in a generation. This book will undoubtedly be the standard survey of its subject for years to come, an indispensable introduction and reference work for anyone interested in the vast region of the United States which was once part of the Spanish empire, from California to Florida."—William J. Cronon, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"Thoroughly researched, well written, and cogently argued. . . . It should be the definitive treatment of the Spanish experience north of Mexico for some time to come."—George H. Phillips, American Indian Quarterly

"Weber's well-written and engaging story of the settlement by Hispanics of the lands from Florida and Louisiana to Texas, New Mexico, and California leaves no doubt of the sociocultural imprint made by Spain on the United States. . . . The scope of the book, the careful treatment of controversial issues, and the elegant prose should allow [it] to withstand the test of time for decades to come."—Gilberto M. Hinojosa, American Historical Review

"Occasionally a new book updates us on the best literature in a field and establishes a new standard by which future work will be gauged. This is such a book. . . . The power of the book, beyond its utility as an unequaled one-volume synthesis, is in the author's unusual sensitivity to his historical actors—one-on-one—and to his continued interest in understanding and unraveling the multicultural landscape of North America."—William R. Swagerty, American Indian Culture and Research Journal

"A superb study."—Choice

"The history of North America's Spanish origins is masterfully told in this excellent book. . . . A valuable, comprehensive, and timely contribution to a better understanding of the history of 'the Spanish strugle to control the New World and its peoples' and Spain's efforts to 'spread Spanish culture and Catholicism . . . in all parts of the Americas.'. . . A must for all scholars of the Spanish borderlands, who would do well to emulate Weber's elegant synthesis."—Timothy K. Perttula, Colonial Latin American Historical Review

"I cannot imagine a single book giving a more comprehensive and balanced study of Spain's presence in North America. . . . I heartily recommend this book to the serious reader."—Louis Kleber, History Today

"Weber has synthesized and interpreted the vast body of research on the Spanish frontier in North America. . . . In doing so, he has transcended the previous and often artificial boundaries that have characterized this field of inquiry and has largely solved the problems of fragmentation that have confounded the study of Spanish frontier history. . . . A book of stunning and meticulous interdisciplinary scholarship, . . . [it] sustains a fine balance of contemporary social consciousness and solid empirical scholarship in history and the social sciences. Weber's clean and graceful prose holds these elements together most effectively and engagingly. . . . It will undoubtedly become an enduring classic."—Kathleen Deagan, Journal of American History

"Weber deftly reevaluates the misunderstandings of the initial contacts as well as Spanish motivations and actions during this era. . . . Weber is a sound historian and an engaging writer who has produced an important book."—Dennis Reinhartz, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History

"David J. Weber's extraordinary volume functions as . . . a conscious effort to offer a balanced yet critical synthesis of historiographic fragments, old and new, in order to achieve a 'fresh overview' of Spain's frontier in what would become the United States. And this he does very well."—Thomas W. Jodziewicz, Journal of Texas Catholic History and Culture

"A comprehensive and copiously documented survey of 300 years of Spanish colonial activity along its northern outposts in the New impressive scholarly acknowledgement, full of telling details, of the important Spanish role in North America, useful to the ethnohistorians and nonspecialists alike."—Kirkus Reviews

"Masterly. . . . At once an engaging history that non-specialists can enjoy and an exhaustive reference work that specialists will refer to for the foreseeable future."—Albert L. Hurtado, Montana, The Magazine of Western History

"[Weber] deftly tells a many-sided story of the making of America. Here Native Americans, Hispanics and then Anglos, albeit briefly, can see themselves portrayed in a rich and even-handed manner. . . . A highly readable, vivid and engaging story."—Herbert Braun, New York Newsday

"Splendid. . . . In a book that starts in 1540 with Coronado's encounter with Zuni villagers in modern New Mexico . . . Weber surveys the history of the so-called "Spanish" borderlands of America in a grand sweep which seeks to combine the narrative approach . . . with the cultural and ethnohistorical insights of a new generation of historians. This is an immensely ambitious undertaking, which tests his skills to the limit. . . . Weber has done a remarkable job of preserving the inner coherence of his story while giving due weight to local and temporal variations. Weber has written a book that is readable from beginning to end, and he has succeeded in providing a narrative and descriptive framework which will become the obligatory starting point for more detailed future analysis of culture contacts in the border zones, while at the same time pointing the directions in which that analysis might profitably go."—J. H. Elliott, New York Review

"A magisterial account. . . . This book ranged over the entire northern borderland region during a period of three centuries from the first Spanish incursions, and examined in close and vivid detail the many different ways in which Hispanic and Indian cultures interacted over large swathes of territory."—J.H. Elliott, New York Review of Books


"The Spanish Frontier in America (is) an important new study of the Spanish empire's collision with the native peoples of what is now the Southwestern United States, and of their joint encounter in the 19th century with English-speaking Americans."—Alan Brinkley, New York Times Book Review

"Again and again in this important book he describes how the institutions and demands of Spanish authoritarianism—the court, the church and the military, with their many officials, regulations and controls—inhibited and obstructed the individual enterprise of settlers who, permitted the advantages and initiative enjoyed by free competitors, might have built thriving and enduring colonies."—Alvin M. Josephy Jr., New York Times Book Review

"[A] deeply researched and splendidly conceived and written survey. . . . A fascinating, coherent narrative of the three centuries of Spain's empire north of Mexico. The volume has many virtues, none perhaps more important or original than the breadth and depth of the detail and understanding of the cultures of the various native American peoples and the devastation wrought by Spain on their lives, societies, and environments."—Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., New York Times Book Review

"[One of] the first major works covering substantial portions of Western history to incorporate many of the revisionists' sympathies and theories, stressing the importance of gender, ethnicity, and class in the settling of the frontier."—Richard E. Nicholls, New York Times Book Review

"Weber's achievement is to have developed common theses across an immense and diverse frontier. This study is essential for any reader who wishes to understand Spain's frontier roles in North American history."—Christon I. Archer, Pacific Historical Review

"An evenhanded, wide-angle view of American history's Hispanic foundations. . . . Scholarly in the best sense, Weber's work is also fascinating to read."—Tony Gibbs, Santa Barbara News-Press

"In this excellent new book Weber makes a compelling case for both the importance of North America's Spanish colonial origins and for the value of a more inclusive definition of American history. . . . This is a book that deserves a wide reading. It is gracefully written and brings together the best of current and past scholarship. Specialists with an interest in the histories of Spain, Latin America, or the United States will all find something of value in this worthwhile study."—William F. Foley, Society for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies

"Magisterial in sweep, comprehensive in fact, even-handed in treatment . . . not only eminently readable as historical literature but also wonderfully useful as a guide to the best and most recent research. This is history on the grand scale and at its narrative best."—Michael Gannon, Southwestern Historical Quarterly

"Admittedly a work of wide-ranging synthesis for the general reader, the book is a genuine pleasure to read—elegantly written, yet never blustery. . . . Masterful and engaging. . . . The narrative sweep—even grandeur—of Weber's elegant book is likely to make of it the new standard work of synthesis on the Spanish North American frontier for a generation or more."—Eric Van Young, The Americas

"Weber's mastery of an enormous amount of information leads to a clear, narrative synthesis of the economic and geopolitical framework of the Spanish enterprise in the north of New Spain."—Ross Frank, The Journal of San Diego History

"Weber's achievement is superb; The Spanish Frontier in America has no equal as a synthesis of Spain's colonial presence in the United States. It should become the standard text."—Susan M. Deeds, The Journal of Southern History

"He also offers a splendid examination of how historians have treated the Spanish. . . . The Spanish Frontier in America should become the standard for the study of the Spanish in North America."—James C. Clark, The Orlando Sentinel

"Excellent. . . . A thick academic rendering of up-to-date information."—Washington Post Book Review

"A brilliant [synthesis]...which makes the Indians as central to the plot as the Spanish."—James Axtell, William and Mary Quarterly

"The Spanish Frontier in North America remains the best single volume on Borderlands history prior to 1821."—Cheryl E. Martin, Bulletin of Spanish Studies

Winner of the 1993 Western Heritage Award given by the History Book Club

Winner of the 1993 "Spain and America in the Quincentennial of the Discovery" Award

 Winner of the 1993 Caughey Western History Association Prize funded by the John and LaRee Caughey Foundation

Winner of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame Award.

A New York Times notable book of the year

Winner of the 1993 Carr P. Collins Award given by the Texas Institute of Letters
ISBN: 9780300051988
Publication Date: September 23, 1992
602 pages, 7 x 10 x 9 1/2
75 b/w illus.

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